Last Hope is a medical suspense drama centered on a team at a biomedical research and innovation institute that serves as the last hope for patients with life-threatening conditions. The members of the team all have their own particular issues, and presumably we’ll see how their characters develop over the course of the series.

Unlike most of the prominent dramas this season, Last Hope is only getting subbed by a closed community, so it might be hard for English speakers to enjoy. I got a copy with Japanese subs so that I can at least use a dictionary for some things, but how much I look up will depend on how interesting things get, and there’s a lot of technical terminology that my app will likely have trouble coping with.

We begin in 1985, where we see a surgeon getting ready for surgery. This episode has a number of flashbacks meant to show something of the backgrounds of the characters and those issues I mentioned.

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Then we return to the present where a man is attempting to commit suicide by stepping in front of a train. He’s pulled back by his girlfriend, who has a marriage license in hand. He says it’s impossible and starts coughing up blood.

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That takes us to the institute, where its chief, Naruse Tetsuji (Takashima Masahiro) is leading a little tour.

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Meanwhile, general practitioner Hatano Takumi (Aiba Masaki) is seeing a patient.

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He asks nurse Tokita Maki (Sakuraba Nanami) to bring him a mouse (ネズミ – nezumi) for the next test. This is no doubt meant to show that he’s eccentric.

Tokita tries to get help finding a mouse for the doctor, but Ogiwara Yukiyo (Koike Eiko) is too busy playing the ponies to care.

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The chief seems not at all perturbed by this behavior as he passes through. After all, he says he has no need for normal doctors.

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He has the same reaction when, in the midst of surgery, a surgeon sees the female guest the chief is leading around and boasts that he’ll get her. He makes the outrageous claim that there’s no woman who won’t bend to his will.

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Speaking further on his claim to greatness, he seems oblivious to the work at hand.

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Funny, all the really brilliant people I’ve known or heard of were strikingly dedicated to their work, putting in long hours because they believed in what they were doing, and the results showed it. I’m not sure I believe in the model of greatness adopted by this drama so far.

Nurse Tokita heads to the labs to hunt for a mouse, but finds more unhelpful people. They call Hatano the “town doctor”, implying a certain rustic lack of refinement. For now, it comes off more as an insult than a term of endearment.

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Well, Tokita eventually comes through, allowing Hatano to conduct a little smell test, asking the patient’s with to compare different smells to odors generated by her husband.

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I think the conclusion was that the patient’s problem had something to do with his medication, but I’m not totally sure.

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In the next major scene, Hatano confers with the stoney Tachibana Ayumi (Tabe Mikako). Considering her hard exterior, you just know that she’s . . . well, you know – got some of those issues.

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She doesn’t seem condescending to the more cheerful Hatano, though, which would have been the usual pattern. Instead, their discussion is exactly what you’d expect between two doctors.

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What we don’t expect is that, in the middle of meeting with the patient – the same one who coughed up blood at the beginning of the show – he’d take a snack break at exactly 3 o’clock, even it means stopping mid-sentence. Well, I say we don’t expect that, but it was in series description as an example of how he was eccentric, and my thought when reading it was how depressingly normal it was. Here, Hatano could have easily made it seem normal as well – he could have just said “could you please give me a moment” and stepped out to snack. Or, he would have made sure to schedule the meeting so that it would not interfere with his snack break (or vice-versa). In short, this just comes off as stupid and rude.

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We get a flashback to Hatano’s past, where he discusses his future in medicine with his father. We also notice that Hatano has a scar on him that probably marks a surgery.

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The medical cast of the show all get together to discuss the major case of the episode, and really, the rest of the episode is all about them dealing with this one patient while we learn more about each of their personalities.

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With my limited Japanese, I really couldn’t follow much of this talk, except the bits where they were talking about what’s possible or not. The important thing to note is that there weren’t any outrageous characterizations –  House this is not. Everyone was playing it straight, and while there were tensions between some members of the team, those were mostly subtle in the way you would expect from professionals (as opposed to, you know, characters in a drama).

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If you’re into medical stuff, and can understand what was said, I imagine it was all pretty interesting.

Tabe Mikako-san is certainly trying out a different sort of role this time, playing it nearly expressionless:

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Hatano takes the lead in the diagnosis, where he shows his real genius and eccentricity. Not knowing much about medicine to begin with, I can’t really assess how much of a genius he is, though.

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Unlike many doctors, though, at least he’s personable and sympathetic (except when it comes to his break). The part that attitude plays in the success of a treatment and recovery of a patient is often underappreciated (this from my knowledge of psychology), or otherwise delegated to the nurses.

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We see a flashback in which Takagi Junji (Tanabe Seiichi) is administering something to a patient through IV, but looks suspicious while doing it. Then we get Ogiwara explaining some of her background to a bartender in English (I guess it was passable, but I wondered why it was even necessary). She blames a doctor for the death of her mother – it sounds like she considers it murder.

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I think every member of the team gets one of these flashbacks – including Komaki Toshiaki (Kohinata Fumiyo):

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It’s a lot of exposition, though, and doing it all through flashbacks instead of mixing in other techniques to deliver exposition was really lazy. The best writing finds ways to deliver that information in the flow of events. If the flashbacks were triggered by things going on in the main story, I’d understand, but instead the characters are apparently constantly brooding over these moments, and are beset by them at every turn.

The climax of this episode is, of course, the surgery to save that young man’s life. So, will they be successful? If they fail in the first episode, that would surely make for an interesting series. They could be brilliant doctors, but their personal issues are getting in the way of their ability to work properly. Unfortunately, chief Naruse already busted that possibility. If this team was underperforming, he wouldn’t have been smiling.

On the whole, the characters felt bland. Realistic, sure, but most people aren’t interesting enough to have dramas made about them. I’d have rather had more information about two or three of their backgrounds so we could get interested in who they were and what might happen to them. Because they tried to shove stuff about all of them into this one episode, the result was choppy, and we didn’t really get a feel for them. Who are we interested to see succeed?

More importantly, we don’t have a very clear idea that any of them are really struggling. Despite what might have happened in the past, they are successful at what they do, so what is there that needs to be resolved? Last season, I only watched the first episode of Doctor X, but at least they right away set up a struggle between Yonekura-san’s character and the other doctors. There wasn’t anything nearly as compelling as that introduced by this episode.

The long and short of it is that the writers didn’t really give us anything concrete to watch for. There are vague hints, but neither character nor plot was really enticing. If you like serious medical dramas, though, perhaps this one’s for you. They sure tried their best to go through the details.

I’ll stick with it for now. I still haven’t made a real assessment of the acting from Aiba-kun and Tabe-san, and will look to focus more on that in the coming reviews.

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