Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Spring Break J-Dramas: Galileo

This is Day 3 in a series. You might want to start at the introduction.

Alright, this is the big one. Objectively, this show is probably the best of the five I'll be covering, but it also happens to be my favourite. GTO was just winding down its second season, so I started looking around for a new J-drama to watch, just in time to see Galileo Season 1 get added to Crunchyroll. I didn't really know much about it aside from Crunchyroll's paragraph description, but it seemed interesting enough. There aren't really any anime that are police procedurals (like CSI or NCIS), so I was intrigued to see Japan's take on the genre.

Galileo is a police procedural that shares similarities with American shows like Monk and Bones. The series is named after Yukawa Manabu; or at least his university nickname. He is now a genius physics professor, who has been roped into helping his old university friend, now a police detective, solve exceptionally difficult cases where the impossible appears to have occurred (such as teleportation). Utsumi Kaoru is a brand new detective assigned to take the place of Yukawa's friend, and they begin working cases together. It's a fairly conventional setup for a show of this genre; the show's strength comes from its consistency.
A poster featuring black and white face shots of Yukawa and Utsumi.
Stylish, n'est-ce pas?
The show's strength is its consistency, but where does that consistency come from? I'd say it's from two factors: the quantity, and the source. The quantity of episodes is very small, with all the episodes being released in two batches: Season 1 (10 episodes) in 2007, and Season 2 (11 episodes) in 2013. Both batches also contained an extra length special episode (Galileo: Episode Zero, an origin story, in 2007; Galileo XX, filling in the gap between seasons, in 2013), and a movie released in theaters (Suspect X in 2007; Midsummer's Equation in 2013). Contrast this with American shows, where a single season will last 24-odd episodes, and shows run for decades sometimes (20 seasons of Law & Order gets a bit repetitive). Galileo's low quantity allowed them to spend more time carefully crafting each story.

Probably the bigger factor in consistency is the source though. Unlike the previous two J-dramas discussed, Galileo wasn't adapted from a manga; it's from a series of novels. The Detective Galileo series was written by one of Japan's biggest and best mystery writers, Keigo Higashino, and every story in the J-drama was adapted from one of his novels (except for the specials, I think). This obviously means that, rather than mysteries being written by a team of tired writers trying to fill airtime, they're all from the mind of one master craftsman, written of a period of several years. Not only does this make sure that the quality of each mystery is high, but it also means that the characters are all consistent, since the same man is writing their every line. I won't be doing any comparisons between the source material and the J-drama, so any comments about the series will be exclusively relating to the J-drama (I've only read one of the books anyways, though I may write a separate post on that later).

Yukawa is played by Fukuyama Masaharu, a man known in Japan mostly for his musical career. Yukawa is a professor at Teito University in Tokyo, which is the Japanese equivalent of saying that he works for ACME; it's the goto name for fictional universities. Here's the thing about Yukawa though: he's the best at everything. I guess he's got that in common with Irie from Mischievous Kiss. Super smart, awesome at tennis, boxing, cooking, wood carving, volleyball... There's really no end to the list. Heck, he's not even bad at reading social cues like Irie is. He's popular because of his brains and looks, but he can also carry a normal conversation. I guess if he has any fault, it's how condescending he can be.

Unfortunately, just like with GTO, major shakeups happen to the cast between Seasons 1 and 2. It makes more sense in Galileo, since there were 6 years between seasons both in the show and in real life, and it is handled more gracefully. Yukawa's female detective partner changes from Utsumi Kaoru to Kishitani Misa, but Utsumi is at least given two episodes of screen time to ease her off, and is mentioned in dialog later on in the season too, rather than just being written out. I assume that she was switched out because of schedule conflicts, but I was still sad to see her go. She was played by Shibasaki Kou, also known in Japan for her singing. Actually, one of the coolest parts of the show's production is how the theme songs for both seasons and the first movie were written and performed by Yukawa and Utsumi's actors, who did a really great job together. I think the second season's theme is my favourite of their songs. Pretty much everyone else in the cast is switched up too, except for Yukawa's assistant and old university detective friend, and the detectives' senior partner. Actually, the coroner changes from a Japanese woman to a black man, which kind of took me by surprise...

Two screenshots showing the change in coroner between seasons from a Japanese woman to a black man.
Season 1 up top, Season 2 on bottom. Bit of a change, I think.
Yukawa has this thing that he does whenever he solves the mystery, where he covers part of his face with his hand, we see inside his brain, and then he starts frantically writing equations everywhere. Well, everywhere that he shouldn't; he'll be in his lab with a chalkboard right behind him, and he'll take a tube of lipstick and write all over his desk instead. The part where we see inside his brain is done with CG and is kind of cheesy, but they do improve it in Season 2, thankfully. His other quirk is how he hates children. He's clearly terrified of them, and claims that if they get too close to him, he gets a rash. It's fun to laugh at him, since he's so perfect most of the time, but I do sympathize a bit.

Most of the episodes in the series are adapted from the short story collections that are most of the Detective Galileo series, but there are also three full length novels that have been written that needed to be adapted. One of them was split into two episodes and used as the finale of Season 2 (Salvation of a Saint), but the other two are what turned into the theatrical movies (The Devotion of Suspect X and A Midsummer's Equation). Even though the TV series is really good, it still pales in comparison to the quality of the movies. I'm sure part of that is the extra length and budget that movies have, but an even larger part is the slightly different tone in the movies. The show is pretty light hearted most of the time, even though it deals with murders every episode. The movies on the other hand get super emotional, and are very serious. I mean, they're not depressing or full of themselves, they just deal with the issues in a much more raw way. Which is a good thing! You really feel for the characters involved.

Unfortunately, every Detective Galileo story that's been written has now been adapted, and no new stories have been written since 2012. There's still hope for more though; the series has had a hiatus of 5 years and of 3 years before, so more could still be coming. I really want more of this show. It really knocks the socks off of every American CSI-clone (except maybe Awake).

Season 1 (minus episode 4) and Galileo: Episode Zero are available for legal streaming from Crunchyroll in North America and pretty much worldwide (minus Asia). Season 2 and Galileo XX are available for legal streaming from DramaFever (or Hulu) in America, and I'm not sure where else. The two movies Suspect X and Midsummer's Equation are not currently available.

Full Series

Day 3: Galileo
Day 4: Liar Game

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