Shinryochu (心療中 – in treatment) ~In the Room~ focuses on the conversations between counselor Tenma Ryo (Inagaki Goro) and various young people under his care. This is bound to get pretty intense and disturbing, and it’s certainly at the far end of the spectrum that we started in this time slot with Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou. I go into this drama with a lot of trepidation – when I relax I usually look for entertainment and try to avoid anything too depressing – but I’ll give this a shot because at least I know the actors involved. I got to hand it to them, though – it’s definitely seasonal. It’s the winter to Bakaleya’s spring, Sprout’s summer, and Piece’s autumn. I just hope we can get through this season and back to wholesome fun in the spring.

The show begins with Tenma speaking to Umihara Minami (Suda Anna). Minami is a high school senior, and starts out in the bathroom, busy being sick.

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Before she comes out, though, she’s careful to straighten herself up and to unfasten two more buttons on her shirt. Well, they’re certainly not going to be pulling any punches in this series, are they?

Tenma notes that Minami had been getting better and wonders about this sudden relapse. She blames her boyfriend’s insanity, saying that his suspicion causes her stress that makes her sick. That’s pretty thin.

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Tenma, thankfully, doesn’t quite believe this explanation.

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He also asks clever questions, which already wins him the respect of the audience. He asks Minami what sort of behavior she considers to be insane, for instance.

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And when she brings up her mother’s views on men – that they’re insane – he segues into whether her mother might be causing her stress. The confident smile that had punctuated her sentences suddenly leaves Minami’s face.

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And when she continues to be evasive, he makes the point that nothing has changed about her boyfriend, but something has changed about her . . .

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. . . suddenly, she doesn’t act very sick anymore, and perhaps a little bit more dangerous. She definitely gives off some very dangerous vibes.

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She then throws a curveball by saying that she has a twin – something he apparently didn’t know.

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She opens up about how tough it is having a twin, but can we really trust her sentiments to be genuine?

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Tenma points out that he’s an only child, and it seems to him a waste when siblings don’t get along.

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What’s really going on here? What’s up with Minami? I think I’ll leave the further details of this interaction out for your enjoyment.

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We certainly got the sense from this meeting that Tenma is entirely professional in his duties as counselor, but it’ll be real boring if he doesn’t get tested through the course of this series.

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He tries to make a call after that meeting, but is interrupted by some shouting outside. Judging from his sigh after he hangs up, it’s not someone he’s eager to deal with.

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It is, of course, his own daughter. She’s trying to play her parents against each other, seeking sympathy from her father after her mother gets upset with her, but he’ll have none of it.

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Naturally, she tries to lay on a guilt trip in the way only a daughter can do to a father. He sure has trouble swallowing the rebuke. There’s also some tension between him and his wife about how he pushes all the responsibility of dealing with his daughter onto her.

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The next patient up is Tanaka Shun (Takada Sho), another high school senior.

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Already, there’s a sense in which these meetings are mental boxing matches between Tenma and his patients, and Shun looks just as difficult to deal with as Tenma’s earlier patient. He wants assurances that what he has to say will not be repeated.

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Even the background music here signals tension, as this is yet another very troubled individual who seems unhinged and dangerous.

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And it doesn’t take him long to confirm those impressions:

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Fortunately, the guy the nearly killed – his best friend – calls Shun’s cell phone. Shun doesn’t pick up, but at least it seems his victim is alive.

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Shun doesn’t seem too happy about the call, though – you see, he didn’t really want to beat his best friend up, but he did want to kill him.

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And it’s twisted logic like this that requires the attention of a counselor. Or a psychiatrist.

Shun felt betrayed by his best friend. But why?

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What was it that Shun didn’t want to hear anymore that led him to beat up his best friend? Well, I think that’s something you’ll have to watch to find out. To be sure, the answers are really interesting and the whole discussion is about as intense as you can imagine.

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Eventually, they do some word association:

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Why does it seem like even playing an association game with this guy is perilous?

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As with Tenma’s first patient, it’s tough to really get at what’s up with Shun. It seems like he’s willing to say all sorts of things – even confess to crimes and the intent to commit murder – if it means avoiding what is really upsetting him.

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So this series actually gets to be a bit of a mystery, with every student a case. Every time, it’s like wrestling with words to get the kid to confess.

It’s really difficult to watch in terms of the serious content, but the way it’s done sucks the viewer in – again, because we’re wondering about what’s really going on with these kids. The acting from Suda-san and Takada-kun was excellent, and totally carried the day. Goro-san was more like his usual self, so it’s tough to say, but that’s more from the fact that he naturally fits this role like a glove than any statement about his acting.

I generally don’t like watching serious subject matter when I’m looking for entertainment since I have enough of real life in my real life, but I can definitely deal with this series. There are so many positives in terms of acting, writing, and presentation that they outweigh any squeamishness I might have. So far, this looks like it will beat out Piece in terms of engagement and quality in this time slot. The only question I have is whether there will be a larger story to it, or if we’re just going to get little vignettes in each episode. If there’s no larger plot – and so far we’ve only got the barest hints that there might be one – then that aspect of this series will necessarily be inferior to Piece, which featured a very strong plot.

Thanks to yanie02 at livejournal for the great subtitles. I was worried this one might take a while to get subbed, so it was wonderful to see yanie pick it up.