de Orangevine, setembro 14, 2020

MIU404 is a buddy cop J-drama that is currently causing a big buzz in Japan. The critics are singing its praises while the growing fandom produces tons of fanart on twitter and pixiv. What's the deal? Let's look at the reasons for its success.

The 1st Reason: Stellar Cast & Crew

MIU404 is a new detective drama from the trio of female creators behind the Unnatural: the writer Nogi Akiko, the director Tsukahara Ayuko, and the producer Arai Junko. As Unnatural was arguably the best mystery J-drama of 2018, the expectations for MIU404 jumped from high to sky-high after it was announced that Ayano Go and Hoshino Gen would play the leading buddy cop duo.

During editing.Ayano Go is an acclaimed chameleon actor and an action movies star while Hoshino Gen is a super-popular musician/actor/writer, so both of them rarely appear in dramas. In fact, one of their recent appearances was together - as a pair of Ob-Gyn doctors with sizzling chemistry in Kounodori 2. Their reunion would be akin to a miracle but, thankfully, they both starred in Nogi Akiko's previous dramas: Ayano Go in Soratobu Kouhoushitsu and Hoshino Gen in Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu. That is why they agreed to work with her again.

Yonezu Kenshi (the ultra-popular musician who wrote "Lemon" for Unnatural) wrote the theme song "Kanden" for the drama. But that was not the end of his involvement.

Together with Hoshino Gen, they praised Unnatural's team so much while chilling with Suda Masaki that when the producer Arai offered Suda Masaki a role of one of the antagonists in MIU404, the super-busy star surprisingly agreed.

Suda Masaki's mysterious character 'Unfound Man'.Yonezu Kenshi (center) with Ayano Go (left) and Hoshino Gen (right).

The guests and secondary characters feature fresh faces like Suzuka Oji, veteran actors like Kohinata Fumiyo, and fun cameos from famous musicians (King Gnu's Satoru Iguchi) or comedians.

The 2nd Reason: Fresh Take on the Genre Conventions

Nogi Akiko said that if she's going to write something as cliche as a buddy cop drama, she's going to do it her way. Thus, MIU404 is a fresh drama full of genre-subversions.

'MIU' stands for Mobile Investigative Units - special police forces who are the first to arrive on the crime scene and who conduct initial investigation during the first 24 hours. 

Hoshino Gen as a bit on a rougher side Shima Kazumi.

The story follows Shima Kazumi, a police officer who used to be in the elite First Division (those guys in black suits who investigate serial murders and the likes) but who is now stuck on desk duty. His only chance to do investigative work again is to join newly formed MIU4 - a temporary MIU division. Unfortunately for Shima, there is no partner for him unless he pairs up with Ibuki Ai - a patrolman from a suburbian police box who has a terrible reputation.

On their first day together, Shima learns that Ibuki is even worse than he heard: Ibuki is unpredictable, stubborn, and… dumb. He operates solely on his gut feeling and aspires to be someone like Mel Gibson's character in Lethal Weapon (in modern Japan!!).

Ayano Go as Ibuki Ai in his rare contemplative mood.

Here comes the twist: the story wants us to believe that Shima is going to be a constantly exasperated stickler for the rules who keeps his wild, foolish partner on a tight leash, Tsundere-Yandere style. But we soon learn that Ibuki's gut feeling is indeed never wrong while, between Shima and Ibuki, it is Ibuki who is a 'normal one'. And that the reason Shima was stuck with desk duty is a lot more sinister than one could imagine by looking at put-together Shima.

Nogi-san admitted to being inspired by old western buddy cop comedies like Lethal Weapon and Nash Bridges. She also cited documentaries about police work. But the story is set in ultra-modern Japan where 'hard-boiled' rule-breaking cops from old action movies are swiftly pushed out of the force. The conflict between these two viewpoints makes for very creative stories.

Aso Kumiko here is in costume but out of character.

To further underscore that the drama is modern, the boss of MIU4 is Captain Kikyo (played by Aso Kumiko) - a woman of fine manners and nerves of steel. Stuck in a male-dominated field, she constantly faces microaggressions and condescension from her superiors in a manner everyone who has been in a similar situation would recognise. Captain Kikyo is not silently bearing the abuse either - she calls out every instance and catches lots of flack for it.

The cases deal with current issues, sometimes to a hilarious extent (young privileged officer Kokonoe has to explain to his colleagues who 'youtube influencer' is; to stress that a character is unsympathetic, the drama shows that he stares at his phone screen while walking, etc.).

What is really fresh in MIU404, though, is the main message of the story. Instead of portraying criminals as evil villains or pitiful victims of their circumstances, the story treats them as people. Everyone can meet a turning point in their life that switches them from 'the right path' to a 'crooked road', as Shima points out. The role of the police is not to punish 'bad guys' but to be a 'switch' that allows people to come back. The mission of MIU as the first investigators is to catch those people as soon as possible and, thus, prevent them from falling even deeper.

Two sets of buddies (MIU401 and MIU404) and the Captain.

The 3rd Reason: Humane But Very Fun Drama

MIU404 is called a 'kokoro drama' in Japan for the way it squeezes the viewer's heart. The emotional payoff of each episode (and especially of the buddy bonding plotline) is as satisfying as in Unnatural, but MIU404 is a lot less melancholy. Moreover, the creators aimed at making not only 'more upbeat' Unnatural but a drama that is 'less complicated'. 

Thus, MIU404 is constructed as masterfully as Unnatural but hides that behind tons of fun stuff. The buddy banter, the humour, the action, and the mystery are delivered at neck-breaking speed. Drama gathers its momentum as it airs, so the first few episodes are more light-hearted than the following ones, but the tense sequences of the later episodes often leave the viewer in a cold sweat.

Sakamoto, the Moomin lover, is back alongside some others.

Both Unnatural and MIU404 take place in the same universe, so there are several cameos from the UDI crew.

Whether you rewatch dramas countless times hunting for every piece of symbolism and metaphor available or you like something fun and exciting - the MIU404 hits the spot.

The Final Reason: Art House Acting in TV Drama

It's no secret that however popular Ayano Go or Hoshino Gen are, they are no 20-something idols. Why watch two 'ossans' playing buddies when you can watch BG: Personal Bodyguard 2 or Miman Keisatsu: Midnight Runner? The reason is simple: one does not cast Ayano Go to play simple, uncomplicated characters. The same goes for Suda Masaki. The question of whether or not we'll see those two titans of Japanese acting facing off each other in a blood-curdling sequence has been torturing fans since Suda's casting was announced.

Pros hard at work.

Whatever the case, with 9 episodes out Ayano Go has already shown how it's done while Hoshino Gen has broken his type-casting proving that he can play rough and tough detectives (and not just mild intellectuals). All the cast is solid with few guests (whose names are omitted as spoilers) giving outstanding performances.


There are few episodes of MIU404 left so you can still join the fun of being bombarded with fanart on twitter (check #MIU404イラスト企画 tag), and tons of bts photos from the official Twitter/Instagram accounts @miu404_tbs (the cast constantly posts stuff on their accounts too!). Twitter/Instagram can translate posts from Japanese so one can even monitor what outrageous fan theory about plot development is making the rounds this time. Check the comments on MIU404 MDL page for further info (subtitles and trivia).

Edited by: Yuanwei (1st editor) & Jojo (2nd editor)

mystery crime police detective buddy cop