thoughts on ATARU – initially watched 12/6/16

mimi’s brief summary: hyperintelligent man with savant syndrome and a mysterious past (he calls himself chokozai, played by masahiro nakai) teams up with a hotheaded + empathetic detective (maiko ebina, played by chiaki kuriyama) and her jaded self-obsessed coworker (shunichi sawa, played by kazuki kitamura) to solve the various mysteries that have other people completely stumped.

i initially watched this show in december of last year. as a big fan of ko takeuchi’s art, i wanted to know who “chokozai” was, and what all the fanart was about. what was that little stuffed animal? what’s with the curry soup? who are the other characters?

so, this was my first experience in jdrama murder mysteries… an interesting first choice, now that ive watched other shows and can compare them. now, i want to say right now that i am terrible at writing non-spoiler reviews since i always ramble on and on about the specifics, but i’ll do my best here.

i’ve noticed as i watch more and more of these types of shows, it always starts off as a mostly-fun quirky little show about a team solving daily mysteries, and then it starts to twist itself into a bigger plotline, until ultimately throwing you the ending along something big to ponder. while i like that pattern, there are many things about this specific show that didn’t sit well with me.

things i liked: the friendship development of the 3 main characters, the twists of each case, the ways in which chokozai’s backstory is revealed, the humor of it all (maiko’s hotheadedness, the interactions between the three of them), and the final case is ultimately very emotional and feels like true closure…

things i disliked: the actual ending-ending. it felt completely pointless. the writers’ treatment of chokozai as a character (primarily with the ending), the weird wishy-washy indecisiveness of whether or not the “main antagonist” of the show is ~truly a bad person~ (again, primarily with the ending). it feels like the writers weren’t quite certain if they wanted this character to be seen as sympathetic or not (he shouldn’t).

*vague* spoilers begin here

while it feels like ending-ambiguity is a common theme in a lot of jdramas, the way it was done here feels like a complete waste of time. in the vaguest sense: making the ending of the show very similar to the beginning is a fun callback moment when done correctly, but here it feels like all the development that chokozai got in the 11 episodes were essentially for nothing. for a character to gain a newfound sense of autonomy and then take it away at the end simply doesnt sit well with me. the antagonist character is very obviously extremely manipulative, and uses chokozai for his own gain, but the characters (and by extension, the writers, for writing them that way) seem to wholeheartedly accept that as okay in the end and ultimately chokozai’s sense of autonomy is completely ignored. it was… really unsatisfying to watch. in fact when i initially saw it, i got so angry that i got a headache. incredible

end *vague* spoilers

overall i have rather mixed feelings about the show. the cases itself, and the way they were solved, were interesting. the friendship that develops amongst the main 3 is interesting and sweet. funny, heartfelt, and brings a gentle sense of familial love. the blend of humor within the intensity of each case in the early episodes, or the nice amount of emotions in the logic behind each case and each perspective makes for something truly fun to watch, but the execution of the plot itself was very shaky.

additional thoughts: the development of the main 3 was really what made it for me, specifically in that we have flashbacks for the veteran of the group, sawa, and how he acted very similar to how maiko does in the current time. formerly a hotheaded rookie detective who was the pinnacle of comic relief, he is later promoted as chief and accepts that he “must put aside his emotions for cases” – thus creating the jaded sawa we know and love today.

maiko, being hotheaded and stubborn as she is, wholeheartedly takes on every emotion she feels for each case, and uses them to guide her. sometimes this doesnt go so smoothly, but in the end there’s always a solution to the case, all thanks to chokozai. as the story goes on, and the three of them become closer, sawa learns to have more passion in each case, determined to find the truth. however, he’s still cynical, which is a balance for maiko whos empathy throws cynicism and doubt straight out the window.

with maiko, she’s always motivated for the most part… but when she’s not, it feels realistic. she gets burnt out, and it takes her a bit to recover. it’s nice to see that realistic-feeling portrayal of feeling discouraged and taking a bit of time to spring back into that motivated and determined mindset, and that’s one of the many things i love about her. her determination to find out the truth behind her mother’s case, and the pain she experiences due to that weighing on her family’s shoulders, maiko’s empathy for those seeking the truth in every case truly packs a punch! she refuses to quit until the answer is found. while sawa encourages her to question things more as the episodes go on, she in exchange teaches sawa to feel strongly about these cases as he did in the past. there’s something really wonderful about that development. overall however, the two developed this way thanks to chokozai, who has his own line of development involving gaining autonomy and doing what he wants for the sake of wanting to do these things.

TL;DR: love the characters, the mysterious cases, and the humorous interactions amongst the main cast. hate the suddenly-shaky, wishywashy treatment of the antag (and protag, too!), especially near the end