April 11, 2019

Beautiful Bones

Given a title like Beautiful Bones, you might jump to the conclusion that this light novel and anime series shares much in common with Bones, the police procedural starring Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz.

And you'd be right.

Those obvious assumptions are obviously intended. This a good example of "localizing" an anime or light novel title rather than literally translating the original. The actual title of the light novel series is "A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako's Feet" (「櫻子さんの足下には死体が埋まっている」).

Long light novel titles have become trendy of late, which can give overseas publishers fits.

Like Deschanel's Temperance "Bones" Brennan, Sakurako Kujo is a socially maladroit osteologist with a penchant for stumbling across dead bodies. She isn't a famous author but comes from old money and lives in the (Gothic) family mansion with an elderly housekeeper and the menagerie of animal skeletons she reconstructs as her hobby.

She's more eccentric than Temperance Brennan, closer in personality to House and Holmes on the brilliant antisocial obsessive detective scale. Her Watson (or Wilson) is Shotaro Tatewaki, a high school student who does his best to keep her more manic proclivities in check.

Being a kid ("shonen"), he can only do so much. I can't help wondering how the series would play out if Sakurako were paired with Boreanaz's Agent Booth, someone with the strong personality and physical presence to root her more firmly in the real world.

But there's nothing wrong with this version either. Shotaro is a competent kid. Well, he has to be, given who he hangs out with. The result is, like House, Sakurako ends up with more room to be her own brilliantly semi-unbalanced self.

As voiced by Shizuka Ito, Sakurako often reminds me of Jolene Blalock's T'Pol on Enterprise, constantly having to put up with humans and their annoying illogical emotions.

Of course, when you create a smart detective, you have to create smart crimes for her to solve. That means the detective has to be smarter than the criminal, and the screenwriter has to be smarter than them both.

Making the smart detective a scientist gives them (the detective and the writer) access to a pool of deductible facts that is both technically complex and accessible through research (or hire a consultant). Shiori Ota, author of the novels, has clearly done one or the other or both.

The result is a well-structured set of mysteries that mostly play fair—we are privy to the same information as Shotaro. Each mystery concludes in one or two episodes. An unresolved arc involving a Moriarty-type figure runs through the series, but never overwhelms the individual episodes.

The anime ran for only one cour, so the unresolved arc remains unresolved, though the villain's identity and motives are revealed in the penultimate episode. But it does not end on a cliffhanger, and the light novels series is still active, with fourteen volumes now in print. So a second cour may be in the offing.

One other unique thing about Beautiful Bones is that the series takes place in Hokkaido, where the author grew up. It makes for a nice change of setting and provides for the kind of wide-open spaces (and much more driving) than you'll experience in Tokyo.

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# posted by Blogger Matthew
4/11/2019 3:03 PM   
I really wish that there had been more than one cour for this series.

A lot of manga and anime seem to have an affinity with Hokkaido. Full Metal Alchemist's creator hails from there. Erased is partly set there. Golden Kamuy is basically a Spaghetti Western in turn of the century Hokkaido.