Great Pretender: An Underrated Netflix Original, by Callie Meyer
In June 2020, the Japanese release of the Netflix Original Series Great Pretender created an engaging character-driven narrative. Its worldwide release in August 2020 introduced international viewers to Makoto Edamura, the main protagonist. A large part of the series’ allure is its cast of characters. Its first two seasons create a show that excels at developing them. Viewers experience the story through Makoto Edamura. Makoto’s character development throughout the series is compelling due to his complex and intriguing growth.
Throughout the show, we are given glimpses into Makoto’s past. His father was a corrupt lawyer for a large crime ring. When Makato was in high school, his mother died of an illness shortly after his father was released from jail. Unable to find work because of his father’s reputation, he turned to crime in order to survive.
Makoto perceives himself as Japan’s “number one swindler,” but resolves himself to petty crime. He’s arrogant; with every con he pulls off, his ego skyrockets. Then he meets Laurent, a fellow conman who succeeds at conning Makoto. Makoto follows him to America for a con job, where he finds out that he has a lot to learn.
Team Confidence, his new partners in crime, are used to working large jobs like this, conning rich businessmen out of millions of dollars. Makoto is out of his depth and tries to make up for it with unearned confidence, which usually only succeeds in him complicating things or making a fool of himself. He and his team are able to pull off the job, but Makoto is misled by his team. This leaves him slightly traumatized and emotionally unstable. When they finish the job, Makoto is left reeling and believes that he’s not cut out for this line of work. He leaves Team Confidence with his portion of their earnings and sets off to turn himself into the police, hoping to start a normal life.
After his time in prison, Makoto works as a mechanic. He chooses to live an honest life. The first job was a wake up call. Makoto has seen the world he thought he was a part of and has tried his best to distance himself, but his best doesn’t seem to be good enough. Team Confidence finds him and puts him to work as a mechanic for their next job. He’s still naive and kept out of the loop by his team. He fights them at every turn, insistent on living a normal life with an honest job, a job he now thinks he could have in Japan. He knows he lacks the expertise to be a conman at Laurent’s level, so he continues to distance himself from this lifestyle.
Although he dislikes it, Makoto is evolving with these jobs. He matures, as evidenced in his relationships. He holds his own against Laurent’s harassment and helps the other members of Team Confidence with their pasts. During their third job, he ends up helping an artist who is sick of seeing his counterfeit paintings hung up in museums. Makoto helps him collect them, even though it could very well cause problems for their team. This is uncharacteristic of him. He cares about his team, and he has matured passed the need to prove himself to others. Although he wishes to go home and live a normal life, he continues this work and becomes confident in his skills as a conman, and as a person. He believes he can make an honest living for himself, even with his past.
Their fourth case puts Makoto’s character and his development through the wringer. His development has been steady, allowing him to make choices about how he wants to live his life. He has moved past thinking that his past defines him, and that he has to be what the world expects of him. He continues to make choices that define him, but the decisions he makes during case four are some of the most intense he’s ever had to carry out. Not only does it force him to look back on his past, it puts his newly-found morality to the test.
Choosing between the greater good and his own moral breaking point, Makoto finds himself back in Japan, now working for the Yakuza. While he was originally tricked into conning the Yakuza, Makoto decides to continue the job when he realizes that children are involved in the organization’s illegal activities. This decision causes issues for Team Confidence. It forces their job to take a dark turn as they try to maintain their cover. This choice acts as a catalyst for Makoto’s development, as well as their job.
Working for the Yakuza, Makoto is forced to carry out tasks that would make even the toughest people squeamish. He auctions things that they’ve smuggled out of other countries, including people. He now has the skills to complete this job, but his constitution is tested. Although Makoto’s feelings have been quite transparent to the audience prior to this job, we are shown a new side of him. He is subdued. He takes orders and carries them out in order to maintain his cover. He is good at his job, and people take notice. His boss, a woman that says he reminds her of her son, takes an interest in him. He is fond of her, wearing gifts that she gives him and defending her from others.
He becomes cold and calculating. Toward the end of the job, he becomes unrecognizable from the man he was before. The audience is left in suspense, questioning his loyalty to the job and his team. It is difficult to discern where his feelings lie. He seems to have been attached to the leader of the Yakuza, seeing her as a mother figure after his own had passed away. Even at the end of the show, the audience doesn’t know what to expect from him. What had started as an attempt to gain money ends as our team tries to take down an entire crime syndicate, and Makoto seems to surprise everyone with the choices he makes.
Makoto’s character and his development throughout the story are handled with incredible care. The show is fast-paced without sacrificing any of the characters’ relationships or their roles in the story, and that is only a small aspect of what makes this show so enticing. Along with the great characters, there’s rich storytelling and fast-paced comedy. Dramatic action sequences and plot twists keep the audience on the edge of their seats. I finished this show hoping for a third season and recommend it.