Image source: DLE Channel on YouTube

Anime is hard. For reals.

Chō Shōnen Tantei-dan NEO is a lighthearted comedy based on the works of Japanese writer, Edogawa Ranpo–in particular the detective hero, Kogoro Akechi, and the Boy Detectives Club. Where the originals were fairly serious stories involving crime and murder, Chō Shōnen Tantei-dan NEO is a rather nonsensical series where the characters go through wacky hijinks episode to episode. The latest episode got a little real.

[Note: This article contains major spoilers for episode 3 of Chō Shōnen Tantei-dan NEO.]

In episode three, the Fiend with Twenty Faces–a famous antagonist creation of Edogawa Ranpo–recruits said fiend–i.e., Sakugachu–to mess with the detective Akechi and the members of the Boy Detectives Club. He also happens to be an animator.

When watching a cheap, pointless anime show, the members of the Boy Detectives Club fall asleep. When they wake up, they find that their own character drawings have been reduced to unrecognizable juvenile scribbles and blotches of color.

Image source: 超・少年探偵団NEO on Twitter

Detective Akechi shows up and his character drawing remains the same as before. When asked why, he answers that it’s because his glasses are made by the show’s sponsor.

In order to solve his companions’ problem, Akechi goes to the animation studio and says that he will double the animators’ pay. With newfound enthusiasm fueled by money, the animators get to work and the members of the Boy Detectives Club are reverted to normal. As the mastermind, the Fiend with Twenty Faces–and his assistant attempt to escape, the leader of the Boy Detectives Club, Kobayashi, leaps to action, altering the Fiend’s character drawing to a childish sketch and giving the Fiend a taste of his own medicine.

Trapped, the Fiend uses the ultimate escape: He hits Ctrl+Z and literally undoes the entire episode. The moral of the story being, “be sure to hit Ctrl+S frequently.”

The whole episode goes meta on multiple levels. From the fact the many anime series fall prey to a drop in animation quality due to limited funds, to the sometimes blatant preferred treatment of sponsor-related things, to the necessity of frequent saves to one’s work to prevent undue grief. Even the episode title, “Anime is Hard” shows a self-awareness to the episode you can’t help but grin at.

Chō Shōnen Tantei-dan NEO is developed by Dream Link Entertainment, a studio that prides itself with animation that is often short, strange, wacky, and charming–and sometimes self-depreciating. Chō Shōnen Tantei-dan NEO follows that pattern to a T. Much like last season’s Glass Mask Year 3 Class D, you don’t really need prior knowledge of the source material to enjoy the show. What really makes the show enjoyable is the often random–and in this case, quite poignant–characters and plot developments that can stick with you and bring a smile to your face long after watching an episode.

As of writing this article, Chō Shōnen Tantei-dan NEO is not currently streaming outside of Japan.

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