The original HERO from 2001 was a legendary drama series thanks to its quick-witted dialogue, athletic pacing, and unique characterizations. None of its episodes drew less than a 30% rating, and it pushed many members of its cast into the forefront among Japanese actors, including Kimura Takuya, Abe Hiroshi, Kohinata Fumiyo, and Yashima Norito. How will this new season shape up, thirteen years later?

Most of the original cast is returning. Unfortunately, we will not see Abe Hiroshi-san nor Matsu Takako, who did a great job playing the female lead in 2001, but along with Kimura, Kohinata, and Yashima, Masana Bokuzo, Kadono Takuzo, and the infamous Tanaka Yoji also return. Notable additions to the cast are new female lead Kitagawa Keiko, Sugimoto Tetta, Hamada Gaku, Yoshida Yo, and Matsushige Yutaka. Altogether, a lot of familiar faces in this one.

The show begins much as the original did, with moments of apparent calm suddenly broken by a flurry of action and dialogue that makes it hard to keep up with the subtitles.

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We get a quick taste for the characters by watching them go about their normal business in the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s Office as Asagi Chika (Kitagawa Keiko) waits to meet the new prosecutor she will be working with as secretary.

While billed as a legal/crime drama, I think it’s better classified as a comedy/mystery, and this introduction phase has a lot of the deadpan comedy that was also typical of the first series, and the exact same music from Hattori Takayuki-san.

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The major difference so far is the character of Asagi, who has her own personality and isn’t a carbon copy of Amamiya. I’m eager to see what kind of chemistry she will have with Kiryuu Kohei (Kimura Takuya), but as in the original, we don’t see Kiryuu for a while, taking in the prevailing culture of the prosecutor’s office first.

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And it’s a very peculiar atmosphere indeed. They’re in suits as expected, but while they look professional, they certainly don’t act that way, though perhaps that’s just because there’s a certain comfort level in the office that allows them to speak their minds with each other. It’s tough to draw the line between relaxed and unprofessional sometimes.

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However you want to characterize the atmosphere at the prosecutor’s office, it’s about to be challenged by the jeans-wearing delinquent-turned-lawyer Kiryuu . . .

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. . . who starts the series by tackling an assailant played by Moriyama Naotaro-san, out of all people. This is singer-songwriter Naotaro-san’s first appearance in a TV drama ever, but more about him later, because that encounter happens in a flash and I barely had time to register that I was actually seeing Naotaro-san in a role as a potential criminal.

They brought us straight back to the rest of the prosecutors and secretaries and their humorous soundtrack. You know, it occurs to me that compared to the others or Amamiya in the original, Asagi already dresses quite casually. She should fit quite well with Kiryuu then, right?

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Well, it’s tough for me to convey with screencaps the nature of her initial encounter with Kiryuu, who is returning to this office after a long absence. It’s enough do say that he is once again dressed casually and doing strange exercises in the office using equipment he probably bought after watching an infomercial, and that Asagi walks in and out of the office a few times before she can accept it.

The reaction of Endo Kenji (Yashima Norito) is much more straightforward, as all the people who had worked with Kiryuu in the first series recognize him immediately while the others are completely clueless.

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The head of the office, Kawajiri Kenzaburo (Matsushige Yutaka), is especially horror-stricken and speechless, but he doesn’t know the half of it, since he’s only reacting to Kiryuu’s appearance.

After the credits, Kawajiri consults with his boss, the former head of that office Ushimaru Yutaka (Kadono Takuzo), who has since been promoted. Ushimaru didn’t really like Kiryuu, but now that Kiryuu isn’t his problem, he doesn’t mind so much and just tells Kawajiri to deal with it.

As it so happens, Kiryuu’s first case has him deciding whether or not to prosecute the guy he tackled earlier (whose name we now learn in Yuji Onishi). I’m not sure if, as a potential witness, Kiryuu should recuse himself on this case, but I certainly know he’s not going to.

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Yuji is charged with pushing Yasuaki Sakashita down a flight of stairs – an event Kiryuu saw for himself. The complication here is that Yasuaki doesn’t want to press charges and Yuji seems rather mild-mannered.

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Yuji claimed he was drunk at the time and so didn’t remember why he did it, but Kiryuu notes that he didn’t look drunk. Asagi apparently already realizes that Kiryuu was involved because she only reminds him that he has to be impartial after he mentions the wound he got in the struggle with Yuji.

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Asagi starts sending him notes over the computer, pointing out that the victim isn’t pressing charges, and that this is a first offense, but Kiryuu smells a mystery and wonders what is really going on. Clearly the facts as stated don’t add up, and it’s quite surprising that the victim won’t press the issue after sustaining a broken bone. Asagi thinks that Kiryuu is simply being vindictive and biased.

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In the middle of this little struggle, Kawajiri pulls Kiryuu and Asagi out of the office to tell them that Yuji’s fingerprints match those found at a $13 million jewel theft fifteen years ago. Now, Yuji doesn’t look that old, but Kawajiri is in a panic because, if the culprit in that crime was Yuji, then they only have three days before the statute of limitations is up.

So now Kiryuu is in a strange position – he thinks something is up with Yuji, but he doesn’t believe Yuji was the jewel thief from fifteen years ago.

The possibility that the thief has been caught appears on the news before Kiryuu can even react and everyone in the office is happy – their office is going to gain prestige if they can bring this case together in time.

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Or, more precisely, if Kiryuu can. But you know, Kiryuu isn’t particularly interested in prestige or a promotion, and the question of what’s going on is an itch he can’t avoid scratching.

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Yuji’s fingerprints were found on the hammer that was used to break open the case where the 50-carat diamond was kept, and that alone already raises a host of questions.

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Kiryuu shocks the office (as expected) by deciding not to prosecute – yet. As he did in the original series, he’s going to turn detective here.

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At this point, I have to say that I’m very happy with how Kimura-san effortlessly stepped back into this role. It’s almost as if there was no gap between the first and second series as all in terms of how he’s portraying the character. And right after I thought that, I was happy to hear that all the characters who knew him from the first season agreed with me – nice piece of writing when the characters echo the viewer’s most immediate thoughts.

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Kiryuu wants to go out to the crime scene, but could there possibly be any clues left after all this time? Oh, and can he get through the press waiting for more information about this dramatic case?

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After all this time, Ushimaru is still getting ahead of himself, and he assures the public in a press conference that Yuji will be charged in two days, by the deadline. He only made that statement before learning that Kiryuu was in charge of the case – after getting a call about that from Kawajiri, he’s not quite as certain.

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Kiryuu goes to the jewelry shop where the crime occurred fifteen years ago . . .

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. . . and immediately starts pointing out key facts. For instance, how the thief escaped on a heavy motorcycle, but Yuji Onishi only has a regular car license. So far, I’m liking the exchanges between Asagi and Kiryuu. Asagi is much faster to adapt to Kiryuu than Amamiya was, and she quickly starts speaking to him in an informal manner.

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They head for Yuji’s place, where the police are searching every crevice for the lost jewel. Why wouldn’t he have sold it on the black market (as anyone attempting to illicitly procure an expensive item like this must plan to do) and moved to more luxurious dwellings?

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Why would Yuji have stolen the jewel in the first place if all he could do with it was hide it somewhere?

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Kiryuu doesn’t make any friends with the police once they find out that he hasn’t indicted Yuji yet. Asagi tries to smooth things over with them while turning an angry eye to him when he starts saying something that might undermine her efforts.

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In desperation, Kawajiri takes Kiryuu off the case and hands it to Tamura (Sugimoto Tetta) in order to get the indictment rolling.

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Asagi is pissed that Kiryuu has let this big case slip from their grasp, but he’s just back to his workout. In this scene, he confirms what I suspected from the start: he bought it from an infomercial. There’s something incredibly satisfying about predicting that and getting this validation.

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After finishing reaching his physical limit, Kiryuu decides that they need to go out to investigate – this time, the first case. Indeed, while they lost the jewel case, they still have the other case involving Yuji.

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And really, I think that leaves us with a pretty good idea where this is going.

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We get some comedy as Yuji is now interrogated by Tamura and Endo, and Tamura ends up fearing for his reputation if he takes Yuji to court and Yuji is found innocent due to lack of evidence. Yuji cleverly points out that his fingerprints could have gotten onto the hammer because he handled it at the store, and since that’s the only substantial evidence against him . . . .

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This leaves the office in chaos.

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How is Kiryuu going to solve this one? Do we already have the facts to figure it out, or is the key still out there? Will Kiryuu’s traditional meeting with his favorite laconic bartender spur any thoughts?

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As a side note, we find out that Tamura is Ushimaru’s son-in-law. They must get along well together, since they’re both spineless.

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After Kiryuu and Asagi meet the man Yuji pushed down the stairs, I figured I could piece together the truth. This was a little short of two-thirds into the show.

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So the rest is spoilerish. I think you might be able to guess the answer just from my description of the case, too, so I’ll just leave this with some shots of Matsushige-san making some funny faces in anger:

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Great stuff.

To sum up, the pacing is what I remembered from the original series, so that’s good. The fact that some of the old characters returned means that they updated the others on who Kiryuu was and what he’s like, so we didn’t have to start at square one again. It was more or less as if picking up from the end of the first season.

Acting is solid all around, as expected from such an illustrious cast. My main worry was Kitagawa Keiko-san, but the interactions between her and Kimura-san flowed well and felt updated (the Amamiya-Kiryuu dynamic wouldn’t play as well today as it did in 2001). Matsushige-san is already an amusing head of the office. Cheers to Moriyama Naotaro-san for his drama acting debut.

As with the cases in the original series, it’s entirely possible for the viewer to guess the answer before Kiryuu reveals it. This is not meant to be a genius detective thing with locked room mysteries and all of that – not Kindaichi, for instance. This is more down-to-earth and realistic in terms of the cases involved, and so the viewer can fully play along. Don’t take that to mean this was an easy case without any depth – it was actually more satisfying than the convoluted and contrived locked room murders.

Oh, and lest I fail to mention it, Kohinata-san was brilliant in the climactic scene.

So, this one is off to a good start, and I look forward to reviewing the rest of the series.