Is it a compliment or an insult to walk away from an anime thinking, “well, I’m definitely interested in the source material now?” This is the question left behind by The Case Files of Jeweler Richard, a quiet procedural drama that came out this winter. Based on a series of light novels, the structural setup is Holmesian: jewelry appraiser Richard Ranasinghe de Vulpian is difficult to read but an expert in reading others and a seemingly endless fount of knowledge, while his newly-hired assistant Seigi is blunt, earnest, and handy as a sounding board. Each week the two are faced with a new customer seeking answers on a gemstone, which is usually emblematic of whatever quiet desperation the individual is faced with. It’s a slow, quiet format that won’t appeal to everyone, and its somewhat limited animation means that the dialogue must ultimately carry the show, but its episodic stories are touched with admirable empathy for their subjects.
For the first half of the show, each episodic conflict explicitly involves some element of social oppression, from heteronormativity to class differences and parental abuse. The show is not always wholly elegant in executing these ideas, often requiring Seigi to put his foot in his mouth so that Richard can break down the various faults in his reasoning for the audience. But it’s hard not to feel warmed by how firmly the writing’s heart is in the right place as it grows into itself, eventually settling more comfortably into exploring Richard and Seigi’s relationship and their tentative steps toward understanding one another. The final arcs dealing with each lead’s family issues manage to touch on some raw issues without the stiffness of the premiere or overblown melodrama that other shows might bring to the subject matter.
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Whether the show actually intends to have Richard and Seigi get together is somewhat unclear, and further obscured by some confusing subtitling decisions and a few key changes from the source material during a particularly charged hotel scene. On the one hand, the “just good friends” subgenre that straddles the line between homoerotic bonding between lead characters and plausible deniability in order to court the dollars of willfully dense straight viewers is alive and well. On the other hand, the series’ pointed inclusion of progressive issues makes it more likely that it would consider queer romance between its leads a viable option.
Unfortunately, like many anime based on still-running source material, Jeweler Richard doesn’t have a conclusive ending. Both characters grow and reach a new level of vulnerability with one another, but several potential relationships are left in the air and the final episode returns to an uneasy version of the status quo. By doing so it effectively becomes an advertisement for the novels it’s based on…which, unfortunately, aren’t available in English. It’s hard to recommend giving the anime a look on its own merits, but its charms, solid characters, and unanswered hooks have spurred me to vocally encourage Seven Seas Entertainment to license the light novels (and hope that others will do the same via the company’s monthly surveys). In the meantime, there are worse shows to watch if you’re looking for something laid-back and introspective.