There are good things about this show, but I got bored during the middle episodes and was often on the point of fast-forwarding through them. It's a detective show, but less interested than I'd expected in detective stories.
It's a period historical, impressively faithful and detailed in its costumes and settings... albeit less so in the characterisation. It's set in 1911-ish and its main characters are fictionalised versions of the poet Takuboku Ishikawa and the linguist Kyousuke Kindaichi. In this show, Ishikawa is a permanently broke womaniser who leeches charmingly off his friends and visits prostitutes. (He also doesn't have a wife, unlike the real Ishikawa, who married in 1905.) Every so often, for money, he also solves mysteries.
As for Kindaichi, he might be in love with Ishikawa and is happy to lend him money and be leeched off. They're friends. Ishikawa is indeed very likeable, although his behaviour isn't. Also, importantly, he's going to die. That's the first thing the show tells us in ep.1 and it's underlined every week in the title sequence. He coughs up blood and looks worse and worse as the show continues, until by the end he's clearly on the point of succumbing to his tuberculosis (which in real life happened in April 1912, at the age of 26). That's what the show's really about, underneath. It's about giving your life meaning. Why does Ishikawa write poetry? Why do the people who kill or get killed do what they did?
This show is adapting a novel... no, not a light novel series, but a proper novel. You can tell. It's got deep themes. It's not very interesting. And it's mysteriously fascinated by the unremarkable conversations of a poets' circle in a tea house. Time and time again, this week's murder mystery gets short shrift while we have to sit through scene after scene of these nobodies talking about nothing I cared about. They've got their regular table in the cafe, at which nothing ever happens. I can't tell the difference between them, except that one's voiced by Kenjiro Tsuda. I can't even remember their names. They're all real literary figures, mind you, and maybe I'd have got a buzz from that if I'd done a Japanese literature degree, but I haven't. Couldn't they have had some interesting discussions of Japanese poetry, at least? (I don't think I'll ever understand Japanese poetry. It's ignoring everything that makes English poetry work, because the languages are too different.)
The show's unfriendly to women. They're whores, murder victims, killers or a combination of the above. Ep.3 drove me out of my mind with the poet's circle producing endless and ever-more unconvincing hypotheses about who killed Whore #1, without ever even giving a thought to the obvious suspects of Whore #2 and the brothel madam. It's one-eyed reasoning that feels both idiotic and patronising. The end of ep.9 is horrifying (and meant to be), as our hero's high-minded actions unwittingly yield triumph for an evil male scumbag and the killing of a good woman. Our hero's increasingly crazy reactions to this in ep.10 are strong and justify this story decision... but, even so, the show soon moves on and never gives another thought to the scumbag or his victim. He gets away with it and the world just shrugs. Realism? Yeah, sure. Pleasant? Hell, no. It's portraying a world where being woman makes you a doormat, an inferior and/or a victim... which is an authentic portrayal of the period, but the show's embrace of it might sometimes make you uncomfortable.
For instance, I think ep.8 mentions a rape that the victim's husband treated as equivalent to his wife being unfaithful and so regarded it as an injury to his own pride. Result: he stopped her from going to the police. When this is mentioned, again it just gets a shrug.
Ishikawa also has a brain fade in ep.9 that calls into question his intelligence levels as a detective. His client's taken him to a church. (Christianity is very much a minority faith in Japan.) Ishikawa also knows that: (a) the client is a friend of his landlady, and that (b) his landlady goes to church. Sure enough, his landlady shows up. The audience nods. We'd been waiting for her. Ishikawa, though, is surprised.
This made me laugh, though:
"This story is a work of fiction. It has no connection to actual persons or organisations."
(That statement is a work of fiction.)
I don't hate this show. It's not without interest as a detective story, having a mystery arc that encompasses all the apparently one-off murders-of-the-week from the beginning. Unfortunately, I also think it's also a bad detective story, with questionable focus and variable intelligence levels. Its middle episodes are extremely skippable, but the last five episodes have dramatic purpose and are more strongly novelistic. Those were quite good. It's doing some interesting things with its dead-from-the-beginning and slowly dying Ishikawa. Ultimately, though, nothing about the show is even half as good as its theme tune.