What’s it about?: Female police officer Kawai Mai is about to resign from her career when she meets the new female director of her station, Fuji Seiko. And after spending some time with her beautiful role model, Mai starts to realize that maybe, she’s not quite done with policing the streets after all.
Episode 1, “Unbox & Punching Bag” is the first half of Police in a Pod’s two-part opener. It focuses on Kawai Mai, a girl who’s largely disillusioned with being a police officer, and is on the verge of leaving… until she gets a massive girl crush on her hot girlboss of a director, Fuji Seiko. Okay, actually here’s what happens: Mai became an officer because she wanted a solid salary: also, she kept failing civil service exams, save for the officer’s exam. She largely hates the work, which could be an interesting perspective… if the series didn’t depend on her returning to the force to show that hey, female cops are nice… right?
This forms the basis for Police in a Pod, a slice-of-life that seems to be attempting to humanize the image of police through showing women at the forefront of the daily beat, protecting the streets of Japan through their good looks and good nature. It’s enough to form a… loosely okay series that had me shook when I realized Fuji’s voice actress was fucking 2B from NieR:Automata, which adds layers to my watch that we just don’t have time for.
Still, this show is…well, it’s straight-up copaganda. Expect to see that word a lot in this review.
Animation-wise, this is a really nice-looking show, which is to be expected from Madhouse. At no point was I ever like, “Dang, Police in a Pod looks BUSTED!” If anything, there’s this uneasiness that comes with a rather authoritarian anime looking so nice: if it weren’t played so straight, I’d actually really appreciate it, but honestly, Police in a Pod doesn’t know how to have nuance. Instead, it leans heavily on a narrative of “Japan’s police are some of the best, and they’re here to protect you!” which… doesn’t quite match the IRL Japanese police, who are known to be quite cruel frequently, especially if you’re any kind of marginalized. Heck, even cis Japanese men are victim to the same system: that’s just how policing as a modern concept works.
Then again, all policing systems are fraught and built on a foundation of inhumanity: remember, the American police were created specifically to capture enslaved peoples. It wasn’t created with good-will in mind: it explicitly came to exist, within the context of America, as a system to perpetuate chattel slavery. A system built on hate can only cycle hate. There’s no justice in a show like Police in a Pod, unless you want that justice to come in a uniform.
While the Japanese police system is distinctly different, it’s not without fault: Police in a Pod, of course, completely elides this, mixing girlboss cops with a decent soundtrack, emotive animation, and likable characters to almost make you forget that it’s still police.
Almost. I should have said almost; because Police in a Pod shows itself multiple times, especially with girlboss cop Fuji, who goes on a dark rant after a traffic stop mid-epsiode. Let me summarize it: “I don’t care what happens to people who commit a crime. You’re in my way, and you’re not respecting me.” After said speech, what’s immediately clear is the Fuji is married to her job: she accepts the nature of being society’s “punching bag” in exchange for the power she gets as a cop. Tax parasite she may be, Fuji knows that she’s still got power: and power is a delicious thing, especially when you’re a woman in a society that frequently hates women. Worse, it’s parallel against Fuji’s utter disdain for non-cops, which… yikes, Fuji. Like, hella yikes.
This is but one of many incidents that occur in the episode, the most striking being when they’re giving a lecture to some elementary students. One of the kids, a cute kiddo in glasses, ask the question, “Why is it we have to follow rules?” to which Mai, our rookie protag, has to ponder, “How am I supposed to put, ‘So you don’t get thrown into prison?’ into context a child can understand.” You could hear the proverbial record scratch hard because like… wow. What the heck kind of first response is that? There’s millions of other reasons, but for some reason, this show leaned into that as its core ideal.
Oh yeah, and they decide to pursue a guy for the fun of the chase (protagonist Mai looks particularly excited) but I’ll leave that untouched because this is already way too long and I need to keep my blood pressure in check these days.
When I was a teenager, I got really into You’re Under Arrest. I was a big fan of Fujishima Kosuke’s art style, and to some degree still am. Also, this was one of the few anime available on-demand for free. I watched it largely out of order, piecing together the story of female cops Tsujimoto Natsumi and Kobayakwa Miyuki as often as I could. As a teenager, I didn’t understand the nuance of the world around me: school shootings hadn’t become the massive tragedy they are now. The public murder of Black people wasn’t a nearly weekly, and sometimes daily, occurrence. I felt safe around cops: heck, we had one in our public school under the moniker “school resource officer,” which was a seemingly benign title. It was the late aughts, and I was Black, but that didn’t define me.
Until it eventually did.
Police anime are fascinating in this unique way because they’re supposed to be halcyonic. They get pretty solid OPs, nice animation, and often, feature women at the forefront as a way to soften the effect. What happens is a darkly benign message: police and the justice system are good and necessary and protect us without question. Heck, they’re full of charming, funny people. It’s like Brooklyn 99, but set in Tokyo. It’s harmless because hey, there’s no blood here: just good ol’ criminals getting got by the long arm of the law, just like they deserve. Right?
Not right. All of that’s not enough to negate the fact that police world-wide were born of a design to control the populace at large via state-sanctioned violence. As a Black American who’s experienced one of the “safest” policed societies (that is, four years of living in Japan) I can say that no cop is good, at least in the current global understanding of what police stand for. It doesn’t matter if they get a snazzy anime. All cops are bad: the system is bad.
None of it’s good.
You might have come to this review expecting me to have something glowing to say, so here, I’ll give you this: Police in a Pod looks nice, and the OP slaps. You know, outside of the rampant copaganda. Past that, there’s very little positive to say about the topic, largely because there’s no justice in a world where cops hold the sway they do in society, and that includes the version of Japan featured in Police in a Pod. You might think this is just funny “gatekeep, gaslight, girlboss” fodder, but that’s the insidiousness. Worse, all of this intentionality is baked into from the creator of the source material, just in case any of my complaints feel like a bit too much:
Also, this show is incredibly dull. I’ve had glasses of room temperature water with more excitement.
That’s not to say you can’t watch this: you can watch it completely uncritically, much in the way teenage me enjoyed watching You’re Under Arrest prior to my realization that cops are bad. But also, I encourage you to sit with that and wonder why you can watch this series without any critique coming to mind. Why doesn’t the blatant, discomforting copaganda bother you? More broadly, why does the world give Japan a pass on pushing “cops are good” narratives in anime? Is it because beloved studio Madhouse worked on this series? Or is there something more at work tipping bias towards, “Well, it’s not political” or “It’s just an anime, no harm no foul”?
(Answer: there’s definitely something more and there’s definitely harm in a show as “benign” as Police in a Pod. If you somehow leave this review thinking, “It’s not political” then miss me with that, please and thank you.)
I’ll be watching this because I’m far from done criticizing this series. I’m willing to take it to task, even if it comes off as me being as a bit of Feminist Killjoy. But hey: someone’s gotta do it, and I think there’s a lot to be discussed about a cop-friendly anime being made in 2022 in the midst of rising police violence in “safe” countries like Japan. I think there’s something to be said, and I’m hopefully going to be one of the many voices saying something about series like this getting greenlit.
And just in case I wasn’t clear: ACAB, Anifam. Especially anime cops.
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