Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What I Watched: Trick

A couple weeks ago, JV and I finally wrapped up our journey through the Japanese comedy/mystery drama Trick. It spans three regular television seasons, plus three TV movies and four full-length theatrical releases.

Image courtesy TV Asahi/Wikimedia

The premise is a simple one: struggling but knowledgeable stage magician Yamada Naoko assists nationally renown physicist Ueda Jiro in exposing spiritualist frauds. If you've watched The Mentalist, it's much the same—just more lighthearted.

I don't usually like TV, especially when it's not American. Not that I'm lazy about reading subtitles or uninterested in other cultures. I just kind of hate TV as a medium; besides, J- and K-dramas haven't really had the same production values as their American counterparts until recently, so the shows have almost always looked a little cheap and low budget to me.

JV, on the other hand, is a bit of a J-drama fiend and once in a while he picks out one that he thinks I'll like. That's how we got to watching Trick.

He wasn't wrong, either. After the first episode, I was hooked. There are great characters overall, well-written and well-acted, but each episode usually achieves gender parity, which is nice. Many of the story arcs are also framed in the context of historical stage magic tricks or Japanese folklore, so you can feel like you're getting a little bit smarter each episode.

The series overall is a fun little ode to skepticism and rationalism—magic is almost always a trick, don't let yourself be fooled by someone who wants your money—but it retains elements of the supernatural here and there as a little spice. It's such a little thing (once in a while Yamada's mother just knows that Yamada will need help, or Yamada will have a premonition about something) but it's just nice to see that the show allows itself a little room for imagination and fantasy. And while many of the antagonists unveiled by Yamada and Ueda are money-grubbing charlatans, others are more sympathetic victims of circumstance. I appreciate a show where the bad guys aren't always mustache-twirling villains. The depth of character writing isn't limited to just the main roles; it extends to every single guest star and antagonist who shows up.

The biggest draw of the show, though, is probably the chemistry between Yamada and Ueda. Most of the time, Will They Or Won't They tension doesn't work and it makes me flip tables in rage, but it's played very, very subtly in Trick. Most of the chemistry is based on their banter and trying to get themselves out of scrapes—there's not really a lot of time for romance the way there would be in a more typical sitcom.

The humor translates well across cultures, too. Sometimes there are puns, and then you have to rely on the quality of the subtitles (or your Japanese) to get the joke, but there are plenty of subtle and surreal sight gags throughout the series. The show has an overall quiet tone to it—not the manic energy of the stereotypical wacky Japanese game show or frantic, fit-inducing anime.

A+ would recommend!


  1. You know, I've watched subbed animes, but never T.V. shows. This one doesn't happen to be on Netflix, does it?

  2. You know, I've watched subbed animes, but never T.V. shows. This one doesn't happen to be on Netflix, does it?

    1. I don't think it is, unfortunately! I wish I knew a good J-drama vendor to recommend, but I don't. The entire series (and all of the movies/specials) are floating out in the Internet ether, though. At least the first few episodes of the first series stream at the DramaBuds link below; a little digging and you can find the rest. (Or, if you like the first, you can maybe try to order the DVDs from a reliable vendor.)