It’s not often, given the current bleh drama climate, that you get a show that ticks all the boxes on why it should be a must-watch or be deserving of a place on any recommended drama list. Fortunately, Yami no Bansosha is all that and another testament to the enduring quality of WOWOW dramas. It’s short at only five episodes, but there’s a lot going on that deserves your full attention every minute of the way.
Mizuno Yuki (Matsushita Nao) is an ex-cop turned researcher for a publishing company. She gets an unusual request to look into whether a series of 50 unpublished sketches were really the work of manga master Ajima Fumiya, who died a year ago. The sketches are eerily similar to 35-year-old cases of young women who went missing. As manga is not her forte, Yuki enlists the help of eccentric manga editor Daigo Shinji (Furuta Arata) to uncover the mystery behind these sketches…
Yami no Bansosha is the kind of drama you want to finish in one sitting because the cliffhangers are done well and you can’t wait to get to the next episode to find out what’s going on. I found it a good sign that by the end of episode 1, I was eager to go on to the next. Based on the novel of the same name by Nagasaki Takashi, its interesting premise got my attention. I don’t read manga, but I did appreciate the use of a medium ubiquitous to Japan to spice up a crime thriller, because I think it made all the difference.
It’s nice to be given a chance to appreciate manga without getting overly technical about it. Sure, there was some jargon as Daigo explains to Yuki how things work in manga and the details she should look out for, but I never felt that this priced the viewer out of the understanding bargain. I’m not a visual reader, and I confess I tend to skim the artwork for the text when I read graphic novels, so I tried to make up for it by paying more attention to the sketches in the drama and the details Daigo highlighted. A mangaka worth his salt would know how to make full use of his canvas, just as a drama has no need of filler scenes if writing and directing are up to par. The composition and plot of the artwork initially lead Daigo to think the mangaka isn’t quite up to scratch, but the final reveal is very satisfying not only because of the aha! moment, but that the drama didn’t need to resort to some convoluted twist for the pieces of the puzzle to finally fall into place. On the whole, it was all very neatly done and I was impressed.
I enjoyed the fun chemistry between Furuta Arata and Matsushita Nao, who certainly stepped it up a notch here. She was previously passable but bland, so it’s nice to see what a good script, solid co-stars and director can do for an actor. Furuta was excellent as the eccentric Daigo and his quirks were played up for some comic relief in an otherwise serious drama. Poor guy was also made to run around quite a bit carrying a backpack. Tanaka Tetsushi was solid as Kazumine, another manga editor who helped Daigo and Yuki, while Kaname Jun’s character Ozawa Yukihide, an otaku who helped manage Ajimapro (company of the manga master Ajima), was suitably creepy, though I felt the expository scene about his past was a bit meh. The drama intercut scenes of the sketches with their real-life versions, which got somewhat unnerving – you’d wonder, for a while at least, whether the sketches actually did show the 35-year-old murders or a modern copycat, or just simply the drama being perverse by bringing the sketches to life for some form of sadistic personal viewing.
At its core, the drama is about relationships and perspectives, in particular that of a mangaka and his reader. Even if the title is bleak, that there may be someone out there who understands you so that you don’t feel as alone in the world makes this a glass half-full situation. And that, perhaps, is what we can all feel grateful for.