A soulmate is someone who is suited for someone else, a missing piece that completes a larger whole.
In the live-action Japanese drama Kei×Yaku: Dangerous Partners, our leads Ichiro Kinoshita (Suzuki Nobuyuki) and Shiro Hanabusa (Inukai Atsuhiro) are the very definition of kindred spirits..
Adapted from the manga Kei×Yaku: Abunai Aibou by Kaoruhara Yoshie, the live-action drama tells the story of an investigator, Ichiro, and a yakuza (gang) member, Shiro, whose pasts are tied to a fateful incident.
A crime drama, Kei×Yaku is filled with mystery and action, but where it truly shines is in its human connection, especially between Ichiro and Shiro.
The need for revenge propels this drama forward. Ichiro, especially, is full of unresolved anger. But it’s the loneliness permeating every scene that grabs the attention. It snuck up on me and took hold of my heart. With its dark color schemes and gritty action, Kei×Yaku never bores, especially once Ichiro and Shiro become an unexpected, unique team.
Their loneliness overwhelms them.
By the first episode, I realized there was a heaviness to this drama that had nothing to do with the action. There is a potent sadness despite the intrigue and humor.
Ichiro and Shiro were heavily affected by a bombing when they were children. Ichiro’s parents died when the bomb exploded inside a mall, and the man arrested for the crime was a father-like figure to Shiro and his sister Nakaba Rion (Kuriyama Chiaki). This bombing starts a chain of events that brings them together.
Ichiro and Rion are partners in the Public Security Bureau, a part of the Tokyo Police Department. Ichiro’s need to uncover the truth about his parents’ death is his motivation for being a cop, while Nakaba Rion is motivated by the need to prove the innocence of the kind man from her youth. On the other hand, Shiro turns to a life of crime to achieve the same thing.
As a young yakuza leader, Shiro is monitored by the law, leading to his fateful meeting with Ichiro.
When Nakaba Rion (Ichiro’s partner and Shiro’s sister) goes missing and appears dead, Ichiro and Shiro team up to find out what happened to her. They end up sharing an apartment, and the relationship that grows between them is beautiful.
Their loneliness and mutual dark pasts become a vivid co-star.
Although emotional isolation isn’t always apparent, in Kei×Yaku, it’s evident from the beginning that Ichiro and Shiro are missing a part of themselves. Especially Ichiro.
Both of them lost their parents. While a family later adopts Shiro from the orphanage where he meets Nakaba Rion, Ichiro is raised by his grandmother.
Loss has a way of drawing people together. My twin sister and I have always been uncharacteristically close because we are twins, but after our parents died, it became an even more nuanced relationship where we depended heavily on the other. We understand our loss in a way no one else will. Death steals a deeply personal part of a person, creating a void that’s hard to invite people into. Trauma deepens that void.
Ichiro allows Shiro into that void, and Shiro does the same.
Kei×Yaku is a fast-paced drama that doesn’t feel fast-paced. By the end of Episode two, Ichiro and Shiro already live together and have developed a domestic camaraderie between them. Only it feels like they’ve been connected forever.
Despite their pronounced differences–Ichiro is organized and level-headed while Shiro is spontaneous and hot-tempered–they not only suit each other, they complete each other.
Every look and touch Shiro and Ichiro share in Kei×Yaku is incredibly meaningful. It’s fascinating how quickly these two become ingrained in each other’s lives, so much so that I couldn’t fathom the idea of them apart, like two sides of the same coin.
This connection brings me to the unspoken romance that exists between them. Whether you label Kei×Yaku a bromance or a BL, these two have one of the most intimate, soul-jarring relationships on screen. Despite never becoming a pronounced couple, their affectionate embraces and thoughtful interactions paint a very romantic picture. Some relationships don’t need a spoken definition. They’re felt.
While loneliness brings our leads together, trust fully connects them. Despite being on opposite sides of the law, they sincerely confide in each other. They are invaluable to one another, reading each other’s body language in a way no one else can.
It’s evident Ichiro and Shiro fall in love. By the end of the series, neither can live without the other.
Therein lies the main reason this drama succeeds. Although the mystery and action keep things interesting, the drama’s real strength lies in the connection between our leads.
But it also lies in Shiro.
Our spontaneous, sweets-loving yakuza leader is endearing and relatable. Although he’s playing on the bad guys’ team, he does it out of necessity. He has a way of forming affectionate relationships. He not only befriends a life-long friend of Ichiro’s and nurtures the deep sibling relationship between him and fellow orphan Rion, he also manages to make two men fall in love with him: Ichiro and Osu.
Powerful government official Osu Kimiaki is in a sexual relationship with Shiro. Although it starts off as a way to take advantage of each other’s positions, both do care for each other, Osu more deeply than Shiro.
Shiro is openly bisexual in Kei×Yaku, and he’s a beautiful representation of his sexuality. He never shies from his attractions, even through the uncertainty of approaching the topic with his sister. Shiro is the kind of confident bisexual representation we need on television. Unlike Shiro, I wasn’t confident in my desires and bisexuality when I was younger. Even though I’ve grown into my confidence and embraced my sexuality, I wish I’d had someone like Shiro on television when dealing with my confusion and fear, which was made worse by my father’s homophobia.
I haven’t read the manga this particular drama is based on, so I’m not sure how Shiro is represented on the page, but his coming out as bisexual on-screen was powerful for me. We see a lot of coming out moments in BL dramas/films, but we don’t often see dramas/films where a character specifically mentions bisexuality, although there are characters we know are bisexual. So, I am grateful to the writers for including the phone scene where Shiro comes out as bi.
Shiro is the heart of Kei×Yaku. He brings everyone together. Considering his place in the yakuza, this is one of the show’s most interesting aspects. Despite wearing his emotions on his sleeves and despite his honest vulnerability belying his gangster position, he becomes the strength Ichiro needs in his life. It’s a complex dynamic that works brilliantly on screen.
For me, Kei×Yaku is a gay romance because of Shiro alone. I think it’s crucial we quit defining a BL by whether or not it has passionate love scenes or kisses between the male leads and start defining it by representation. Shiro is an openly gay character who doesn’t hide his sexuality, who doesn’t hide his desires, and that’s the kind of representation we need on screen. From the way he comes out to his sister to how he doesn’t hide his sexuality in front of Ichiro, he has the confidence many of us need to see.
Gay romance isn’t just about romance between two people; it’s also about our relationship with ourselves and our sexuality. Shiro gives us that.
Full of beautiful interconnecting relationships and emotionally driven action-packed scenes, Kei×Yaku: Dangerous Partners has taken its place among my top favorite Japanese dramas.
For a show that embraces itself and offers deep relationships that cannot be defined in words, check out Kei×Yaku: Dangerous Partners on Bilibili. I highly recommend it.
Rating- 4.5 out of 5