It’s been a while since we last talked about J-Drama — last time was the classic that is Hanazakari no Kimitachi e (or For You in Full Bloom as we are more familiar with over here) — so we are going to take a different approach this time and highlight a lesser-known title for today. Because this one deserved much more recognition during its initial run, and most definitely should not be forgotten anytime soon.
Mr. Brain is quite simply one of the best and easiest J-Dramas to binge-watch. I recommend it for its high budget production, star-studded cast with surprise guests — each of whom deliver brilliant performances — and a satisfying formula for an original TV show that never losses momentum across its 8 highly entertaining episodes.
What is Mr. Brain?
Mr. Brain follows the intelligent oddball Tsukumo Ryusuke, who works at the National Research Institute of Police Science. He’s known for his unique ways of processing and explaining his psychological perspective, but his particular behavioural oddities make him anything but popular in his workplace — and his sheer love for bananas acts as your episodic reminder that fruit does good for your brain. The educational pointers never let up in this psychological detective comedy/drama.
An engrossing balance of silliness and seriousness
So, what makes Mr. Brain such a thoroughly enjoyable watch? Firstly, as far as its genres are concerned, Mr. Brain manages to be factual and educational alongside presenting its darker narrative material, and presents us with a comedic script featuring an eccentric main character.
The sheer outlandish tone of the show, despite being based in reality, starts right from the get-go — not only with its opening number being Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, but also with the backstory of our hero Ryusuke. He was once a host but became a neuroscientist after an accident left him with higher intelligence and a newfound interest in how the brain functions. He trained for five full years to land himself in his current position.
The majority of Mr. Brain’s humour is comes from Ryusuke’s antics, if this was not obvious enough already. He always manages to weave his way through each and every case’s opening despite the police, or namely the detective Tanbara not wanting him involved in the slightest.
For all intents and purposes, Ryusuke is an extremely charismatic and appealing lead character who will always capture our attention, and things always end up with him making a positive impression, despite how cold and dismissive almost everyone feels towards him initially.
For a TV original, his character is very impressive in its creation and execution, and his behaviour makes him particularly enjoyable to watch. His specific oddities such as his inept social skills and inability to grasp the idea of personal space make him easily loveable. And the ease with which he shares his own unusual perceptions and life lessons to the supporting cast — and, by extension, the audience — is a joy to watch, since he comes across like a child trapped in a man’s body. He is childishly animated, both in body language and facial expressions, yet still manages to come across as a source of inspiration and knowledge who is worthy of respect.
He is a character you are actively rooting for, so his constant affirming positivity towards his fellow co-workers is always an uplifting watch. And ultimately, it’s very satisfying to see his influence finally be kindly and warmly recognised in the end.
On a final note for this section, the show’s animated sections of its characters being “chibi-fied” was a surprisingly enjoyable twist on presenting educational concepts as breaks from its plot; these sequences help lighten the mood when the narrative ventures into darker and more sinister matters.
Let’s get to the more serious side now then. Since each episode covers a new victim, culprit, and mystery, they can be unexpectedly complex and well thought-out. On top of this is the fact that each crime is vastly different to one another, making the show never feeling repetitive; it retains intriguing set-ups and clever conclusions despite following a distinct formula. And it always maintains a steady flow of originality and creativity, especially when some cases are drenched in layers of questions and peculiarities.
The culprits are all highly memorable too; you’ve got a wide range of blood-shedders here to maintain the show’s momentum, and they always feel new and exciting. Over the course of the series, we have a cannibal, a serial killer, and even an invisible man — it makes sense, don’t worry!. But what is particularly entertaining with regard to the villains is that not only are the villains themselves well-executed by the guest actors, but they also provide a means for the show to explore a variety of mini-stories. Each is truly as thrilling and intriguing as the next as the mysteries unravel — and they’re often highly unpredictable.
While the show covers many dark subjects considering its premise, it also does well to deliver some worthwhile lessons about how criminals are brought to justice, and what the show and its characters have to say about police procedures — plus, of course, the fact that “good” vs “bad” is not necessarily set in stone.
The only downside is how the show can sometimes get a bit over the top with its exploration of scientific facts; this can sometimes muddle the cases’ sense of coherency, and is rather unorthodox for entertainment purposes. But I can’t deny that it’s still a great time — even with this side of things.
Memorable characters reinforced by strong acting
The acting in Mr. Brain is one of the strongest aspects of the show, and this is most obvious with leading man Kimura Takuya of SMAP fame playing Ryusuke — the majority of us here will likely know him best for voicing Judgement’s Takayuki Yagami.
The decision to cast him as the show’s eccentric main character could not have been any better; it truly juxtaposes his boyband appeal with the personality of a brainy manchild, a role he hadn’t played prior to this show.
It was a refreshing and brave move for him, and it was exciting to witness — the show simply would have not been the same if anyone else had been cast in that leading role. His supporting co-stars include Mizushima Hiro as the violence-fearing detective Toranosuke Hayashida, and Haruka Ayase as the straight-laced Kazune Yuri, who any J-drama fans will doubtless know and love already.
Whilst both characters are ultimately little more than comedic relief, and a means of providing prompts for Ryusuke to explain things, their actors do well with what material they were given. This is especially notable for their dynamics and chemistry; they make for consistently entertaining moments, with a solid and witty script that allows them to effortlessly bounce off one another and play up the comedy before the episode’s blood is spilled.
And for the brief hints of romance blossoming between Ryusuke and Yuri to appease folks such as myself? We love to see it, no matter how fleeting it is — especially when it comes to a male lead being as clueless and chaste as the one we have here. Cute.
Guest stars in each episode
The main selling point of the show for many is its many guest stars. Even though there are only eight episodes, each of them covers a new case and features a massive name in the role of the villain of the hour. Mr. Brain understandably grabbed attention upon its 2009 release for its star-studded cast — and in retrospect, the lineup of guest stars indicates how much of a product of its time it really is.
Famous names such as Koyuki, Kamenashi Kazuya, and Nakama Yukie are just a few big names who appear in a single episode, but each guest star throws themselves right into the excitement — and the surprise appearances of each guest star meant that plenty of viewers tuned in each week just to see which big name would be showing up next. Between rising stars of the time and well-established, popular celebrities, TBS knew what would make the ratings.
And how could I possibly deny them that win? Admittedly my main attraction to the show as a starry-eyed teenager with an obsession for all things J-rock was the fact that the musician Gackt makes an appearance on the show — that of the aforementioned creepy, deranged cannibal (which when you imagine it, probably is not too far fetched of an image). But the fun didn’t stop there, with plenty of other high profile names making heads turn with each episode. And the surprise factor of exactly who shows up over the course of the show’s full run makes it worth us not giving you all the details right now — watch the show for yourself to find out more!
Mr. Brain deserved to have a much longer lifespan considering how entertaining it was, let alone how much potential it had — but it never got a second chance to explore the many plot threads, character progression, and locations it barely had a chance to cover.
Worst yet is how it ended rather openly, clearly suggesting that it expected to see some further seasons. While it is truly a shame Mr. Brain remains to this day — and most likely for the rest of time — as an 8 episode mini-series, it makes for a very easy J-drama recommendation, simply for how easily accessible it is to new J-drama watchers. It’s mindless fun, and it doesn’t take long to watch the whole thing. So check it out if you get the opportunity!
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