First Look: The Detective is Already Dead

Alternative title(s): Tantei wa Mou Shindeiru, La Detective Esta Muerta
Light Novel Adaptation (of course) by ENGI
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

Some random guy finds himself on a suspiciously spacious plane with a mysterious suitcase — upon which he is promptly roped into assisting a brilliant detective who is coincidentally also a middle school girl. Together they fight a guy whose ear spouts tentacles, visit a school festival and have a lot of magniloquent conversations about nothing. At best.

Aqua’s verdict: The Viewer is Already Dead

It’s been quite a while since I last saw an anime fail so spectacularly at achieving what it set out to do. The Detective is Already Dead clearly wants to take a page out of the Steven Moffat handbook for screen writing, with no way to make its main character look clever other than to make the audience feel really, really dumb. The comparison might be a bit far-fetched, but still, the misplaced smugness oozing from the screen during this excruciatingly long pilot episode couldn’t help but make me feel like I was watching the low points of Moffat’s run on Doctor Who or the latter seasons of Sherlock again. The Detective is Already Dead writes its “mysteries” — that’s the scariest of scare quotes — following the exact same series of steps, which I’ll conveniently name “the Moffat Method”. It goes a little bit like this:

Step one: Set up a needlessly complicated sequence of nonsensical events.

Step two: Deliberately withhold information to a point where the viewer doesn’t even know they’re watching a mystery in the first place.

Step three: Reduce the viewer’s attention span to mush with a cavalcade of non-sequiturs and discussions about pointless minutiae, so they stop noticing that nothing of what you’re saying makes any sense at all.

Step four: “Solve” the “mystery” by introducing new elements the viewer could not have seen coming from a mile away.

Step five: Reveal that the main character knew all of this from the very beginning, or heck, that it was all part of their plan to begin with, and that they simply didn’t tell anyone else because they’re quirky, or because shut up.

It sounds like a surefire way to gaslight your audience in believing your show is inscrutable and therefore has to be brilliant, but there is a catch. You have to be a particularly talented hack to pull off the Moffat Method, and whoever wrote The Detective is Already Dead sure as heck isn’t. The author behind the original work, Nijoju, cites Oreimo and Saekano as inspirations, relics from an era in light novel writing before the noxious isekai subgenre became the default framework for the medium. You can ditch those rose-tinted glasses, though, because what light novels used to be wasn’t a fat lot better than what they are today.

The Detective is Already Dead is, nevertheless, indebted to this “old-skool” style of light novel writing. From the self-indulgent narration to the prospect of a plethora or heroines to plough through, this is for all intents and purposes the exact kind of story Nigoju grew up with — and if you somehow forgot why light novels were considered the laughingstock of the discerning anime fandom even long before someone first penned the cursed words “In Another World” on the cover of their first draft, let this show remind you.

These books have always been about indulging both the writer’s and the readers’ geekiest desires — most noticeably, of course, the desire to be lusted after by various teenage girls, but almost just as prominently also the desire to be so much smarter, wittier and more “above it all” than everyone else. Once in a while you’ll have a writer coming around who realizes that while this may be what the reader wants, it is not what they need — and you end up with works like Hyouka or the parts from Oregairu people actually like. In most cases, however, you end up with drivel like The Detective is Already Dead.

Even when it’s not about solving crimes, The Detective is Already Dead tries and fails to come across as the cleverest guy at the party. The predictable tropes of light novel romantic comedies are both the building blocks for its narrative and the preferred target for its attempts at witty jabs. In anime blogging circles, we refer to this phenomenon as “wanting to have your cake and eat it too”, but this show doesn’t just want to have its cake and eat it too; it wants the world to know that having its cake and eating it too is exactly what it is going to do. In anime blogging circles, we refer that phenomenon as “having your head so deep up your own ass you risk disappearing entirely”.

This style of writing, combined with the Moffat Method of plotting, lead to a show that is as insignificant as it is excruciating to watch. Not only does the constant insistence of its own alleged genius make The Detective is Already Dead tough to recommend, its failure to deliver on any of these claims makes it an embarrassment for all involved. Not even I, who jumps at every possible chance to put myself down, fell for its shallow attempts to make me feel like an idiot. I’m sure someone somewhere will fall for it, and their ravings will continue carving out a market for light novels of this ilk. It sure as hell won’t be me, though.

Iro’s verdict: Tiresome

It’s been so many years of dealing with the same asinine isekai power fantasy light novel adaptations that I’d nearly forgotten about the Haruhi style manic pixie dream girl light novel adaptations. There’s a protagonist with no other character traits other than having a name that could refer to the viewer themselves and a propensity for snarkily commenting on the show’s happenings. He’s paired with a cute but eccentric girl who makes it a personal mission to drag the hapless boy into strange circumstances while being flirty enough to obviously indicate some amount of inexplicable interest in the viewpoint character but not so flirty as to be socially unconscionable for a teenage girl, maintaining a tedious sexual tension not unlike the presumed tween audience discovering how to edge themselves while masturbating. Apart from a genuinely impressive action scene a third of the way into the premiere episode, all this is communicated with dialogue that either narrates precisely what is happening on screen, calls itself out for its own perceived edginess, or simply moves in endless circles to fill time. The Detective is Already Dead made me feel like I was already dead, trapped in the most boring form of limbo.

Zigg’s verdict: My Interest is Already Dead

This is such a tiresome collection of cliches and tedious dialogue that it feels even longer than its already interminable double episode length. In a way this thing is as much a power fantasy as any isekai show, except here the fantasy is that you can be desperately boring and characterless, yet cool things will still happen to you and cute girls will still like you. The writing is just ghastly, long stretches of flavourless, circuitous dialogue that isn’t half as clever or witty as it thinks it is. It also gleefully indulges in one of my least favourite habits, liberally using tired plot devices and then pointing out that it’s using them, as if that somehow excuses it and is simultaneously the height of comedy. Good detective stories are all about trying to put together the clues alongside the characters, but when your solution is ‘I somehow knew every single detail in advance’ that kind of goes out of the window. Aside from some admittedly nifty animation during the battle sequence, this entire thing was an utterly tedious snooze fest, and I can’t recommend avoiding it enough.

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