Despite an original airing date of 2008, Ryoko’s Case File is just now getting a legal English release, streaming on RetroCrush as of this writing. Based on a series of light novels by Yoshiki Tanaka Published between 1996 and 2007, the story follows police superintendent/inspector Ryoko Yakushiji as she investigates a variety of odd cases around Tokyo – and occasionally outside it. Junichiro Izumida, the Watson to her Holmes (even down to being the narrator of the series), assists her loyally and with ignorance as to her total romantic feelings for him. It’s not necessarily an original setup, but it is one that works for a series that’s a combination of science fiction and mystery.
That genre combination is one of the series’ defining features. It’s not “mysterious” in the sense that it’s about paranormal activity or folklore run amok, as we more typically see the term applied in anime Rather the cases that Ryoko and Junichiro solve are all rooted in mad science with a dash of spirituality thrown in for familiarity. Despite the first half of the show feeling a bit like monster-of-the-week fare, one of the strongest points of the series is that all the seemingly disconnected adventures turn out to have been connected, with each building towards the final case ( which spans four episodes). There are two overarching themes that help to pull this off, the lust for immortality paired with the idea of private police forces being for rampant corruption, depending upon the personal philosophies of their founders.
Ryoko may not be fully free from corruption herself – she certainly seems to abuse her power as Junichiro’s boss at times – but she’s ultimately devoted to putting the bad guys in their place. Always dressed in the 2008 version of professional (skirt suit with heels), she’s not above stomping on a few groins or throwing punches when she needs to. In fact, she’s a very skilled fighter no matter what she’s wearing, giving new meaning to the idea of “battle heels.” The fight scenes do highlight a disconnect between the sexualized opening theme, which is the credits over panning shots of Ryoko’s naked body in silhouette, and the near total lack of fanservice Beyond that, but unless you demand panty shots of your mini-skirted fighters, it’s not really an issue. It helps that that’s the only real tonal dissonance in the series, of course.
The cases Ryoko’s involved in tending to be one of two types: genetic manipulation and technology malfunctioning in dangerous ways. While the two do eventually come together at the end, the overall implication is that humanity is ultimately responsible for its own problems, meddling in realms that it really ought to leave alone. We see this particularly clearly in episode seven, where mutated mangrove trees don’t need a Lorax to speak for them, punishing humanity for its depredations upon their environment. Episode eight is another striking one, with insects that mimic cellphone sounds causing people to have auditory hallucinations and kill themselves, another statement on how if nature decides (or is manipulated) to fight back, humanity is basically screwed. Although this isn’t a theme in the final case, we can see how the villain’s plans could come back around this eventually, implying that Ryoko’s work won’t be done for a good long time.
Subtitles, unfortunately, are a bit of a mixed bag for this stream, with some episodes being perfectly fine and others suffering from odd phrasing, misused words, and missing words. Episodes two, six, ten, eleven, and thirteen are the most egregious on this front, with one particularly odd translation coming in episode ten, where the word “hieroglyph” is used instead of “character” when referring to kanji. While not strictly incorrect, it’s also not the term in common use and gives the translation that not-so-great unprofessional feel – an issue if you’ve paid for the premium version of RetroCrush with no ads. On the plus side, the series’ use of French is pretty good, and if the pronunciation gets a little garbled at times, that just serves to make a later scene – when Junichiro assumes that French maid/assassins Lucienne and Marianne have named a young girl the group rescued “Monami” rather than realizing that they’re calling her “mon amie” (my friend) in French – much more of a pleasant surprise. Less wonderful is that the subs don’t always spell names consistently; Lucienne and Marianne are for an entire episode called Lucien and Marianna.
If the character designs look familiar, that’s because they come from Narumi Kakinouchithe creator of Vampire Princess Miyu. Apart from one truly hideous maid outfit, the art is good, and the animation serviceable. background music It is almost entirely made up of smooth jazz, with a nice variety of ending themes, several with little detail changes in the imagery to compliment what’s happening in the show at the time. It definitely has an older sensibility (and Ryoko’s razr phone absolutely dates it), but overall this isn’t a bad-looking series. But on the downside, being an older show does mean that there are some unfortunate stereotypes that creep in alongside a few hideous early 2000s outfits. The main problem is a trans character whose introduction is met with a scream from a man interacting with her in episode three. She’s deliberately drawn to look like a man dressing up as a woman, with details like hairy legs and bulging muscles, just adding to the misconception of her transness, not to mention a very narrow view of womanhood. Ryoko also encounters some sexism, but honestly that pales in comparison.
On the whole, Ryoko’s Case File is a pretty good show. It has action, a varied cast of characters, and a different take on the mysterious detective genre. While it does suffer from some outdated tropes and definitely strains credulity more than once, it’s still an enjoyable series to watch. Ryoko earns her nickname of Dracoryo, but her heart is usually in the right place, and maybe her less-than-charming aspects are what allow her to save the day so neatly, every time.