Every new season of the year brings with it another new season of J-Dramas! That also means it is time for another BBAMAJAM preview covering the new J-Drama’s released in Summer 2010. For this segment I watch the 1st episode of this season’s J-Dramas (excluding sequels and Japan’s historical dramas), and then I write up a brief introduction and opinion statement for each series. Due to the irregular nature of fan sub releases not all shows will have subtitles released at the same time, or even at all. So this may not initially be a complete listing of Summer ’10 J-Dramas, but I hope to add more shows as their subs come out so please do check back for updates. (Shows are listed alphabetically)
The Fugitive Lawyer
As The Fugitive Lawyer begins we’re introduced to Narita Makoto, a lawyer who seems to be on the fast track to success. He’s diligent, loved by his boss and his boss’s family, and he generally seems to be an all-around nice guy. The audience learns early on that Narita is known for going the extra mile to fight for justice. As the saying goes nice guys finish last and for Narita that reality encroaches upon him one day when his beloved boss is killed and he is framed for the murder. As evidence piles up against him, and the one person who can corroborate his alibi mysteriously stays quiet, Narita ultimately chooses to flee. In his time of hiding, Narita encounters a myriad of people who’ve been wronged by the law. Ultimately while fighting for his own innocence, he continues to follow his path of justice and help those who need the law’s support. In my viewing of the first episode I found the story truly speaks for itself, and quite clearly defines what is to come: suspense, action, and Narita’s continued fight for the little guy. Balancing a bit of the Fugitive, Philadelphia, and even Count of Monte Cristo, The Fugitive Lawyer promises to be an entertaining drama, especially for those interested in the themes of law and justice.
Gakeppuchi no Eri
Gakeppuchi no Eri is the story of one girl’s fight against poverty and show the world that she can ‘fight from the bottom to get to the top’. In the beginning of the story, Eri’s stepfather passes away in a freak accident, leaving her mother and Eri to deal with his debts. Eri fears she can no longer follow her and her family’s dream of sending Eri to art school; however, her mother hid a small amount of money away and now she can go to Tokyo to hopefully break the cycle of poverty. Immediately Eri encounters trouble though as her art is criticized due to the obviously low-budget nature of her paint/canvases, and even after getting a part-time job as a hostess she continues to encounter obstacles due to her straight forward nature. Fueled by her stepfather’s supportive words from childhood, her mother’s wishes for Eri, and her own ambition, Eri must fight against the naysayers to survive in the world. Much like Binbo Danshi, which also features the actress Yamada Yu who plays Eri, Gakeppuchi no Eri is a mix of humor, social commentary, and a come-from-behind tale. Supported by a diverse and talented cast, including Koizumi Kotaro, Tsukaiji Maga, Yamada Yu, and many others, Gakeppuchi no Eri looks as if it will be one of the dramas to watch this season.
Every family has its own quirks but for Saotome Yuri, author and acknowledged parental expert, her family’s ‘flaws’ are covered by a veil of wealth and authority. The same can be said of her business, Yuri’s elite gym and salon, because aside from the few who know her strict nature on the outside Yuri appears to be a golden charismatic leader. Yuri has a reason for her drive though, and that focus is to have one of her three oldest children to win a Gold medal at the Olympics.
In the first episode we are introduced to Niikura Rika who, while not appearing to be particularly worthy, becomes Yuri’s secretary. Early on Rika seems to be written in as the eyes/ears of the audience as we follow her into the world of Yuri’s family. Rika immediately sees Yuri as the taskmaster she is, and, following her own moral compass, begins to stick her nose more and more into Yuri’s business much to the chagrin of Yuri’s family and Yuri herself. Many developing points of conflict appear throughout the episode, including a major rift in Yuri’s home life. With so much exposition I found it particularly difficult to get a sense of GOLD as a series; however, the themes of family, loyalty, and competition already appear to be major components of the show. I will likely not continue watching GOLD, but if you like shows that intertwine soap opera styled family divisions then you may want to consider watching GOLD.
Every year there is one or two J-Dramas, and K-Dramas for that matter, that seem to focus on one quirky teacher’s mission to reform a school. Great Teacher Onizuka is perhaps the most famous; however, shows like Gokusen, Dragon Zakura and its Korean counterpart God of Study are also quite popular. Hammer Session! fits in this genre perfectly. The story begins when a notorious con man named Otowa Yonko, known for his Robin Hood attitude of stealing from the rich, slips out with a fellow inmate from custody and happens upon a well-to-do school slipping into decline. The principal desperate for assistance offers Otawa sanctuary if he’ll become a teacher and use his unique methods to instill life lessons into the students. So as is tradition with these sorts of stories, Otowa hides his true history, by assuming the name Hachisuka Goro, and student by student must he helps the school becomes an institute worth calling a school. Even though the overall story appears as if it will be cliché, for fans of this genre, as I am, the ride is what is worth every moment of screen time. Seeing how bit by bit Hachisuka will straighten out the school, while avoiding revealing his identity, is the real fun. If you haven’t seen a show in this genre then I would probably still recommend Great Teacher Onizuka first. Neverthless Hammer Session! right from the start promises to be every bit as entertaining as its predecessor, and thus will likely be a quality watch as well.
Joker Yurusarezaru Sosakan
Joker begins as so many crime dramas do with a murder, a new rookie, and seemingly endless red tape. As I soon discovered though Joker is unlike any crime drama I’ve seen, and since it’s my favorite J-Drama genre I’ve seen a lot. The show focuses on a seemingly small police force steered partly by the unassuming, and generally unimpressive, Date Kazuyoshi. Date is nicknamed Saint/Buddha Date because he seemingly never gets angry, even in the most intense moments. Miyagi Asuka, new to the force, joined the force because her brother, Date’s late partner, was murdered, and she has taken up the call for justice. Together Date and Miyagi track down their first criminal, although they encounter resistance when trying to arrest the culprit because of a family connection to police leadership. The criminal’s hubris becomes more blatant, and so does the anger from the victim’s family and Miyagi. Date seems unphased; however, unknown to Miyagi and perhaps the rest of the force, Date has a tragic connection with crime as well, since he witnessed his parents murdered as a young boy. As the audience is shown more and more flashbacks of Date’s past, many of the characters begin discussing on screen how criminals not brought to justice in their district seem to disappear is if eliminated by a higher force. This is when I realized that Joker is more like a cross-between Death Note and Dexter, and that Saint Date may not be as saintly as he appears.
Every season there seems to be one uber-depressing show that is so powerful, and yet so emotionally draining at the same time. This season that show is Mioka. The story begins with a young, relatively uninteresting college student named Hashimoto Taichi. Taichi seems to be living the straight and narrow path through life until one day when he meets an unusual girl named Mioka. Mioka is spunky, spur-of-the-moment, and everything that Mioka is not. The two meet when Tiachi spies Mioka on a ledge seemingly about to jump, at least until he ‘rescues’ her. She says instead she was merely looking at a new view of the world, and from that moment on Tiachi seems to begin a transformation. By the end of the first episode seems to be wildly fascinated by this girl; however, unknown to Tiachi Mioka has a secret. Mioka suffers from a terminal brain disease and has only been given a few months to live. Living with this burden Mioka and her family struggle with the harsh reality of her diseas, while on the outside Mioka remains the face of happiness. Knowing as I do that Tiachi will one day discover the truth, and that Mioka’s symptoms can only get worse, I realize that the sad emotions will only build episode by episode. At the same time, in these small moments Tiachi and Mioka will undoubtedly become closer and share more than many do in a lifetime, and that will be quite beautiful. However, this is a show made to make the audience cry, and while I think the drama will be so awesomely powerful, and well acted as I can already tell, I just don’t know if I’ll be able to handle watching it now.
Of all the shows I will review this season Moyashimon stands out because it’s the first simulcast of a J-Drama in the US ever. One might wonder why FUNimation took the risk to simulcast a J-drama, and in particular why did they choose Moyashimon? Well after watching the first episode I believe the reason why Moyashimon was chosen is because of the shows similarities to its manga and anime origins. For example, the story takes place in a school, which is already a familiar setting for many anime. Secondly the characters have surreal qualities which set them apart from typical every day people. The main character Tadayasu Sawaki for instance has the innate ability to see and interact with microbes, which can ordinarily only be seen with a microscope. In addition to Tadayasu the audience is introduced to the archetypal kooky sensei Keizo Itsuki, who seems to serve as the elder in the series. While not fitting a stereotype Haruka Hasegawa, a graduate student at the college, stands out as well largely due to her S&M styled daily wear. Lastly and perhaps most importantly Tadayasu is constantly surrounded my animated microbes, who both look and interact much like Flubber in the film of the same name. All of these elements seem to be what makes Moyashimon the show it is. I will certainly watch this simply to support FUNimation’s efforts to bring J-drama to the US. Aside from simply supporting FUNimation, my recommendation would be to watch Moyashimon if you have any interest in science or if you just want to see what craziness might develop in the crazy Agricultural school where microbes take the stage.
Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo
The life of a teacher may be rough; however, for Kano Haruko it’s been her dream to one day become a high school teacher. After quitting her job as a charismatic shop worker, known and featured for her fashion, she gets the opportunity she’s dreamed of thanks to a nice woman she’s known for awhile. However, when Kano shows up for work, she’s disappointed to see that instead of a preparatory high school, she’s instead become a teacher for a Japanese language class for foreigners. Confronted by the inquisitive students, and realizing that she herself is ignorant of much of her own language, she seriously considers quitting. However, against her wishes, and the criticisms leveled at her by the school head, Kano takes her charisma and begins her arduous journey to become a great teacher. When I first read about the show I assumed this would be a non-stop comedy, especially since the students are played up as diverse and quirky. For instance, I already know that one of the class is a foreign otaku, which for an otaku such as myself could lead to much relatable humor. However, I can tell that aside from the occasional hijinxs Kano’s own soul searching and trials connecting with the students will be just as, if not more, important for the show. Clocking in at only 30 minutes an episode, Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo promises to be one of the quirkier shows of the season, while still promising the emotions and connections with the characters that one hopes for in a drama.