So what changed my mind in the end? It had to do with a lot of the positive media reports after the season started when BORDER started off losing to MOZU which felt like a classy movie but eventually overtaking its competition in terms of critical reviews and ratings. There was so much talk of how BORDER being on par, if not better than MOZU in terms of production quality but with a much more intense and engaging story compared to MOZU which was getting too complicated for its own good. Besides, Oguri's acting was much praised and said to be one of the factors leading to the drama's success. So if a drama gets praised to this extent, it aroused my curiosity so I ended up backtracking on my initial decision to give this a miss.
Ishikawa Ango (Oguri Shun) is a police officer of the Metropolitan Police Department's First Investigation Division who deliberately chose this occupation to get back at his father who he did not get along well with. During an investigation into a murder case where the victim was a former police officer, Ishikawa who had been walking in the vicinity of the crime scene to look for scenes, gets shot in the head by an unknown person which causes him to end up with serious injuries. Although he was saved from the brink of death, the bullet gets lodged in his brain which will involve a dangerous surgery before it can be removed. As the presence of the bullet doesn't really cause any problems to Ishikawa's health and daily life for the time being, he chooses to delay this operation for the time being and returns to work after he recovers.
Things however do not improve especially in episode 7 where he lost the fight against catching a hit-and-run driver after the latter manages to escape overseas with the help of a professional "problem-solver". Ishikawa seems to have lost his faith in the justice system being effective enough to catch and punish those who do wrong. By the time we get to episode 9, it is when Ishikawa finally loses control of himself as he crosses over the boundary between good and evil in order to uphold justice. It is as if he has become a devil in order to do what he thinks God should be doing.
Especially worth mentioning is Omori Nao's guest star stint in the last episode. He really did such a great job as this extremely smart villain that his confrontation and showdown scenes with Oguri Shun were such a thrill to watch. When you get to the final scene where Omori's character successfully enticed Ishikawa to step over the edge, it was so chilling and yet gratifying at the same. Chilling because of how evil Omori's character was in anticipating how his actions could tip Ishikawa over since the latter was already at breaking point and strangely gratifying at the same time even though the ending was so sudden because it was obvious to the viewers that Ishikawa had already lost control of himself during his pursuit for justice and it seemed believable that Ishikawa would go to that extent. I might not have liked the ending as much if it showed me that Ishikawa chose to do otherwise.
In conclusion, I think BORDER surprised me in a good way by performing above expectations and I'm glad that I chose to watch it after all despite my initial reluctance. As to whether this drama is indeed superior to MOZU 1, it depends on how you see it. In terms of production quality, both were pretty much on par. However, BORDER only stepped things up towards the end of the season so you compare episode by episode, MOZU 1 seems like a more polished piece of work. Then again, MOZU 1 couldn't have a satisfactory ending because that needed to be addressed by MOZU 2. In this sense, BORDER could have more room to produce a much more conclusive ending although I think it was deliberately left open-ended to increase the possibility of a sequel.
And my ratings for this drama...
Story: 8.5 out of 10 (The last episode alone deserved a perfect 10 but in the first half of the drama, the quality of the episodes was a bit uneven so the overall score would have to be lower.)
Acting: 8.5 out of 10 (Again, Oguri Shun x Omori Nao deserved a perfect 10. I also think that the supporting cast also did a great job.)
Theme song/BGM: 7 out of 10 (I have to admit that I don't like the theme song at all but the BGM was really good especially in intense scenes.)
Visual effects / Scenery: 7 out 10 (The last three episodes felt more like a movie to me in terms of its production quality and visual effects but in terms of scenery, there wasn't much which caught my eye.)
Teamwork / Chemistry: 8 out of 10 (Besides the fine chemistry displayed by Oguri x Omori and Oguri x Haru, I also think that Oguri and Endo did quite well together as superior and subordinate because of the trust in the relationship between their characters.)
Total: 39 out of 50