It’s elementary my dear Shoutarou
What’s the Story?
Sakurako is obsessed by bones. She loves nothing more than studying, cleaning and putting together skeletons of every species, so it’s quite fortunate that no matter where she goes she manages to stumble across bones of some description. With her analytical mind and her trusty high school sidekick, Shoutarou, Sakurako manages to solve mysteries ranging from murder to family curses.
I’ll admit it, this anime did not turn out how I expected it. When I first saw this anime I thought it was going to be a kind of modern day Sherlock Holmes kind of thing, with Sakurako as Sherlock and Shoutarou as Watson, and while there are elements of that Beautiful Bones is a lot more laid back. The cases that our intrepid detectives tackle are more sedate and small scale, there are no grand schemes or psychopaths on a murder spree like a lot of detective stories tend to go for. That’s not to say that the cases aren’t dramatic, on the contrary a lot of the stories here back some real emotional punch and I think that’s the strength of this show.
This anime knows how to get at your heart. It can introduce a character for just an episode, or possibly two, make you care for them and their situation and then give you a payoff that at the very least will have you sniffling in a happy/sad way, and all of this while telling effective mysteries as well. This is shown nowhere better than with our leads. Sakurako is the resident genius; she can be blunt to the point of rudeness, obsessed past the point of reasonable and childish in a hilarious way. Yet she never comes across as arrogant or mean. Sometimes it may appear that she cares more for bones than people, but the flashbacks to her mysterious past and clear affection for Shoutarou show that there’s a lot more beneath the surface. Shoutarou is fairly simple on the other hand, he’s the straight man to Sakurako’s mad professor. Sometimes he can come across as just a little too much of the nice guy, or a little bit perfect, but he’s still human. He makes mistakes and has some really emotional moments now and again.
What was a real pleasant surprise was the range of mysteries tackled by this show. I was expecting this to just be a murder of the week show, which there’s nothing wrong with, but it did feel refreshing for that not to be the case here. Yes there’s a death a week, but it’s not always a murder. We have cases like the mystery of why an elderly woman was walking around the woods early in the morning, or the family curse that makes a man believe he’s going to die soon, or why Shoutarou’s grandmother sent him for pudding before he came to the hospital. Not everything was a high octane race against the clock to stop the serial killer complete with explosions and car chases (though I do like those shows). These stories are smaller and more personal.
While I do like the characters and the stories are a nice change of pace, what sells this is the animation and that music. The animation isn’t ufotable levels of gorgeous, but there’s a reason beautiful is in the title. It really knows how to use light and colour to make some eye-catching imagery. Some of the backdrops and the settings can only be described as works of art. To put it simply, it’s really pretty. Then there’s the music. I don’t normally namedrop tracks off of the soundtrack, but this one deserves special mention. As far as I’m aware the correct translation is ‘A Corpse is Buried Under The Feet’. I mean I get chills up my spine every time I hear it. I’m not a music expert so it’s hard to describe just how good it is, but it hits me right in my musical sweet spot. Just go listen to it.
If I did have to admit to any one part of this anime that’s disappointing, that would be the big bad. Yes, this anime filled with personal and emotional stories does still manage to fit in a crazy serial killer running around for our dynamic duo to match wits with, just not very effectively. The big bad for this series is an interesting one, he’s a killer who doesn’t actually kill people, not with he’s own hands anyway. He prefers to play mind games, using people’s traumas and weaknesses to get them to either kill themselves or other people. As serial killers go that’s a pretty interesting M.O. and could lead into some really interesting cases, not to mention quite the challenge for our heroes, it’s just a shame that we never really get to meet him.
For the entirety of the anime our big bad stays on the periphery. We mostly see him from afar, gradually getting closer as the series progresses, Sakurako and Shoutarou actually managing to interfere in a few of his murder attempts, but he and Sakurako never share the same scene, which is a huge letdown. I really want to see those two battling against one another, genius against genius, Order vs. Chaos. It would be spectacular, but we never get there. The series does end with a pretty big tease that just makes me pray for a second season.
It’s not as if the series finale is a bad one. It’s a very emotional tale of how Sakurako and Shoutarou first met, leading into them reconnecting back in the present. It also gets to the very core of the show’s message, that time doesn’t stand still. We can’t let ourselves be trapped in the past, life moves on and eventually it will end. That’s a fact, you shouldn’t be scared by it. We’ll all be bones in the end; the question is what story we will have to tell?
All in all Beautiful Bones is a great series. It tells effective detective stories with the focus more on the analysis and emotion as opposed to action and high octane drama. It moves at its own pace, telling its story with likeable characters, some fantastic music and gorgeous visuals. The lack of a confrontation with our big bad for the series does hurt this somewhat, but still this anime definitely deserves to be dug up.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.