Ogon no Buta Review: What’s with the big ass shiny calculator ?

Hello. This is a Korean in America. On my current J-drama vacation away from writing about K-drama, I’ve somewhat on a genre binge focusing on the so called “extended transfer student” genre. Ogon no Buta is a good series in this genre that I forgot about and just found.

Even when I was young, the “transfer student” genre was a favorite in Japanese manga.  It was an adaptation of westerns and samurai ronin genre into a school setting in which a new student gets transferred into a corrupt environment and brings about changes. Going into the modern J-drama starting about the late 90s, this “transfer student” genre was adapted by setting it away from schools and applying its structure to more adult environments using the episodic format of storytelling more developed by the U.S.

This “extended transfer student” genre became a staple of J-drama as a channel for social commentary and criticism as Japanese society stagnated through political corruption and social rigidness. Examples would be “Nasake no Onna”, Danda Rin ~ The Labour Standards Inspector.

“Ogon no Buta” is an “extended transfer student” genre J-drama set in the government’s internal auditor agency. By setting, it is actually quite similar to “Nasake no Onna” in many ways. Both deal with money with “Nasake no Onna” dealing with IRS tax evasion division. Considering that both came out during the 2010 year, it may have been a hot topic in Japan.
Not only are the two similar in its settings but the position of the “extended transfer student” genre spectrum are similar. 

J-dramas such as “Doctor X” are at an extreme of the spectrum using superhuman as protagonists. They come into a new environment and just shock the environment into change by having some superhuman abilities. These super humans don’t really have a character arc though out the series since the focus is not on them but their effects on the host population. They leave the host environment as the same character as when they came. Even “Haken no Hinkaku” which was about the super A grade temporary contract worker falls into this category. This lead role was played by Shinohara Ryoko who also plays the lead in “Ogon no Buta”.

If the super humans mentioned previously could be described as wizards in the vein of dungeons & dragons , the characters of “Nasake no Onna” and “Ogon no Buta” are rouges. They are basically normal people who have one skill they are good in with an unconventional personality detached from social structural confines. They don’t always know what to do or have perfect unflinching confidence in their skills. However, they have passion for specific injustices the propel them and eventually bring out changes to the host environment by galvanizing their oppressed dissatisfaction.


However, if one compares “Nasake no Onna” with “Ogon no Buta”, it would be have to said that “Ogon no Buta” is a better made series. At her core, Shinohara Ryoko has a more down to earth screen persona than Yonekura Ryoko who is far more cosmopolitan. This can be proven by the fact that her role in “Doctor X” suites her like a glove compared to  “Nasake no Onna”.

In “Ogon no Buta”, Tsutsumi Shinko played by Shinohara Ryoko is a low level con-artist who just get out on parole who ends up being secretly recruited into the Board of Audit's Special Investigations Division by a mysterious government higher up. As her manager, Ichiro Kadomatsu played by Yo Oizumi tries to control her.

If you have seen “Haken no Hinkaku”, you will know that the two actors are reviving the character dynamic that worked well there in this series. There bickering is still great but the portrayal in “Ogon no Buta is more toned down. This is nice since it is more relatable that the two may have a thing compared to the relationship in “Haken no Hinkaku” which seemed to tither on Masochism on the part of Yo Oizumi’s character. It is actually charming to see Yo Oizumi’s character react when Shinohara Ryoko’s character shift between conniving con-artist mode to overly cute mode.

The basic structure of an episode starts with the gang at the Board of Audit's Special Investigations Division getting a case about some corrupt civil servant embezzling. As with every good procedural, we see the gang try to find evidence step by step. At the end of the episode, the gang confronts the bad guy in the public and dramatic fashion and we hear how the government reacts. This formula is repeated throughout the series’ 9 episode run.

There are two things are 3 things that are required for this type of show to work: interesting case, good villain, great character dynamics.   “Haken no Hinkaku” has all three of them.
First, there are the cases. All of the cases are pretty different from each other ranging from diplomats to local mayors. They facts of the case are very clear once you lay them all out while still leaving you guessing while you are watching them get revealed.  It is nice that you do not need to actually know much about the Japanese society to follow what is going on.

Second, there are the villains.  In this type of “extended transfer student” genre show, the more over the top asses the villains are the better. The shows are not necessarily trying to provide you with a solution to the problem but try to give the audience a catharsis reinforcing the sense of being in right. Thus, the more you hate the villains the better. “Ogon no Buta” does deliver in this aspect. The villains are just overtly greedy bastards who embezzle just to live a more comfy life and party, drink, and do the horizontal mamba with working girls. So, you really hate their asses.

Third, there are the character dynamics.   Unlike “Nasake no Onna”, “Ogon no Buta” is not a one woman show! Rather, it is an ensemble cast with a set of well defined characters in which everyone contributes to the main plot. You basically have 4 main characters who all have a character arc even our main protagonist, Tsutsumi Shinko, who simply could not get her act together before the start of the series.

Throughout the series, she learns to trust people, work together with people, and find her purpose in life. This is the same for the other characters who were generally dissatisfied by just doing inspections for show. At the end of the series, they are different people who are real friends with solidly established dynamics between them which you have seen develop.

However, the series is not without problems. Because the villains are so over the top, there is no subtly or depth to the message being delivered by the show.  

Embezzling and being a giant elitist ass is bad!  

While this in itself is not a problem, it becomes one whenever the series tries to do more.  Unlike “Nasake no Onna”, “Ogon no Buta” does not try to provide a philosophical justification for the cases. There is less of a moral quandary for embezzling and being a giant elitist ass compared to not paying taxes. However, the lack of depth does peak its head up from the sand at the end of each episode when there is the big confrontation.

This is usually when the big ass shiny decorated calculator comes out with the gang in a line summing up the total amount of money embezzled.  It is like the OK corral show down setup confrontation. However, I do think the calculator is tacky and over the top for this show! 
And I didn't like the return our money to the  piggy bank catch phrase.

In some of the episodes, the only way that they get the villains is to stage a publicized event since most of the villains are protected by institutions and privileges. This is usually when the gang goes for a higher positioned civil servant.  If the manner in which this is done was clever about circumventing the barriers, there would not be a problem. However, the series usually uses brute confrontations which are not believable that they would work.  

And… spoilers… they don’t actually work. The episodes end with exposition about the outcomes of the cases. And if you really listen, the penalties for embezzling millions dollars’ worth of  yen is lite. In truth, it is the government white washing the whole thing and writers having no idea how to make it work. So, it is a relief that the gang do not always go for the big shots involved with the central government which is actually mentioned in the series.

Overall, “Ogon no Buta” is a great and fun J-drama series in the “extended transfer student” genre. It had great characters, interesting cases, and villains that you love to hate. It is not as revolutionary as let’s say “The Queen’s class room” but fun for what it is!

Score: A

Streaming link: Good drama net


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