Female-police-officer-turned-mangaka successfully delivers inside story

©Miko Yasu / Kodansha
The cover of the first volume of “Hakozume: Koban Joshi no Gyakushu” (Police in a Pod) published by Kodansha

Hakozume: Koban Joshi no Gyakushu(Police in a Pod) by Miko Yasu (Kodansha)

For a long time, I didn’t rate this popular manga very highly — “Hakozume: Koban Joshi no Gyakushu.” I found the drawings bland — only the eyes showed emotion. I also found the placement of the text problematic, so it slowed down the flow of the story. The author, Miko Yasu, was a real-life female police officer who quit her job and became a manga artist, so the idea of telling inside stories about her old employer may look like an attractive idea, but I thought it was just another workplace comedy.

However, my wife strongly recommended it to me after she got into it, so I read all 21 volumes plus an additional chapter in one sitting and I felt like I had to profusely apologize. This is a masterpiece.

Mai Kawai, a female police officer fresh out of the police academy, works at a police box as part of her job at the Okajima Prefectural Police Department. A senior police officer, Seiko Fuji, is also assigned to the same workplace. Fuji used to be the top performer in the criminal investigation division, but it is rumored that she had been transferred after abusing her authority against a male subordinate. Kawai was about to break down under the heavy workload of the police station, as well as cold interactions with the public, when Fuji becomes her new boss and partner during patrols. Kawai is overwhelmed by Fuji’s arrogant personality and sharp tongue, both considered uncharacteristic for a public servant. However, Kawai admires her intensity, which matched the level of male police officers.

As far as I know, no former police officer has ever become a major manga artist before Yasu. This is even more of a rarity considering that the artist is a woman. The story is full of surprises and superbly cynical jokes, but the true value of this manga is that it does not stop there. The real intention of Yasu becomes clear from the 10th volume and beyond.

The story is rife with dirty jokes because female police officers are often called out to help in the investigations of sex crimes. And yet, the police department is a male-dominated institution with only a few female officers taking command of crime investigations, so there is no outlet for women to express their opinions.

Female police officers must endure this contradiction as they carry out their duties. Both society and crime, however, are rapidly changing into a society where gender is not important. The police are not immune from these changes. Yasu is undoubtedly highly aware of these issues.

In addition to the protagonists Fuji and Kawai, the male detective pair of Minamoto and Yamada of the prefectural police’s criminal investigation division also play key roles. The relationship of the four is also worthy of note. There is no rom-com element, and they quarrel with each other almost nonstop. But the strength of their solidarity when they entrust their lives to each other in time of crisis shows that the lifeblood of a police organization is actually human resource development. Despite the fact that many of the volumes are full of brutal honesty and dark humor, I can understand why this work has a strong following among police officers across the country.

The reason I think now is the right time to read this manga (admittedly I am late to the party) is because of one serious case that occurs in Volume 20 that forms the biggest climax of this work so far. The threads that are developed throughout the story all come together, making you want to read it all over again from the beginning. I take my hat off to the author for her careful and meticulous structuring of the storyline. Last summer’s TV drama adaptation was entertaining, but the original manga is higher in quality and depth.

 Part 1 of the serialization of “Hakozume” in the Morning weekly magazine recently concluded. Surprisingly enough, before embarking on Part 2, Yasu is apparently planning to begin drawing a new historical manga. With the momentum that she has already created, we should expect more great work from her. Yasu has clearly demonstrated that it is possible to draw an incredibly entertaining manga regardless of amateurish drawings and difficult-to-follow panel layouts. I am not being sarcastic. I respectfully raise my white flag and acknowledge her achievement.