This is the final episode of SHARK – or at least, the first season of it, which was focused on the story of Kurata Mizuki (Hirano Sho). In a very concrete way, it’s the finest finale episode of any drama I’ve reviewed – and possibly that I’ve ever seen. Since doing a synopsis of the episode is a futile way to approach it, let me explain why I think it was such a successful conclusion.

For most Japanese dramas, the last episode is a culmination of expected events in a smooth resolution. Occasionally, there’s a surprise or a twist. More often there’s a lengthy recap of key scenes from the entire drama in the form of a flashback as the conflict reaches its climax. It is unusual for the finale to also be the best episode of the series.

The tension in this episode is largely dictated by Ichika (Yamashita Rio)’s mood. She starts out elated that the concert that will determine whether SHARK will début or not has been sold out, but her mood changes as she figures out about Mizuki’s voice. In general, viewers probably followed the same trajectory as Ichika – starting out excited to hear the band play, and then having more complicated feelings with every song.

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And, of course, the reason why we’re excited to hear them play is because the writers and director have been careful to minimize how long we’ve gotten to hear the group up to this point. They’ve also minimized the group’s wardrobe, but that’s another point entirely.

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The concert takes up almost the entire half-hour, and features the songs “Reflexion”, “Smile”, “Kagayaki”, “Answer”, and “Keep Walking”. At the start, the only people who know about Mizuki’s vocal cord problems are Mizuki himself and Kaede (Kawaei Rina), but that won’t be true by the end.

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There’s every attempt to capitalize on the poignancy of the moment, including the way the group assembles backstage and takes the stage.

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Rather than have a single huge flashback montage like so many other dramas, this one opted to toss in some brief reminders of how far SHARK has come in the middle of the performances. I think that approach minimized the tediousness of it.

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The reason I brought up the cast’s very consistent wardrobes, though, was the fact that it’s all-too-apparent through these flashbacks.

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Ah, well. Minor issue.

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After “Kagayaki”, Mizuki mentions Kazuki (Fujii Ryusei) and makes a point about his predecessor before singing “Answer” – the last song Kazuki wrote. The way he said it, though, was carefully crafted to heighten tension. There’s definitely a build-up of stomach knots.

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Basically, the way they had Mizuki talk, and what followed, it was pretty clear the writers were aiming to make sure the audience was in tears by the end. And at the end of a drama like this, that’s exactly what they should be aiming for.

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We can see Ichika is getting progressively more grim.

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Mizuki’s speech was really a great setup device, but you’ll have to watch the episode to see what I mean – there’s no good way to convey it with words, anyway.

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This was a great conclusion to the drama because it was the most moving of all the episodes. It tugged on just the right heartstrings without being obnoxiously blatant about it.

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Partly, it was a moving and high-tension experience because we really didn’t know if there was going to be a happy ending or not. In fact, given the way the previous episode set things up, there was every indication that this was going to be a somewhat ambiguous ending, if not an outright sad ending.

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The writers didn’t back down from that, but took the gutsy path and didn’t offer any easy solutions. Rather, they found a different way to make it a satisfying ending.

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Ah, the image of grim determination:

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And the return image of . . . hair. Hokuto-kun’s hair was very distracting to me in this episode for some reason.

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And with that artful segue, let’s start talking about the cast. This episode was entirely driven by Mizuki and Ichika, and the rest of the actors basically gave either supportive or concerned looks like the one you see Hokuto-kun giving above.

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That more or less describes the acting for the series, too, I think. Each member of the band got their own episode, but aside from those the series was extremely focused on Ichika and Mizuki, and both Yamashita Rio-san and Hirano Sho-kun were brilliant in their ability to drive the storyline and maintain audience engagement. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see that from Yamashita-san . . .

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. . . but since we had never seen Hirano-kun act before, his own skill at it was eye-opening. It’s especially significant that he was playing a part remarkably different from his regular persona, so his performance was all the more impressive because of that. I’m not saying it was perfect, but it was half of what made the series as good as it was.

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SHARK was a very smooth drama to watch, and if not for the performances from Hirano-kun and Yamashita-san and the way that it ended, it would also have been a very forgettable one. Except on a couple of points – especially Mizuki’s sudden vocal issues that led to the ending – the plot was exceedingly formulaic and predictable. It was in desperate need for some spark of life – something to make it stand out – and the acting overall combined with this episode served to do that.

In addition to the two principals, I think it’s worth mentioning Kawaei Rina-san who played Konno Kaede. Kaede’s scenes with Mizuki were critical to fleshing out his character, and as a pair they always grabbed my attention. Kawaei-san conveyed a good sense of hard-headed earnestness that added color to points in episodes where everything felt drab.

So where did SHARK end up among the other dramas I’ve covered in this time slot? In terms of story, it was behind 49 (a very daring and complicated story), Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou (a very tight yet unpredictable storyline), and Shinryochu (how many plots were there?). On the acting, it was behind Shinryochu (who could forget those crazy performances?) and 49 (which had more actors delivering complicated roles). But, in terms of how it ended, SHARK was the best. It was the best by a wide margin.

Gripes along the way aside, the result was very satisfying.