Gather ‘round kids, for a quotidian and banal descent into madness.
Our Take (Spoilers Below)
In Ezra Koenig’s anime homage/meme machine, Neo Yokio, he attempts to use the trappings and minutia of wealth as ammunition for what turns out to be an anti-capitalist polemic. This gambit utterly fails in the first season, and the show serves more as an advertisement for the idle rich’s favorite brands, but the Neo Yokio finds its footing in last year’s Pink Christmas special and delivers some moderately effective critique. I say this to outline the idea that in serial fiction, failed theming can be corrected over time, and if it wants to succeed, Double Decker! Doug & Kirill might want to take a page out of the Vampire Weekend singer’s book.
Doug & Kirill is ostensibly a police procedural. The plot of the majority of the season concerns Constable Kirill Vrubel, a low-level officer with dreams of becoming a hero, as he joins the ranks of Seven-O, an elite drug-busting task force. Most of the episodes are a single case where Kirill, his partner (the veteran detective Doug Billingham), and the rest of Seven-O follow the trail of Esperanza, a gang of drug traffickers that deal in Anthem, a dangerous street drug that causes mutations in users. Seven-O is both the first line of defense against the public menace caused by overdosing Anthem users and a Vice squad responsible with stopping its spread throughout the city-state of Lisvaletta.
There is a massive twist in the last quarter of the season, but there’s more than enough to scratch one’s head about during the show’s execution of its original premise. Double Decker trades in the currency of American cop movie clichés. We have the naïve rookie, the grizzled detective, the chief bound by bureaucracy, being taken off the case, and ultimately going rogue to save everyone. Combine this with a 1980s science-fiction obsession (Ghostbusters and Back to the Future, for the most part) and you’ve got the makings of a light-hearted romp. Unfortunately, no one gave Double Decker the memo.
The show toys with anti-capitalist rhetoric, police brutality, artificial intelligence ethics, and militarized police forces, not to mention the war on drugs commentary that must, by definition, be front and center in the show, and it is prepared for none of it. Double Decker is at its best when it allows Seven-O to be the renegades that they were obviously designed to be, but when the show is forced to exist in police mode, it stumbles around uncertainly, like a bull in a cultural issues china shop.
I don’t expect a Japanese television studio to fully understand how American police institutions work, but their choices actively welcome the scrutiny. Japan does not have a military, so a militarized police force invites the examination of that relationship. Japanese police don’t seem to have a brutality problem, but Officer Rookie’s major subplot in an episode is learning that doing things by the book is actually a bad thing. I didn’t know that there was a large Japanese anti-capitalism contingent, but they seem to know little more than Neo Yokio’s Helena St. Tessero.
What I came to actually suspect is that Double Decker is a show that likes to have fun, and also has a few ideas, but with no idea how to make those two goals work with each other. This is why union leaders and college professors are the villains in a show that purports to want income equality. This is why the show thinks that the police are in any position to do good work in the war on drugs. America is known for meddling in other countries’ affairs, both in media and in real life, so it’s hard to say turnabout isn’t fair play. But that doesn’t automatically make it entertaining.
The show doesn’t truly come off the rails until the last three or four episodes. We start with a benign (if ridiculous) revelation that Kiril Vrubel, in his spare time, published a discipline-changing paper, at the age of eighteen. He then used that publication fee to enroll in the police academy. It did not occur to Kiril to become a chemist, because he needs to follow his destiny to become a hero. From there, in no particular order, he is revealed to be an alien from a colony of people who live on the sun, Anthem is revealed to be a super-soldier serum that is being tested in Lisvaletta, and the military has been behind Esperanza the whole time.
These under-foreshadowed twists come out of nowhere, and back-to-back. The suspension of disbelief the last arc of the show requires is so great that the show even makes one of its own characters incredulous of the writer. I’m wont to grade down a series that doesn’t have its theming in order, but the plotting of the last few episodes makes it such that I wouldn’t even have to engage with the cultural impact of the show if I didn’t want to.
But, if I decide that I want to, the way that the show treats people of color and the LGBTQIA community is even worse than I expected. Marginalized characters are corralled away from the high concept action for the majority of the series, only to come to play the weakest of support roles at the end of the series, and the only black character is the only one who loses anything of material value in the finale. Similarly to its social conscience, Double Decker seems to know that it needs brown and queer characters, but it doesn’t know what to do with them. It does a less than mediocre job.
Double Decker fails on a lot of fronts. If you’re here for a story, you’ll be let down by the ending. If you’ve come for a fun romp, the show’s occasional preachiness is a turn-off. Mostly, though, those after an internally consistent experience will feel split between the two poles of the show’s interests. Sunrise is a massive studio, so it’s not unlikely that we’re getting a second season of Doug & Kirill, but if the show wants to improve by next season, it has a lot to do to get its house in order.