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Chiisana Kyojin (Little giants) -- Hasegawa Hiroki, Okada Masaki, Kagawa Teruyuki, Yasuda Ken
Synposis: as the protege of the serving director of the "first division", Kosaka thought he had the director position in his pocket until he was all of a sudden demoted for a small mistake. The more he tries to find out why, the deeper he seems to become entangled in the web of corruption and lies.

Chiisana Kyojin is touted as the successor to Hanazawa Naoki, a similarly hot-blooded story about one man's pursuit for success in the rigidly hierarchical and politically challenging world of banking. I think I watched one episode of that ridiculously popular drama, but couldn't get into it because of the banking premise.

It's clear from the number of extras outset that Chiisana Kyojin is a big production, with fluid direction and plenty of movement even if there's limited movement. It's directed at people who may rarely watch detective shows, and there's very limited imagery of crime scenes or bloodshed. Its focus is mainly on the power struggles within the very constructed police force, where different divisions fight over their territories and their claims to fame.

The script is probably amongst the better written ones this season, or at least more coherent than something like CRISIS. Each episode brings about a case to solve, but each also forms a morsel of the case that spans across the entire series - the role a rival IT company had in the mysterious death of a female programmer.

I couldn't stand Hasegawa Hiroki in Date as a "high level NEET" - something about his face creeped me out when he's trying to play useless and lazy. But here he is perfect as the shrewd and calculating Kosaka, carrying the character easily from arrogance to indignation and to heartfelt leadership. Kagawa loves doing these villainous roles though I do miss him as the put-upon barrister in 99.9. Against Hasegawa and Kagawa's commanding acting, Okada Masaki - the third tentpole of this rivalry - falls conspicuously short. Particularly in the many scenes where he faces off a poised Hasegawa, he looks like he's trying too hard to contort his face into smirks rather than acting out the character. I do adore Okada, and I think his "aura" is too warm and clean for this sort of roles, which is why the end result is him trying too hard and really not being convincing at all. Both Hasegawa and Kagawa have riveting screen presence, and Okada really struggles to dig his heels in against them.

Kizoku Tantei (Aristocratic detective) -- Aiba Masaki, Takei Emi
Synposis: an aristocratic man moonlights as a free PI because he likes it, and he is helped along by his 3 servants. He goes up against a female PI in her cases.

When people mention “kizoku” (aristocrat) in Arashi, I’m thinking of either MatsuJun who can flawlessly pull off arrogance and aggression while still managing likeable, or Sho, who’s at least got the educated bearing to pull it off. Aiba’s acting isn’t the problem per se, but he’s not projecting enough hubris and uncaring into a character that needs it.

That aside, there’s many problems with the show. The first episode is 65 minutes, which is about 25 minutes too long for the amount of plot that happens. The pace is slow, there’s not enough tension for a mystery thriller, the actors are doing their best with what they’ve got but there’s too many cringeworthy exaggerated moments that exists just for the sake of loose comedy or glorifying the main character.

I’ve never been a fan of Takei Emi and this drama won’t change my impression of her. The side characters are the best part about this though they’re really not stepping out of their comfort zone. Namase Katsuhisa does his usual hilarious schtick as a one-step-behind-everyone-else policeman. Matsushige and Takito put in memorable appearances as a butler and chauffeur but have a very limited role.

Ultimately, it’s a wasteful exercise by Fuji TV to revive the Gekku slot, where they should have spent more money on the script and production (as impressively adorned the tent is, the entire episode took place inside about 5 or 6 sets with almost no outdoor scenes). As likeable as Aiba-chan is, he doesn’t quite have the charisma to carry a role that depends more on charisma than characterisation, and Takei Emi manages to be less annoying than usual but still forgettably bland. The rest of the very capable cast is short-changed by the scattered script.

Kinkyu Torishirabeshitsu 2 (Emergency Interrogation Room 2) -- Amami Yuki
Synposis: Amami Yuki returns to her best as a no-nonsense policewoman in a small group specialising in interrogation.

I think I’ve only watched the SP from this series, and I couldn’t see a whole lot of difference between Makabe Yukiko and Osawa Eriko, except that maybe Makabe is a bit softer since she’s not the squad leader.

I adore Amami Yuki, but she’s unfortunately typecast in either scary career woman or ageing spinster roles. She actually does some very impressive turns as a “traditional female” if anyone is interested in “Watashi to Iu Na no Hensokyoku” and “Galileo 2”, but no Japanese actress quite pulls off domineering capableness the same way Amami can.

Being the sequel, the series jumps straight in without introducing the characters, which does leave newcomers like me a little confused with where everyone stands. The script of the first story thankfully avoided the done-to-death bomb-on-a-countdown trope, and instead took on a rather interesting social issue - elderly perpetrators, and the loneliness of the ageing isolated population.

The case decided to leave a curiously open ending, and it’s hard at this point to know why the series chose to do that. What was riveting was seeing Amami Yuki pitch her acting against the eminent Mita Yoshiko in their showdown interrogation, and clearly the audience was happy with just that, gaining a rating of 17.9%.

The pace is quick, and everyone had their wits about them for a change, and aside from the cerebral detecting, there was a sense of humanity too in Makabe’s momentary hesitation in questioning the perpetrator’s motive.

In a season flooded with mystery based dramas, I can’t say that this one stands heads and shoulders above the others (even if ratings suggest otherwise), but the first episode definitely has a leaner script, a tighter focus and is refreshingly free of power struggles and odd conspiracies.

(PS: I kept getting very confused because Tanaka Tetsushi appears in both CRISIS and this one)


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