It began with a scream and a blood-stained cloth figure . . .

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. . . and immediately turned to a scene of utter silence with a couple facing a young man waiting patiently for a reply.

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He just stared back as if waiting for them to flinch, and the tension that continued to build as the young man reached for his tea left me in awe of the writer’s genius, starting the drama in such an engaging way. It’s something that can only be done in video – there’s no way to build the tension in quite the same way in a book or a manga.

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I’m not going to say how long the silence stretches or how it breaks – I think it rises to the level of a proper spoiler.

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There is a reason for all this, though, but we won’t find that out until later in the episode. The young man is Yoshimoto Koya (Sakurai Sho), who Numata Kazushige (Itao Itsuji) and Numata Kayoko (Suzuki Honami) both address as “sensei”. Yoshimoto doesn’t seem to be very interested in them, but he does have words for their eldest son Shinichi (Kamiki Ryunosuke). In fact, he lied to the school to get Shinichi running back home because he wanted to make sure Shinichi was there.

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It’s not the eldest son that Yoshimoto is supposed to instruct, though. Shigeyuki (Uragami Seishuu), the younger son, just stays in his room all day and is the one in need of a tutor.

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Yoshimoto still seems more interested in Shinichi, saying that he’d have expected Shinichi to be more of a problem child even though Shinichi seems to be doing brilliantly in school.

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Shigeyuki does eventually emerge from his room, but  . . .

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. . . boy did he pick the perfect way to emerge to keep me interested. I’ll say it plainly – this was probably the most engaging start to a drama I’ve ever seen. The question marks and surprising aspect just keep popping up.

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We find out that Yoshimoto promises that any student under his care has a 100% of going to Tokyo University (Toudai), which is . . . so impossible that any parent who takes it seriously deserves what they get. Perhaps Yoshimoto used that promise to filter out the less desperate parents.

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This pair sure seem desperate, and with Shigeyuki acting this way, it’s no wonder. They explain that they’ve tried other tutors and they all quit. You know – the Mary Poppins/Nanny McPhee thing. But what sort of magic does Yoshimoto have?

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And that gets to why I was a bit reluctant to handle this series in the first place – Yoshimoto is a sadistic and violent individual despite his regular demeanor, and I was afraid the writers would try to justify that approach to dealing with troubled children. Having some background in education, I’m inevitably going to have to be critical about the way Yoshimoto does things going forward if the writers don’t counter-balance it by showing that Yoshimoto is not someone who should be emulated. As long as they don’t seem to be encouraging parents to take this approach, I’m not going to make a bit deal about it.

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We get the first taste of the violent Yoshimoto here, as he slaps Shigeyuki to get the boy to quit his computer act. Considering Shinichi just told Yoshimoto that Shigeyuki was afraid of going to school because he got bullied, I’m not sure getting bullied by his tutor is going to help.

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Shigeyuki’s parents don’t seem especially concerned about the slap – Kazushige boasts about it to a guy he’s about to fire. In what is bound to be a running theme, the father explains that he’s willing to tolerate it on an end-justifies-the-means logic. I’m crossing my fingers that the writers are not going to allow that logic to stand.

Kazushige had an additional deal to strike with Yoshimoto – a 100,000 yen bonus if Yoshimoto got Shigeyuki back to school in a week. That’s this episode’s goal.

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What about Shigeyuki’s mother? Well, she’s mostly concerned with pretending that there’s nothing wrong with her kids and keeping up appearances with her neighbors.

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Will Yoshimoto complicate that illusion?

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Yoshimoto gets to work right away, and Shigeyuki at first seems amenable . . .

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. . . and Yoshimoto quickly gets curious about everything in the room, including what Shigeyuki is doing on his computer. He even takes photos of everything – he’s clearly gathering information to make plans.

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In the inevitable battle, will Shinichi be a neutral observer or not?

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Yoshimoto has a contract for Kazushige to sign, and you just know the father should have read through that thoroughly.

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We get an interesting running scene with Shinichi and Yoshimoto. What could this be about?

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And then, despite the fact that Shigeyuki seemed so friendly with Yoshimoto earlier – even playing games with him – the boy rebels and locks the door against Yoshimoto.

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Yoshimoto, though, has a . . . unique counterattack for this.

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Yes, Yoshimoto has a massive steel vault door installed over Shigeyuki’s room door, and also sealed up the window side. I was delighted by the symmetry of this, as well as the impressive scale of it. You might think it would have been enough to tell the kid he couldn’t come out of his room, but that wouldn’t have the same impact – especially with Shigeyuki already staying in his room. Something about a steel door makes a definite statement.

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Yoshimoto has to explain himself to Kazushige, of course, but there’s that clause in the contract that Kazushige failed to read . . . .

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Really, all Kazushige is concerned about is who’s going to pay for the installation of the vault door.

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How do Shigeyuki’s parents react to him being behind that formidable slab of steel?

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Well, that’s not nearly as amusing as Shigeyuki’s own reaction to a building bladder issue. In the earlier part where Yoshimoto took pictures around the room, we already found out that the kid had plenty of food and drink in store, but he didn’t have any way to dispose of the waste.

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This was the point where I fully realized how brilliant Uragami Seishuu-kun’s acting had been. Much more than any other character in this episode, Shigeyuki displayed a very broad range of reactions, and Uragami-kun pulled it all off while keeping the character consistent.

We also get some flashbacks which explain why Shigeyuki is in the state he’s in, and these definitely added up to a scenario which could lead a kid to refuse to go to school and become a recluse. There is strong realism in terms of how Shigeyuki reacts to things.

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Here’s my question: what’s Mizukawa Sara (Kutsuna Shiori)’s role in all of this? There could be some unpleasantness in this corner of things.

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It looks like Shinichi is willing to voice his thoughts about his parents to Yoshimoto, but it’s best not to read too much into it. After all, Yoshimoto’s got some nasty stuff up his sleeves, and it’s doubtful Shinichi will take it all casually.

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I’m going to cut the details off here to encourage anyone who hasn’t watched this drama to give it a try and judge for themselves. There are significant twists ahead. Will Yoshimoto be able to get Shigeyuki to go to school?

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I have to say that there was violence at the end, and it went beyond what I could find acceptable, but it also came after we saw that Yoshimoto is a seriously traumatized fellow. Given the quality of the rest of the episode, I’m willing to give the writers some rope on this, and we’ll see where they take it in the next episode. Also, the bullhorn bit at the end was clever, and Shinichi provided a good foil. It would have been unbearable without the character of Shinichi present.

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Final verdict on this first episode? After a number of viewings, I can say that the acting was brilliant – especially what we saw from Uragami-kun and Itao-san. Sakurai-san had the most extreme performance I’ve seen from him so far, but I’m too used to seeing this sort of over-the-top performance from him (consider The Quiz Show 2 and Tokujo Kabachi!!, for example). He does it well, and I couldn’t imagine any other Arashi member in this role, but I still rate it behind his work in Kobe Shimbun no Nanokakan, which was his best performance to date as far as I’m concerned.

Except for the ending, the writing was superb. Everything to do with the violence and the reaction thereto (especially from the parents and Shigeyuki himself) was jarring and seemed wrong. With the writing as good as it was, I’m tempted to think that there was a point even to the downside of the episode, but we’ll have to see.

The characters are certainly well-crafted. By the end of this episode, we certainly had a clear picture of all of them, and they were all delightfully complex.

So, I’d encourage everyone to judge the gut-wrenching parts for themselves, and we’ll see if the writers go too far with the extra leeway I’ve given them.

In terms of publicly available subs, only the first five episodes have been subbed to the best of my knowledge. My plan is to do episode-by-episode reviews up to the point where I run out of subtitles, then either do a single review of the rest of the season or wait until the remaining subs are released.