The show’s second season begins immediately where the first left off, with Jake showing his mentor Hiroto (an always enigmatic Ken Watanabe) a video of Onyx club hostess Polina (Ella Rumpf) being murdered by a member of the Tozawa clan. Instantly, we’re pushed back into this world without a moment to breathe, along with its characters. This hasty start aids in the show’s newfound pulse, ultimately working significantly better than the first installment. It feels as if the writers finally figured out that the pacing for a show like this should be almost neck-breaking, so they’ve left the tedious exposition that plagued season one on the cutting room floor.
Another problem that has been rectified is “Tokyo Vice’s” protagonist problem. Jake has, and always will be, unfortunately abysmal as a character and that remains true in this new season. We’re still forced to follow him on menial tasks, and through a baffling romantic plot, but it seems like the writers have realized this character doesn’t hold a candle to any of the people with whom he shares the screen. Elgort still appears as if he is sleeping through most of his scenes, devoid of any charisma that almost all of his scene partners have in abundance. Thankfully, he is not as strong of a focal point as he was last season. While Jake is still undeniably our narrator, his peers are finally given the screentime their talents warrant.
Hiroto was severely underused in season 1, but now he has almost as much screen time as Jake. Side characters like Jake’s boss Emi (Rinko Kikuchi) and even his friend Trendy (Takaki Uda) are given the room to build lives of their own outside of Jake’s point of view. It allows us not only to care about these characters more but lets these actors whose talents had previously been wasted showcase their potential.
One of the most interesting aspects of the series’ first season was Sato (Shô Kasamatsu), a young yakuza member who’s warring morality served as the most interesting hook of the show. In season 2, this is still apparent, but Sato’s presence no longer hinges on Jake or his other white on-screen partner Samantha (Rachel Keller). Here, he is finally allowed to exist as his own entity, which allows Kasamatsu to deliver the best performance in the show. It is nearly impossible to look away when he’s present, his presence dominating the scope of the camera’s lens until he’s the only thing visible on screen. His eyes and body carry a weight to them which mirrors an acting legend like Watanabe’s, a face so incredibly bare that you can’t help but feel like you’re watching something special. It’s almost impossible not to wish that he was the series’ main character, and although he isn’t, his screentime in season 2 has thankfully increased.