These two crime series prove (if any more proof were needed by now) that WOWOW is the closest thing that Japan has to its own HBO. The quality of performances, directing, photography and writing are streets ahead of the average terrestrial channels.
Not to say that WOWOW is completely free from the usual cliches of Japanese TV, though. In both of these series the lead female characters (a cop and an ex-cop) both went onto the police force because their father’s were detectives and died with one unsolved case.
After this, the two dramas have little in common. Ishi no Mayu is the more conventional cop drama. The lead role is Kisaragi, a rookie cop, who is a junior officer on a serial killer case. In most J-dramas, rookie cops are there to make stupid mistakes so that people shout at them until the end when they make a passionate speech and everyone realises what a great detective they are.
Not this time. Most officers are either supportive or indifferent to Kisaragi. Some people are a bit annoyed when she becomes pivotal to the case, but that’s a side story.
The case itself involves a killer who appears to be taking revenge on some people he accuses of being murderers. So this leaves two cases to be solved: the current one, and a case from twenty years ago. This means that there’s never a dull moment in the five episodes, and the use of the killer phoning the police to tease them with clues may be old hat, but it does make for some great-cliffhangers.
Yami no Bansosha is less of a typical cop show, even though the police are involved. Mostly it revolves around two people: an ex-cop turned detective and a grumpy old out-of-work manga editor. The detective was brought in to investigate a manuscript, apparently written by a famous manga author, that describes an old unsolved murder with uncanny accuracy.
She is put in touch with an editor who can use his expertise and contacts to investigate. There are some nice Biblia Koshoudou type parts, where the editor can spot stylistic aspects to get more clues from the manuscript.
Both of these are similar in structure: male-female pair investigates an old unsolved case, but the approach is quite different. Yami no Bansosha is more comedic, with Furuta Arata stealing a lot of scenes, especially when he tries to run in a duffle coat and rucksack.
And both are excellent. If you watch them back-to-back like I did, you’re bound to feel some deja vu, but to ignore one in favour of the other would be a mistake.