Tachibana Sakon is a travelling puppeteer- a shy young man who tends to express his emotional side via his favourite puppet, Ukon. On their journeys, Sakon and Ukon find themselves stumbling upon murder mysteries; but whether it’s jealousy, money or past secrets that inspire these bloody crimes, the quiet boy and his outspoken puppet will surely get to the bottom of it.
It’s unlikely that anyone’s ever wondered what might happen if you dismissed the likes of Poirot and Miss Marple in favour of a teenaged puppeteer, but if Agatha Christie had done just that, then Ayatsuri Sakon might well have been the result. Over the course of the series, we get treated to eight different arcs, each one focusing on a ‘whodunit’ mystery, with all the usual staples of mysteriously locked rooms, suspects with a full range of motives, and an amateur detective who somehow manages to get to the bottom of it every time. If you like that sort of thing, then you’ll certainly lap the series up- at least at first.
Unfortunately, where the initial murder stories are at least intriguing, as the series progresses, the quality deteriorates. Instead of being creepy, good old-fashioned mysteries, each story seems shallower than the last; the culprit becomes easier to guess and the motives ever more ludicrous, until you’re hard put to care about who did it and why. Had the series stopped at 13 episodes, it would have been solid if not outstanding, but by 26, it really is beginning to stagnate.
Given that Sakon is a puppeteer, it should come as no surprise that his profession also features prominently in the series, with a couple of the arcs involving schools of puppetry and other traditional performing arts such as Noh theatre. The most important contribution, however, is none other than Ukon, a puppet which Sakon uses to express a personality so different it’s hard to believe that Ukon himself isn’t alive. Where Sakon is shy, withdrawn and perceptive, Ukon is brash and outspoken- a perfect foil for the natural recalcitrance of our lead.
Since each arc is self-contained, it’s unsurprising that the series doesn’t have much in the way of recurring characters- there’s Sakon’s puppet master grandfather; his feisty policewoman aunt Kaoruko; an inquisitive and easygoing photographer named Zenkichi- and that’s about it. All of them exist more to serve the plot than to undergo any real development, with poor Kaoruko even undergoing a complete change of personality in an arc that begins with an arranged marriage meeting.
Visually, Ayatsuri Sakon is cleanly animated with some attractive character designs amidst a largely generic set- although with the series being the best part of a decade old, it can’t stand up to some of the latest and greatest visual treats. Background music is simple yet effective, with the eyecatch ‘sting’ actually proving to be the most memorable segment of audio.
If you like murder mysteries and whodunits, then Ayatsuri Sakon will be right up your street, but nonetheless by the time the series draws to a close, you’ll probably have had your fill. By all means watch and enjoy the earlier arcs, but be aware that the quality won’t be consistent throughout.