Police in a Pod keeps getting better each week, to the point where this latest episode made me want to sit up and take notes on how to do life—as a believer, as a professional, and simply as a person. Today, Sgt. Fuji demonstrated the power of honor to change lives.
Back in the heady days of winter season premieres all of two weeks ago, I was on the fence about Madhouse’s latest comedy-procedural (is this even a genre in anime?). The jokes were a touch crude and the tone felt changeable.
Now, three episodes in, the series has found its feet, and boy do those toes ever twinkle! Police in a Pod deals with some pretty heavy themes, like episode two’s domestic violence and sexual abuse, or this week’s senior neglect and delinquency, yet it does so with an eye for human kindness and an ear for biting humor that reveals deeper truths. It has completely won me over. My goal then, is to win you over too, so that you also may find the pearls of wisdom and other treasures hidden in this field known as the Machiyama Police Box.
Each episode is split into two distinct, yet related cases. The second case this week is a call-out to a home where an elderly man has died. It seems that in Japan at least (maybe this is true elsewhere? My ignorance is showing…), it is the responsibility of the local police to examine the body and surroundings for signs of foul play whenever someone dies anywhere other than in a hospital room. This is no mere formality either, as examinations typically take 2-3 hours.
In this case, Kawai and Fuji are the first to arrive at the home, which turns out to be the domestile of Yuuta-kun, a known delinquent who’s shown up in the series before, dissing Fuji outside the conbini. In fact, he was taken in to the station this very episode as well, after making a scene when a couple of detectives on community duty called him up for skipping school. They found cigarettes on him and used this as an excuse to try to scare him onto the straight and narrow by calling in his parent to come pick him up. But his mom was basically non-responsive and did not reprimand the youth, so it was all for naught, much to the officers’ chagrin. “Well, I guess he would go astray with a mom like that,” quips Sgt. Yamada.
Back to the case. After a short while at the house, Kawai and Fuji are joined by three detectives, including the two who had taken Yuuta in to the station earlier. Together, they conduct a thorough examination, but not before first kneeling in prayer to pay respect to the man who had passed in what is a surprising and touching show of humanity. They must immediately set aside their human responses though, and adopt a professional approach as they clean and inspect the body. Kawai struggles with this—the smell, the mess, the nudity—and Fuji corrects her attitude by stressing the importance of carrying out their task respectfully, without recoiling rudely. “When doing something like this you should clear your mind,” adds Sgt. Minamoto.
When Fuji and Kawai turn over the body, the Sgt.’s quick intake of breath tells us that something is up—a detail reinforced shortly afterwards as the detectives leave the house and one, Yamada, sighs in relief that there was nothing amiss, to which the other, Minamoto, replies with a questioning tone, “Nothing amiss, huh.”
Before we resolve this mystery though, let me pause a moment on Yamada’s expression of relief. “Honestly, I dreaded doing this when I heard it was Yuuta’s place,” he clarifies. What’s interesting here is not so much that he was intimidated by the delinquent and happy to get out of there, as the fact that Minamoto also left right away. You see, the first case in this episode revolves around Minamoto and his uncanny ability to charm difficult people into conforming to his will. So well-honed is this skill of his that Fuji calls it his “special ability”, and acquiesces to his claim to be her rival from their Police Academy days, despite the fact that she topped the class and he ranked at the bottom. That’s some impressive special ability if it can wring this kind of acknowledgement out of the headstrong Sgt. Fuji.
Earlier in the episode, Minamoto uses his superpower to tame a senior delinquent, the serial shoplifter Warusaki-san, and even resolves the underlying issues of loneliness and neglect motivating her bad behavior by winning over her daughter and convincing her young grandson to take some time out for his grandma and pay her a little more attention. He does this by seeking out one-on-one time with each of them, all with a seemingly guileless smile, a perfectly performed “awkward” ruffle of his floppy hair, and a chat over a chocolate creamsicle. Who needs to excel with a handgun when charisma and frozen treats get the job done?
Unleash the kra…er, charm offensive!
But where is that charm offensive at Yuuta’s house? Nowhere to be seen.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Minamoto. (It’s the hair for sure.) But his charm act feels a tad too knowing, a touch too studied in its mild gawkiness, and ultimately what one might call performative. Though he may be a nice guy, his special ability feels like an act: good enough to win over lonely seniors and artless middle schoolers, but no match for an older teen like Yuuta who has seen something of the world and its troubles. Those suspicious eyes of Yuuta’s are not about to catch sparkles from Minamoto.
Instead, it is Kawai and Fuji who are the last to leave the house. But before they leave, Fuji takes in a breath and we know she is going to say something. She’s going to bring up the detail that she noticed with her eagle eyes, and that Minamoto—her replacement as Ace detective of Criminal Affairs—recognized as well. The reason, perhaps, why Yuuta has been staring stonily off to the side, refusing to make eye contact; or why his mother’s gaze has been directed to the floor nearly the whole time.
Only, when Fuji opens her mouth to speak, the words that come are not what we’ve been expecting. Instead, what Fuji noticed was not foul play or neglect, but a level of care for the elderly father-in-law that bespeaks consistent and painstaking attention: though he had been bedridden (or rather, tatami-ridden) for two years, his back and feet were untouched by bedsores or heat rash. What remained of his hair was tidy and clean.
The woman’s gaze perpetually slid downward not out of guilt, but because of the weight of her tired eyelids, testament to her exhaustive diligence in tending her husband’s father in his final years.
And so Fuji honors her. She speaks out the evidence of excellence and integrity that she recognizes as being at work in this woman’s care for her father-in-law, giving her her due for her faithfulness and expressing admiration for her.
Such a declaration of respect is shocking to both the woman and her son, who turns to his mother, eyes widened in wonder as if seeing her for the first time. He notices how careworn her hands have become.
And the next day, he goes to school.
What hits so powerfully about Fuji’s “solution” to the delinquency of Yuuta in this episode is that she is not at all concerned with solving a problem; that is to say, she doesn’t treat him like a problem. Instead, her focus is on giving honor, and it just so happens that she models this in front of Yuuta and it has a life-changing effect on him. But her agenda isn’t to fix him, to scare him straight or manipulate him—however charmingly—into behaving in a way pleasing to her.
I think we can learn a thing or two from Fuji’s approach to her work: the way she is so very attentive to those around her, even if they are seen only out of the corner of her eye, like the victim of domestic abuse in episode two. She sees a woman on the sidewalk who is missing a flip flop and immediately pulls the cruiser around to go check if she is alright. Or here, after two or three grueling, smelly, uncomfortable hours completing a task that is both physically and emotionally draining, she does not make for the door as fast as she can, but lingers to recognize someone else’s efforts in the midst of a trying situation.
Fuji is a woman of honor. It is no act or special ability wielded to win allies and woo followers. And her honor, bestowed naturally and genuinely, changes lives.
After love, honor is the characteristic that God most encourages us to pursue in our relationships—with him, with our family, within marriage, in the body of Christ, and out in the wider world, including with those in authority over us, regardless of whether or not they are in that position with our consent.
Too often though, control or persuasion seem to take top place in our relationships, not least in ministry, where at times the ends of “getting people right with God” justify the means of intimidation or manipulation, of bullying or its mirror image, disingenuous charm. Perhaps it’s because I recently listened to the 14-hour plus podcast by Christianity Today on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill that our failures in the church to take to heart God’s urgency for us to honor one another is on my mind these days. But I don’t think it’s only that.
Ever since I first encountered teaching on the topic, years ago, the call to cultivate a culture of honor in the family of God, in the workplace, in the home, in our communities and nations, has just resonated. Honor gives respect not because others have earned it or deserve it, but because they are made in God’s image and that in itself is worth honoring; and because we are made in God’s image, and that means that we are at our best when we comport ourselves like him, honoring others. Honor calls attention to the gold we see in people, even while there’s still a lot of dirt around too. Honor is not about denying reality or sugar-coating; it’s about recognizing the good, the worthwhile, the valuable in the midst of the brokenness. Honor is a life-giving path that finds a way between the dual precipices of a fire and brimstone condemnation of the world that exposes dirt, stirring up shame and fear, and a performative, image-conscious pursuit of relevance and relatability above all else, that sweeps difficult things under the carpet and pretends the ugliness isn’t there. Honor sees the good and the bad, but chooses to shine the spotlight on the godly treasure in people. It is wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.
This is partly what has drawn me to Japan in recent years. Japanese culture is, of course, renown for its attention to matters of honor. But too often in anime and other Japanese media we are witness to the toxic side of what is supposedly “honor”, namely, shame and its use to oppress others.
Even so, there is something God-breathed in this call to honor that Japanese culture has caught hold of so much more tightly than has Western tradition. It is one of the gittiths that I wrote about a few weeks ago and which I see in this nation and people: those features of a culture that are just waiting to be redeemed (and may already be in the process of redemption), so that they may become sources of life and light not just within that culture, but throughout the body of Christ and the world, once fully in synch with God’s heart and original intent.
The culture of honor is, in fact, what I believe to be Japan’s greatest offering that it is bringing to the table set by God for his family to share together. We in the West have a lot to learn—not just in secular society, but specifically in the church as well—about the power, value, and excellence of honor; about the way that it makes audible the heartbeat of the Father in a world that would otherwise muffle his sound with the noise of accusation, selfishness, defensiveness and entitlement. Honor cuts through the din of all these clanging cymbals and releases a song of love and witness over all who hear—mothers and sons and fresh police recruits too.
I am excited to see how the rest of Police in a Pod unfolds—this story of a woman who answers the call to honor others and so change the world, one person at a time.
Give us eyes to see like Fuji, Lord, that in seeing, we might recognize how to honor one another.
Police in a Pod can be streamed on Funimation. I’ll see you there.