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[Puppet Master Sakon R2 DVD box art]
AKA: 人形草紙あやつり左近 (Japanese), Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon, Ayatsuri Sakon, Sakon the Ventriloquist
Genre: Murder mystery / drama
Length: Television series, 26 episodes, 23 minutes each
Distributor: Currently unlicensed in North America
Content Rating: 13+ (murder, violence, occasional blood)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Case Closed / Detective Conan, Detective Academy Q, Spiral
Notes: Based on the manga by Masaru Miyazaki (known as Sharakumaro) and Takeshi Obata.
Rating:
 

Puppet Master Sakon

Synopsis

Tachibana Sakon, the grandson of a Bunraku puppeteer master, is an unusual young man. A painfully shy boy, he can only show his confidence through the coarse and arrogant persona of his puppet, Ukon. Not only does this unusual pair put on beautiful classical puppetry performances but they also have a strong and unusual talent to solve mysteries.

Review

I have to give them credit for trying. A Bunraku puppeteer who also solves crimes? Even in Japan, where puppetry has a strong (and more esteemed compared to the West) classical tradition, the combination seems like something that might come out of some particularly creative (or insane) late night brainstorming session. That being said, I was intrigued by the idea and given my general interest in mystery/detective shows I found that I was eagerly looking forward to this show. Unfortunately, I must note that I was rather disappointed.

Now in a show of this type, the mysteries and the detective's interaction with such mysteries should provide the primary draw or, at the minimum, be somewhat interesting. Despite the fact that almost every murder mystery in this show is developed over multiple episodes, I found most of them not very engaging. I don't have a strong objection to formulaic elements (in a show of this type they are expected and in some cases almost required) but it is still necessary to put a fresh spin on the formula to keep it interesting. Many of the mysteries in the show were so transparent and unoriginal that I was able to figure out the culprit within a few minutes of the beginning of the first episode of an arc despite the writer's valiant attempts to confuse the viewer with every cheap Red Herring available.

Now despite the weakness of the mysteries, the show could have managed to keep my interest with a strong or interesting lead. While Sakon and Ukon certainly are a bit unusual, I just didn't find them particularly compelling and for that matter a bit disturbing. Sakon, you see, will chat with Ukon even when no one else is around and seems to value Ukon as his only true friend. If Ukon was actually sentient in any way this wouldn't seem so disturbing but as it is presented in the show, Sakon ends up just seeming like a disturbed young man suffering with some type of Dissociative Identity Disorder. I thought Sakon should be getting treated by a psychiatrist not solving mysteries. It was hard for me to really accept Ukon as a character in his own right given that he is simply Sakon talking through a puppet.

The various secondary characters, unfortunately, weren't particularly compelling and mostly seemed to exist as plot facilitation devices for Sakon. A prime example is his aunt, Kaoruko, a police detective who seemingly is incapable of solving any case without the assistance of her nephew. The various witnesses, victims, and culprits introduced in the various different cases are typically so quickly introduced and minimally or stereotypically developed that I found it hard to really care at all about what happened to them or what exactly they were doing.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this entire show is Sakon's generally unimpressive detective skills. Rather then some clever puppeteer version of Sherlock Holmes, he often seems to solve many of his case by the attrition method: simply managing not to die until the primary culprit has killed off the majority of the other potential suspects. Though the whole Ten Little Indians plot motif might have been appropriate for one of the cases, it seems to appear in almost all of them. Even Sakon's special ability to "channel" the thoughts and feelings of a victim by using the art of "puppetry as mind reading" might have worked a bit better in a show with actual supernatural elements. It is a sad day when you are secretly hoping there is some bizarre supernatural twist to provide some chance of saving a show. As it stands, it comes off as the result of painfully contrived and lazy writing. If he is that good at reading his audience, he should be a bit better at actually picking out the culprits in a more expeditious manner.

The technical aspects are competent enough. I did actually like the character and scene design work. Overall, I think they also did a fairly good job of adding to general atmosphere with the animation lighting choices, scene angles and the like. The music, though not spectacular, could be a bit atmospheric at times. That same music, however, did get rather repetitive as the show continued on. Though using certain specific musical themes for particular events doesn't always bother me and can be used to good effect (such as in Spiral), in Puppet Master Sakon it just proved to be another weak area.

Despite being a huge mystery fan (heck I grew up watching Murder, She Wrote) I found this title dull, unoriginal, and its main character a bit creepy. There are a number of better murder mystery titles out there and despite Ayatsuri Sakon's unusual background ideas, the show just doesn't work overall. I really wanted to like this title and I'm rather disappointed that they couldn't take such an interesting (albeit somewhat odd) idea for a detective and make it into something a bit more compelling. Jeremy A Beard

Recommended Audience: This is a murder mystery show so, as expected, there a number of murders (big spoiler there). Unlike many anime murder mystery shows I've seen, they make no attempt to conceal blood or used inverted/solarized color effects on crime scenes, so things can get slightly gruesome at times. Overall, I think this should is probably mostly appropriate for teens and above.



Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Puppet Master Sakon © 1999 Tokyo Movie Shinsha / Tokyo Agency / Wowow