Sunday, June 12, 2016

Stranger Bakemono ga Jiken wo Abaku (2016)

Television shows that feature supernatural creatures embroiled in crime investigation are nothing new. They tend to resurface intermittently considering that the combination of two genres provide some gothic flavor to a show that would otherwise just be another crime procedural. Forever Knight and Moonlight had the undead making use of their abilities to fight crime while the Korean series Vampire Prosecutor featured another creature of the night in search of truth and justice. Stranger Bakemono ga Jiken wo Abaku somewhat follows in this tradition by introducing two immortals that surreptitiously assist in solving a murder case despite their initial reluctance to get involved for fear of drawing attention to their kind. It panders to the idea of supernatural creatures mingling with common folk, unidentified and inconspicuous, whose movements are confined by a society of their own. What makes this different is that while similar shows are mostly about the search for meaning and purpose in the face of eternity or the atonement of past sins, this drama special curiously places stock on the need to dissociate from humanity and the ability to forget (--lessons which its male protagonist refuses to learn).

Misugi Akira (Katori Shingo) and his mysterious companion, Maria (Nakajo Ayami), arrive in Tokyo to fulfill a promise to admit Itou Kaori into their vampire clan when she comes of age. But they never get to meet the girl. For on the day of her 20th birthday, while waiting for Akira to pick her up, Kaori falls prey to a killer that leaves puncture marks on his victims and collects their blood. Akira, being in the vicinity of the crime, is taken in by the authorities for questioning and later released. He arouses the suspicion of Detective Saeki (Hagiwara Masato), who looks into Kaori's past and discovers a remote connection between them. To prevent the detective from pursuing this lead, Akira and Maria decide to aid the authorities and search for the criminal in order to prevent the exposure of their immortal clan.

Despite its flat execution, an ongoing debate about the nature of humanity is waged within Stranger Bakemono ga Jiken wo Abaku. From the point of view of beings that consider a lifetime as a mere bleep in time, humans are argued to be frail, petty and cruel, unworthy of concern and intervention. And while, initially, there are two focal points to this drama special's narrative, the ongoing manhunt for a serial killer only plays second fiddle to Akira's tale as a hundred-year old vampire dissenter. It takes a rapid detour from the investigation of a gruesome crime to uncovering the history and reappearance of a man thought long lost and dead. What it does quite successfully is to draw appreciation for a character whose thoughts and actions consistently reflect a strong belief in keeping memories alive, so much so, that he is unable to abide by the rules of the clan to distance himself from the business of mortals. It does quick work of heavy themes such as life, love and loss but acquits itself in explaining why a man on the verge of taking his own life would eventually choose to live forever.

Good characterization aside, the special does come with a number of problems. Foremost of which is that it lacks originality and imagination. It resorts to tired images of vampires and serial killers. The unnatural dialogue between the detectives (obviously hewn from a textbook on criminal psychology to profile the killer) combined with the regular-issued black attire and sullen disposition of the show's vampiric creatures just smacks of lazy writing. Most confounding is that it leaves out details regarding the origins and customs of the clan in question. Among these include making roses a daily nutritional source as a substitute to blood without explanation, brushing aside Akira's role and responsibility as consort, and opting to dress an exalted lady of ranking like a Gothic Lolita on her way to Comic-Con. Often bland and expressionless, with the occasional glare every quarter of an hour, the acting is far from good but it would also be a stretch to call it atrocious. While thematically strong, Stranger is ultimately guilty of cutting back on the finer points of the myth surrounding its supernatural creatures, when more insight on how and why they are so would have made this show infinitely better.



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