Posted in Drama Series, Review

Ouroboros: final thoughts

Ouroboros: infinity and eternity, death and resurrection, creation and destruction.

The long wait is finally over… huzzah!!

Big shout-out to areea-chan and keiko1981 who made watching this drama with English subtitles possible. It took some time, but the wait was worth it. Otsukaresama deshita! =)

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Aforementioned, i came into the drama with zero knowledge and expectation apart from what’s outlined in the synopsis and which manga it is a drama-adaptation of. It might be a good thing since i have no other material to compare the show to and am thus able to weigh in on what the show gives rather than on the could-have-beens and should-have-beens.

The manga, however, is still ongoing to date. Ain’t it gonna be interesting to note where the live-action starts to deviate from the source and how similar/different the two endings are? since the drama’s denouement left me a bit cold. But then it’ll certainly be followed by that ineluctable comparison… let’s worry about it when the time comes (i.e. when the manga comes to an end; i won’t keep tab on its progress regardless).

While i wasn’t big on the plot — revenge-driven police/detective dramas, i’ve watched too many of those — i was sold on the cast. Toma/Shun pairing was the biggest pull. Rumor has it that both were courted to do the show back in 2009 and only managed to go ahead with this project end of 2014. That none of the parties bails out even after 5 years can only suggest their confidence in each other — production team in the acting quality and suitability of the actors, and the actors in the script. How can that bit not intrigue you? And then Ueno Juri. This is only the second project i see her in (after the highly raved Nodame Cantabile which i didn’t manage to finish) but i read good reviews of her acting and was curious about how much she’s grown from her Nodame days.

If you are tuning in solely for her, you may soon be disappointed as she doesn’t appear often, neither does she hold a central role in the story. She plays Hibino Mizuki, partner-in-crime of Toma’s Ryuuzaki Ikuo in whichever police division they’re in. The latter has another real and literal partner-in-crime in Shun’s Danno Tatsuya, whom he calls Tacchan, in that together they’re committing crimes as the two dragons of Ouroboros. Originally, it’s an ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon eating its own tail forming a loop which symbolizes cyclical nature of life, but here the symbol is in the form of infinity with two dragons eating each other’s tail.

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[well-toned bodyies aside, ain’t that tattoo impressive?]

The drama focuses heavily on these two and their quest for realizing the only goal they have in life — to avenge Yuiko-sensei’s death — that other characters feel tangential. Even Mizuki. She doesn’t get to do much, as a police officer, as Ikuo’s partner and love interest, as a character (who is rather dry and vapid). Besides the above names, i could only recall two more: Mizuki’s father (high ranking police officer who seems really shady) and that snarky Chouno guy (who works in the same division as Ikuo and Mizuki and has doubting eyes on the former, whom he deems to have the eyes of a criminal, not of a detective, since the beginning ). The rest come and go in a flash it was a game to figure whether they are in for the long haul or will just make a one-time appearance.

Ikuo and Tacchan were two of many children under the care of Kashiwaba Yuiko (Hirosue Ryoko) in Mahoroba orphanage. Albeit parentless, they should never become weak, dishonest, and stray from the path of righteousness, she prods each and every one of them. To them, she was a patient teacher, loving mother, caring older sister, and stern guardian. Having such figure taken away right before their eyes and learning that the police covered it up set the two on finding the culprit and off them no matter how long it takes.

“We’ll take revenge, the two of us. We’ll kill them, the two of us.” is the pledge they affirm from time to time like a mantra to keep them focused. Naturally, they believe in neither police nor law and serve justice their own way. What it is and how far they’ll go to punish the outlaws, as well as the kind of persons they are, are exhibited in the first two hours. It’s capital punishment yo, no less.

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Such ruthlessness shouldn’t be that surprising, given that they don’t trust criminal justice AND the fact that Tacchan operates as a yakuza, yet it is. The eliminated ones weren’t better off living even though death is too easy a punishment for all the misdeeds they’ve done, yet not all was related to the Mahoroba case. So, they were offed because they got in the way or have tipped off what they knew of the case or Kintokei-gumi, an elite of elites who wear gold watch. Despite knowing that Ikuo’s and Tacchan’s day jobs are merely means and smokescreen to get closer to Kintokei men and exact their vengeance, it’s uneasy to see them pull the trigger then carry on with the day as if nothing happens, sans any hint of conflicted feelings… They’re darker antiheroes than what i expected.

Character-wise, Ikuo is somewhat grey while Tacchan is pitch black. The latter is aloof and perpetually dour i don’t think he ever smiles. Before the finale. He also gives off an older brother vibe to Ikuo who has been the ‘baby’ since childhood. Both are equally deft although Ikuo has his bumbling moments especially around Mizuki (Toma’s comic timing is still spot-on), lighter bits Tacchan doesn’t have. Ikuo has a sharp sense of smell which aids in case-solving as well as what-you-have-for-lunch intrusive sniffing. He also holds the key to what happened that night, having witnessed the scene, although he inexplicably cannot recall the details. Worry not, those missing memories will come back in fragments as the story progresses.

The boys were at the scene and the police knew it yet amusingly the Kintokei guy openly told them to unsee what they had seen while oh-so-conspicuously flashing the gold watch on his wrist as if challenging them to come and find him later on — because nobody plots revenge in dramaland, right? These two do, and they come after him not quite discreetly. They don’t even adopt new names like other revenge-seekers do. Isn’t that like giving their identity away? If the others do background check, in no time will they know that both used to stay in Mahoroba… Alas, nobody goes that route and able to connect the dots. Not even Chouno, who’s been tailing the two since Day 1. I had high hopes of you… Sigh.

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Pace-wise, i was pretty pleased. Ouroboros spends just a couple episodes on introduction before quickly shifts gear to the next level as key players are tracked down one after another, beans are spilled along the way, and twists are dropped at every turn. From Yuiko-sensei’s identity and role at Mahoroba, to the Kintokei men involved in the case, to the reason behind her demise, and finally to what Mahoroba is all about. The suspected person keeps changing as we go, the fishy becomes seemingly in the clear, the good becomes dubious, and the unsuspected turns out to be the bad guy. Each revelation can be jaw-dropping or graveling but it is also fun to keep second-guessing rather than waiting forever for the other shoe to drop. Usually, the culprit is the one least suspected yet has been around since the beginning; let me just say that this show subverts that expectation. In the end, it is someone who falls under my radar, that’s why i never thought it would be him.

Every development, disclosure, or memory gain is news to Ikuo and Tacchan alike yet nothing seems to rattle the latter. It cares him not what the secret or the truth is, the laser focus is on fingering Yuiko-sensei’s shooter and returning the favor. His blind obsession with revenge is frightening — what if the beloved Yuiko-sensei wasn’t the kind of person they thought she was? — that i wondered if Ikuo was dragged into this against his better judgement. It was Tacchan who initiated the idea, he is the one making sure both stay on track and growing upset when Ikuo seems to waver, whereas Ikuo is very much fine either way.

Granted, we learned why he’s so vengeful. Yuiko-sensei was more than a teacher, mother, sister, or guardian to him. She was his everything. She was the first person who could get through to him, had his best interests at heart, made him feel appreciated, loved, and belonged. That was undeniably poignant. His only regret is that it wasn’t him who stood before her that night. If it were him, perhaps he could do something. Still, his character is so dark i could not see a happy ending for him.

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[familiar scene? “semaru shinjitsu~”]

[Ending discussion ahead] So, while i wasn’t surprised at the upshot, i was at the process. Throughout the series i was baffled at the lack of backup a high-profile yakuza like him has. They should’ve anticipated open fire, wear bulletproof vest at least? They need to stay alive and intact to face the big gun at the end, yunno. Like in Maou, how the wound was inflicted, who did it, AND how it wasn’t attended to in time were beyond me. I was like, you must be kidding me right?? 

The ensuing scenes effectively open the floodgates of tears. Up to that point, my reaction to the plot and characters was rather lukewarm. I couldn’t root for any of them. But when the secret of Mahoroba was out, mainly when the content of that video message left by Yuiko-sensei was shown to us, and then seeing those three finally reunited with her praising and welcoming them home (“okaeri”) and each of them saying “tadaima” in return, i bawled my eyes out.

Still, i couldn’t believe Ikuo had to go too. They could’ve led a different path of life, yet this is the one they chose to walk on till the end. But he didn’t have to end his life, not when Mizuki has expressed her willingness to accept his past and all. That said, it is a fitting end for them both. “What their plan after their wish is fulfilled?” is the question neither of them ever answered. Not because they wanted to keep it a secret, but because they had no answer to that. They have lived their lives with one goal in mind, they didn’t think of what comes afterward. It took them 20 years to finally find who killed Yuiko-sensei, and even if the culprit might not get the punishment he deserved, they have served their life purpose. They left on a high note, so to speak. Whether or not it was justice is up to your interpretation.

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All in all, Ouroboros offers tightly plotted mystery with multiple twists, slick action scenes for which Toma underwent rigorous training in Korea for 4 days, and fully committed performance from all of its cast. It isn’t as procedural as anticipated, and while i’d prefer it to have dived right into the juicy parts, it quickly went there. Sixth to eighth were most gripping imo. The drama spends over half the series in the thick of the Mahoroba case, which is way better than those bombing everything in the last 1~2 hours.

Nevertheless, if the show toned down the amount of recurring flashbacks (the first two episodes were the biggest offenders), managed to maintain the tension in the middle episodes when lives were at stake, and worked on and placed the scores more effectively (seriously, the BGM often came in at random timings which at times didn’t fit the scenes; the muted scenes in the finale were potent though), that would have kicked it up a notch.

逃れられない運命
追い求め続けたあなたを
誰も信じない、誰も知らない

逃れられない運命
僕らにまだ囁き続けるあなたを
誰も信じない、誰にも分からない
[these lines were left untranslated. While i get the gist of it, anyone cares to translate? Also, anyone picks up what Chouno mutters under his breath during that muted scene?]

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_
Rating: 3.5/5
Director: Ishii Yasuharu
Production: TBS, 2014
Cast: Ikuta Toma, Oguri Shun, Ueno Juri, Mitsuishi Ken, Takito Kenichi, Hirosue Ryoko
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Suspense, Comedy, J-dorama (10 Episodes)

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I blog sometimes, gush ofttimes, snark all the time.

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