New year, new serial review!
First up for the weekly review feature (#serialgeekery) is Ninth Step Station, created for Serial Box Publishing by Malka Older. This is a science fiction/cyberpunk/neo-noir serial written by Malka Older, Curtis C. Chen, Jacqueline Koyanagi and Fran Wilde. It sounded all kinds of interesting as soon as I heard about it, and I am very excited to finally be diving in. So!
Let’s begin discussing Ninth Step Station!
In a city divided by war, a Tokyo cop and a US peacekeeper are brought together by murder, missing guns, and politics way above their pay grades.
At first glance, Ninth Step Station is the kind of story that will get my attention on account of its ‘aesthetic’ first. It’s got a few tropes going for it that I normally appreciate: the buddy cop mismatch drama; the murder mystery; the futuristic setting.
All of that holds up and works to draw me in, but happily as I dug deeper I found layers to it all that pleased me even more. Malka Older’s work is new to me, though I’m certainly not unfamiliar with it – plenty of recommendations have come my way in the last couple of years, and judging on the strength of this first episode, I can understand why!
The setting, and setup, of a country (Japan) that’s been threatened by war and divided up by the Global Powers (in this case, China and the US) gives this story a chilling historical familiarity, but at the same time the futuristic side of the setting gives plenty of room to imagine the potential advancements that remain open there, though they go hand in hand here with the limitations of such a society, and the fallout from a war (the trouble with wifi; the distrust of those in power).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, body modification is a thing. When you don’t have control over where you live or how comfortable it is to live there, of course you might think to go a little wild on your own physical self in response. Or at least that’s my take on it. And it resonates – just look at the absolute mess our world is in, and how little the people at the top seem to care. The future is absolutely punk; this is merely one interpretation of that, but to bring it back to that aesthetic I like, it’s an interpretation I find fascinating.
Digging deeper still, there’s a very interesting dynamic building between our two main characters. Miyako is the local cop; Emma is the US peacekeeper agent assigned to partner her on cases – while also working her own angle on a case for the higher-ups, naturally. It’s a good, solid base of suspicious motives to set us up, and of course they cut both ways.
Just what, exactly, is the US side trying to hide? What will Emma find, and what might she do when she finds it? How right is Miyako to be suspicious of Emma, personally?
Questions. Delicious questions.
But I digress a bit – this is about the buddy cop aspect! Suspicion aside, there are already seeds of potential friendship here, as these two get to know one another and try to find a balance in their working relationship. And I like what each brings to the table (not counting Emma’s clever little gift of Reese’s peanut butter cups to the Tokyo squad she has to work within, because they might be popular but I hate peanut butter and will not apologise).
Miyako knows Tokyo; she knows these people, these streets, and how to fit in among them. Emma … does not, yet. But she does have greater access to more information (quite literally, with that techy eye implant!), and despite the shadowy movements of her bosses, she seems genuinely willing to pitch in and help, even if her Japanese needs work.
One minor little stumble I did have, though it’s entirely on me, is that I didn’t realise just how episodic this serial would be; the case-of-the-week aspect misled me a little bit because I’d expected there to be much more to the dead body with the immediate ID (read: his face) removed. It’s cold and pretty calculating, but apparently it was not tied to the longer game in play?
But that IS a minor quibble, because I’m here for that kind of thing too. And now that I’m ready for it, I am ready for more. This was a smooth opening number, and I’m definitely tapping my foot to the beat, if you will.
Ninth Step Station was created by Malka Older, and is written by Malka Older, Fran Wilde, Curtis C. Chen and Jacqueline Koyanagi. This episode was written by Malka Older, and is narrated by Emily Woo Zeller.