Of all the dramas I’ve reviewed so far – over the past year or so – Kazoku Game (家族ゲーム) has easily been the one packed with the most surprises. The way this episode begins is no different, as we hear tutor Yoshimoto Kouya (Sakurai Sho) himself explaining what has happened in his personal ‘tutor record’. This is the first time we’ve heard Yoshimoto’s perspective on things.

The writes that he has been in charge of Numata Shigeyuki (Uragami Seishuu) for 52 days, during which Shigeyuki’s scores have improved . . .

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. . . and the improvement is solely due to his relationship with Mano Sakura, who has provided the motivation he needed.

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Turning to the rest of the family, Yoshimoto says (quoting directly from the subtitles here because this is a loaded line and I don’t dare try to give my own impression of what he said lest I put the wrong spin on it), “the scenario for the family’s disintegration has finally begun.” Obviously, the main focal point for this weakness in the family is the breakdown in the relationship between the parents – Kazushige (Itao Itsuji) and Kayoko (Suzuki Honami) – over Kazushige’s affair with Asami Maika (Kutsuna Shiori).

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As a result of the affair, which is presumably over now, Kayoko doesn’t prepare dinner or do any chores for Kazushige – a fact that is putting stress on Kazushige. She’s also trading stocks online under Yoshimoto’s guidance, and Yoshimoto feels as if he has won her trust. There doesn’t seem to be any way for them to reconcile, but Kayoko won’t divorce Kazushige until their sons are grown and out of the house.

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But there’s a second front to the family’s breakdown – the declining performance of Shinichi (Kamiki Ryunosuke), who was once a source of pride for his parents. Shinichi is increasingly distraught . . .

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. . . and perhaps partly because of his meetings with Tachibana Maki – the admin of the site about how horrible Yoshimoto Kouya was. But wait a minute . . .

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. . . isn’t Maki also Asami Maika!? Shouldn’t Shinichi recognize her as the one who created the rift between his parents? But then . . . he wasn’t at the dinner where she showed up . . . and he didn’t really see the photo of her kissing Kazushige . . . and even if he did her face might not have been clear enough . . . so he really doesn’t know it’s her! Oh, the irony! But what does this mean – is she in league with Yoshimoto?

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We break away from Yoshimoto’s report here. Maki tells Shinichi the story of her family, bringing him to the spot where her home once stood. She says that she was going to school abroad and Yoshimoto drove her family into debt through bad investments (sounds a lot like what’s going on with Kayoko), but how much can we believe? She claims that Yoshimoto didn’t do it for any reason – just that he enjoys ruining families – but what about his memories of that kid?

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Later, Yoshimoto pops into Shinichi’s room to taunt the eldest child.

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And just when Shinichi thinks that he’s the one hiding something from Yoshimoto, Yoshimoto sends him the photo. You know, the photo of Kazushige and Asami/Maki.

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Before going to the opening, we turn back to Yoshimoto’s narration – just so he can say that Shinichi is the monster that this family has created. But in what way is Shinichi a monster? I guess that’s what we’re going to find out.

On the other side of the title, we turn to Shigeyuki’s situation, which suddenly gets more complicated. You see, Sakura likes Sonoda the same way she likes Shigeyuki. Apparently, she was going out with him as a friend when he thought it was more.

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But that still leaves opportunity. The question is, what’s Shigeyuki going to do about this longstanding rivalry with Sonoda now?

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It gets even more complicated – Sakura wants to date one of them – the one that gets the highest score on the next practice exam. That . . . sounds contrived.

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Hmm . . . you don’t suppose . . . .

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Uragami-kun did a great job playing Shigeyuki here – real passion concerning Sakura while behaving in a way that kept the humor up.

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Downstairs, Kazushige is totally clueless why his wife is so cold towards him when he thought they had resolved the affair issue, so Yoshimoto finally shows him the photo.

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If you recall, Asami/Maki actually stole that kiss after Kazushige broke the relationship and Yoshimoto just happened to be there to get the picture. Sure seems the two of them are working together to bring down this family.

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On the flip side, Shinichi approaches Maki with the photo. She offers some platitudes, then says she involved herself with Kazushige because she overheard him talking about Yoshimoto Kouya. But none of what she says rings true, especially since her entire contribution has been to make Yoshimoto’s effort to undermine Shinichi’s family easier, and she could have just come out straight to warn them about Yoshimoto – warn Kazushige specifically after the dinner scene.

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Can Shinichi really trust her after this dubious story? At the very least, she was willing to manipulate his father and feign love, so that doesn’t say much about her honesty.

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Kayoko finds something, but I’ll leave you to guess what it was – even though we’re only a quarter of the way through the episode, there’s been plenty of spoilerish stuff already, and I’m going to try to limit how much more I give away.

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As if Shinichi’s declining grades weren’t bad enough, he’s even neglecting practice in running, which was supposed to be his forte (we learned that all the way back in the first episode).

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Worse, while he used to have a carefully cultivated reserve, he’s now blatantly hostile to others around him. He’s sure looking more and more like the monster Yoshimoto said he was.

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Back at home, Kazushige tries to explain the photo to Kayoko, and actually does a good job of it. Unfortunately it’s too late – the anger in Kayoko has been building up for so long, and the wound cut so deep right at the time when she thought their relationship was back on the right foot, that she’s unwilling to listen to the explanation.

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She calls one of the women she hangs out with and has Kazushige explain it to her over the phone.

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Trying to save face toward the friend over the phone, Kazushige cooks up another story about a programmer in the office making a photoshopped image to avoid mentioning that he actually had a relationship with Asami before breaking it off. Telling this other story didn’t help his credibility.

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Shinichi comes in, and even though he knows a lot about the Maki end of this – that she was actively trying to manipulate Kazushige – he doesn’t say a word about it. He’s too busy being angry himself. Is this the way he intends to help his family?

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There’s a definite lack of communication in this family.

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We get further insight into Yoshimoto’s mentality as he gives a mock lecture to an empty classroom about his views on family as being a source of innate inequality. The views are very insightful, and they don’t tip off what he intends to do, so it was a well-crafted scene.

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Ah, the scene where rivals talk things over at the urinals – always classy.

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But it turns out there’s even more to talk about than even they thought, so they have to continue outside (I hope they washed their hands).

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Talking to a wayward coworker, Kazushige seems tempted to go back to Asami since he’s getting no love from his wife, and she thinks he’s still cheating anyway. Will he do it?

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Yoshimoto entertains Kayoko and her friends while both Shigeyuki and Shinichi watch in misery.

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But Yoshimoto isn’t without some good advice about the need to communicate, and it once again looks like he wants to help the family. Perhaps his idea of help is a lot like chemotherapy – they have to feel miserable for a significant amount of time before the cancer that is undermining the health of the family is dealt with. I’m not sure anyone is ready to take his advice yet, though.

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Except . . . perhaps Shigeyuki?

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Shigeyuki had been sort of a sideline character in episodes two and three, had a significant comeback in the last episode, and is regaining his role as central character here.

We see Yoshimoto giving stock advice to Kayoko. At least this time the chart looks okay, but such patterns only suggest tendencies, not certainties. The real problem here was where Kayoko added an extra zero to the quantity she was purchasing. My guess is that she hasn’t read anything on risk management, since increasing your risk by a factor of ten, while as easy as pushing the ‘0’ key once, should be a matter of more delicate planning. To put it more simply: Warning! Financial Ruin Ahead!

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On the other hand . . . perhaps there won’t be any financial ruin. You see, Shinichi walks in, sees his mother making the trades, and suddenly recalls what Maki said about the investments. Perhaps this is all set up to make Shinichi more paranoid and also to get him to trust Maki’s story more?

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Oddly, Yoshimoto gives Kayoko a look behind her back that we haven’t seen from him before – similar to Shinichi’s own malevolent gaze. You’ll have to watch to see it, but what was that about?

Anyway, as you might guess, Shinichi is not done with Maki, but what is going to come out his meetings with her?

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And what about the Mano-Shigeyuki-Sonoda triangle?

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Well, to find out what happens, you’re going to have to watch the episode yourself – I think I’ve reached the limit on what I can give away without diminishing the appetite to watch.

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First of all, I have to say that Kamiki-kun has the most delightfully evil expressions in his repertoire. As practiced as Sakurai-san is at doing maniacally insane, the way Kamiki-kun portrays Shinichi as quietly unhinged is truly spectacular and worth watching. It’s tough sometimes to understand how someone that society considers a success – an A student with good prospects – can be, deep down inside, a sociopathic monster. Kamiki-kun’s acting lets us see that come about.

And it’s something that’s underappreciated in real life – that those who are considered unsuccessful by society are often nevertheless good people while those in the upper rungs may be deeply flawed. Success is not correlated with good character or judgment, whether in school or in the working world.

But enough of that. What about how this episode ended? First of all, it was rough and difficult to watch. If you think you have the stomach for it, go ahead, but it’s not the most pleasant four minutes (specifically, the part between 36:50 and 41:10 in the 46 minute video). And that gets to another problem with it – we were told a lot but found out very little. You’ll have to see it to understand what I mean, but my point is that it’s not strictly necessary – it may give you insight into Yoshimoto’s psychology, or it might not. Depends on how much of what was said you believe.

There was definite development in the characters of Shinichi, Shigeyuki, and Maki in this episode, and the acting from Kamiki-kun and Uragami-kun were the clear highlights. It’s not an easy episode to watch, but it’s worth it for the characterizations. That’s . . . sort of the whole story about this series, isn’t it?

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