The Old “New Cop, Mad Cop” Routine: Early Impressions of Police in a Pod
In Machiyama’s war on crime, the worst criminal offenders are pursued by the detectives of the Criminal Affairs Division. These are not their stories.
In America for some years now, a popular epithet has been “ACAB” — “All Cops Are Bastards,” in reference to a growing, or at least more vocal, resentment of police behavior, particularly with respect to (mis)treatment of minorities. In the Machiyama of Miko Yasu’s Police in a Pod (Hakozume: Kouban Joshi no Gyakushuu), however, the most common insult thrown at the local police is “Tax parasites!”, uttered by those on the receiving end of traffic tickets. Inspired by Yasu-san’s own experiences as a policewoman, this slice-of-life show appears to be trying to get the audience to feel empathy for rookie policewoman Mai Kawai’s struggles with the job. But it fluctuates between attempting workplace drama, new adult coming to grips with real world problems, and workplace comedy, all with a dash of police procedural thrown in. This leaves it feeling a little aimless in direction, and not very satisfying on multiple fronts.
This article is a part of AniTAY’s Winter 2022 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!
New Cop, Mad Cop?
For those who might not be familiar with the term, a kouban in Japan typically is used to refer to a small community police station. Often translated as a “police box” or “pod” in English (while not quite the same thing as the UK’s former assortment of police boxes, not even the ones that are actually time machines), they have been depicted in various anime, including a rather memorable appearance in Mitsuboshi Colors where a real-life kouban near Ueno Park in Tokyo was used for reference:
These kouban are designed for community policing, and are typically small with only a few rooms for police to provide local assistance or first aid or similar. They generally are not designed to hold or interrogate criminals — that’s more commonly left to the larger police department offices, such as the local prefectural police.
In addition to the building itself, per Wikipedia “kouban” may also refer to the smallest organizational unit in a Prefectural police department. Possibly then, the title may also refer to the smaller group of patrol officers Kawai and Fuji belong to, serving the Machiyama area, separate from the other divisions such as Criminal Affairs. I’m actually left wondering if perhaps both meanings are in play, as it is somewhat unclear whether Kawai and Fuji spend the majority of their on-screen time at one of the larger police stations (when not on patrol), or if their “pod” is actually on the bigger side, with at least a squad room for about 6–8 officers and a couple of interrogation rooms. The locations not being clear, besides being a personal pet peeve, also contributes to how highly disjointed the various segments of the show can be.
A slice-of-life, 5–0 style
Typically, when I see “slice-of-life” in a show’s list of genres, I think of comedies, or something lighthearted. While Police in a Pod definitely has its lighter moments, they are often mixed in with some very real, very serious turns. In one episode, Kawai and Fuji’s chance encounter with and arrest of a prolific housebreaker leads to him happily giving Kawai a chance (at Fuji’s instigation) to practice interrogation on him, and with him giving her insights into the criminal mind along with a few witty cracks at the expense of the Criminal Affairs detectives who arrive to take him in. But another episode suddenly pivots hard from a seemingly-amusing bit about how the teenaged runaway the two policewomen have brought in is so much more sexually experienced than poor Kawai, to the revelation that her reason for constantly running away is that she’s being raped by her stepfather.
Mostly however, we see Kawai and Fuji hand out tickets, tickets, and more tickets. The tedium is broken by the occasional dispatch to the park to check on potential scofflaws, and the occasional larger incident, such as the older widow who keeps intentionally getting arrested so that someone will pay attention to her, as she’s feeling neglected by her own family. While this all may very well be reasonably representative of a real police officer’s experience on the job, in the longterm all the monotonous bits have tended to drown out the more dramatic elements. A police show doesn’t always have to be Law & Order’s “ripped from the headlines” to be interesting, but what Police in a Pod currently is doesn’t make for the best television either.
Another aspect that’s given some play in the first few episodes is the loneliness of Kawai being one of only a few women in the police force (at least locally). In the first three episodes however, I’ve been mainly left to infer it, as despite being a great dramatic hook, it’s hardly been given any screentime, primarily when Kawai is paired up with Sergeant Fuji for the first time, and when she meets another woman working with the Criminal Affairs division. In both cases, while the policewomen have drinks together, these threads don’t really go anywhere in fleshing out the characters’ feelings, with the arrival of Kawai’s father preventing any such discussion on Kawai and Fuji’s first day, while the opportunity to go out for drinks with the woman from Criminal Affairs is used as a punchline, and the actual bar trip never shown.
Yet another potential source for drama, the rivalries between Criminal Affairs and the street division, also barely registers as more than the occasional speedbump. While the guys in Criminal Affairs are pretty much almost all at least a little pompous (and a lot pompadoured) and a bit boys’ club-ish, they have that “thin blue line” response to outside attacks that’s all too common here in the U.S. — i.e., no matter how much they may or may not get along with each other, they WILL have each other’s backs when it’s needed — including the women.
“You said the quiet part out loud.”
Although what I’ve seen of this show so far hasn’t really delivered enough on either the drama or the comedy, that’s not the fault of any lack of characterization of our two leads.
Just what Fuji did to get booted from Criminal Affairs isn’t yet clear, but it seems likely to be related to her occasional habit of letting those thoughts about the job that should stay in your own head come out of her mouth instead. She has clearly reached that point of “no fucks left to give” for the parts of the job that are thankless and tiresome. She also doesn’t want to be a hackneyed cliché of a policewoman, to the point where she reflexively takes off running after realizing she’d accidentally re-created the scene from a pamphlet showing “Friendly Policewoman Helps Little Girl” that she despises. She’s had it with the assumptions that she’s supposed to be nice, and motherly, and keep on smiling while standing there and taking all the shit that comes with not just the job, but being a woman in that job.
Meanwhile, poor Kawai only became a police officer because her aptitude tests suggested civil service, and the police force was the only place she applied to that didn’t reject her. It seems ironic that she’s now the one handing out tickets, when as a child she was briefly traumatized by seeing her father receive a speeding ticket. Yet, we also find out that seeing his daughter so upset has inspired her father not only to drive safer ever since, but to also keep the ticket from that day in the family shrine as a reminder of why it’s important, and how he doesn’t want to see his daughter hurt like that again.
In addition, several of the supporting characters such as the woman in Criminal Affairs (HanaKana in another voice cameo role), and at least a couple of the non-pompadoured male Criminal Affairs detectives, certainly look like they have the potential to be developed as friends, rivals, or both for our leads going forward.
Not exactly Moore & Callahan
Kawai’s inexperience, naiveté, and concern for whether she’s doing a good job are clearly meant to make us empathize with her in particular. Despite the fact that she’s only been on the job for maybe a few months at that point, she worries over the fact that she didn’t see the signs that the runaway girl was being raped. She’s also repeatedly amazed at Fuji’s ability to instantly spot and assess other situations, like how the woman walking along with just one shoe on was the victim of domestic violence, or how the friendly housebreaker wasn’t just another innocent passerby.
For the more cynical and burned-out viewers, Fuji’s “no fucks left to give” attitude also provides a solid entry point. But we also see that it’s not true in respect to one group: the victims. Not just in recognizing that they ARE victims, but in how she treats them, and makes them able to admit their situations and ask for help.
The best look we’ve seen so far past Fuji’s outer shell, into her true feelings, is when she and Kawai are called out to assist the Criminal Affairs detectives in checking out a case of an elderly man who apparently died in his sleep at home. There’s no snark from her, no complaints that her dinner was interrupted, there’s not even any of the usual back-and-forth sniping with the Criminal Affairs group. The lesson she imparts upon poor Kawai, who’s never even seen a naked man before, let alone handled a dead body, is that the most important thing as police / investigators they can do for the person is to show respect.
I do think it’s a credit to the story that it’s moments like these that show us already, without needing to explicitly say it, why Fuji is still sticking with the police force. She has no more time left for the bullshit, the abuse, or any of that, but she still wants to help people. Unlike Kawai, I suspect that Fuji is one of those people who for a long time have wanted to be out there helping people.
Meanwhile, Kawai has already come to a realization that she doesn’t think she’s right for the police force. She was literally going to hand in her resignation on the day Sergeant Fuji was assigned to be her new instructor, but held off after being paired up with another policewoman. Yet she notes in voiceover that she’d come to regret that decision many times later on.
But is it “copaganda”?
The cultural context surrounding Japanese police is clearly different than that around American police right now. From an American perspective, it feels disingenuous to dismiss this show as merely “copaganda” meant to make us view police in a better light. While I admit that its intent to humanize the characters and make us feel sympathetic to them may qualify it as low-grade “copaganda” for Japanese audiences, it seems unlikely that this show’s export to Western audiences was regarded as anything other than a nice bonus to the production committee, rather than some attempt to get in the good graces of any American police who might be anime fans.
I believe that this show was meant to bring us some humor and drama while looking at the “real life” of a Japanese police officer, combined with the plot hook of “women struggling in a male-dominated profession.” But worse than any charge of “copaganda” to me, justified or not, is that in what I’ve seen so far, Police in a Pod is merely an average story at best, and not fulfilling the expectations set up by the premise.
So, I’m wondering where this ride-along will take us. Will we find out what Fuji did to get demoted? Why does Kawai regret not resigning? Is it genuine regret, or that “twist” where “I often regret this… but I wouldn’t change a thing” is what is really meant? Can the show go ahead and make our day after all, or will we be left to shake our head and note that a show’s got to know its limitations?
Hakozume: Kouban Joshi no Gyakushuu (Police in a Pod)
Based on: Manga
Produced by: Magic Capsule, Kadokawa
Streaming on: Funimation
Episodes watched: 3
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