Monday, June 17, 2013

Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan (J-Drama 2012)

In Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan (浪花少年探偵団), cute elementary school kids and their equally cute, albeit in a different way, school teacher, help solve crimes in the big city of Osaka. Wait a second...okay, now the absurdity of that should've just sunk in. That being said however, this drama is actually a lot of fun. Embrace the absurd.

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe), is starting her year as a part-time teacher at Ooki elementary school. As expected, she has a varied group of students in her class, with three particular young ones standing out more than others. Ikuo (Koki Maeda), Teppei (Tatsuomi Hamada), and Hiroshi (Akira Takahashi), are all good friends and they, much like their new teacher, take a liking to sticking their nose where it doesn't belong. See, Shinobu sensei loves mysteries, detective stories, etc., and the boys love it as well, so much so that they start their own junior detective group. Ikuo serves as the leader, unofficially, while Teppei and Hiroshi help in doing the leg work. Ikuo's little brother Osamu (Oshiro Maeda), also helps the junior detectives but he's not old enough to officially join their group. Kids and their rules. When an incident occurs, involving one of her own students, Shinobu sensei decides to get way more involved than she probably should (or should legally be allowed to). Handling all the cases throughout the drama are detectives Shindo (Teppei Koike) and Urushizaki (Yasunori Danta), the latter being the older, more seasoned of the two, but both equally as bumbling and incapable. Each episode is a different, "case", and regardless of what's going on; whether it be a murder, a case of child abuse, domestic violence, you name it, Shinobu sensei and the Naniwa Junior Detectives are there to aid in solving the case. Aside from all the crime-solving, Shindo starts to develop a crush on Shinobu sensei over time because he's never seen, or met, anyone quite like her. She's bold, boisterous and strongly independent. Her unique traits also grab the attention of Yoshihiko Honma (Koji Yamamato), who is in town on business. He too seems smitten by Shinobu sensei's character. Ah snap, love triangle alert! To mix things up a bit, Shinobu sensei has a rival teacher in Haruna sensei (Fumino Kimura), the cold, stick-in-the-mud music teacher that also happens to be obsessed with businessman Honma. Between dealing with the stresses of being a school teacher, helping to solve cases, keeping the junior detectives out of trouble, dealing with two love-sick suitors and an overbearing mother (Keiko Matsuzaka), Shinobu sensei doesn't have a moment to herself. Sure, she's doing the community a lot of good by helping out, but is she in over her head?   

There's not an overlying story arch in Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan, aside from the sort of love triangle between Shinobu, Shindo and Honma. Meaning there isn't one particular case that gets dragged out over the series' 12 episodes. It's simply a different case every episode, aside from episodes 11 and 12 being a two-part finale. Really, that's okay by me. The characters are what's most important in this series, not the police work, which is incredibly suspect. I've honestly never seen such questionable police work. I mean, what detective lets a school teacher and her students in on a crime scene that they have no business being at? And Shindo divulges completely confidential information to Shinobu as if she's a member of the force. I know this is more of a comedy than a crime-drama, but wow, it just strikes me as odd and a bit too far-fetched...even for a drama. The detectives, as usual for a Japanese drama, are portrayed as incompetent boobs that couldn't do their job if they were paid for it...oh, know what I mean. However, they can be amusing at times, and I suppose that's what's important here. Tabe Mikako is the real star of the show, even if the show in question is named after the junior detectives. She's playing a character here that I've never seen her portray. Shinobu is strong, smart, independent and takes no shit. She often rips other characters a new one for stupid behavior and for me, it was enjoyable to watch her in this role. She often gives a heartfelt monologue at the end of each episode that really shows her ability as an actress. The junior detectives are all cute kids and amusing enough, but again, it just didn't feel like it was their show, aside from some narration on each episode from Osamu. I actually wouldn't have minded seeing more of them. 

Not every case is that interesting in Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan, but at least most of the characters are. Fans of Tabe Mikako will love her role here and the kids aren't annoying at all, which I find to be a rarity. It's largely light-hearted fun, with some incredibly heavy, out-of-left-field moments sprinkled in the next, however as a whole, it's quite entertaining. (Lee)

Grade: B -

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