Long story short: Uncanny Counter (경이로운 소문) on Netflix is a really good show and you should watch it.
Long story: I think the kinds of masculinity and manliness on display in the show are worth taking note of, especially for writerly types who are looking to stray from the stereotypical superhero, supervillain, or antihero characters that’ve been all the rage in recent years. It’s clear that the writers spent a lot of time thinking about how to portray the male characters, and it really pays off.
Here is a quick summary of the show:
So Mun is a high school student who lives with his grandparents. He and his parents were in a terrible car accident that killed them and left him unable to walk without a cane. The spirit of a grim reaper possesses him, giving him super strength and speed, and allowing him to join a local gang of grim reapers (or counters). They become his family. Throughout the series, the gang’s mission is to find escaped evil spirits. These evil spirits cause the humans they inhabit to perpetrate all sorts of atrocities. The counters each have special powers that they can use while working together to send the evil spirits back to the afterlife for judgement.
There’s a lot of drama with one bad spirit in particular, the evil people he possesses, and the truth behind So Mun’s parents’ death and Ga MoTak’s amnesia.
The rest of this post is one big spoiler, so don’t read it if you don’t want to know what happens.
Now, I’ll give my review of the series, with some notes from my kids (we watch Korean shows as a unit). Let’s start with a quick main character overview.
sweet, vulnerable, gentle, loving, cries, asks for and accepts help from loved ones
deeply affectionate, tough but egalitarian, once he accepts you he doesn’t hold back
warm, caring, will sacrifice her own life force to heal her loved ones, surprisingly dauntless
withdrawn, reclusive, tough, strong-willed, highly developed sense of right and wrong, inexplicably cool
When it comes to it, the men in the main group don’t attempt to overpower or outshine the two women on the team. The writers don’t let So Mun and MoTak constantly save their female companions. Instead, the men offer support and let the women do their own thing without trying to tell them what’s best.
By the last few episodes, So Mun has learned that to activate his powers of support, he can not use the strong emotions of rage or fear. Rather, he can only activate them through love and compassion. How cool is that? He has these other powers of extra speed and whatnot, but his truly special power is the ability to call forth what amounts to a cloud of support for his companions. He can summon their “territory” which increases the strength, healing abilities, resilience, and other abilities of his companions.
In the climax of the show, all characters had important roles to play, either as fighters, supporters, or defenders. The only person who did not play a meaningful role, though it wasn’t for want of trying, was Do HaNa. (Though there is an argument that Do HaNa’s actions at the end allowed So Mun to complete his role.)
My kid lamented that So Mun should have “unfriended” his two besties, but I think it was good and very important that he did not. They are willingly offering their help and love and support, and he doesn’t hesitate to accept it, after the initial withdrawal from them (he was told he couldn’t tell them, but quickly caved). He did his best to protect them from the dangers that came up without shielding them from making their own choices. When people in western shows “protect” others by distancing themselves, what they’re really after is protection for themselves from the pain of losing loved ones. That’s a valid fear, but it amounts to deciding for other people what they get to do for their loved ones. So Mun doesn’t try to do this. He doesn’t think he knows best and he doesn’t hide information from people to protect them. The secret he keeps about being a grim reaper isn’t maintained because he’s “protecting” his friends, it’s maintained because if he tells them, he could lose this power and his new family and his chance to see his parents’ spirits.
Ga MoTak showed unparalleled restraint in his experience of the death of his lover, Kim JeongYeong. Kim JeongYeong, a strong character on her own, died, not to further develop Ga MoTak’s character, but rather as a natural conclusion of her own storyline. Ga MoTak also does not take her death as a personal attack, or a time to grow, but just as what it is, the murder of someone he loved dearly. Instead of becoming enraged and seeking revenge, he takes some time after her death to reflect on his feelings for her and seek comfort from his companions. He and So Mun have a moment together. Even though MoTak is older, he still asks So Mun for advice in dealing with grief. One of my kids says that this was when he got really manly; So Mun offered him some alcohol to soothe his grief, and he took one drink and said “One is enough.” He didn’t try to get drunk, drown out his emotions, or push his loved ones away. He didn’t try to go after the murderers himself, either. instead, he collected evidence, and found trustworthy allies. When it came time to personally face the man who pulled the trigger on his lover, he had the opportunity to exact physical revenge, but he walked away, opting for justice instead of vengeance.
One of my kids says that when he faced an evil spirit possessing an evil woman, he didn’t hold back just because she was a girl.
It’s also worth noting that So Mun’s grandfather is a really good role model for him. His wife has dementia, but he still loves her through it, and cares for her like its nothing. He brushes her hair, and feeds her, and touches her with affection and love, showing So Mun that even when the person you love forgets you, you don’t forget the person you love. This obviously rubbed off on So Mun, who accepts his injury and circumstances with grace and a good nature.
The show isn’t without fault, of course. Chu MaeOk is rarely called by her actual name, has no big story line, and is the stereotypical nurturing mom of the group. But, she is the only one with a successful romance subplot. She doesn’t do as much fighting, but sticks more to healing and smaller violences. But that’s not a bad thing. She’s still a strong character who at several points says she is going to be meek to ask for help for her loved ones, but only to come out like a dragon, demanding through words or actions, that her loved ones be treated with respect.
HaNa also doesn’t finish off her own monster, which is both good and bad. Different than usual violent closure, she shows trust in letting So Mun see what the demon did to her family. And she has closure afterward with an imaginary ghost of her sister. But she is not the one who symbolically finishes off her attacker. Also, she’s unabashedly scared of the demon, Ji CheongShin. She is less afraid later, though, and never lets her fear stop her from acting.
Lastly, MoTak isn’t comfortable expressing his nurturing feelings, especially early on. For example, he was carrying an unconscious So Mun, whom everyone in the group was very worried about, but immediately dropped him when So Mun regained consciousness.
This is a really exceptional show, not like the usual superhero drama. The characters are well developed and good role models. They show really healthy versions of masculinity, and if you are looking for something really good to watch on Netflix then you should watch this show.