The Winter 2022 Preview Guide
Police in a Pod
How would you rate episode 1 of
Police in a Pod ?
Community score: 3.4
What is this?
Female police officer Kawai had enough of a career she wasn't even that into and was about to hand in her registration, when the unthinkable happened — she met the new, female director of her station. And after spending a little time with this gorgeous role model, Kawai realizes that maybe she isn't quite done being an officer after all.
How was the first episode?
Oh those poor widdle police! It just makes them so sad when people get upset at them! Don't they just understand that it's for their own good when the cops write them tickets they can't afford?
I wasn't going to penalize Police in a Pod too hard just for its subject matter. While I consider the real-life institution throughout most of the world (and yes, that includes Japan as well) to be deeply corrupt and more about maintaining the status quo and protecting the interests of the wealthy over actual law and order, cop shows do provide a certain fantasy of seeing bad guys brought to justice. I've watched my share of Law and Order and Brooklyn 99, read whatever volumes of You're Under Arrest I could find in comic book shops, and so on. But Police in a Pod is a particularly noxious brand of copaganda, one that sentimentally valorizes the profession while simultaneously whining about how sad and misunderstood they are.
My eyes practically rolled out of my skull when Mai described how children should follow the law because a burglar told her he'd target neighborhoods where kids ride double on bikes because if the people around them let them get away with a minor and harmless infraction, it means nobody will notice a sketchy character like him. The thing is, if it were a different profession, I'd probably like parts of it a lot. Fuji is especially appealing—outspoken about sexist assumptions, openly angry about the way she's been mistreated due to her gender. The forms the sexism take are quite realistic too: scolding her male colleague gets construed as “power harassment” because she's not nice and quiet like women are supposed to be, and her superior assuming she's good with children due to her gender. I want to love that she's willing to call the people around her on their shit, but then she starts swearing under her breath at a traffic stop because she's just soooo frustrated these ingrates dare get mad at her for exercising her power over them.
It's just not satisfying watching police officers stop a scared middle-aged woman on a scooter for accidentally running a stop sign on a quiet street.
Watching this episode, I had one question constantly in mind: How will a non-Japanese audience feel about this show? In my decade-and-a-half in the country, I've gotten used to seeing police boxes around town; I use them on occasion to ask for directions or report a lost item. Other than a little racial profiling (i.e. them checking “randomly” to make sure I'm not an illegal immigrant), I've found local-level police officers to be friendly, helpful, and respectful. This series portrays them as normal people doing an unappreciated job. In fact, they are basically society's punching bag, the people you can vent your frustrations to knowing they have to be courteous and respectful in return. Given how doing something similar in other countries is likely to get you arrested or shot—especially in today's political climate—I can't help but feel those with little experience with Japan might see this as out-of-touch at best or shameless propaganda at worst.
Of course, the show is far from treating the police as a perfect bastion of integrity. Our main characters are the victims of both sexism and workplace harassment. Seiko is clearly too good at her job. While apparently disgraced and banished to a low-level job for abusing her power, I have a feeling that's just the excuse the male officers came up with to get rid of her. I mean, she solves a cat burglar case within seconds of meeting the suspect and gets him to confess without any issue—even turning it into a learning experience for Mai. Meanwhile, Mai has been badgered by the men above her to the point that she wants to resign. And throughout the episode we see as both of them are pigeonholed into stereotypically female work by their lazy boss.
On one hand, this is just the newest in a long line of slice-of-life workplace comedies. On the other, it's darned entertaining to see the way that it balances both taking the piss out of the police and reminding us that they are human, just like everyone else.
These days, lighthearted workplace comedies about loveable cops are kind of a hard sell, at least in my part of the world, even when they're loveable cops that are also cute anime girls. Still, I don't have any deep-seated antipathy towards stories about police or anything, so I was more than willing to give Police in a Pod a shot. It's got some strong pun game with its title, for one, and its OP is honestly kind of a banger. As it turns out, the core problem with Police in a Pod has nothing to do with it being “copaganda." It just isn't very funny at all.
There are few worse signs than when a workplace comedy so seriously lacking in the laughs department, which is a shame, because there are promising elements that Police in a Pod could possibly capitalize on. I liked that Kawai is so genuinely conflicted between her need to put bread on the table and the undeniable knowledge of how much everyone hates cops. Fuji's volatile personality could make for some fun comedy, if the show ever went with a joke that was more interesting than “She's kind of scary and swears a lot.” Did I mention that the theme song is really catchy?
At the end of the day, though, comedies are supposed to make you laugh. Police in a Pod just never manages to get the pacing or energy of its jokes to their proper levels, and that's when it is even trying to be funny in the first place (which isn't often). If you really need to see anime girls walk around with those cute police hats foe 20 minutes every week, sure, go crazy with this one. Otherwise, feel free to skip Police in a Pod altogether.
Both workplace sitcoms and police procedurals are tried and true staples of the TV landscape, and have been for years. This means we get a lot of the two pretty frequently, and occasionally mixed together. At face it seems like a pretty easy sell, and lots of series have made compelling, low-key comedies out of the ins-and-outs of daily police work. Sadly Police in a Pod is here to prove that a proven formula can still fail, as it shows well and truly that ACAB: All Cops Are Boring.
This just isn't a funny comedy. Its attempts at banter are stiff and inert, with our main cast getting only the barest of personalities in this episode. Kawai is kind of timid and doesn't like being a cop because she feels underappreciated. Fuji is kind of mean and mutters rude things about civilians under her breath a lot. Combined, they almost threaten to create comedic chemistry a few times, but ultimately fail. The first 2/3 of this premiere thus amount to stale trudge through the mundanity of street-level policing. People are unhappy when they get traffic tickets. The higher up criminal detectives are blowhards. Nobody likes filling out paperwork or making phone calls. Community outreach work is also kind of a bummer. It's like reading somebody's reluctant to-do list, but instead of a single sheet in a notepad it's 15 minutes of half-hearted observational stand-up, all with as little animation or expressive artwork as possible.
The real kicker, however, is when the show tries its hand at sentimentalism and shoots itself in the foot with its own sidearm. There's several morals presented throughout this premiere that try to paint policing as a thankless but ultimately worthwhile job, because even when it seems like the cops are being hard asses, they're ultimately doing what's best for everyone! And none of those stories actually make any sense. Such parables as “obey laws about tandem biking or else thieves will rob your house” and “my daughter crying over a $150 traffic ticket made me turn my life around” are the best it can apparently come up with for why punitive policing is actually a good thing for everyone, and the entire affair comes off totally tone-deaf. Especially when we end the episode with our two officers gleefully declaring they're going to get a random guy's license suspended, content that it'll teach him an important lesson and make him a better person.
Look, I was never expecting this show to have anything nuanced or substantive to say about policing or anything. It's a simple comedy aiming for mild chuckles. But the show is the one that decided it needed some half-hearted message and tripped ass over tea kettle while trying. The result is a lot like those Anti-Drug Very Special Episodes from 80's sitcoms: a largely unfunny sitcom that only makes itself less appealing with a poorly considered, shallow moral resolution.
I remember back when the first volume of the manga upon which this is based came out there was some confusion (or perhaps speculation) that it was a yuri story about policewomen. As of both that book (which is as far as I read) and this episode, that is not the case. Neither is it about policing dolphins, which was my hope; “pod” seems to have been a very odd choice in terms of translation. What it is, unfortunately, is slightly boring, a slice-of-life show about two policewomen at a small police box (sort of a mini station), one of whom was demoted and the other of whom is seriously considering quitting.
My favorite thing about the episode would have to be the fact that neither Fuji nor Kawai are wearing sexualized police uniforms. Both women are dressed like real officers, with pants, the assorted weapons and gear on their belts, and flat shoes. In fact, when their commanding officer at the police box wants them to go give a safety lecture at an elementary school, both of them are very clear with him that he's being sexist; just because they're women doesn't mean that they like kids or are good with kids, and how dare he assume so. They still end up having to do it, which I think says a lot about the institutionalized sexism that they're facing, but just having both Fuji and Kawai speak up and say that he's wrong is a great moment.
Sadly it's really one of the only remarkable moments, too. Keeping in mind that I tend to have a low tolerance for slice-of-life shows, most of this felt like a slog which kept touching on interesting elements and then moving right on past them. Fuji, for example, has been demoted to patrolling because she was violent with a junior detective in the Criminal Affairs Division. How does she feel about that? What did she actually do, and were they harder on her because she's a woman? Maybe they'll go back to that later, but they sure don't tell us here, with the only real indication of her time there being when one of her old colleagues comes to pick up a thief they've caught and makes fun of her for being back in uniform. Sure, she mutters profanities after she's done dealing with speeders and other petty criminals, but that's not really an indication of how she feels or what she did, and it feels like it's meant to just be a joke based on the fact that she's pretty and has a foul mouth. Kawai doesn't really do much either, beyond grumble and tell sob stories about her childhood, and I came away from the episode feeling like I didn't know much about the characters, certainly not enough to care. If you like slice-of-life comedies with female casts and are tired of high school girl protagonists, this may be worth checking out, but I can't say I'd recommend it otherwise.
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