Monday, November 24, 2014

The Conspirators


"Just one more thing please"

I just decided that no Aibou review will go without a mention of the awesome theme song. Sure, this time was not as awesome as last year's version, but certainly not bad!

Aibou ("Partners") series
Aibou Eleven
Aibou 12

Sugishita Ukyou is an extremely effective police detective, but deemed a bit too dangerous by his superiors because he isn't willing 'to play the game'. So in order to keep him away from ordinary business, but still to keep him close at hand, the higher-ups gave Sugishita command over the Special Order Unit. The title of the unit, which consists just out of Sugishita and his subordinate, can be interpreted in two ways: 1) This unit is to comply to any special order from above. 2) This unit is free to investigate whatever it wants unless there is any special order from above. Because Sugishita isn't the easiest person to work with, many of his subordinates have quit the force, but occasionally, he finds the right partner. Sugishita and his partner's adventures in the TV series Aibou ("Partners") have been a staple of Japanese TV for years. In last year's Aibou Eleven (season 11) Sugishita gained a new partner with Kaito, a young, passionate detective and estranged son of the current Assistant Director-General of the National Police Agency. Aibou 12, which ran from October last year until early this year, brings us more adventures of Sugishita and Kaito.

And for those with an OCD: I'm sorry, but the Japanese denotation of the eleventh season of Aibou really uses the English word "Eleven", even though the twelfth season uses the number...

Aibou Eleven was the first time I caught a complete Aibou season, as I figured that the introduction of a new partner would serve as a good entry point, similar to how people start watching Doctor Who whenever there's a new Doctor. I enjoyed Aibou's ecclectic mix of police procedural, puzzle plots and complex political thriller a lot, something I also appreciated in Detective Conan - Private Eye in the Distant Sea (which was written by a veteran Aibou scriptwriter).

Aibou 12 is in principle the same as the previous season. I guess that after twelve seasons, three theatrical releases and tons of spin-off productions, Aibou has found its niche within the rather flooded world of Japanese mystery dramas and that it will therefore always be sorta the same. But then again, every episode is quite different from the other, because the Special Order Unit can pretty much do whatever it wants. Sometimes we have a deep, dark political thriller that involves all layers of the police force, sometimes it's a very cozy, personal mystery story. Some stories might feature heavy social commentary, while other stories leave a warm fuzzy feeling. I do think it's a missed chance that Aibou seasons are not conceived as one production, i.e. there is no running storyline or theme. Of course, not all series would work with running storylines (I suspect such a plot device would result in overcomplicated plots with Aibou), but I would have loved an overall theme for the season. The estranged relation between Kaito and his father occasionally comes up, and very prominently in the season finale, but I wish it could have been elevated to a bigger theme for the complete season.

Aibou 12 consists of twenty episodes, three of which film-length TV specials, so this review would turn into something unreadable if I commented on all episodes. Instead, some of my favorite moments of this season: the first episode starts off with a bang, as the Assistant Director-General of the National Police Agency is kidnapped, at the same time as the Special Order Unit is investigating a shady online 'expert' on contact with extraterrestrials. Aibou is usually at its best when it can make social commentary on the politics of the police force and other government organizations through fair puzzle plots: this episode is no exception, as it makes some sharp observations about protocol in hostage situations, but still presents an engaging story that delivers the goods to the mystery fan. Similar is the tenth episode, where Kaito is held hostage by a bomb-terrorist to help him smoke out a murdering government agent. The final episode in turn places less emphasis on a puzzle plot, but is a captivating political thriller that asks sharp questions about the lack of a witness protection program in the country.

But there are also lighter episodes that are great. Surprising was the one about an online mystery critic (!), or the episode where a free day of the Special Order Unit conceals a surprising truth. And while some of the 'lighter' episodes also feature social commentary (for example about food safety or the power of mass media), they often go combined with good whodunnit plots and / or an enjoyable police procedural structure. Occassionally, you're even given a (semi) impossible murder!

I loved how each episode could turn out to be completely different from the other episode, but it does make the series feel slightly chaotic. And as I said before, a season is really nothing more than a collection of random cases of the Special Order Unit and I would have appreciated a binding factor, a theme, for each season. Season twelve was fun, but there was nothing fundamentally different from season eleven, even though a season theme would work so well with Aibou. 

But I was very content with Aibou 12 in general and I can't wait for Aibou 13 to start (which, by the time this review is actually published, should already by running for a month or so).

Original Japanese title(s): 『相棒12』


  1. And now I have another TV show to watch. Subs?

    1. I've seen Chinese subs floating around, but I don't think I've ever seen English subs for Aibou... Probably because it's a rather long-running series.