The Case Files of Jeweller Richard

Seigi Nakata is a university student whose ambitions to enter the public service reflect his strong desire to be of service to others. Kind-hearted although occasionally unself-aware, Seigi is known among his friends as “the hero of justice” because of his impulse to be helpful – though his nickname is also a play on the meaning of his name (Japanese: “justice”). One evening, Seigi sees a man being assaulted by three drunken louts; going to his rescue, Seigi discovers the man is a foreigner – an Englishman – named Richard Ranasinghe de Vulpian who speaks fluent Japanese. Richard reveals that he is an appraisal jeweller specialising in rare gemstones who has set up shop in Tokyo, which prompts Seigi to one day bring a ring set with a rare ruby to Richard for appraisal. Upon learning the ring’s history, Richard begins to suspect the ring was stolen; when he voices his suspicions, Seigi confirms that it was stolen by grandmother, who was forced by poverty to steal in order to care for her daughter, Seigi’s mother. Now that his grandmother is dead, Seigi wants Richard’s help in tracking down the original owner so that the jewel can be returned. Satisfied that Seigi is honest and trustworthy, Richard offers Seigi a part-time job as his assistant. Together, they have a series of encounters with customers and fellow jewellers in which jewels of different types become the proxies for the varying motivations and agendas lurking within the human heart; at the same time, Richard becomes a mentor to Seigi in both life and the science of gemology. Concurrently, Seigi begins to develop a relationship with fellow student Shōko Tanimoto, whose knowledge of minerology also proves useful – even though Seigi can’t quite bring himself to tell Shōko about his feelings for her. But when the past Richard has carefully kept hidden begins to reveal itself and intrude upon their lives, both Richard and Seigi are confronted by difficult choices, whose outcomes might have consequences neither of them could foresee…

Based on a long-running and successful series of illustrated mystery novels by Nanako Tsujimura and Utako Yukihiro, The Case Files of Jeweller Richard was produced by animation studio Shuka and originally aired on Japanese television from January to March 2020. Conventionally animated with an almost universalist-realist aesthetic that is serviceable rather than compelling, Jeweller Richard is a portmanteau series combining elements of mystery, slice-of-life, comedy and drama. Likewise, its episodic structure provides for a discreet story with each instalment, while at the same time building to a conclusion that is the product of an at times barely noticeable overarching narrative.   Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the series is the occasional flirting with yaoi that runs through the story, depicted both in Richard’s physical appearance, and in the elder-junior mentor dynamic between the two that becomes a deeper relationship over time. That Seigi is interested in a girl for whom he can’t quite express his feelings – when at other times he has no trouble blurting out what’s on his mind – adds to the intrigue, as does the ambiguous nature of Richard’s past love life as depicted in the final episodes. That both at different times assert their heterosexuality only adds to the mystery; but whether viewers consider this a nice bit of frisson in the narrative or just a cynical exercise in queer-baiting by the producers will no doubt be in the eye of the beholder. Along the way, we get to know a bit about the international jewellery trade – even if it does avoid topics such as blood diamonds – as well as the real and imagined properties of various gemstones. The upshot is an interesting if understated series which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but which might suit those looking for something a little different in the oft-times same-same world of Japanese anime.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.