Why We Don’t Have More Crime Procedural Anime

This is basically a variation on this post.

Japan has quite the mystery writers’ scene – if you’ve seen Bungou Stray Dogs, you’ll know some of the names of the past, while being a Japanophile for long enough will expose you to names like Natsuhiko Kyogoku (who has his own BSD spinoff, despite being alive)…so you’d think there’s a lot of procedurals out there and so, procedural anime.

Important sidebar going forward: I’m using the definition of “procedural” from this Wikipedia page: “…a genre of television programming which focuses on how crimes are solved or some other aspect of a law enforcement agency, legislative body, or court of law.” Basically, this is what MAL mean when they have the so-called “police” genre on the work’s tags.

Admittedly, this has picked up in previous years – Stand My Heroes, Psycho Pass, Tokunana and Double Decker all fit the bill to some degree – but I wanted to give this topic a shot anyway since Anime Feminist was asking about crime-solving anime, specifically focussing on the crime procedural.

Much like how magical girl anime have basically splintered into “dark” and “not-so-dark” kinds, mystery anime can generally be sorted into “mystery by atmosphere” (such as Xxxholic) and “mystery by design” (which is where the procedural generally falls), although the occult detective is a hybrid of the two and the nazotoki subgenre (currently including Nazotokine, Kaito x Ansa and Dimension High School…and maybe Phi Brain, if I ever get around to evaluating it) is a bit of a weird case in that their mysteries are puzzles, so they’re not procedural but still fit both categories one way or another.

Aside from that (which covers “supernatural and mystery” and maybe “fantasy and mystery”, although notably Rokka is not a procedural), there’s a significant bit of crossover between horror and mystery or sci-fi and mystery for certain shows, which are hit-or-miss when it comes to the procedural format – that is, they either have it or they don’t. Sometimes they stick to the procedural format for a while before getting rid of it entirely (see Double Decker as an example), which, depending on how you look at the situation, could count as contributing or not.

Sidebar: Oh gosh, I forgot I had that How Do You Approach Anime? post. I thought I first mentioned it in the post explaining why I love magical girl anime, but no…I was wrong. I know I’m tooting my past self’s horn here, but go read both posts if you haven’t!

On top of that, there’s the elephant in the room when it comes to MAL’s so-called “police” anime – Detective Conan. Although the procedural looks different enough in each incarnation that a new one doesn’t look like Detective Conan, the inherent formula to a more mystery-bent procedural will be predictable enough that it can be problematic. The hour-long live-action episode favours episodic stories with a proper narrative structure according to the formula, while the seasonal format means the one story might get split into bits if the mystery isn’t short (or alternatively, long) enough for 24 minutes (or whatever length episode is allocated). This is probably one reason why those “they’re a procedural and then they’re not” series are that way, come to think of it.

The other reason why series can’t stay procedurals within the seasonal schedule without having a larger (2 cours+) episode count is because people want to see endings. Part of a successful mystery series is a proper resolution, so the series has to make sure it nails the ending while upholding its own logic…which is a much harder thing to do than say, depending on the audience’s views.

Sidebar 2: Note although I use the terms interchangeably for the most part in this post, I distinguish crime procedural from other procedurals due to the existence of Ace Attorney (a law procedural, which – judging by my mother’s love of procedurals in general – is definitely a subgenre more typically found in live-action). I did also sift Rokka from the procedurals for a similar reason – namely because a whodunit-only mystery series is not necessarily a procedural, although in crime procedurals the two can coexist.

As you can tell by this point, I like coming up with reasons for why so-and-so genre isn’t so common and then creating entire treatises based around one genre – they’re easy to write and fairly timeless if the audience knows what you’re going on about, so long as you’ve seen enough examples of the genre in action that you don’t end up getting tangled in your own terminology.

So, I’ll spin my question for this post from an idea I hinted about in one of the final paragraphs (and this is gonna be a contentious one) – is anime the ideal format for a crime procedural, or should we stick to the Anglophone live-action shows instead?






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