Beautiful Bones: Sakurako's Investigation
High-school student Shotaro Tatewaki first met Sakurako Kujo when he was looking for a missing neighbor; in spite of her reclusive, reserved personality, they eventually became close in their own strange way. And Sakurako-san herself has a hobby some might describe as somewhat strange....she's an osteologist, who collects and restores skeletons and finds both bones and the circumstances behind the deaths of their owners to be endlessly fascinating. Shotaro has ended up being something of an "assistant" to her and accompanies her on her investigations; he grudgingly admits that he finds her and her work fascinating, even as he despises the fact that that she calls him "boy" instead of by name.
There aren't that many anime where one character more-or-less makes the series for me, but Beautiful Bones is something of an exception to that trend. It's one of the better shows from the fairly weak season that was Fall 2015 and the generally weak year of 2015, and while it does have some other factors going for it, I was drawn to the show largely because of how much I liked Sakurako herself, which outweighed some other aspects that irritated me throughout its run. I do have to make the warning that the anime adaptation of Shiori Ota's novel is incomplete and stops basically just when the main characters start to get anywhere with the undeveloped central mystery that underlies the show's shorter vignettes, but if you can ignore that fact, I'd say it's actually a pretty entertaining little series.
So, let's talk about Sakurako-san herself, first. In my opinion, she's actually a "magical girl"-type character of sorts, except that in this case, her "power" is her years of experience looking at bones and skeletons and her ability to basically know anything about the person or animal's life at one glance. If you don't believe me, see for yourself;she even has her own "transformation sequence" of sorts.
That sadly-underused sequence basically captures everything I love about Sakurako and is by far the visual highlight of the series; the animation is good, elsewhere, but we never again see anything this impressive, which isn't that surprising given the fact that the show otherwise largely focuses on Sakurako and her intellectual work. I do rather like the character design and art, though, for the characters are generally pretty stylishly-dressed (Sakurako's dress-shirt and black pant combo suits her well), and the background art is consistently good. I don't have much to say about the musical score, and the OP is a pretty humdrum piece of karaoke-sounding pop, but I did rather like the percussion and analogue synth-laden ending theme, which is rather sad, spooky, and lonely-sounding and much better fits the show, fitting alongside some of the darker aspects of Sakurako's upbringing that are obliquely referenced throughout.
So I'll come back to Sakurako herself, now: the best part of Beautiful Bones, for me, was watching her irrepressible desire to dig up and examine bones, to the point at which she sometimes runs somewhat afoul of law enforcement officers who'd rather she not "interfere" with their investigation, even though she's nearly always the most competent person involved. She does, of course, sometimes come across as being a little outside-of-the-mainstream for being this interested in dead bodies, since she sometimes drools over the prospect of a new find in the same way one might drool over some especially good and expensive food (which she's also prone to doing), but the show doesn't portray her in a negative light for this, and I honestly do appreciate that. People might see her as "weird," but her "weirdness" is just her having invested so much time in osteology, to the extend that often, she's the only person around who can really do a job. We don't get very many flashbacks to her time spent learning this skill (given the show's one-cour runtime, this is probably a good thing), but there are a lot of references to her having invested a great deal of time learning how to look at bones and having had a mentor figure whom she misses quite a bit, and given that hyper-intelligent anime characters sometimes appear to have their hyper-intelligence exist in a sort of vacuum, it's actually rather refreshing to me to see that she isn't merely just some "prodigy" but that so much of this is through her own effort. I may be biased, since I've gotten a bit tired of "prodigy" stories, but this aspect was definitely a positive for me.
I like but don't love the other characters. Shotarou doesn't sink to, say, the levels of stupidity exhibited by Dantalian's Huey, but he's frankly mostly just a foil for Sakurako, who refuses to call him anything besides "shounen;" this is amusing the first few times, gets old, and then becomes an interesting plot point later on, so I guess as running jokes go, one could do worse. His presence never actively annoyed me, but his complete obliviousness to the affections of another of his classmates, Yuriko Kogami, can be pretty infuriating given how obvious it is, and also given that while the show seems primed to have him and Sakurako fall in love, they make far more sense to me as co-conspirators or as a sort of older sister-younger brother dynamic (there are some offhand references to Sakurako having a fiancee, but he never appears and might as well be made-up, for all intents and purposes). Yuriko, for her part, is basically just a sweet character who gets intwined in Sakurako's investigations twice: once after she enlists her to prove that her grandmother, who at the time of her death was caring for her dementia-ridden husband, didn't commit suicide out of stress, and once in an episode devoted to her and Shotarou's outwardly arrogant but inwardly very sensitive teacher, Itsuki Isozaki. Said episode is the only episode in which Shotarou and Sakurako fade into the background, and it's actually something of a nice change of pace, although the actual mystery (the two trying to find the writer of an apparent suicide note left at a summer festival) ends up copping out a bit, sadly. I won't say that either Yuriko or Itsuki is an especially dynamic character, but the show does manage to prove that it can survive on something besides Sakurako's quirks and facial expressions alone, to its credit.
I'd probably say that Beautiful Bones is somewhat closer to a forensic sci-fi series, somewhat akin to The X-Files, than a true "mystery," given that the most interesting part, to me, tends to be watching Sakurako's deductive reasoning process and not the actual circumstances behind the mysterious deaths themselves. As this genre goes, Beautiful Bones isn't terribly melodramatic, and it balances some light-hearted moments, such as Sakurako's caretaker constantly trying to stop her from eating sweets, pretty nicely with both the serious bits and the inevitable moments of dark humor you'll have when you write a premise like this. The nicest story for me, in fact, was the episode that had the least amount of foul play involved, that centered around Yuriko's grandmother, and it sticks out as being somewhat mellower than the others, barring the first episode, in which the characters don't meet any living people connected to the dead people in question. Another episode I enjoyed was one that obliquely delved into Sakurako's past, in which it becomes apparent that a cat that Itsoki houses in Shotaro's school is in fact a cat that Sakurako and her now-deceased mentor used to own. This thread struck me as being especially crucial to Sakurako's character because it shows that she loves living things as much as she does skeletons, in spite of what people might be quick to assume given her antisocial tendencies, and that for her, reconstructing these skeletons is her form of paying respects to them and their former existence. I'm not entirely sure if I'd ever want the skeletons of any deceased former pets in my house, but somehow, given how much time she and her former professor take with their art, It still made sense to me.
But some of the show's weaknesses become apparent in the more explicitly dramatic episodes. There tends to be a lot of yelling, crying, and monologuing, and we're often left to assume at face value that characters' erratic behavior makes sense. One of the more frustrating arcs focused on Shotaro's old friend Utsumi having Sakurako and Shotaro help out his old colleague, who thinks that he's domed to die young given the "curse" on the other men in his family. The arc initially seems to focus on Sakurako finding a medical cause for his and his family's health problems, but it abruptly switches gears at the last minute to center on a suicide plot and makes everything we've spent the previous two episode on feel like one giant red herring. Partly, it bothered me because stress-related suicides are such a problem (especially in Japan) and because the show deals with it in something of an overwrought and simplistic manner; it also bothered me because it tried a bit too hard to tie the colleague's stress to the meddling of a mysterious man who, if Beautiful Bones would have us believe, is tied to the vast majority of the misfortunes that the show depicts. I have to admit that this aspect of Beautiful Bones struck me as a bit forced: the author wanted a villain, and so she strained to have as many of its stories as possible tie to him, as contrived as the reasons might be. This character, only fully seen at the very end of the show, manages to be involved in a missing child plot, Utsumi's friend's attempted suicide, and the death of one of Itsoki's former students; it's possible that there'd be more of a common thread besides him being "a creepy acquaintance of Sakurako who happens to show up in all of the cases she gets involved in" if the story progressed further, but as it is, I don't see much rhyme or reason to it.
So while Beautiful Bones does have other good qualities, I basically enjoy it because I adore Sakurako-san herself as a character and love watching her do her work. The side characters are fine, and some of the one-off stories are enjoyable, but the "overarching" plot the show tries to introduce is forced, or at least it comes across as forced given how little information we get about Sakurako's mysterious adversary in these twelve episodes. I'd still be happy if this series ever got a second season, though, since I'm always up for watching Sakurako do her work...
...even if she sometimes says stuff like that. Oh my. ^^;
It's a weak four stars, but I did genuinely enjoy it. I love the main character and enjoyed some of the episodes on an individual basis; I'm less sure about how well-written the drama is, and I think that the overarching story hurts rather than helps the show. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Teenagers and up. We don't really see anything graphic but death is constantly present in this show and you're often confronted with suicidal characters and their circumstances; even if it's not always especially well-written, it can still be very intense. There's not much in the way of fanservice or nudity except for a bit in the ED sequence.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll, Japanese with English Subtitles.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Beautiful Bones: Sakurako's Investigation © 2015 Shiori Ota • EVERYSTAR/PUBLISHED BY KADOKAWA/Sakurako Partners
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