This is my first review for this blog so I hope that you guys enjoy it and can follow my haphazard line of thought.
I’ve skimmed many of the Winter 2010 dramas and SPEC stood out.
1. Strong cast
2. Strong writing
3. Strong directing
The serious and diligent Sebumi (Kase Ryo) gets demoted into a special sector of the police force after a freak accident involving one of his team members. The new division deals with cases in which people with supernatural powers (aka SPECS) are involved. It’s headed by a childlike but respected Nonomura (Ryu Raita). The SPEC division is sparse and Sebumi finds himself partnered off with the only other detective, Toma Saya (Toda Erika), an intelligent but eccentric woman who for mysterious reasons, constantly has her arm in a sling. Keizoku 2: SPEC details the cases that Toma and Sebumi find themselves investigating. As they investigate, the both of them become more and more entangled in conspiracies linking SPEC cases and closer to Ninomae Juichi, a precocious boy with startling SPEC powers.
Drama Type: Rocky beginning in trying to define itself but overall a suspense drama with a strong emotional core.
Positives: The music. The opening theme Nami no Yuku by THE RICECOOKERS is a beautiful song. I immediately fell in love with it. The background music played during the drama was also beautiful and added depth to the scenes. Kase Ryo, Kase Ryo, Kase Ryo. Honorable mention to Kamiki Ryunosuke and an honorable mention to Toda Erika in the latter half of the drama.
Negatives: The comedic touches are ill-fitting, awkward and disturbing (especially in the case of Nonomura). At times too strong in showing a black and white characterization of good vs. evil. Toda Erika’s Toma Saya came off as cartoonish for the first half of the drama and really derailed the gravity of the scenes. Mixed feelings on the ending.
I have to hand it to Kase Ryo for keeping me engaged in SPEC from the get-go. If not for him, I would have tuned out early on and missed out on the performances from the rest of the cast. He’s only recently blipped up on my radar but now that he is, he’s there to stay. Kase Ryo has a magnetism to him, a realism to him that translates into his acting.
He put aside the vanity of hair, the vanity of a character with mass appeal and chose to dig deeper to create a Sebumi who is appealing because he does not try to be appealing. He created a Sebumi that was real, with complex emotions and ugly tears, a Sebumi with a desperate and angry, hoarse cry, a Sebumi that did not make excuses. If Sebumi had been acted by a lesser actor, he would have come off as a good guy overshadowed by Toda Erika’s loud characterization of Toma Saya.
I praise Kase Ryo because even though Sebumi is the straight man in this odd couple, his stone-faced nature does not make him dull or lack a personality. He has a military, controlled air to him that he wears like a second skin. When he emotes, that controlled air feels like his skin is breaking open at the seams like a caged animal. That contrast only emphasizes just how deeply angry and wronged he feels and as a viewer it’s awesome to watch.
Toda Erika was a strange pick to me. I first saw her in Nobuta as Shuji’s girlfriend and I thought that she had presence. In Deathnote, I wasn’t impressed or turned away so I wasn’t sure what to expect out of her for SPEC. I had read the summary of Toma Saya’s character and saw the press conference but I still wasn’t convinced. SPEC, to me seemed like a serious and explorative drama. Her character reminded me a bit of Kimutaku’s character in Mr. Brain. She was a quirky genius with a gluttonous appetite. Her method of organizing her thoughts was writing random kanji, ripping up the paper into pieces and showering them in the air.
I thought it was a cheap answer. Every time she began writing her kanji characters, I groaned because I knew that it meant that it was a cue for her Sherlock Holmes persona. This aspect made me confused. What kind of drama was SPEC aiming to be? Did it want to be an episodic Sherlock Holmes type of drama? I wasn’t sure in the beginning.
The problem with Sherlock Holmes type dramas is that once the audience figures out the pattern, it’s easy to figure out who the culprit is. And once that happens, unless the writing is good enough to cover for the pattern, it’s easy to tune out knowing that missing one or two episodes won’t affect feeling lost in later episodes. In Japanese dramas, this is a pattern that I’ve come to dread. Look at Gokusen 1, 2 and 3. The first season it was okay. The second season made me roll my eyes at the franchise and the 3rd one just made me groan.
SPEC seemed to be going down that route. If Sebumi’s character was not there, it would have gone down that route. But Sebumi grounded the drama, made it real, made it gut-wrenching and gave the storyline reason to move forward. His mystery was what I wanted to know the answer to.
I’ve gone off on a tangent and circled back to Kase Ryo’s awesomeness as Sebumi without giving Toda Erika her due. Toma Saya was static until episodes 4 or 5, halfway through the drama. Her arm is in a sling all of the time and her ultimate goal in the SPEC division is to find Ninomae Juichi and kill him. It’s not until episode 4 or 5 that these facts start to have a foundation to support them.
We find out that Toma used to be happy, her relationship with her fiance (Shirota Yu) cute. Her previous case centered on her obsession with killing Ninomae. When she finally caught him, he used his SPEC powers to disappear and she woke up, her hand no longer connected to her arm. After that incident, Toma became a recluse, shutting away her fiance, demoting him to meal payer.
From this point on, Toda Erika’s performance gains much more depth. Instead of a Sherlock Holmes, Toma Saya exhibits a face of vengeance, justice, anger and reliability. She becomes a fierce badass by the end which I approve. From a storytelling point of view, this development in her characterization may have stemmed from Kase Ryo’s Sebumi being the focus of the first half and Toma the second. Even so, I think that characters are meant to grow simultaneously through interaction. I also think that it shouldn’t have taken so long for the drama to show these sides of Toma instead of letting a caricature dominate Toma for the first half of the drama.
Kamiki Ryunosuke is one of the best actors of his generation. There’s a reason he’s been in the business for so long with so many successful projects. He takes on roles that are age-appropriate and he makes those roles his own. Like Kase Ryo, he manages to create a 3D character out of a potentially 2D stereotypical disaster of a character. There is very little information about Ninomae Juichi. He is a very mysterious character, and from the snippets of Ninomae in the drama, I think that it could be easily said that he is a typical archenemy. He’s evil, he does evil things, he plays with people and he feels no regret over it.
Typical baddie. BUT. In addition to that precocious attitude, there is that hint of childlike naivete, stubbornness and fear just beneath the surface and that makes Ninomae awesome. At the heart of Ninomae’s baddie persona, he’s trying to protect someone. Even though he’s going at it all wrong, there’s something touching about his twisted intentions that Kamiki Ryunosuke is able to act out.
If I compare Kamiki’s precocious evil genius to his bff Kanata Hongo’s various precocious, evil characters, Kamiki wins hands down. Although I love goofy-eared Kanata Hongo, Kamiki is by far the more dynamic and subtle actor.
He has nuance and he reigns himself in from overacting. There’s a finesse to his subtlety that many young actors lack.
The storyline of SPEC turned out to be more complex than I thought it would be. Everything connects with everyone in some way. Powers become hindrances and memories become nightmares. Teamwork, friendship, family and justice become key factors in SPEC. And with themes like that, is it any wonder that SPEC is a great watch?
Mixed feelings. Great but deus ex machina endings always make me feel a little bitter. The twists? They were twisted. Props to that performance by (not inserting name) at the end. I didn’t think he had it in him but he’s come a long way.
Two words. Watch. NOW.
8: Watch it. You won’t regret it.