What’s it about? Ishikawa Takuboku is a genius poet, but his carefree attachment to vice has brought him to the brink of homelessness. Still, Kindaichi Kyousuke, Ishikawa’s elder and biggest fan, offers to support his friend. The two happen along a murder scene in the red light district and Ishikawa realizes, as good as he is at writing poetry, he could be reading crime scenes instead.
Content Warning: Depiction of sex work, copious blood and graphic depictions of death.
Famous authors in anime appear to be known especially for their skills outside of writing. Atsushi Nakajima can turn into a tiger. Osamu Dazai can swing around a mean scythe. Lafcadio Hearn has a ghost girlfriend and heterochromia. But so many of these great figures turned into anime seem lacking somehow. For all the emphasis on these characters being based on the finest literary minds of Japan’s early modern history, their depictions often lack a sense of literary beauty.
That is where Woodpecker Detective’s Office differs from the other “anime of famous authors turned into hot boys” compatriots of its genre. It’s poetic in its execution.
The series exudes aesthetic. It puts Ishikawa’s status as a poet front and center and focuses on flowery language as well as visuals to bring to life Tokyo as Ishikawa might have enjoyed it most — a bustling modern city full of wonder and intrigue. Most important of all, the show acknowledges Ishikawa’s most favorite part of the city, its pleasure quarters.
For as much poetic imagery and language the show uses to convey Ishikawa’s otherworldly wit, it also emphasizes a sense of titillation. The story begins as the two friends walk through the pleasure quarter after dinner and the mystery begins with Ishikawa raiding a brothel to see what is amiss. Although the first episode’s depiction of the pleasure quarter ends there, the previews for the second episode seems to focus entirely on the red light district and the next corpse of the week will be a dead courtesan.
Though the courtesans do not provide any overt displays of fanservice, the series takes the time to emphasize that, yes, they are indeed prostitutes and depicts them all in various states of undress.
Ishikawa and Kindaichi are both renown people in their own right, and they truly were acquainted during the final years of the Meiji era. Ishikawa was a brilliant and prolific poet during his short 26-year life and Kindaichi was his upperclassman. The elder Kindaichi, though depicted in Woodpecker as a failed writer, would later become a famous linguist and ethnographer.
Though unlikely these two actually solved a series of gruesome murders in turn-of-the-century Tokyo, much of the premise is rooted in some form of truth. Kindaichi offered financial assistance to help his friend move to Tokyo and Ishikawa was generally drunken with vice and perpetually penniless. The story also takes place “about ten years” before his death in 1912.
On to the murder mystery itself, the first episode’s conclusion felt somewhat lacking as Ishikawa “solves” the case by demonstrating to the bumbling detective that there indeed is more than what meets the eye to what initially was an open and shut murder case. As entrancing as Ishikawa’s moment of sleuthing was, it fails to give any definitive closure to the case and he simply goes on his way feeling satisfied that he was able to get the police to take a second look at investigating the murder rather than tracking down the truth himself.
Ishikawa, as a character, has immense presence, but he is hardly the spark of brilliance that ties a mystery story together at the end. Not only does he leave the mystery with additional unanswered questions than when it started, Kindaichi and the viewer learn soon after that Ishikawa even forged evidence to bluff his way into his theory. The poet detective thus comes off as showy, but also of dubious character, and without the closure of a totally solved case, his foray into detective work seems questionable at best.
This could be offset with Kindaichi being a steadfast Watson to Ishikawa’s Holmes, but Kindaichi is also largely a pushover this first episode. He is too dazzled by his friend’s lyrical brilliance to contribute any real sleuthing and the only defining trait he has is “World’s Biggest Ishikawa Stan.”
Although the series teases an ensemble cast of Japanese literary giants to come into play, I am weary of Woodpecker Detective’s Office. I doubt this series is going to evoke the literary beauty these authors created in writing. And yet, I don’t foresee this series being particularly titillating for the typical “making historical men hot” genre of anime either. To that point, the show’s opening features some mild fanservice of the protagonists, but it feels wildly uncharacteristic and out of step with the rest of the show.
Ultimately, Woodpecker Detective’s Office has its moments of beauty, both in its dialogue and aesthetics, but it lacks consistency to tie it all together. As Ishikawa says so himself, a poet must compose poetry, not just read it.
Will I keep watching? I suppose I’ll give it three episodes.