by Ebisuno92 in search of m, February 26, 2020
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There are two groups of people in this world. Those who openly enjoy a magic show without any questions asked, and those who can't go to sleep without figuring out the secrets behind the performance. Trick series is obviously a show dedicated to the second group. If you can’t stand spiritualists, cult leaders, fortune tellers, self-proclaimed time travellers, PSI masters, and shamans, then take a seat in Toyota Publica and join the wild adventures of a beautiful super-genius illusionist Naoko Yamada (actually, a failed magician) and a highly acclaimed scholar Jiro Ueda (actually, a smug physicist) in this retrospective article.

Introductory Information

Trick is a franchise encompassing a three-season drama, three TV specials, and four theatrical movies. It was created by director Yukihiko Tsutsumi (also the showrunner of Keizoku/SPEC series). The story revolves around the investigations into spiritual phenomena done by the aforementioned duo Yamada (Yukie Nakama) and Ueda (Hiroshi Abe). Some pompous “film historian” once made a passing remark that Trick is just like The X-Files but with romance and magicians. In my opinion, this statement does not give the show any justice. In fact, Trick is the total opposite of The X-Files because it is not about believing in the supernatural but debunking it. As the show’s title suggests, everything which seems miraculous or out of this world is just an elaborate illusion.

The Characters

The show’s main pillars are over-the-top, strange, yet wonderful characters. Yamada does magic tricks for a living because she looks up to her late father (Masumi Okada) who was a renowned magician. She may suck at doing magic, but she is second to none when it comes to exposing frauds. Ueda may be a clumsy professor who gets easily deceived by illusions, but he is actually a jack of all trades and steps into action when a heated situation requires it. Apart from being social outcasts with nearly sociopathic attitudes, Yamada and Ueda may seem to really hate each other; however, one always rushes to save the other when things go terribly wrong.

In addition, the lead characters also suffer from physical “shortcomings”. Namely, Yamada can’t get over the fact that she is flat-chested, whereas Ueda is too graciously endowed down there. As a result, their complexes lead to a few NSFW jokes throughout the series.

The supporting characters have to be mentioned, as well. Naoko’s mom, Satomi Yamada (legendary Yoko Nogiwa), is a calligraphy teacher with a mysterious past. Even though Satomi is quite reserved, she always saves the day with her wit and the power of words. The secret of Naoko’s parents becomes the overarching theme throughout the drama. Unfortunately, the character of Satomi is sidelined later on in the series.

Additionally, the protagonists are also accompanied by cops in nearly every episode. Detective Yabe (Katsuhisa Namase) is an arrogant, wig-wearing, dressed up like a yakuza member from the 1970s, super-dumb police officer who solves crimes by blind luck. He is always accompanied by a partner who is either dumber or smarter than him (In these roles chronologically: Kazuki MaeharaNobuo Kyo, and Tetsuhiro Ikeda).

The Structure

Every entry in the series begins with Yamada doing a cheesy magic trick that is not well received (in fact, there’s only a stalker in the audience who enjoys her performances). Afterwards, Yamada comes back to her apartment and always tries to avoid the creepy landlady (Yoko Oshima) and her Indian husband because she owes the rent. Ueda already awaits her in the apartment and uses false promises (money, holiday excursion, buried treasure) to trick Yamada into accompanying him on a trip. When they reach a destination, much to Yamada’s surprise, the place turns out to be some spiritualist’s den which Ueda was sent to investigate.

The distinctive style of the show is its off-the-wall comedy. The interactions between Yamada and Ueda are the funniest, and they are sprinkled with linguistic humour (a great way to practice your Japanese), slapstick, and references to popular culture. There are lots of running gags as well. For instance, Ueda rudely calls Yamada “You” in English, instead of using her name. In addition, they travel in Toyota Publica, which is basically possessed because the car tends to cautiously follow Ueda whenever he’s walking. Also, the only way to power Ueda up, so he could take a stand against a dozen opponents, is to ask him “Why don’t you do your best?” (the title of one of his books).

Evidently, the show is filled with unconventional humour. However, under the layers of quirky jokes, the show actually tackles a serious issue. Across the globe, many people fall victim to dangerous occultists. Struck with depression, and searching for meaning in life, they decide to believe in false gods who promise them salvation. That was very much the case with Aum Shinrikyo organisation whose founder, Shoko Asahara, brainwashed his followers and made them carry out the Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism on Japanese soil to date. Consequently, Trick exposes such organisations and their leaders, hammering into the viewers the bitter truth that supernatural powers do not exist in our world.

Drama

The drama is divided into three seasons (2000-2003) with an amount of 32 episodes in total. Each investigation spans roughly 2 to 3 episodes on average. I love all the stories, but the first season is my all-time favourite, mostly because of the theme about Naoko’s parents. Moreover, many enemies are just unforgettable (Big Mother, Miracle Mitsui, Suzuki Yoshiko, to name just a few). The same goes for their tricks (floating in the air, making things disappear, travelling in time). If you do not know where to start with the franchise, then I recommend the drama. Please refer here for meriko’s watch order list.

TV Specials

All of the theatrical sequels were accompanied by television specials. To be honest, I have the greatest issue with these episodes because they seem forced and uneventful. The only exception is the first Trick Shinsaku Special (2005) which has an engaging story and a crazy awesome villain. The two other episodes suffer from an overblown script, too many side-characters, and melodramatic (painfully foreseeable) plot twists.

Movies

The theatrical movies are either a hit or miss. The first Trick: The Movie (2005) was just average and could have been easily incorporated into the drama as a two-part story. Trick: The Movie 2 (2006), on the other hand, was thoroughly entertaining from beginning to the end (Ueda’s Matrix showdown steals the show!). The third film, Trick The Movie: Psychic Battle Royale (2010), was very interesting and actually served as a neat conclusion to the series (referencing the first case of the drama). However, director Yukihiko Tsutsumi had to come up with the fourth film Trick The Movie: Last Stage (2014). I really do not want to get into the spoilers area, so let me just say the official final entry left me unsatisfied. It seemed like a total contradiction of everything that was built up previously.

Merchandise

If you are living in Japan and you can’t get enough of Trick, then you are in luck. In the series, it is shown that Ueda writes memoirs of his adventures with Yamada and regularly publishes them (Come on over, Strange Phenomena! Vol. 1-4 and Why don’t you do your best?). You can actually buy these books in Japan together with Naoko’s own accounts as well (I See What You Did There! and Swiftly, strongly, and completely, I've seen through it all!). The was also a comic book series published by Kadokawa Shoten, video game Trick DS-ban: Kakushi Kami no Sumu Yakata, and the character of Detective Yabe received his own drama show called Keibuho Yabe Genzo (2010-2017).

Trivia

  • The show’s intro always presents a cracking egg with extraordinary contents.
  • Singer Chihiro Onitsuka sang the closing themes for most of the entries. She actually appeared onscreen, singing the closing song, during the end credits of Series 1 finale. (Make sure to check out the whole soundtrack).
  • All photos of young Ueda which are visible in his apartment are the actual photos of Hiroshi Abe back from the days when he was a model.
  • Allegedly, Hiroshi Abe ate a bug during the filming of Series 2. Yukie Nakama, on the other hand, got so sick from bad weather on the location that she had to be hospitalized.


Personal fan round up

Favourite enemies: Outer Space Fortune-teller Shouko Midorikawa (Yuko Natori), Box Traveller Sawako Hakogami (Nagisa Katahira), Big Mother Sumika Kirishimo (Sugai Kin)

Least favourite drama season: none

Least favourite special: Trick: Shinsaku Special 2

Least favourite movie: Trick The Movie: Last Stage

Most favourite drama season: Series 1

Most favourite special: Trick Shinsaku Special

Most favourite movie: Trick: The Movie 2

Dream-come-true Spin-off: Instead of Yabe Genzo series, I’d love to see the series about Naoko’s mom solving mysteries like Miss Marple. She is my favourite character from the entire series.

Dream-come-true Special: Trick X Harry Potter. Please make an episode where Yamada and Ueda go to Hogwarts and calmly dismantle every piece of wizardry they encounter there. It would be awesome if Yamada pointed at Dumbledore and said “I’ve seen through everything you’ve done!”, whereas Ueda would scream at the feast “Donto Koi!” ("Come on over!").


All thing considered, the Trick franchise is a Japanese cultural treasure. The show has not aged a bit, and I find myself frequently revisiting it. Apart from the comedy, there is something deeply satisfying in watching two awkward people debunking over-the-top cult leaders. Trick is an escapist tale with a social commentary at the same time. I wish we could get more adventures with Yamada and Ueda.

Sources: Trick (Asianwiki) * Ring- commentary by David Kalat (Arrow Video release) * Zero Hour- Terror in Tokyo (documentary) * Underground by Haruki Murakami * Trick: Last Stage Review


So this was my retrospective look at the Trick series. 

Have you seen any movie or drama season? 

Would you like to check them out? 

Please write in the comments. 

As always, thank you for reading!


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

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