“People are the real devils.”
In a supernatural fantasy show, where people are assigned the job of a grim reaper to help wayward souls ascend to the afterlife and to fight evil spirits, having the real villains be human is a great example of societal messaging. The show, The Uncanny Counter, is a South Korean production about 4 grim reapers or demon hunters (Counters) and their journey in protecting the land starring Jo Byung-gyu as So Mun, Yoo Jun-sang as Go Mo-tak, Kim Se-jeong as Do Ha-na, and Yeom Hye-ran as Choo Mae-ok, with supporting cast members. These four are the primary cast of which the show revolves around with So Mun being the main character and the most powerful member of the group. As mentioned earlier, their duty is to help souls ascend to heaven or the afterlife in a place called the Yung but only those unfortunate souls to have been killed by a person hosting an evil spirit. These hosts are individuals with murder in their hearts which has allowed an evil spirit to bond with them, and in doing so they are capable of becoming stronger than that of a normal human. Each evil spirit is measured on their powers with a scale of level one to level four. Level three and up spirits possess unusual abilities and require the Counters to work together as a team in order to defeat them. An evil spirit is defeated once a Counter uses their ability to ascend souls to force an evil spirit to return to the afterlife or Yung, and be judged by the judiciary committee of the afterlife.
Furthermore, a person killed by an evil spirit has their soul eaten and will remain confined inside the host until the spirit is defeated. To combat these beings, Counters have their physical strength and speed enhanced by a factor of three times as powerful as a normal human being. In addition, each Counter has their own ability based upon their personalities. So Mun is special because not only does he have the enhanced strength and speed but he can summon the Yung Territory at will. This territory appears normally in the world for a few moments but can last as long as an hour. Within this territory, the Counters are enhanced by a factor of five times as powerful as normal humans. This surge of strength allows them to defeat the more powerful level three and up entities.
With that explanation aside, the story in The Uncanny Counter follows So Mun as he becomes one of the Counters following the death of a previous Counter member. He embarks on a grand adventure helping him hone his abilities and allowing him to keep his emotions in check. Being an 18 year-old highschool student with a physical disability, he and his friends are the targets of bullies. It is not until he becomes a Counter that he acquires the means to deal with the bullies, and help not only his friends, but the entire school. Along the way, he uncovers a conspiracy of fraud, murder, and corruption within the Mayoral and police offices.
What I enjoyed best about this show was that each episode is filled to the brim with societal messages. Like those that kill others are just as bad as evil spirits, or that not repaying a kindness is a form of wickedness, or that standing idly by while acts of wickedness happen is just as bad as those that did the acts. Another that I liked was that you have to take moments to evaluate your emotions, feelings, and thoughts and parse through them. Give yourself a chance to figure out and express them because keeping them bottled up inside only continues to hurt you. Another is that not all people who bully others do so because they’re inherently bad or evil, but rather from a misguided attempt to mitigate their own hurt feelings be it from bad parenting or outside circumstances. They’re merely victims of a cycle and that by helping them break free of it, they can change for the better. All these messages were great to see and really helped the show become something more than merely a fantasy.
Mild Spoilers Ahead
Other aspects that were really good was the acting of the four Counters, Jo Byung-gyu as So Mun was incredible at portraying emotions, I even teared up several times. His character’s story was a main driving point because it’s established that when he was 11, he and his parents were in a car accident that took their lives and left him crippled. He later learned that it was not an accident, and that his parents were killed. The conclusion in the final episode was so satisfying to watch, and so cathartic and emotional. I found myself weeping during So Mun’s interactions with his parents in the afterlife. It was so touching and beautiful. The other characters didn’t have nearly the same emotional impact but nonetheless there was still moments of tenderness. Yoo Jun-sang as Go Mo-tak portrayed a character that lost his memory seven years ago, and he was a joy to watch. Tough yet nurturing, funny yet wise. His character’s arc was tragic but also a necessity to have him experience growth. Yeom Hye-ran as Choo Mae-ok was like the mom of the group, and was kind and caring to all but fierce and protective when she needed to be. (Side note, all the Counters are possessed by a spirit from Yung which is what grants them their powers. These spirits are those that have died and are working for a chance at reincarnation.) Her Yung spirit is revealed to be her own son that passed away years ago. This relationship between her and her Yung spirit is simultaneously tragic and touching. Kim Se-jeong as Do Ha-na is like the black sheep of the group, her character’s personality is dark but only because of her upbringing and own tragic past. Nonetheless she doesn’t stay dark but becomes a beacon of light and laughter at times, she doesn’t let her past weigh her down but embraces it and uses it to help her new family. She’s just as kind, caring, and protective as the rest of them and just as wise and nurturing. All of the Counters felt really human, and fleshed out.
The special effects were well done, there was a nice use of practical effects with wires and stunts. The CGI was on point and never detracted from the story or actions going on. The action sequences were a blast to watch, hand to hand combat was enjoyable and easy to follow. There wasn’t really any multiple quick takes and different camera angles at play. One particular scene was done in first person point of view and it was a blast to watch. The soundtrack was fun and eclectic, from pop songs to instrumental to heavy rock.
Overall, I highly recommend watching this show. I splurged through it in a manner of two days. I was simply enthralled. And American shows need to take note, this is how you make a season finale. It ends all threads, wraps them up, provides a cathartic release, and then showcases where the story could go next. There is no cliffhanger ending, those should only ever be used between episodes and never in the last one. It was a wild ride, and satisfying from start to finish.