Yakumo is a university student who pretty much just wants to be left alone however it is rumoured that he is a psychic. Haruka believes her friend has been possessed after they went into a supposedly haunted building and asks Yakumo for help. Even after that case is solved, Haruka continues to involve herself with the unsociable Yakumo and learns more about his particular gift and his tragic past.
This is a show that should be a lot better than it actually is. I really enjoy watching this show but know that if asked I wouldn’t recommend it as a must watch. It’s the odd curiosity piece that you recommend to someone who claims they’ve seen it all and you know they have a thing for psychic detectives.
Let’s start with the concept. It’s fantastic. Yakumo sees the spirits of the dead and they aren’t monsters or overly chatty, sarcastic guys reeling off one-liners for comedic effect. They aren’t, for the most part, particularly concerned with the living at all and a lot of their interactions are incidental or are acts of convenience (living people in wrong place at wrong time). And Yakumo, while he can see these ghosts and talk with them, isn’t particularly keen to do so (due to a general apathy about life in general) and he isn’t a ghost buster or super-powered human. He can see ghosts but unless they choose to move on, there isn’t a whole lot he can do about them.
The way the show treats life, death, and the spirits of the dead is generally very respectful and it is all constructed in a very matter-of-fact manner. It isn’t trying to sensationalize the hauntings and it doesn’t try to tug your heart-strings for the sake of a cheap emotional rise. While there is a clear message in the show about the value of life and living, death is not seen as the ultimate tragedy either. Characters confront death (both natural and unnatural) almost every episode and it seldom feels cheap.
As a character, Yakumo is interesting. Yeah, he has the typical tragic childhood and absent parents of anime protagonists everywhere and he has the lazy and disconnected attitude toward things that is becoming more and more common amongst anime protagonists (social disconnect is becoming a much bigger issue after all), but he feels like a real character in the way he slowly responds to Haruka and the Gotou and the other characters who try to draw him out of his shell.
Haruka, doesn’t fare so well, as she seems entirely in the story for plot convenience. Someone needs to act as a catalyst for Yakumo to change and to drag him out of his room on occasion. When she isn’t serving that role, she is the dumb assistant asking questions so the audience can have explanations, and she also plays the obligatory innocent bystander and victim at times. That isn’t to say she doesn’t have some good moments, but her character is inconsistent and her motivation for continuing to interact with Yakumo is never all that clear.
Gotou, as the police detective with marital problems, is interesting as is Yakumo’s uncle, Isshin. These two kind of substitute father figures play different roles and represent different ideals in Yaumo’s life. I found this a nice touch as at least it gave Yakumo a lot of ground in between to find his own path, and the glaring flaws of both of these characters meant they didn’t feel like they existed only to be that mentor figure.
The villains of the piece, Nanase and Yakumo’s father, are menacing and have interesting stories, though their actual plot and goal seems a little too doomed to failure to have ever been considered all that much of a threat. Still, they work well in the background for most of the series and certainly step up their activities at the necessary time to lead to a climax and resolution. Though someone needs to take that taser away from Nanase.
So, with an interesting concept and some quite solid characters, why isn’t the show as good as it sounds like it could be? Three main problems:
- Pacing – Individual episodes of this series tend to focus on their own story, until the midway point where it becomes a little more serialised, but some of these episodes drag, or rather inconsequential parts seem far too long whereas the resolution or conflict is rushed over. Also, we don’t really get enough time with any of the characters. They are solid enough and we learn enough about them to know who they are but we don’t spend long enough with any of them to really connect the way we need to for the final few episodes to have the appropriate impact.
- Quality – This is not a pretty anime. And yes, with the subject matter, it was always going to be relatively dark with a subdued colour palette, but everything about this anime just seems unpolished. The backgrounds, character designs and the action. Even the opening is just kind of dull.
- The Luke, I Am Your Father moment. Okay, they don’t go so far as to replicate the scene with Yakumo screaming no but it’s one of those shows where the bad guy is actually the father and maybe the uncle knew that all along and just conveniently didn’t tell anyone until it was too late, etc, etc. And while this by itself isn’t a deal breaker and it actually makes a great deal of sense as to why any of the events in the show actually occur, it still feels like slack writing.
Should you watch this show? Honestly, if you like murder and mystery with the occasional supernatural element and you don’t mind a slower moving plot, you will probably quite enjoy this show. I know I find it very relaxing to watch Yakumo and crew resolve the various problems and help the dead pass on. However, if you are new to anime or if you are looking for something really exciting, you are probably better off passing on Psychic Detective Yakumo.