Judgment Says More About Police Violence Than We Give It Credit For

The Yakuza spin-off carefully examines the cyclical nature of police violence and corruption.

This article contains spoilers for Judgment and Lost Judgment. 

Yakuza has always tussled with the law. Kazuma Kiryu’s adventures were beset with politicking on a national and international level, frequently getting wrapped up in the affairs of and taking the fight to the government, the police, and everyone else in between.

In Judgment, the law fought back. Enter detective Takayuki Yagami, who faced a ruthless, brutal serial killer who gouged his victims’ eyes out after he’d beaten them to a pulp and left to rot in the grimy back alleys of Kamurocho. This serial killer turned out to be Mitsuru Kuroiwa, the shining star of the Tokyo Police Department who was liked and respected by everyone — even his superiors — and generally renowned as an up-and-coming detective. It’s through Kuroiwa that Judgment studies the cyclical nature of police violence and corruption, viewing law enforcement as a largely corrupt and violent organization that’ll bend over backwards to protect its own before facing accountability.

Judgment is an unwavering study of how the justice system continues to let those in power abuse their positions, because organizations like the police simply aren’t up to the task of holding their own accountable. It’s an indictment of the police force protecting its violent own, whereas Lost Judgment is a study of how those associated with the police force, and benefitting the force in some way, will always themselves be protected by the police no matter what extremes they go to.

The first time the player sees the serial killer in Judgment, they know them only as “The Mole,” a slightly affectionate nickname for someone so devilish. Decked out in a sweeping black raincoat, The Mole enters his debut scene in Judgment as a reaper, murdering six men without breaking a sweat and executing two of them with a point-blank bullet to the head. It’s only after this gory entrance that the player learns the serial killer they’ve been chasing all this time is Kuroiwa, the supposed golden standard for cops in Tokyo PD. Connecting Kuroiwa and The Mole requires bringing the former down to the latter’s psychotic level, insinuating how manipulable the entire police force is with the right kind of power.

It’s wholeheartedly critical of these systems. That Yagami, a now-disgraced lawyer and rogue private eye in one of the biggest red light districts in Asia, needs to step in to almost single-handedly hold the police force accountable for the murderer in their ranks is a black mark against the police force itself. At one point in Judgment, one of the highest-ranking prosecutors in Japan’s biggest city steps in to quite literally protect Kuroiwa from a fight against Yagami. It’s a scene Judgment uses to demonstrate how society can’t trust anyone to hold the police force accountable for its frequent abuse of power.

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Through Kuroiwa’s ascendance to power in the Tokyo PD, Judgment posits a view of police violence and corruption that’s cyclical in nature. Kuroiwa’s mentor was removed through the standard police procedures of properly reporting someone for corruption. While the report succeeded in removing the corrupt cop from power, all it actually accomplished was leaving a power vacuum for someone like Kuroiwa to grasp with both hands. Judgment teaches that proceeding through the “proper” avenues of stamping out police corruption and violence simply doesn’t get the job done, as there’ll inevitably be someone like Kuroiwa waiting in the wings to take over.

In a sense, Judgment views institutions like the police force as susceptible to the ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ mindset. After Kuroiwa’s unmasking as a serial killer with a bodycount rivalling that of Agent 47, he’s still repeatedly protected by those in positions of power within the police force. Judgment is overt in its teachings that removing a “bad apple” from the police force simply doesn’t solve anything, as those within the force itself will always look inwards in an attempt to cover and protect those who have done irrefutable wrong. 

Contrast this with Marvel Spider-Man’s approach to the police force. Peter Parker’s 2018 outing had the webslinger actively aiding the police force throughout his adventure, maintaining a close personal relationship with detective Yuri Watanabe, and even installing listening devices for the force throughout New York City as a side activity. Spider-Man was uncritically made an integral part of the U.S. police force, an organization which has killed 930 people over the past year as of November 2021.

“They turned Spider-Man into a damn cop and it sucks,” wrote Tom Ley of Deadspin. As I watched Spider-Man don his “Spider-Cop” persona, complete with a raspy voice and attitude to get the job done regardless of the cost, it’s hard not to agree.

Fast forward two years later, and the police force is almost entirely absent from Spider-Man: Miles Morales, replaced with an emphasis on family bonds with Miles’ mother running for elected office in NYC. Gone was the police presence, but so was any commentary on the police force itself. Instead of reversing its stance or taking a hard look at the police force, Insomniac quietly sidestepped the entire issue, showing the police force the door in an effort to forget Spider-Cop ever existed. In contrast, Judgment’s engagement with and criticisms of the police force are an eager step forward in studying the exploitation and violence it can perpetuate. The entire game demonstrates how much more effective it can be to directly tackle the police’s presence in society, rather than awkwardly trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Lost Judgment, the 2021 sequel to Yagami’s first outing, once again studies the system protecting itself. The big bad throughout the majority of the sequel is Kazuki Soma, a dapper silver-tongued devil with a fondness for running people through with a pocket knife. Partway through Lost Judgment, it’s revealed Soma is actually a Public Security operative (think of it as an FBI agent) tasked with infiltrating the Yakuza underworld and corralling the remains of the Tojo Clan into a new organization for surveillance purposes.

But Soma’s handlers never say anything about him going out of his way to slit throats or butcher people with sadistic enthusiasm. Despite him clearly being a mad dog off the leash, Public Security works to protect Soma and hide him from the eyes of the law whenever he’s in a precarious position (read: he’s murdered someone).

Both Judgment and its sequel have critical views of law enforcement at large. Judgment is more a study in the cyclical nature of police violence and corruption, arguing that simply replacing one crooked cop through proper channels doesn’t work when there’s a psychotic rot at the core of any police force. Meanwhile, Lost Judgment is a look at how powerful, cop-affiliated individuals will always be protected by systems that should be in place to shield the general public from predators. The Yakuza series at large has strayed into tackling corruption in government organizations, especially in The Song of Life and Like a Dragon, but Judgment deserves a lot of credit for truly taking the corrupt and violent nature of law enforcement to task.