In search of a hit, networks churn out more detective dramas for spring

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Following Japanese dramas requires a stout heart and unceasing optimism, especially in the last few years. There have been season after season where much of the dramas aired were dreadfully mediocre or shamelessly rehashed with tweaks in formula or the casting frustratingly bad, and that temptation to tune out of Japanese dramas altogether would surge. But each time that happened and I held out a little longer, a gem would suddenly pop up to reward that perseverance. There haven’t been many but the good feeling that comes with watching these few can get so intoxicating that it makes riding through the dry spell easier.

Winter was an anomaly with the unexpected number of well-written and acted dramas like Saikou no Rikon and Tonbi. Then spring came along and all the good feeling and hope that I had that the good run will continue, pretty much went up in smoke. This season must be the laziest that the networks have ever been. The first indication is the incredible number of detective dramas in the lineup, probably about half of those being aired. Networks love to fall back on this genre because they usually bring in decent to good television ratings. But all of us know that few ever get the basics consistently right besides WOWOW.

The other tact is to fall back on past successes with sequels or remakes which Fuji TV looks set to do in the next couple of quarters: Galileo in spring, Kyuumei Byoto 24 Hours (Eguchi Yosuke has unfortunately been unceremoniously dumped for Tokito Saburo) in summer and Legal High in fall. Different factions within the network appear to be divided about whether they should place their future in the hands of stars who made their name in trendy dramas in the 1990s like Yamaguchi Tomoko, Eguchi Yosuke or Suzuki Honami or in a new generation of up-and-comers since the ratings in Going My Home, Dinner and Kazoku Game have not been stellar. I guess the network itself can’t see beyond its own nose.

The second sign is if a drama sounds bad on paper, it will probably be bad on screen. It is foolhardy to hope that it would turn out otherwise. Yet I did. I can’t help feeling sorry for the stars, who even with their limited range have seen better roles in dramas that I have fond memories of like Yasha or Eiji Psychometrer, or prevent the flood of nostalgia for a time when dramas were boldly imaginative and evoked a different mood, and characters captured my heart despite their ordinariness.

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Soratobu Kouhoushitsu
Soratobu Kouhoushitsu (PR in the Sky) tells the story of TV director Inaba Rika and former Air Self-Defence Force fighter pilot Sorai Daisuke – two people whose dreams came to an abrupt end in different ways. A highly-regarded up-and-comer, Rika’s overly aggressive methods of pursuing news stories led her to follow the wife of a suspect in a police case around every day until the woman had a nervous breakdown from the strain. Although the man was arrested, he was never charged. This episode upended Rika’s standing within the TV network and she was transferred against her will to be the co-director of an evening information programme. Rika blames bad luck for this. While she may have gone overboard in her actions, she was only doing her job.

Lieutenant Sorai Daisuke became a fighter pilot but injured his leg in a freak traffic accident and had his dream of flying the Blue Impulse shattered when he was stripped of his pilot’s license. After his rehabilitation, he was assigned to the Air Staff Office’s Public Relations Department. A year has passed since the accident but he remains a shadow of his former self and passively accepts his fate.

The two meet when Rika is put in charge of a special feature on uniformed personnel and ordered to interview the Self Defence Forces. Sorai’s boss Sagisaka Shoji places Rika in his care in the hope that the interactions will jolt Sorai back to life even though the people around him say Sorai is not ready to handle a difficult person like her. Rika, on the other hand, is concerned only with getting a scoop on the Air Self-Defence Force to take back to the news bureau. One day, she unwittingly sends Sorai into a rage with her careless comment that a fighter plane is a machine used to kill people when he suggests that she feature fighter pilots on her programme. Nevertheless, they slowly let down their guard and overcome their initial antagonism to find themselves gradually attracted to each other.

Soratobu Kouhoushitsu is about overcoming obstacles so cliches are inevitable and we know how the story will go. And yet it is somewhat touching to watch the interactions between Sorai and Rika, and how this starts to awaken something in each of them, if the inadequacies of Ayano Go and Aragaki Yui as actors are overlooked. Rika is hit with the realisation that she has been so obsessed with getting scoops and looking at things from her perspective that she became insensitive to her subjects while Sorai emerges from the haze of stupor he has been in and becomes motivated to educate Rika about the Air Self-Defence Force. The assignments involving the Air Self-Defence Force that Rika undertakes have so far been boring and the many supporting characters do not leave much of an impression except Shibata Kohei’s Sagisaka. I like his dignified air but roll my eyes at the rather ridiculous hand gestures and mannerisms of his character. The scriptwriter has also spared the audience from the much of the platitudes that characterise dramas like this.

Soratobu Kouhoushitsu is also a vehicle for the Air Self-Defence Force to inform the public, correct misconceptions as well as exercise soft power much like how Umizaru made the Japan Coast Guard so cool. I have a soft spot for dramas that profile a profession and I like how they have chosen to focus on public relations for the military which I think is an area that many have very vague ideas about.

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Take Five ~ Oretachi wa Ai o Nusumeru ka
Take Five ~ Oretachi wa Ai o Nusumeru ka (Take Five ~ Can We Steal Love?) follows the exploits of Take Five, a legendary gang of thieves which only steals from the bad. Homura Masayoshi is a popular, straight-laced university professor of love psychology who has many quips about love; his favourite being, “Theft makes people miserable. But if you want to steal, you need love.” Masayoshi once belonged to Take Five with his father. But 20 years ago, the death of a police officer during the theft of a painting and arrest of one of the members, led Take Five to disband and retire.

One day, Masayoshi finds an envelope with a photograph of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous portrait of Lucrezia Borgia inside. It was left on his desk by a (rather well-groomed) homeless woman, who claims the painting is in a secure facility at Tohto Bank and behaves as if she knows that he is a robber. Despite his misgivings, Masayoshi gets carried away by an impulse to confirm whether the painting there. However, the woman’s information turns out to be bogus and Masayoshi instead encounters Niimi Haruto, a thief who has also sneaked into the safe.

Detective Sasahara Rui suspects intruders when she learns that there is an unusual situation at Tohto Bank, and tries to arrest them. Rui detests the act of thievery because it claimed the life of her father when she and her sister Sae were young. This hatred motivated her to become a police officer and she expects Sae to follow in her footsteps. To her dismay, Sae shows more interest in love psychology lectures than studying for the national civil service exam. So Rui takes it upon herself to visit the university and warn Sae’s professor who is none other than Masayoshi. A stunned Masayoshi immediately realises Rui is the daughter of that police officer who died 20 years ago from the watch that she wears.

At that moment, a scandal breaks out with the bankruptcy of Tohto Bank’s H-Trust. Learning that the bank hid the trust’s inevitable bankruptcy from the public, Masayoshi decides to revive Take Five (actually Take Four until Inagaki Goro’s character joins in episode 3), setting in motion a collision course with Rui who is still hung up about the break-in.

I really want to like Take Five because the casting of Karasawa Toshiaki and Matsuyuki Yasuko (not so for the rest of the actors) is too good to resist but my heart has not been snared. A drama about heists and the greatest gang of thieves in history conjures images of an entertaining, fast-paced, slick caper of thieves who have criminal specialties. TBS clearly does not have the budget for this or the right scriptwriter and production team since Take Five comes across as a cheesy, cheap production. I shudder to think what it will be like when Take Five meet rival gang, Team Five!

The second generation may be a rag-tag bunch but this does not excuse the writing or the many references to love shoehorned into Karasawa’s lines to explain all human motivation. Masayoshi also makes a lot of blunders along the way from letting Haruto know his true identity during their first encounter to arranging a rendezvous out in plain sight with the rest of the members after hacking into Tohto Bank’s network. As alumnus and new leader, he dents the aura of that gang of legend.

I was hoping that the story would up the ante with the inclusion of a detective who seeks Tohto Bank’s data in Take Five’s midst, although Inagaki Goro is hardly the person to count on for a stellar performance to hope for much. However, it appears that cop and thieves are going to get along swimmingly … … With good actors like Karasawa and Matsuyuki, it is a shame that this drama is going to be mediocre.

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Sennyuu Sousa Tokage
Sennyuu Sousa Tokage (Undercover Lizard) is about Oribe Toru, a former Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department First Investigative Division detective turned private investigator who possesses extraordinary photographic memory and devastating physical ability. Toru’s nickname is Tokage because he is able to slip into any place like a lizard for investigations while others say he ditches his colleagues in the same way that a lizard sheds its tail and flees danger.

Tokage resigned from the police force in disgrace after a fatal error caused the death of his partner two years ago, but that doesn’t deter his former boss from enlisting him to work undercover as part of an unprecedented secret experiment to turn around the division’s decline in arrest rates through the introduction of civilian investigators. Tokage’s former colleagues are naturally opposed to his involvement.

Tokage’s first mission is to infiltrate a ferry where a transaction in children’s organs will take place by impersonating the secretary of the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare as one of the 100 participants on an orphanage’s goodwill tour. It appears that the criminal intends to join this goodwill tour to kidnap a child who will make a suitable donor for the Minister’s sick daughter and the secretary is to hand over 50 million yen in cash in exchange. Tokage needs to identify and save this child, catch the criminal red-handed and destroy the organ trafficking business.

Mochizuki Kaori is assigned by Yanagida Masahiko, the head of the private investigation agency, to assist Tokage. Kaori has become an investigator to search for someone important to her. Although she is a rookie, Yanagida reasons that she will be an asset to Tokage because she used to work in a bank and is a fan of detective novels especially Sherlock Holmes.

When the elite First Investigative Division has to outsource sleuthing to civilians to stem the falling arrest rate after the resignation of what would seem its only ace detective, this probably does not bode well. So it is no surprise that Sennyuu Sousa Tokage is woefully bad and cliched all round with an earnest, idealistic, cute newbie who believes feelings can save people to gradually thaw the cool, suave, stoic (and maybe misunderstood) superhero investigator. Stoic means Matsuda Shota only needs to project one expression. Little can be expected of Matsuoka Masahiro who cannot act, Mimura looks sour most of the time, while the veteran actors simply go to waste.

In what is supposed to be the climax of the episode, Tokage runs right into line of fire as he races to save the day but miraculously escapes unscathed. If that is what an ace does, what about the rest of the police force? On the other hand, the Minister who apparently has been aware of his suitability as an organ donor for his daughter but refuses on the grounds that he will not be able to perform his ministerial duties, is persuaded by the police reassess his priorities. How is that for irony?

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Doubles ~ Futari no Keiji
Airing in the same time slot on Thursdays is Doubles ~ Futari no Keiji (Doubles ~ Two Detectives). Ito Hideaki and Sakaguchi Kenji star as detectives Yamashita Shunsuke and Tashiro Keiichi, who have opposing opinions on many things but are united in their hatred of evil and belief in justice. They find themselves suddenly transferred to Shinjuku Central Police Precinct’s Special Investigations Team, a newly established unit to deal with the high incidence of violent crimes in Shinjuku, and end up becoming partners. There are rumours that the team is called “Zero Section” because it is merely a public relations exercise by the police chief to show the outside world that the police is making an effort. Its existence is also barely tolerated by the people within the police organisation, including the head of the Criminal Affairs Division who only wants an auxiliary unit and will not tolerate any unsanctioned activities.

Three successive powerful bomb attacks have taken place in abandoned warehouses and factories in Shinjuku but there is no connection between the locations that were targeted, and no motives or clues tied to the criminal. The only pattern the police has found is that a bomb would go off every three days. While making inquiries, Yamashita sees a magazine article and realises that there is a close connection between the location of the bombings, which was perceived to be indiscriminate until now, and ramen shop rankings.

Following this clue, Yamashita and Tashiro encounter a suspicious-looking man with a tattoo on his wrist inside a disused building near the fourth ramen shop. Another team arrests a suspect called Kudo Masaki who is allegedly responsible for a remote-controlled computer virus that sent an email to the police with the promise to make up for the recent failed bomb blast; information only the criminal would know. However, the police is later forced to release Kudo when it emerges that he may also be a victim of this computer virus. Then, Yamashita and Tashiro find out that there is another man with the same tattoo and ample motive. He is Nakagawa Kazuyuki, the son of a man who was wrongfully convicted for murder, spent 17 years in prison and died before his name could be cleared of the crime.

Meanwhile, at a press conference held to appease Kudo who has demanded a public apology from the police for the mistaken arrest, Yamashita and Tashiro see the same tattoo on his wrist. But when they confront him about his true identity in the corridor after the press conference, he reveals a belt of explosives strapped around his waist and threatens to blow himself up.

Doubles is an attempt at a brawny version of the long-running Aibou with Ito and Sakaguchi as buff, masculine eye candy. There’s even a shower scene for fans. Both actors are not particularly known for their acting prowess but it is the poorly written plot, dialogue and characters that makes the drama hilariously bad, and squanders any emotional impact it sought to make with the story of vengeance to right a wrong. Not only does there seem to be little point in the ramen connection, but the story falls to bits from the moment the precinct is evacuated and Yamashita and Tashiro are left to coax Kudo not to blow himself up before the bomb disposal squad arrives.

Can this dud truly be the work of scriptwriter Ozaki Masaya who has written some really awesome stuff?

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Last Cinderella
Last Cinderalla is about Toyama Sakura, a hair stylist on the verge of 40 who is very devoted to her work and customers. However, she is indifferent to fashion despite the nature of her job and behaves like a middle-aged man. One morning, a horrified Sakura sees a strand of beard growing when she looks at the mirror and nicks herself in the process of trying to pull it out. To make matters worse, on that same day, Sakura’s peer Tachibana Rintaro arrives at the hair salon to be its new manager even though she has been the assistant manager for eight years. Sakura has never got along well with Rintaro but has no choice in this matter. Things sink to a new low when she discovers that he has also moved next door to her in the same apartment building. Although they always end up arguing, Sakura can talk about anything with Rintaro and this makes a regular customer Ogami Chiyoko jealous.

Chiyoko, who is in love with Rintaro, orders someone to snag Sakura so that she will not be in her way and orchestrates their first meeting at a matchmaking party. He is Saeki Hiroto, a handsome, young BMX rider and ladies man. Sakura gets herself so drunk at the matchmaking party that she has no recollection of the events the night before when she wakes up in bed next to Hiroto. Hiroto claims that he took Sakura to bed because she said that she wanted to sleep with him. Going a step further, he lies that he likes her and asks that they date. Although Sakura is flattered, their 15-year age gap bothers her and she is scared of love. Telling him that it will not work out, she suggests that he hit on other older women if that is his taste. This aggravates Hiroto who had thought Sakura would be an easy target.

Last Cinderella focuses on the insecurities of being a woman around 40; popular and familiar territory that has been revisited annually by the different networks recent years. The most recent being the dull Kekkon Shinai but even that seemed more palatable than Last Cinderella. This time, the main character Sakura has forgotten about her gender as she devoted herself to her career, but is rudely awaken one day by evidence that she is turning male. The discovery of beard on her chin spurs her to make a resolution to find love with a good man before 40.

I find the drama offensive and insulting not just in its portrayal of women but also in the way it is written. The contrast between it and Saikou no Rikon, the drama in the same time slot the previous season is very stark. There is no subtlety, everything has to be exaggerated from the characters to the scenarios, so in the end it is caricatures and set-pieces that is served up each episode. Sakura is annoying and dreadfully immature beyond all measure, but it somehow feels like the character has got her wires crossed because it feels like a part of her conflicts with the other. It does not help that Shinohara Ryoko overacts so badly. Miura Haruma, on the other hand, goes through the motions. In any case, Hiroto is not an interesting character who shows any depth, or perhaps this is due to Miura’s very limited range. A Sakura and Hiroto pairing will fizzle if that is what the writer has in mind. Then there is Rintaro who has a barbed tongue and spews more misogynistic comments than is decent or deserved when Sakura is around. He seems to enjoy bickering and ordering her around but looks like he might have a soft, marshmallow centre beneath that prickly demeanour. To represent the married and divorced around 40 are Sakura’s friends housewife Takenouchi Miki who is frustrated by her difficult mother-in-law and the lack of sex with her husband, and man-eater Hasegawa Shima who has an insatiable appetite for sex.

The scenes in the drama are written and executed in such a ham-fisted manner that makes it grating to watch. It is as if everything has to be spelt out for the audience in case we are so obtuse that we cannot perceive a character’s personality or emotions. Sakura has a soft heart and cannot stand to see people in trouble so minutes are spent showing her run after a stray customer’s ball in the rain and give a dressing down to a young man who took the seat she had vacated for a woman with a young child in a bus. Shima and Miki’s husband attempted to sleep together and when they realise their connection through Miki, they have to be behave so suspiciously to the point of crawling beneath the dining table in order to show their guilt.

There is little to like about Last Cinderella besides Fujiki Naohito’s scruffy look and I’m scandalised that it seems to be getting better ratings than Saikou no Rikon. There is no better way to get rid of the bitter taste than rummage through my drama stash for a great romantic comedy.

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Galileo Season 2
Fuji TV, said to be the network most sorely in need of a winner after suffering a bad drubbing in the ratings games the past few seasons, has dusted off Galileo and brought it back after seven years. Yukawa Manabu finds a conceited, impertinent rookie detective Kishitani Misa thrust his way by Utsumi Kaoru who is leaving for a training stint in the US. The first supernatural mystery he is enticed to investigate is the incomprehensible death of a cult follower who plunged from the fifth floor of a building while the cult’s founder Renzaki Shiko, played by a debonair Osawa Takao, was performing a ritual called “sounen” to cleanse him of evil. Renzaki never laid a finger on the follower but claims that he caused the man’s death because his power was too strong. Oddly enough, the eyeballs of the deceased were clouded.

Yukawa and Misa visit the cult’s base deep in the mountains where the self-sufficient community lives without a care for money or success. When Renzaki offers to purify their souls with “sounen”, the warmth that touches them brings Misa to tears and makes her ready to believe in his power. In contrast, Yukawa is convinced that there is a reason for this phenomena and quickly figures it out after Misa gathers the information that he needs.

Meanwhile, Renzaki’s wife and two executives of the cult exult in their growing wealth as the cult’s membership grows following a magazine’s article on the “sounen” that claimed the life of the traitor. However, the next day, Yukawa destroys the glorious future they envisioned for themselves when he proves that Renzaki’s power is really just microwave energy emitted by concealed devices that Sayoko had modified from medical equipment. She may have kept Renzaki in the dark because she thought that it would be more persuasive if he believed in his own powers, but Yukawa is convinced that this would probably not have escaped Renzaki’s notice.

While I loved the movie Yougisha X no Kenshin, it certainly doesn’t extend to the drama which has the same old elements as the first season that I didn’t like: dull main characters, a combination with no chemistry, lack of character growth for Utsumi and bland episodes. What worked for Yougisha X no Kenshin was the way the human emotions and motivations of a woman who killed her ex-husband and the high school teacher who helped her to cover up the crime were explored as well as great acting from Tsutsumi Shinichi and Matsuyuki Yasuko who upstaged the leads Fukuyama Masaharu and Shibasaki Kou (not that the latter two would have offered any competition). Galileo could very well pass off as a sophisticated educational programme on supernatural phenomenon. The change in female leads also does not make anything better except swop boring for irritating. That said, it is the probably the most watchable detective drama this season and Osawa’s layered performance which showed glimpses of Renzaki’s vulnerability and conflict elevates the episode above average.

Numerous review rankings show that an overwhelming number of Japanese viewers are giving the drama the thumbs down because “Season 1 was better; bring back Shibasaki Kou, we don’t like Yoshitaka Yuriko; the stories are boring; the quality and scale of production has gone down; the media is creating the hype”. But ratings are what counts even if TV watching habits have changed. The drama seems to have answered Fuji TV’s prayers with viewership ratings surpassing 20% for three consecutive weeks which is a rarity in the context of Japanese dramas these days. That can only lead to the expectation that the network will be serving up more Galileo in the future.

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Lady Joker
Lady Joker, the sequel to the rather awesome Marks no Yama (the first three episodes were nail bitingly good), kicks off with the delivery of a suspicious-looking audio CD to Shiroyama Kyosuke, the company president of Hinode Beer, the industry’s top brewer. Shiroyama is shaken by the contents which pin the company down for its discrimination against burakumin, the descendants of outcasts in Japan’s feudal society (those who did “tainted” work like butchery which involved the killing of and use of animal corpses) more than 40 years ago. The CD was sent by Hatano Hiroyuki who had laid hands on a letter by a former employee Okamura Seiji through a corporate extortionist posing as a newspaper reporter. Hatano’s son Tadayuki recently died in a traffic accident after failing to secure a job with Hinode Beer. The reporter attributes this to discrimination because Okamura is actually the older brother of Hatano’s father-in-law Monoi Seizo.

Meanwhile Monoi, the owner of a small pharmacy; Handa Shuhei, a detective who hates the police organisation; Nunokawa Junichi, a truck driver with a special needs child; Matsudo Yokichi, a lathe operator; and Ko Katsumi, a credit association employee who are buddies who met at the horse race track, set a plan in motion. Nunokawa has thought of stealing large sums of money from a big corporation and Monoi decides that they should target the closely connected Hinode Beer.

Detective Goda Yuichiro investigates a report that Shiroyama failed to return home. When he rushes to his residence, he finds a written memo saying, “The company president is in our custody”. But Shiroyama is soon released. The criminal group that calls itself Lady Joker hints that it will tamper with 3.5 kilolitres of beer and demands 2 billion yen from Shiroyama who reluctantly goes along with their demands because of the photos of his niece and Tadayuki that were slipped into his jacket pocket before his release, while making a show of cooperating with the police … …

When I started out watching Lady Joker, I was under the impression that it was a detective drama like Marks no Yama but while the two dramas have the same protagonist, Lady Joker is on a grander and more ambitious scale straddling varied genres and themes. Reportedly inspired by the Glico-Morinaga case in the 1980s that was never solved, the drama is more about the why rather than the who as it portrays corruption, discrimination, morality, death and revenge with characters in different spheres of society: business, politics, the underworld, law and enforcement, media and the underclass.

The good and bad guys in this drama are painted in shades of grey. The kidnappers who call themselves Lady Joker are either outsiders or hail from the lower levels of society. Monoi is a descendant of the burakumin, Handa is a non-career detective who has no hope of career advancement unlike Goda, Nunokawa has a disabled daughter nicknamed Lady, and Ko is an ethnic Korean. Goda knows Handa is involved and his frustration with the police’s paralysis propels him to take things into his own hands. But with no evidence incriminating Lady Joker, all he can do is to watch on helplessly even when Handa personally admits to him that he is Lady Joker. Lady Joker outwits the police and also gets revenge and money against corporate Japan. It is a significant victory for all especially Handa who has trumped the elite.

I have mixed feelings about Lady Joker. While the story is intriguing and the acting is generally good, it is complicated, uneven in some parts and unwieldy because of the many characters and threads to bring together. Do not expect the kind of tension and exhilaration in Marks no Yama. I would choose to watch a WOWOW detective drama anytime over one from the other networks but it might have been better had they been more circumspect in the type of material to adapt to screen.

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Kumo no Kaidan
Kumo no Kaidan tells the story of Aikawa Saburo, a clerk at a clinic troubled by a shortage of doctors, on Mikotojima, an island with less than 500 inhabitants. He is reluctantly thrust into the role of doctor when Muraki Eiji, the island’s only doctor and the clinic’s director, gets him to try his hand at operating on a patient with appendicitis under his supervision. While Saburo knows that it is illegal to do so without a doctor’s license, he makes remarkable progress in learning various medical treatments. The clinic staff are opposed to Saburo practicing medicine without a license. However, the nurse Suzuki Akiko is the only one who feels that this cannot be helped given the situation facing the island and is determined to support Saburo because she loves him.

One night, while the island is hit by a strong typhoon, an emergency case is brought to the cliinc. The patient is Tasaka Akiko, the daughter of a Tokyo hospital director who has come to the island with friends for leisure. However, Muraki is away from the island and even an emergency medical helicopter would not come to the island in this weather. Suzuki Akiko is quick to diagnose her condition as ectopic pregnancy. If Saburo does nothing, she will lose her life. But if he does and the surgery is a failure, he and the nurses assisting him will be in big trouble because they abetted him. Saburo operates on her but she starts haemorrhaging. Although she pulls through, Saburo is disturbed and horrified by what he has done. He does not yet realise that this encounter will unexpectedly change the destinies of himself and the two Akikos.

Mistaking Saburo for a doctor, Tasaka Akiko is impressed with his sincerity when he keeps apologising to her. She also starts demanding his attention as she recovers from the surgery. Suzuki Akiko whom Saburo has started having a relationship with, is sensitive to the fact that Akiko is attracted to Saburo. Then, she suggests that her father offer Saburo a job at the family’s hospital … …

Kumo no Kaidan is a gripping story about human desire and motivation that is the one bright spot out of the dramas I’ve watched this season. Adapted from the novel of the same name, it is well-scripted and has had assured directing and compelling performances so far. I wasn’t intending to watch the drama as I didn’t think I was in the mood for a story that can only be a slow downward spiral of tragedy for the main characters or watching more of Kimura Fumino whose star appears to be rising given the meaty roles she has been getting in a number of dramas.

The drama starts out fairly innocuously as we see Muraki gradually involve Saburo more and more in the duties of a doctor. This is illegal since Saburo, has no license to practice medicine. It is a fact that everyone at the clinic is aware of but Muraki rationalises his decision by asserting that he needs to cultivate Saburo because no proper young doctor would want to come to this island. Muraki also has had a tendency of binge drinking and shirking his duties of late. Although Saburo shows reluctance and uneasiness, he does not resist the role thrust upon him and even seems to relish the challenge. Everything would be fine if Saburo remains on Mikotojima. In fact, the thought that he might leave one day doesn’t seem to occur to anyone even though he is not a native of the island.

Saburo’s background and character is an enigma. He came to Mikotojima from Tokyo one and a half years ago. Nobody knows what brought him here. All that is apparent is that he comes from a poor family, his highest educational qualification is high school and he is passionate about making ships in bottles. He seems modest, mild-mannered and pliable but is that who he truly is? For some inexplicable reason, he is first drawn to Tasaka Akiko whom he senses is about to take her own life as she stands alone at a remote pier. It will be interesting to see how Hasegawa Hiroki portrays his character’s transformation from island doctor to surgeon at a prominent Tokyo hospital and prospective son-in-law to the Tasakas as he tries to keep the inconvenient truth at bay.

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Minna ESPer dayo!
Minna ESPer dayo! (Everybody has ESP!) chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Kamogawa Yoshiro, a mediocre high school student with no discernible talent who is in love with the pretty transfer student in his class Asami Sae, but still cannot summon the courage to talk to her. One day, Yoshiro is suddenly able to read people’s minds and learns that the social studies teacher Hayashi has designs on Sae. Yoshiro decides to use his supernatural ability to protect her. Furthermore, he gets excited about using this to save the world too when he discovers that he is not the only one with ESP. However, this enthusiasm quickly deflates when he realises that the person who possesses special powers is Teru-san, the proprietor of the cafe he regularly patronises. Teru-san has erotic thoughts all the time and only uses his telekinetic ability to satisfy his desires.

Other ESPers are born one after another in this small town. Yoshiro’s childhood friend Hirano Miyuki is also telepathic but tries to shut her mind off from the voices of the people around her; basketball player Enomoto Yosuke can teleport but his clothes do not come along with him; and schoolmate Yabe Naoya is clairvoyant. These ESPers get carried away using the supernatural abilities to look at the underpants of female high school students, read the minds of girls they like and other less than heroic purposes. But before long, they get involved in a battle with a force that is using supernatural power for evil ends.

Minna ESPer dayo! is racy, rowdy, off-the-wall and trashy. The premise is intriguing and all the more entertaining with the cast gamely throwing themselves into their performances. But depending on how you like your dramas, it is as hilarious as it is tasteless since much of the first few episodes are spent obsessing over panties, sex and virginity. With nothing much else happening, it gets tiresome and repetitive waiting for the ESPers to do something other than that with their supernatural powers.

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About jadefrost

This blog contains information and musings on current and upcoming Japanese dramas but is not intended to be comprehensive.
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20 Responses to In search of a hit, networks churn out more detective dramas for spring

  1. bashful says:

    Thanks for this article. I’m going to try “Kumo no Kaidan” based on your favorable review.
    I’m currently following Galileo 2 and I find it not bad. Perhaps because I only saw episode 1 of Galileo so I couldn’t compare it with Galileo 2. “Tsuma wa Kunoichi” is interesting so far…I tried to watch “Take 5” because of Karasawa but I couldn’t finish it; I kept seeing resemblance with the American movies “Ocean 11” and “Minority Report”.

    1990s indeed had a more interesting and entertaining Japanese dramas. I hope there’ll be a resurgence soon. Although I did not watch many in the last few months, I did enjoy those I watched: Dinner, Nobunaga no Chef, Unmei no Hito, “Osozaki no Himawari” and “Beautiful Rain”.

  2. forweg says:

    Wow, what an unbelievably disheartening article. You have it exactly backwards.

    The detective dramas, most of which are excellent, are the *only* saving grace of the Spring 2013 season.

    Kakushou – Excellent
    Iryu Sousa – Great
    Doubles – Decent
    Keiji 110kg – Hilarious

    Horribly bland idol-romances dominated Japanese television in the 90’s, and there are still plenty of them today. Thank god these great detective dramas have become popular and diversified J-Dramas with quality entertainment.

  3. ct says:

    I think fujitv learned from Galileo 0 that as long as put Fukuyama in lab coat, viewers will still tune in, regardless his partner. So far so good, the only drama that met my personal expectation. I think I read somewhere that fujitv president is trying to win the ratings by appealing to the old-school drama, the kings and queens of the 90s trendy drama. I don’t mind, because it’s about time we have some mature leads (rather than idols who simply looks blank). But one need to have a damm good script with it.

    Which I supposed is one of the reason why Galileo is successful. The decision is in Fukuyama’s hand. ‘Do you want me to come back to tv? Give me a good script’. And considering how badly fujitv mangled Higashino’s short stories last year, I supposed Galileo is one of the pretty good one that come out of it.

    Doubles is decent. I’m expecting a darker drama, but it turned out to be a buddy comedy of some sort. Between those two, Ito Hideaki has a better acting.

  4. scifiwritir says:

    Will try Lady Joker, Kumo no Kaidan, and Minna Esper Dayo. Thanks. Also since one of the commenters recommended Kakushou, Iryu Sousa, and Keiji..I might try those as well. Thanks for sparing me the bad stuff.

  5. I have to say it’s been such a let down, this current season. But I think in general the quality has been spiraling downwards for a longer time and it doesn’t help by casting idols in more meatier roles when they can’t act.
    Galileo is a let down, I actually liked the first season but now. I think they
    I confess to be watching Doubles (shower scenes, thank you) and Sennyuu Sousa Tokage but just because I can hang up my brain and watch the show and not even be in the slightest bit interested in the characters or the story.
    35sai no koukosei is more darker and I found mysyelf more interested in that then most of the other doramas.
    I have to ret Lady Joker, I’m already watching kumo no kaidan which is great.

  6. Peter S. says:

    Hah, pretty blunt criticism there, but also pretty true. J-dramas are stuck in a rut right now, with most of them being formulaic and barely watchable at best. But there’s always one or two shows every season that I enjoy so I don’t really mind that much. Last season’s favorite was definitely Saikou no Rikon. This season I haven’t really found a must watch yet. Galileo isn’t as entertaining as I hoped (movie was freaking amazing and probably set the bar too high for me). Kumo no Kaidan is interesting, but not really engrossing yet. Hopefully this changes once they start part 2 of the story in the upcoming episode.

    Anyways, thanks for your thoughts on this season’s new shows jadefrost, it’ll definitely help me narrow down on what to try watching next.

  7. C says:

    I agree with you about the Galileo movie- that is the star of the entire franchise. I enjoyed season 1 though, it was nothing great but very watchable. I’m not enjoying Season 2. I agree that the guru in the first episode was excellently played by the actor. But the whole episode felt like an attempt at being like trick, and not reaching that level of awesome. Yuriko annoys me a lot, as does her bickering with the assistant (I’ve grown to dislike that actor who plays the assistant- I only ever see him playing these kind of annoying roles!) It is barely watchable, but definitely a let down.

    Last Cinderella is also very disappointing. Although I don’t know what I was expecting- Japan has a lot of these kind of stories that often fail but I really wanted this one to be good. However Sakura is irritating and everything feels staged. The dialogue especially.Watching last Cinderella I sometimes feel like I’m being lectured. You’re right- there’s nothing subtle about this show. It’s all hyped up, and that is made more annoying by the fact that it is supposed to be more mature story.

    I did not know there was a sequel to Marks no Yama. I’ve definitely gotta check that out! I also wished the third season of Iryu Sousa would be subbed..

  8. robyne says:

    i like last cinderella. i am curious if hiroto will truly fall in love with sakura; curious if his character comes to show much more depth than first appears. give haruma muira a chance to show his acting chops. he is doing a good job of playing someone who is disdainful of the older woman but has to pretend he is interested. let’s see if he can portray a young man who sees past the age barrier to love a woman just as she is. besides he is so damn beautiful to watch!

  9. tayorinai tenshi says:

    Last Cinderella is the stupidest vehicle of the season, second to Senyuu Sousa. I’ve had enough with JDramas about middle-aged women anxious to get laid, and far-fetched detective dramas with the same ol’ characters flogging the same ol’ dead horse. The best of this season is surely Kumo no Kaidan, the rest are either terrible or average and not a must-see. I’ve been tuning in to JDrama since the 90s but saddening how its all going down the drain these days. I hate to say this but i’ve seen better acting, writing and production from South Korea just from the selective few i’ve seen, like “History of the Salaryman”.

    • robyne says:

      i’m new to jdramas so i haven’t run across but one other where its a young man/older woman drama. what others are there if you don’t mind answering?

      • jadefrost says:

        There’s Long Vacation, Slow Dance, Majo no Jouken, Kimi wa Petto, Anego. Maybe Suekko Chounan Ane Sannin too but this one is from the perspective of a married couple.

      • robyne says:

        thanks, i appreciate it!

    • kitkat28 says:

      Well I’m glad to know, no one held that gun to your head to make you watch Last Cinderella. You wouldn’t have been here today to write such a ridiculous and offensive comment about middle-aged women. Sounds like you should just turn the tube off and read a book instead. Obviously nothing appeals to you. There is nothing wrong with any of the shows listed, I for one enjoyed LC because I have not watched a quirky romance jdrama before. Detective shows were never my thing, western dramas or asian so I never tuned in to watch.
      As for Korean shows, I think I’ve watched too many because I find the romance dramas repetitive and I’ve also seen much bad acting and over-acting. I figured I just needed to take a break from them and find an alternative. This helps you appreciate and open to watching new shows even if the story line has been done a gazillion times before. 🙂

  10. Neseli says:

    Thank you for your great reviews.Agree with your views on the most of the dramas.Ironically I’ve been following almost all the dramas of this season so far except Kumo no Kaidan.I’ll give it a try.But how about Kazoku Game? I’m curious as to how you’d evaluate this drama.

  11. Mrmz says:

    I gotta agree with most of what u said but i still find Take 5 to be pretty entertaining if i don’t over think it much. Sennyuu Sousa Tokage was really though even when i turn off my brain its still baaad i really wanted to watch it for matsuda shota but i dont wanna watch him have a blank face the whole time!! Marks no yama has been in my to watch list for a while i might try lady joker afterwards. Nothing as good as last season’s Saikou no Rikon though & I’m still waiting for episodes 9 to 11 to be subbed!!! 😦
    Oh this season i’m also enjoying Itazura na kiss ~ love in tokyo. The actrice playing the main character is adorable!!

  12. Prestoli says:

    Thanks for this. I always enjoy your reviews and build my watchlist from them. I’m enjoying all of the above shows (I like police procedurals in general) with the exception of Last Cinderella. They storyline sounded silly to me and I’m increasingly disappointed with the lead’s performances. She’s too much of a ham for me.

  13. Dan Liu says:

    Regarding Galileo 2, while everybody is certainly entitled to his/her opinion, I’ve problem w/ people quoting unsubstantiated stats and pass it off as facts, like

    “Numerous review rankings show that an overwhelming number of Japanese viewers are giving the drama the thumbs down because “Season 1 was better; bring back Shibasaki Kou, we don’t like Yoshitaka Yuriko; the stories are boring; the quality and scale of production has gone down; the media is creating the hype”.

    Please quantify “numerous”, and don’t just quote the negative comments and made them seem like the “majority” w/o citing numbers. I personally find the show to be the only semi-entertaining show of the season w/ intelligent dialogs, and most certainly watchable. The show wouldn’t have been able to still maintain a 20+% by ep. 6 if it is so terrible as claimed. The 1st 2 episodes are IMO actually the worst of the 6 I’ve watched so far. Yoshitaka’s character actually matures and is quite agreeable if not likeable by midpoint.

  14. yl says:

    Some people may avoid Kazoku Game because it has a Jonhny’s as the lead, but it’s actually the most interesting series of the season for me. Wooden acting by Kutsuna Shiori and the dad aside, one can definitely expect decent performances from the other cast members. A usual take on the modern family life with some pretty exciting twists.

  15. Rootabega says:

    What a great rundown of this sad little dorama season. You were too kind, if anything. It’s funny that the dorama I thought would be the most promising, Kumo no Kaidan, took the sharpest nosedive I’ve ever witnessed after the first couple of eps. It’s like the entire crew was replaced without warning – by monkeys. I’ve kept watching for the unintentional laughs.

    • jadefrost says:

      It was too premature to call Kumo no Kaidan the most promising drama of spring since I bailed out of it by episode 3. It just turned into a farce before the story really got underway and Hasegawa Hiroki acted like a walking zombie. After this sorry season, we deserve a better summer.

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