I wasn’t particularly thrilled when news came out that BORDER was getting a sequel of sorts, in the form of an SP that would expand on the cliffhanger that was the ending of the drama. Great dramas have been slayed by crap sequels or prequels, and I was happy to let sleeping dogs lie. There was also news of one of the characters, the coroner Higa Mika, getting a spin-off about her first case. By the time the SPs finally aired, I had more or less come to terms with the extra stuff and decided I’d give them a go.
I. Shoudou ~ Kenshikan Higa Mika
This was about the coroner, Higa Mika, and her first case, which happened before she joined the Tokyo Metropolitan Police to work with Ishikawa and co. The two-parter SP depicted Higa as a slightly toned down version of her prickly, no-nonsense character in BORDER, who chafes at being kept back from progressing in her career at Eisho University’s school of forensic medicine by her smarmy professor Asakawa Toru (Ishimaru Kanji). A murder case involving a high-school student brings Higa and Asakawa to Nishihara, where they lock horns with the local police and Asakawa makes a nuisance of himself by wanting to be front and centre in the investigation, which annoys the local detective Nakazawa Fumiaki (Kudo Asuka). A twist in the case allows Higa the chance to finally do an autopsy on her own.
The SP was fairly run-of-the-mill and most characters were pretty straightforward. Haru was serviceable, although after having gotten used to her more in-your-face attitude in BORDER, seeing her not stand up to her professor was a little frustrating. Still, this is not unfamiliar for how many women in the Japanese workforce continue to face discrimination and put-downs from their male colleagues about their ability and need to “mind their place”. The murder cases were not particularly exciting, but I did like seeing Higa working with Nakazawa to analyse the clues and figure things out. Kudo Asuka was a pleasant surprise and acquitted himself well, with a quiet, yet assertive presence that I quite like. Apparently he also appears in later episodes of Asa ga Kita, so I’m looking forward to seeing him there. Kiyohara Kara, another Asa ga Kita alum, was one of the students Ogura Akane, and was rather bland.
I did my best to avoid all manner of spoilers going into Shokuzai, so that I could watch it with a relatively open mind and simply prayed that it wouldn’t be awful. I would still have preferred not to have an SP, but as a sequel resolving the cliffhanger in the drama ending, it was a pretty decent follow-up. We find Ishikawa (Oguri Shun) almost catatonic after that confrontation with Ando (Omori Nao), and this worries his boss Ichikura (Endo Kenichi) and colleagues Tachibana (Aoki Munetaka) and Higa. Ishikawa is taken into questioning by Kudaka Takeshi (Kunimura Jun), the auditing commissioner in the Metropolitan Police Department, who is trying to find out what exactly happened. Kudaka is intelligent and observant, and can tell there is more to Ishikawa than what he has (or has not) let on. This seems to be a fairly standard Kunimura duality role – Kudaka has his own game to play in this investigation and if this had been a longer series, he would be the one to engage Ishikawa in a perpetual cat and mouse chase with all moral and ethical lines blurred.
The key question the SP had to resolve was how Ishikawa chose to deal with the fallout of that confrontation with Ando. I thought it was credible, if standard, to use another case for Ishikawa to decide what he ultimately had to do, and how to proceed henceforth. Ishikawa’s internal struggle was nicely depicted, along with a number of colour hints, although I wish the SP had further teased the possibility that he would go completely rogue. It was great to see Akai (Furuta Arata) and his guys come forth again to help Ishikawa – they now consider him one of their own (until he strays, that is), and they would defend him the best they can. This is the same scenario for Ichikura, Tachibana and Higa, who can feel Kudaka closing in and are determined not to give him any chance to nail Ishikawa. This reverse closing of ranks is much more satisfying when stakes are elevated and Kudaka’s target isn’t only Ishikawa but the entire team as well because he knows they are all protecting Ishikawa.
I hadn’t felt particularly in the BORDER mood when I was watching the Higa SP, but hearing the familiar soundtrack play at the end of it gave me some yummy goosebumps and in a way prepped me for the Shokuzai SP. So it was easier to get back into the mood and vibe of the original, and feel like I’d merely picked up from where I’d left off. It was lovely seeing familiar characters back on screen and knowing that they had not received a lobotomy that rendered characterisation senseless. I also liked that the bickering relationship between Tachibana and Higa got a boost, and enjoyed the few moments of camaraderie they shared together and with Ishikawa. Acting was solid on all counts, and Oguri Shun looked like he’d never been away from the BORDER set (in actual fact, he’d done nearly 20 dramas and films in the three years between the drama and SP). If there was a nitpick, it was that Omori’s Ando seemed a tad preachy, more like an annoying buzz than something that threatened to overwhelm Ishikawa completely.
Overall, it was a solid watch to complete the BORDER experience.