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Perfect Insider, The (2015)

There are many reasons viewers are attracted to Japanese animation. For some it's the visual style. For others, it's how different it is from its western counterpart. For some viewers, though anime's most interesting aspect is the sheer range of subject matters and genres covered. For every dozen series that trades in well-trodden trope and conventions, there's a series or movie that pushes the boundaries of the kind of stories animation can tell. When you're sick of high-school hijinx and giant robots there will always be a series like The Perfect Insider to shake thinks up and keep things interesting.

The Perfect Insider is a mystery thriller, produced by A1 Pictures and originally screened as part of the noitaminA block on Fuji TV. The central characters are a young university professor and his friend and assistant- the daughter of his late mentor. They travel to a remote island to meet with a world-renowned genius who has been isolated in a locked room for 15 years since being accused of killing her parents at the age of 13. The professor's hopes of talking with her hit a snag when she shows up dead. With the room sealed and under constant surveillance and no sign of anyone else who could possibly be responsible?

If you watch a lot of television and movies you've probably seen countless murder mysteries. Even the idea of a 'locked room murder' is not that new- this is the kind of mystery you can imagine Sherlock or Jonathan Creek getting their teeth stuck into. In animation, though it's not nearly so common. Even in Japan, where Detective Conan (aka Cased Closed) remains a massive success, it's a relative rarity.

The Perfect Insider gets points right off the bat for novelty, but not only due to the choice of genre. It also differs from great swathes of anime in centring on (slightly) older characters. Professor Saikawa may be relatively young by the standards of his profession but at least he's an actual grown-up. And assistant Moe (" I'm nearly 20") is at least out of high-school.  The staff at the lab also ensure that the cast is full of more varied ages and not just the pretty young things of so much anime.

The character designs are similarly varied. The leads conform to more conventionally appealing realistic style, but side characters are often given a more cartoonish or caricatured look. Somehow though, it all blends together perfectly well and gives the series a striking look.

In terms of the actual animation though, there is little showing off here. The story mainly unfolds through dialogue and the occasional flashback. There's no giant set-pieces or action sequences- this is a much more cerebral affair, where brains are valued over brawn.

With the single story being told across 11 episodes, this feels a lot like the anime equivalent of reading a quality mystery novel. And no wonder- as in fact, this is an adaptation of the 1996 novel Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider by Hiroshi Mori.  And while the basic set-up could be the same a western mystery novel, the actual execution still feels distinctly Japanese. This feels similar in many ways to works of Japanese literature such as the work of  Haruki Murakami or Koji Suzuki (author of the original Ring trilogy that inspired the movie of the same name).

There are some plot elements that go into some dark and uncomfortable territory that if mishandled would be in danger of feeling exploitative or gratuitous. Luckily, however, it is handled pretty tastefully and feels pretty standard territory for a serious adult drama.

The Perfect Insider presents an absorbing mystery- and it's extremely unlikely that you will be able to guess where the plot is going. This is the kind of series you could see any mystery junkie getting into- if only they could see past the stigma of watching a (subtitled) animated show.

If you enjoy a good mystery yarn- or if you just want a bit of variety in your anime diet- then this show is for you.  Perfect? Maybe not. But not a million miles off, either.

THE PERFECT INSIDER is available on BLU-RAY and DVD in the UK from ANIMATSU and in the US from SENTAI FILMWORKS. Also available streaming from Crunchyroll