Listening to: Dear Answer – True (Beautiful Bones Opening)
This review is free of major spoilers, in the interests of being helpful to those who are considering watching the show in question.
CONTENT WARNING for some discussion of suicide, abuse, and death.
“Here, beneath the Kujou family’s cherry tree, is a princess who loves bones.”
I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery, and I frequently enjoy anime, but Beautiful Bones was actually the first pure “mystery” anime I’ve watched (for the purposes of this review, we’re not counting The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as a representative of the genre). So, while I certainly can review it (and am currently reviewing it), I don’t have as much basis for comparison. With that minor disclaimer out of the way, here we go.
This story takes place in Asahikawa City, Hokkaido Prefecture, where a rather odd pair of freelance investigators make their home. The first is Sakurako Kojou, a rather antisocial woman whose consuming passions include sweet desserts, loud music, and painstakingly assembling skeletons for display in her home. The other is Shoutarou Tatewaki, a rather hapless high school boy who serves as Sakurako’s assistant–and sometimes “guardian,” when her eccentricity gets out of hand.
Although their main objective is to find Sakurako more specimens, they frequently stumble across much more sinister situations: cold cases of murder or suicide where Sakurako’s talent as an osteologist shines through. Further complicating matters is Shoutarou’s confusion as to where the two of them stand in regards to each other: does Sakurako consider him a mere nuisance? A convenient helper? Or perhaps, an actual friend?
While Shoutarou isn’t exactly the most complex of characters, he serves his role as an audience surrogate quite well, and his comical exasperation at some of Sakurako’s antics creates some of the best comedic moments of the show. Sakurako comes across as the Sherlock to his Watson: keenly intelligent while sometimes dangerously air-headed, insightful but socially inept, and more than a little arrogant. There’s an interesting dynamic between the two. Some might view it as romance despite the age difference, but it’s fairly clear that even if Shoutarou does have a crush on her, Sakurako views him as a younger sibling of sorts.
The recurring minor characters are an interesting bunch, even if they aren’t as prominent. Sakurako’s housekeeper, simply called “Gran” by most of the cast, is sometimes called on for her cheerful advice (or to slap Sakurako’s hand away from one cake too many). Science teacher Isozaki is occasionally abrasive, but is still shown to care about his students, and loves plants almost as much as Sakurako loves bones. Utsumi, a fairly typical bumbling police officer, serves as a good-natured foil to Sakurako, sometimes pointing her in the direction of cases that need to be solved. And Shoutarou’s classmate Yuriko, while she certainly suffers from the expected crush on the male protagonist, is given much more depth than the typical satellite love interest–a deeply examined relationship with her grandmother, and a friendly rapport with Sakurako.
It’s difficult to discuss the individual mysteries without giving away plot details, so instead of that I’ll touch a bit on the show’s recurring themes. The first is the prominence of familial relationships, and how they can both help and hurt. A multitude of families are presented and examined through the course of the show, and the show does a fair job of keeping each character feeling true to life–whether it’s a loving grandmother, a depressed father, or an abusive mother. This has the overall effect of making the world as a whole feel more real and interesting, and keeps the viewer invested in the show.
The other major recurring theme is suicide, and it’s something that the show delves into quite a bit. A debate arises at one point between two of the characters: one believing that the decision to end one’s own life is a human right, and the other steadfastly arguing that wanting to prevent others from dying is a basic human value. Multiple reasons for why someone would kill themselves are put forward–to escape debt, loneliness, grief, or alienation–but one prevailing theme is common to all of these stories: the loss of a loved one is always a terrible blow, no matter the circumstances, and there is always a reason to keep living.
According to my usual research methods (i.e. checking the Wikipedia page for the series), the music composition was done by Technoboys Pullcraft Green-Fund, which is quite a mouthful, but a great name for a band. The music highlights both dramatic and comedic moments well, and its sometimes motivic structure does a good job of creating an overall feeling of thematic consistency.
As for the animation, I thought it looked familiar at first blush, so I checked the credits on a hunch. The studio, Troyca, was also behind Aldnoah.Zero, so congratulations to them on creating a show that I actually liked. Second time’s the charm. The visuals are just as attractive as A.Z‘s, but they also adjusted a few things I found annoying about that show’s appearance, such as the overlarge bottom lips on every character. It probably helps that they had a protagonist who was actually… expressive. I think the bit of animation that I enjoyed the most was Sakurako’s “magical girl transformation” sequence (shown at the top as a still, in all its technicolor glory).
I mentioned in a previous review that I’ve been playing catch-up on this past season’s shows, so I ended up watching most of the show in a single day, but its episodic structure lends itself well to either pace of viewing. While the season ended on an unfinished note, I’m not too terribly upset about it. If there isn’t a second season, I’ll still have had the enjoyment of watching the characters grow and develop. If there is, I’ll gladly watch it, to see how their journey continues.
To reach this decision, I dug up a review that someone had buried, boiled it, bleached it, and then assembled it as I thought it should appear.
Rating: 3.8 out of 5
Ruling: Beautiful Bones is well thought-out and encompasses plenty of emotions, from nail-biting tension to dark humor. While its plots aren’t quite as convoluted as other mysteries, it’s quite enjoyable nonetheless.