Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tenshi to Akuma (2015)

In Tenshi to Akuma, a female cop and a private lawyer, working under the auspices of the prosecutor's office, make up an ad hoc division of the police charged with reviewing unsolved cases. They go over the facts and sift through witness testimony in order to identify and facilitate the filing of criminal charges against the actual felon who has, for a time, eluded apprehension.

Makita Hikari (Gouriki Ayame) is a rookie officer, who was initially placed on active duty in consonance with a national program designed to increase the participation of women in law enforcement. After a short and unremarkable stint in homicide, she finds herself reassigned to doing clerical work, demoted to shelving case files in the Unsolved Cases Unit. Joining her as a deputized officer for the prosecution is Chajima Ryunosuke ((Watabe Atsuro), a sly and unctuous private practitioner who initiates the reinvestigation of cold cases on file. Together, they make a rather awkward, not to mention questionable, crime-solving duo with the young wide-eyed optimist insisting on swaying people to do the right thing and the cynical yet seasoned member of the bar electing to offer a plea bargain at the drop of a hat.

The curious thing about this show is that it's not a legal drama nor is it a crime procedural---the series is in fact built on amateur sleuthing through chronic, off-site interrogations of persons of interest. Unlike Cold Case: Shinjitsu no Tobira, the characters in this series are not driven by a new lead or the discovery of new evidence to reopen investigation, instead the show takes stock of select cases which fit the overarching concept of portraying how human beings can be duplicitous creatures. For this purpose, it concerns itself with uncovering the truth beneath the lies and distinguishing the so-called angels from the demons, calling attention to the unofficial use and status of plea-bargaining in the Japanese criminal justice system by showcasing the benefits and potential dangers attached to such practice.

Crafting stories around proposed and/or pending legislation is one unique feature of Japanese television. Whenever a change in government regulation is introduced or an amendment to the present economic or judicial system is proffered, one can more or less expect a corresponding drama series using the said controversy as its focal point. Productions of this sort belong to a broad spectrum---the really good ones can bolster public debate and discussion, while the crummy ones resort to fear mongering and blatant propaganda. Entries in this genre range from the highly fictional (Majo Saiban, Soshite, Dare mo Inaku Natta) to the profoundly moving (Hagetaka, Tetsu no Hone) and this is something that you can only find out upon actually watching the series.

Due to its episodic format, Tenshi to Akuma is middling in comparison to social dramas that herald change and call for introspection. The series just doesn't have a definitive point of view or insight on criminal plea bargaining. A majority of the episodes appear to favor plea bargaining by producing a favorable outcome to every scenario wherein past crimes could not be prosecuted without soliciting the cooperation of key persons involved in the act sought to be punished. On the flip side, it also allots time to present the lack of transparency in plea bargaining negotiations and the derailment of justice brought about by securing false testimony, but these episodes come out weaker despite being the main attraction of the story arc. Furthermore, the creation of the special division makes no sense, especially when the proponent has bones in his closet and the supposed muscle of the team is a skinny young woman with no field experience flashing a badge. 

What's good about it is that the series presents an assortment of cases that provide a cache of differing means, motives and opportunities for the commission of the nine crimes investigated. The guesswork is fair and the best episodes involve sympathetic characters driven by self-preservation and acted without premeditation. The top half of the series is serviceable and mildly intriguing with men and women equally represented in their capacity for violence and display of malice.There are a few unexpected twists and a good deal of misdirection for certain episodes but they don't work as well if the viewer is keen on checking the runtime or spotting familiar actors.

Needless to say, one will watch this show because of the cases and not because of its main characters for there is nothing particularly dynamic about the partnership. Makita and Chajima start off as two strangers that have to temporarily work together and they remain as such long after their professional work is done. This can be construed as both an asset and a handicap of the series. The absence of any personal drama or emotional attachment between the characters allows viewers to focus on the mystery at hand, but this also means there's less incentive or push to watch the episodes consecutively, since there's no reason to be invested in such characters and each episode is a complete story in itself. Also, the female lead lacks distinction when pit against the suave yet smarmy delivery of her co-actor. To be honest, the part could have been played by any other young actress and it would not have made any difference. 



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