Fantastic Detective Labyrinth
30 years before, Tokyo was destroyed in a massive earth cataclysm. While most of its former residents now live in the new capitol, Shinto, some still remain in Tokyo (now renamed Kyuto.) Among those remaining are ultra-rich 12-year-old Mayuki Hyuga and his guardians/household staff, as well as his friends at Seishun Academy. Mayuki has psychic powers, which the police eventually employ to solve mysterious "phantom cases", but Mayuki's capabilities turn out to have an unexpected connection with the parties actually behind the crimes...
This show hasn't received much attention, and there are reasons for that- for about the first three-quarters of the way, it's just not very good, and its attempts at humor stink. But that last quarter is a BIT better...
First, the cast. Mayuki is usually dressed in short pants, waistcoat, and a ruffle tie; plays the violin; is a connoisseur of different varieties of tea; and, while he's only 12, is STILL stuck with a higher-pitched voice than Rakuta and Kota, identical-twin fellow classmates of his. In short, he's the kind of kid who is, alas, an easy target for bullying by his male peers, and as boys go I guess Rakuta and Kota actually go pretty easy on him, only calling him a "wuss", when, given that jealousy is also involved, it could be much worse. (Our little group of kids includes two girls who are smitten with Mayuki, Minori and Yayako, even though Rakuta secretly likes Minori, while Kota feels the same for Yayako. At least I THINK I've got the parties correctly identified here; this show makes less effort to distinguish its identical twins than most.)
In any event, it IS true that calling a boy a "wuss" is often the perfect strategy to get him to join in whatever dangerously ill-advised activity the name-callers are planning. (My wife says that even as a child she quickly learned the power of "are you AFRAID?" as a way to make boys do whatever she wanted.) Unfortunately, the only real role Rakuta and Kota HAVE in the story is JUST that of inciters-to-poor-judgement, and as for Minori and Yayako, they're just young damsels-in-distress. (This show is sexist in some other ways as well, which I'll get to shortly.)
Mayuki's mom, Lady Shara, is not dead, but IS completely out of Mayuki's life (which I never thought was adequately explained; she could have made SOME kind of arrangement to see her son, in my opinion), and his dad's a complete mystery. So his actual guardian is a man named Seiran Shinano, who also doubles as head butler. There are also a couple of young women who Seiran, with a snap of his fingers, can turn into super-powered...well, SLAVES in my opinion...complete with changes into revealing (i.e., fanservice-friendly) costumes (which makes this more Magical Girl territory than Sci-Fi.) OK, granted, the two girls do LIKE Mayuki, but they didn't exactly ASK to be given these transformations; they don't remember anything that happens to them while they were transformed (or even actually know that they HAVE this transformation power) when Seiran returns them to normal; and while they are sometimes referred to as Aya, another word used for them is "Dolls". Sounds uncomfortably close to slavery to ME. One is Hatsumi, a high school student who serves as a maid in the household. Another is Sanae, Minori's older sister. At first I couldn't quite figure out how the latter got co-opted into this, since she's not really a household member, but it turns out that both the young women were pressed into this service, as it were, in an emergency situation, and against Seiran's personal preference. (Not quite sure this really completely absolves him, though.)
The first three-quarters of the show (the MUCH lesser part) involves Mayuki's psychic ability being used by a male/female pair of detectives to solve the phantom cases. They're a disparate collection of scenarios; everything from terrorist bombers, to polluters, to treasure-seekers, to a rather mad movie director wanting to make his ultimate film not at public expense, but rather at the expense of the public. Silly gimmicks abound, and, even worse, so do inane chases horribly reminiscent of those in Scooby-Doo, to the point that if one of the villains had said, "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids", I wouldn't have been surprised. One big difference, though- since this is an anime rather than a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, some of the victims DO die. Since Mayuki is, well, cheating a bit by using psychic powers rather than actually analyzing a trail of clues, it's not really a detective show at all in the conventional sense, even if Mayuki's "I've found the exit to the labyrinth!" is intended to be this show's analogue of, say, Kindaichi's "I've solved all the mysteries!"
There's a common thread in all these "mysteries" though- in all the scenarios, the perpetrators of the crimes are being encouraged, aided-and-abetted, or simply brainwashed and/or talked-into-committing by a mysterious odango-haired woman named Byakko (who ALSO wears a skimpy outfit, and who also seems super-powered. Hmmm....)
The show's attempts at humor...actually hurt. For example, the set-up of one sequence makes a point of showing a clumsy character avoid tripping while carrying a tray of juice glasses, which means that.... well, you don't need me to fill in the blank there. We later see an Aya named Yoko cartwheeling down a path (is this EVER a practical method of traveling??), and straight into a pile of doggy-doo left by the show's dog, Haru (who at least DOESN'T talk.) To be honest, though, Yoko is otherwise one of the few characters in the show I actually LIKED (and therefore is only used sparingly, of course), and is the only Aya who is called by the same name in both her transformed version and in her "street" identity. She is the "personal assistant" to a guy named Shien (you should be able to guess what the relationship obviously actually is); he's one of those characters who's supposed to be funny because they're so over-the-top, but quite often (as here) "over-the-top" is excruciatingly UNfunny.
Still, as I said, the last quarter of the show is better, mainly because it drops the whole "mystery/detective" pretense and starts filling in the backgrounds of (and connections between) its characters. (The connection between the Shinanos, the family that guards/protects the Hyugas, and the Hyugas themselves was actually kind of surprising. Mayuki's mom remained something of an enigma though.) We do find out the ultimate motives behind everything, and there's a resolution to it all- and that's that. One very interesting question it left me with was what Mayuki will do with his life- how can he decide, when his SHOW was unable to decide what it wanted to be itself?
Usually the "bait-and-switch" shows- the ones that start out being one thing, and wind up something completely different- finally end up choosing a wrong-headed plot direction (e.g., Air.) Fantastic Detective Labyrinth at least takes a BETTER direction in its last quarter, but it's too little, too late. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Somewhat sexy costumes on the Ayas (and we see Hatsumi in bra and panties at one point.) There are some actual murders. 13 and up should be fine.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review Status: Full (25/25)
Fantastic Detective Labyrinth © 2008 Studio DEEN
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