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 we mainly find out about these issues through flashbacks. The flashbacks are so frequent that instead of writing “there was another flashback” or something similar every time, I’m just going to put “Flashback (Character, Year):” to keep things tighter.

For the first time in this episode, we actually start away from the hospital, with a character we don’t know (played by Ishida Hikari from Beginners!). She seems to be in charge off a design shop, and barely gets through telling her staff off . . .

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. . . before she collapses.

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I think starting the episode by giving us some sense of the patient as a human being is important. They haven’t done nearly enough to win the viewer’s sympathy for the patients in previous episodes because so much of the attention is on the doctors. The result is that we don’t end up caring whether the patient makes it through or not – only whether the doctors will be vindicated.

Actually, I can’t say the show really gets us to root for the doctors, either. After all, the first time we see one, it’s the completely distasteful Takagi (Tanabe Seiichi) trying to pick up another woman.

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Thankfully, Hatano (Aiba Masaki) has the sense to reel in the wayward doctor by calling up Takagi’s date (the woman was from the pharmacy, so not unknown to Hatano) when calling Takagi didn’t work.

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The patient, Sakazaki, has serious heart trouble, with much of her heart muscle no longer functional due to bad blood flow.

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After the usual Komaki lecture (Kohinata Fumiyo) to nurse Tokita (Sakuraba Nanami) . . .

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. . . Komaki sees the patient’s details and outright declares the situation impossible. Well, that’s just going to make Hatano even more resolved to find a solution, right?

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They’re looking pretty grim, though.

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Ishida-san then does a great job making us feel for her character – again, more than we’ve seen from other patients so far.

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Flashback (Takagi, 1997): After the solemn scene we just saw, this was a bit jarring. But it looks like Takagi once had someone he cared for deeply – someone he couldn’t cure when her time came.

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As expected, Hatano tries to mobilize the team, insisting that the chance of success isn’t zero. Komaki isn’t so sure, though, and points out that the time frame for regeneration – on the order of months – isn’t favorable to the patient.

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The center chief Naruse (Takashima Masahiro) decides to put in an appearance to insist that they succeed – doing the whole “failure is not an option” thing.

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The discussion following his pronouncement is meant to heighten the tension (even the background music tries to be suspenseful, but fails), with the other doctors noting how critical the procedure will be for the future of the center. It all comes off as a rather lame attempt to make this important and exciting. Instead of sitting around and telling us, they would do a better job of convincing the viewer by sweating over it.

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Flashback (Hatano, 1993): We see Hatano as a kid with his parents, and the three of them spot a couple that Hatano’s parents immediately turn away from.

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I don’t know what happened to change his mind, but Komaki suddenly makes it sound like this whole thing will be a breeze, and notes that because of new developments, the average life expectancy by 2100 will be 109 for men and 114 for women. Is that all? I thought we’d be able to do better in the next eighty-seven years.

The conversation after his odd pronouncement about life expectancy seems like a policy debate that’s totally out-of-place. They seem to do this in every episode – try to work in a topic of debate in the health arena – but it doesn’t mesh with what’s going on at all. They’re trying to save someone’s life – is this really the time to talk about the problems of increasing life expectancy?

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Flashback (Takagi, 1997): It’s the same scene we’ve been seeing with Takagi in the previous episodes – where he lets his loved one go, putting her out of her misery. This time we see the aftermath, though – looks like those in charge didn’t think it should have been done, even though they acknowledge that the patient was suffering. Without the details of her condition, it’s tough to say whether Takagi was justified or not, but they force him to resign from the hospital.

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Apparently, the fate of the patient is in a cell incubator and a tiny heart machine.

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But they’d better stop talking about theoretical stuff concerning stress and life expectancy, because Sakazaki had another attack in the meantime.

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Stuff is still awkward between Naruse and Hatano, but we’re not totally sure why.

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Flashback (Ogiwara, 2013): With barely a leap back in time at all, we see Ogiwara (Koike Eiko) with the child – Takeo – who she lost custody over in her divorce. She kidnaps him, but we know that didn’t ultimately land her in prison, so it probably didn’t get very far.

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Sakazaki looks better somehow, as she delivers instructions to members of her staff visiting her in the hospital. We continue to get a good feel for her character.

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Flashback (Takagi, 1998): This is Takagi in the pits of his despair after he was forced to resign. As if things couldn’t get any worse, robbers enter the restaurant he’s eating in, and shoot a woman. Well, Takagi can’t just sit and watch her die, right?

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Okay, I think I’ve summarized enough to make my point. Does anyone else feel like this lacks any focus whatsoever? Technically, I suppose the focus is supposed to be Takagi, just like episode two was on Tachibana and three was on Ogiwara, but the first thirty-five minutes just jumps around without telling any sort of story. We know a lot about the patient, but that only makes the fact that the doctors are barely attentive to her case even more frustrating. They just sit around a table, come up with a solution, and that’s that until the surgery at the end.

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It gets a bit better after the thirty-five minute mark, but not nearly good enough to save the episode.

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And even though the focus ought to be Takagi, we get scenes that we have no clear way to connect to. For instance, Flashback (Soejima, 2009):

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Do I even want to know about Soejima (Kitamura Yukiya)? I mean, has he even said anything useful in this entire episode? No. Heck, they could totally leave the character out and I wouldn’t even notice the difference – except we wouldn’t need to watch a scene we have no emotional attachment to.

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After that, it’s surgery time. Will they finally surprise us by making it a failure? Is it weird for me to wish that they would?

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Things are not really getting better for this series at this point because the threads aren’t being brought together and we aren’t being told a coherent story . . . yet. But can we really wait until the last few episodes to find out how everything connects together? Will they even bring it all together, or will the subplots all be left to fend for themselves?

One very simple thing could have made this series better and easier to follow: the flashbacks should have been in the order in which they occurred. I know that’s not as fancy, and this is supposed to be mirroring the characters thinking back, but since the flashbacks have little to do with present events anyway (in that they’re not usually triggered by something someone says or does), I think it’d make it easier for the viewer to keep everything neat and tidy without feeling like we all need cheat sheets or cliff notes.