It’s time to kick off the Fall drama season with one of the two shows I planned to review no matter what. Piece tells the story of Narumi Hikaru (Nakayama Yuma) and Suga Mizuho (Honda Tsubasa), who were a casual couple in high school, but drifted apart, only to meet again three years later upon the death of a classmate. It has been billed as a mystery, but I’m not sure what sort of mystery it might be.

I’m later than usual in getting down to this review (episode three has already aired) because I was hoping for subtitles, and thankfully aozorasubs at livejournal came through with them just as I was getting ready to write this without the benefit of translation, but decided to make one last check. Thanks aozorasubs!

The series begins with Mizuho receiving news of Origuchi Haruka (Mizuno Erina)’s death. She seems to barely register the name.

The funeral brings together people who haven’t seen each other for a long time. We meet Sugawara (Nozawa Yuki), but Mizuho is barely interested in him. Instead, her eyes are fixed with intense emotion on the image of the deceased. Is it normal grief, or something more?

Meanwhile, Narumi departs his home for the funeral, but because of someone that he wants to avoid banging on the front door, he leaves from the balcony . . .

. . . yes, he successfully jumped from the third floor. Since the girl he’s living with (I guess, his sister), was shocked to see him do it, my guess is this isn’t a well-established talent of his. What gives?

He casts a wry smile up to her as she wonders “what the hell is he?” Good question. Are we dealing with a Faustian bargain, or something a bit more benign?

I’ve been to a funeral, and I don’t recall people being this . . . talkative or cheerful:

I guess it has to do with the fact that they were all classmates and had to catch up. But since none of them seems to know Origuchi very well, is it normal for them to have all been invited, or for all of them to attend? They say that the only person who talked with Origuchi was Narumi Hikaru, and we also learn that Narumi was a poor student.

Mizuho stays silent as the others talk, but smiles when they note that Narumi got into a sub-standard university.

The entry of Yanai Takashi (Matsumura Hokuto) is greeted with great enthusiasm by the girls.

Apparently, Yanai had some ties to Origuchi through a committee they were both part of. There are also less savory attendees.

I have to say, we’re certainly getting introduced to a cast worthy of a mystery, and in the way that you’d normal meet them in a proper mystery – quickly, and with details about their distinct public images (that may or may not mask hidden agendas . . .).

Finally, the two primaries – Narumi and Mizuho – meet:

He grabs her phone out of her hand and is about as forward as a person could be:

Basically, we learn that he’s an asshole, but one of the carefree and interesting variety rather than the ruthless/ambitious or the uncaring/sociopathic types.

Mizuho knows him well enough to be able to press some of his buttons, too, though not enough to claim that she understands him.

Then, we flashback to three years ago, when all the characters were in school together, and Origuchi was still alive.

We learn a lot about the characters through this look back. The way some of the girls react when Nishida Remi (Arai Moe) collects money for another girl’s abortion, for instance. Mizuho doesn’t contribute.

When Mizuho bumps into Origuchi, they overhear boys talking about Mizuho and her cold-hearted beauty.

Mizuho appears not to pay attention to it, but Origuchi looks irritated and goes to cut them off. It’s not clear how Mizuho takes this.

Narumi is blunt as you might expect with Mizuho:

He’s not particular with which girl he hangs out with, though, so they’re not together at this point.

We find out that Narumi likes approaching girls with the blunt truth, as Mizuho turns out not to be the only one who’s fallen victim to him.

The opinions about him among the girls are divided, once again showing the differences between the characters.

When Mizuho discovers that she forgot her notebook, saying so under her breath, Narumi, sitting right in front of her, tosses his back to her to save her skin when the teacher calls on her. Looking through his workbook, she discovers that he’s actually prepared for class despite his reputation as a bad student. I guess now we understand her smile when the other girls said he was a slacker and her comments to him from earlier in the episode.

Later on, they have a deeper discussion about Mizuho’s way of going through life.

But Narumi moves quickly:

Hearing other stories about Narumi, Mizuho comes to a conclusion about him:

And she might be right, because right after that they spot Narumi getting close and into the private space of yet another girl.

But after the other girls leave, Mizuho continues to watch from above, and when the girl leaves Narumi, the expression on his face instantly sours:

What’s up with that? And when he meets another of his liaisons in the hallway, we see that he seems intent on taking advantage of and antagonizing large swaths of the opposite gender.

Mizuho sees this as well . . .

. . . then gets a request for an appointment from him:

And sure enough, he’s copying work from her.

Oh, and another enraged girl approaches him, and he decides to call Mizuho his new girlfriend and let them fight it out.

After a bit of a chase, he does decide to save her, pulling her into boy’s restroom.

Then he gets her to watch the most uninteresting fireworks display I’ve seen since a certain Himitsu no Arashi-chan episode a few months back.

That brings us out of the flashback briefly as the funeral service begins, but then we plunge back into it immediately.

In the summer holidays three years ago, Mizuho has trouble taking her mind off of Narumi, and he makes sure she doesn’t.

I’m not going to detail all their wanderings together, since at this point the trajectory of their relationship is pretty predictable, and I don’t want to give away some of the more charming points of their interactions. You’re going to have to watch to see those for yourself.

Yet there’s still a troubled look on his face, and she’s entirely cognizant of it when it appears.

Then some less pleasant characters pop up . . .

. . . he won’t let them mess with Mizuho . . .

. . . but he deliberately enrages one of them and goes too far with his idea of “self-defense.”

How will this turn out? Homicide would be an odd way to start a relationship. Could this dangerous side to Narumi Hikaru attract Mizuho to him more, or will it put more distance between them?

Oh, and what about the funeral?

When Mizuho drops her handkerchief and Remi returns it to her, using her name to get her attention, the mother of the deceased overhears, recognizing the name.

Bizarrely, Origuchi Haruka’s mother thanks Mizuho for being Haruka’s friend. But we didn’t get any sense of that at all from the flashback, and Mizuho doesn’t feel comfortable with with misconception:

The mother then tells Mizuho that Haruka was pregnant at time of her death.

So . . . what does this mean? And why did Haruka call Mizuho a friend when Mizuho felt no such bond with Haruka?

Clearly, the mystery will revolve around Origuchi Haruka. But does that mean she didn’t really die of natural causes, or will the mystery go in a different direction? I guess we’ll find out.

This episode introduced us to the characters, and didn’t really kick off the plot. In terms of fulfilling its purpose, I’d say it did an excellent job. Consider the fact that both among the male and female characters, we saw sharp distinctions between the individuals and vital details. Even for a character like Sugawara, who didn’t have any lines, we learned that he failed his university entrance exams. This is in stark contrast to the predecessor series in this time slot – Sprout – where we didn’t get sharp details about the characters, and their consistently moderate behavior made them seem . . . beige. It’s clear that, in this series, we will get a full spectrum of characters.

In terms of acting, the burden was mainly on Honda-san and Nakayama Yuma-kun, though with some credit due to Arai Moe-san for Remi – currently the best supporting actor. Honda-san and Yuma-kun showed a full range of emotions, from cheerful, to angry, to nearly in tears. None of it seemed forced or unnatural, which was a real trick for Yuma-kun, since there’s something about his character that is patently fake. There’s no doubt that the storyline is going to test their skills even further, and it should be fun to see how they do.

The pace of this episode was quick in the beginning and rather slow as we got into the relationship between Mizuho and Narumi. The slow pace in the latter half was made more acceptable by the fact that you really didn’t know what Narumi was going to do next, and there was always a tension.

All good so far. It really all depends on how they kick the plot off and what kind of conflicts we’ll get to see in the course of the series, now that we’ve got good characters to work with. The writing looks good, so I have high hopes.