Bullet Point Review: Strawberry Night Saga

  • I absolutely love the one-case-per-episode format for investigative dramas. It turns mystery into a bit-size consumable, wherein under sixty minutes, the problem is solved and justice is served. But when a bigger conflict is desired to be set up along the way, then most dramas run the risk of becoming overstuffed. In addition to introducing, solving, and concluding the case of the week, under an hour, it also needs to introduce backstories, foreshadowing, character development for that said conflict. Queen suffered from this very problem, but the writers of Strawberry Night Saga — Tokunaga Yuichi and Seki Erika — do something very interesting. First of all, they open the drama with two substantial cases (substantial in terms of the crime committed, the number of people involved in solving it, and the time spent on it) and designate them both, a good ninety-minute runtime each. These type of sizable cases are generally unveiled towards the last few episodes, but Strawberry Night Saga, opens with not one, but two of such cases, giving us ample time to get introduced to the case of the week, the primary and supporting characters, their relationship with each other and the organisation they work for, all without having to sacrifice the steady development of the mystery of the week. Second, not every case is boxed in for the entire 45-minute runtime. The first three episodes utilize the long runtime to a great effect as they involve an ensemble cast, with an investigation that pans out in different directions. In another episode, however, the case is only introduced half-way through the episode and then swiftly wrapped up by the end. This disproportionate amount of time spent on each case, not only keeps the proceedings fresh but also lets the story flow more organically, as not every case the police get will be of great importance, requiring the involvement of a large team of officers.
    Then, in the excellently directed fourth episode, an ongoing case is intercut with Himekawa Reiko’s (Nikaido Fumi) flashback to when she was sexually assaulted as a teenager. The juxtaposition of these two scenarios was quite interesting, as at the first look both the cases aren’t in any way directly related to one another, but the subtext soon becomes apparent as the interrogation takes place, not only between a detective and a suspect but also between one girl whose authority over her own body was snatched away from her, while the other uses that very authority of hers in exchange for goods and money.
  • It is not new for an investigative drama to have the main character as the only female working in a male-dominated field, especially not in Japanese dramas. Himekawa’s team and her Chief are quite aware of the discrimination she faces in spite of all her achievements, and their support for her stems from the fact that she is damn good at her job, not because she needs protecting. But all this doesn’t mean Himekawa is without faults. She does rely on her intuition too much, which can land her in dangerous places, and follows up on leads with circumstantial pieces of evidence. Also, as a victim herself, her view of the world is categorised into just black or white — either you do good things or you don’t. So, watching her come to terms with the fact that a morbid grey exists where victims can be as much a perpetrator, as a perpetrator can be a victim, was a thought-provoking addition.
    Nikaido Fumi plays Himekawa Reiko in moderation — parts angry, parts scared, parts bossy, parts stubborn, but none of those parts ever amount to a whole. I never quite knew how to react to her. Should I be happy when her intuition proves right and she proves her male co-workers wrong at every turn of the investigation? Should I be scared for her when she goes off investigating on her own? Should I applaud her work ethic, the tendency to work harder even when the investigation hits a roadblock? It’s all there but it just doesn’t amount to one distinctive sentiment. Maybe it was deliberate, to show how distant Himekawa is from others but she ends up being distant from us, the viewer too.
  • The central conflict almost always involves the protagonist, but rarely does the tragedy occur to them. It occurs to someone close to them — a mother, a brother, a friend, where they end up as the sole witness to the crime. This gives the character a strong motivation but doesn’t rock the boat too much by having him or her suffer through it personally. But by making Himekawa a victim herself, and one with seemingly unchanged family life — parents are still married together, Himekawa’s relationship with her parents isn’t frayed and they seem financially stable — at least from an outsider’s perspective, there isn’t any visible damage. This allows the drama to introspect on difficult topics, like marriage for instance. I liked that her mother still pushes her to marry, like any other mother out there, trying to preserve the hope that her daughter can move on and live, what is deemed to be, a normal life. The conversation which follows this scene between mother and daughter is beautifully done. Both of them laying out their fears truthfully without accusing or belittling the other. This is where her short-lived love story with a yakuza (Yamamoto Koji) feels like a fanfic insert, especially the scene where he forcefully kisses her is distasteful. It felt like the makers suddenly realised that the show was too dark and decided to lighten it up with a romantic track.

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