「来た、見た、買った」 (Kita, mita, katta)
“I Came, I Saw, I Bought”
To be honest I’m still not quite sure what to make of Fugou Keiji Balance: Unlimited. I don’t even know whether I liked it, but I would definitely say it sticks with you. Nothing about that premiere was conventional for anime, which alone is a feather in its cap. And I suppose its fitting since detective novels from the 70’s aren’t exactly the most common source material for anime adaptation. The was a lot of talent and distinctiveness on display here, though I don’t know yet what it all added up to.
Tsutsui Yasutaka isn’t a name new to anime by any means, it must be said. In addition to the 1978 novel this show is based on two of his other works have been adapted into classic films – Paprika and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Tsutsui-sensei, 85, also had a cameo in the premiere). Neither having read the novel or seen the gender-swapped live-action drama it inspired, I have no idea how much this version is faithful to the source material, but it’s clearly been updated – if nothing else the premiere didn’t come off as anachronistic or dated.
In addition to Tsutsui the other names attached to this project caught my interest – director Ito Tomohiko and writer Kishimoto Taku both have an excellent track record. And the casting for the titular billionaire detective Kanbe Daisuke was also interesting – Oonuki Yuusuke is apparently better known as a dancer than actor, and has never appeared in anime before to my knowledge. It’s funny how you can almost always tell immediately when that’s the case – it makes you realize the extent to which seiyuu are delivering standardized performances designed to meet a specific set of expectations.
For a while, Fugou Keiji was looking like a pretty traditional cop story. Katou (Miyano Mamoru) works in the Tokyo “Modern Crimes” division – apparently a dumping ground for the police department’s problem detectives. He used to work in the prestigious First Division but was seemingly blackballed, presumably for being too gung-ho and inflexible about justice as he sees it. His colleagues are a group of oddballs and misfits including Kamei Shinnosuke (Kumagai Kentarou), who gets paired off with Katou on security duty for a classic car show (I noticed the crowd was animated wearing masks – a late addition?) in Ginza.
The first case involves a Middle Eastern prince in town for the show, a plan to assassinate him with a bomb, and a young couple trying to hold up a jewelery store so he can pay back money he stole from the Yakuza. These two are beyond incompetent as armed robbers (he’s not into it at all, really), and end up robbing a chocolate shop by mistake before stealing and fleeing in the van with the ticking time bomb inside. That’s where Kanbe Daisuke comes in – and when he comes in, he really comes in.
Kanbe is an extremely rich dude who like to play detective as best I can tell. Except he had some sort of “special training in England”, whatever that means. He buys his way into the department, specifically requesting the Modern Crimes unit for reasons not yet clear, and proceeds to literally bulldoze his way onto the bomber case. His deal? He takes what he needs and destroys everything in his way, paying double the incurred cost via some serious e-checking and his butler. The bill for the first episode is about ¥1,370,000,000 (roughly $130 million).
All in all this was sometimes funny, generally preposterous, and altogether weird. There’s some nice style to the piece to be sure, Oonuki-san’s performance is indisputably unconventional (I’m kind of undecided there too), and the whole thing is kind of memorable for lack of a better word. But Kanbe is a lot to take – he seems to be a pretty despicable person based on first impressions – and for me at least the balance (pun intended) tipped a little too heavily into the absurd. Still, Kanbe and Katou have the potential to be an interesting buddy cop tandem and we’re certainly in no risk of lapsing into something generic. I want to like Fugou Keiji more than I do at the moment, but I see the potential just the same.
ED: 「Welcome My Friend」 by (OKAMOTO’S)