When I was taking my 3 hour flight back home from Austin, I was frantically searching for something to download on Netflix. I came across this show that I had never heard before called IWGP short for Ikebukuro West Gate Park. The series is based on a collection of novels written by Ira Ishida back in 1998 – a series that had its last installment released in 2010. It was about the aforementioned neighbourhood and the urban mysteries that would occur in the community and how one young man who’s grown up in that community would go about protecting his friends and solving the cases. Cases where the local police could not solve on their own because just like in real life, the police are mostly useless. But this show that aired originally with 11 episodes and a special – is unique as its truly something that I wouldn’t have expected in a Japanese program from the year 2000.
In this show, we see the dodgy side of sex work, organized crime, plights of a transgender man, the struggles of illegal immigration, and abuse of the homeless. We also see livestreaming and e-girls, the threat of pyramid schemes, cults baiting the vulnerable, and the troubles that children go through when without proper guidance. This is a series that came out in 2000 in Japan. I remember when Itaewon Class came out in 2020, people were praising its progressiveness. IWGP came out 2 decades before! This is a series that was ahead of its time but is a total unknown to weabs and those in the West who love Asian pop culture. I feel like out of all my friends, I’m the only person who’s ever heard of this series.
And of course, you can write about all that stuff but is it good? Yes, it’s very good. The main character Makota Majima is a charming character that you only want to root for. He’s a young man who’s grown up his entire life in IWGP. He used to be a juvenile delinquent but due to his colourful past, he knows everything there is to know about his community. He’s also besties with the leader of the local street gang – the G-Boys so he has another network of people he can tap into when trying to solve mysteries. And although he’s doing so many (what seems to be) good deeds underlying it all, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s a 20 year old boy who works for his mother’s fruit shop. He doesn’t know how to handle women and he is an awful communicator towards his friends. You start to wonder if he’s trying to solve these mysteries to help those around him, help himself, or if he just loves IWGP that much. There will be moments when you’re yelling at the screen because he makes a dumb decision.
Another way that this show is ahead of its time is the cast. If you watch a lot of Japanese television/film, you would know that a lot of this young cast ends up pretty much owning Japanese screens for the next decade or two. We’re talking Tomoya Nagase, Yosuke Kubozuka, Tomohisa Yamashita, Ryuto Sato, Koyuki, Satoshi Tsumabuki, and the most famous of them all Ken Watanabe. AHEAD OF ITS TIME.
Listen, I know that I’m going to convince 0 of you to watch it. Even most weabs don’t watch Japanese live action television, let alone the average western consumer but if you wanted something that was gritty, yet fresh, and different – give IWGP a shot. It’s just so different from what is being pushed out nowadays. It has that late 90’s early 00’s charm of Japanese television, where actors are overacting and where you can really feel the city of Tokyo breathing. This show hits different!