So Many Dramas, So Little Time

Drama Digest, Vol. I, Spring 2012

So many dramas, so little time

I watch a lot of dramas. There came a time when I was watching 10 a season, but only finishing maybe 2 of them. That’s when I realized I wasn’t being as picky as I should be. So, instead of full reviews of all the new stuff this season, I present you with my Drama Digest to help narrow down your (and my) selections. 

 

Kagi no Kakatta Heya

Kagi no Kakatta Heya stars Ohno Satoshi (ARASHI) as a security expert who solves ever persisting Locked Room cases in his spare time. Toda Erika costars as a legal aid alongside her lawyer boss played by Sato Koichi. While Ohno does all the work, the three are something of a team, each with their own kind of special part to play in breaking each mystery. Toda is the cheerleader and main motivator, moving each case along through her sheer perseverance, while Sato is the naysayer of the group, always willing to just chock it up to suicide or an accident, but in the end unwittingly provides the final clue for Ohno’s genius to solve the case.

The general feel of the drama is semi-serious with some mediocre attempts at comedy. So far I’ve really liked the cases; they’re interesting and challenging and all have that certain twist so you can’t just figure them out immediately. The only problem I have with the show, and I have this kind of feeling for most shows of a really specific genre, is just how many locked room cases really happen in Japan? This show makes me feel like it’s an epidemic, but it is rather entertaining.

Ohno plays Enomoto Kei with that robotic, one track thinking that has come to characterize people of great intelligence with odd hobbies in the media. Think Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, without the loveable quirkiness. It’s a fine performance and as the story moves on, I’m sure we’ll see the character develop more and more. Toda is in great form (though looking rather thinner than I would like) as Aoto Junko. After seeing her in a slew of SPEC related material (in which she was fantastic), it’s nice to see her back in a ‘normal’ role. She’s earnest and naïve, something like her Kanzaki Nao character (from LIAR GAME), if she had gone to law school. There’s also a whole slew of guest appearances from well known actors throughout the season, including Nakamura Shido, Aibu Saki, and Komatsu Ayaka.

 

W no Higeki

Rising starlet Takei Emi stars in this sinister Prince and the Pauper rehash. Emi is joined by her notorious tag team costar Gouriki Ayame (this marks their 4th time together on screen) and Fukuda Saki, among a large cast of others. The show is pretty dark, kind of an f’d up version of The Parent Trap (let’s hope Emi doesn’t wind up like Lindsay Lohan), full of backstabbing, intrigue, rude bitches, and even incest.

The main plot of the series revolves around the doppelgangers Kurasawa Satsuki and Watsuji Mako, played by Takei Emi. Kurasawa is a young, hard for the streets, don’t take no shit part timer who has obviously had a hard life. She works at a cabaret club cleaning the building and doing odd jobs, all the while bullied by the stars of the show, including Gouriki and Fukuda. The owner and manager would desperately like Kurasawa to become one of the dancers, cus c’mon—Takei Emi is pretty, man.  On the opposite side of the country, Watsuji Mako is the youngest member of  an extremely rich and powerful family conglomerate. Her grandfather has designs on her (that means he wants to hit that), and the entire family is concerned with who will take over the business, get all that money, and control the family. To this end, everyone on the Watsuji side of the story is pretty shady and weird. The two come together and switch places (after some Ohno Satoshi like research by the richer of the lookalikes) as Watsuji longs to be free, and to be a dancer, actually, and Kurasawa is running from a murder investigation and craves nothing but money and power.

Overall the drama feels…cheap? I’m not sure what it is, but the whole look and feel of the show just feels really cheaply done, like the budget per episode is really small. But besides that, the show is rather interesting. Takei does a great job with the two very different characters, as I would expect, and it’s really her acting that puts the show over for me. The rest of the cast does a good job as well, but Takei is the obvious standout here. The story is intriguing after the initial Parent Trap and Prince and the Pauper similarities, and should be able to maintain an entertaining run. If only the show didn’t look so damn cheap!

 

Mirai Nikki: ANOTHER WORLD

Based on the popular manga, which was also adapted into an Anime last year, Mirai Nikki is the ‘everyone gonna die’ drama of the season. Okada Masaki stars alongside a bevy of young stars including Gouriki Ayame, Hongo Kanata, Fukuda Mayuko, and Hiraoka Yuta. This show is also pretty dark, what with the ‘everyone gonna die’ theme and all.

The drama starts with Hoshino Arata, played by an always bewildered Okada, receiving a fancy new fangled phone from his good friend, played by Hongo Kanata, that has a feature on it called the Future Diary (mirai nikki). The future diary begins to tell Okada the future, one text message at a time, allowing him to win big in the lottery, prepare for a surprise quiz in one of his classes, and learn about his parents’ sudden divorce. Along comes Gouriki Ayame as Furusaki Yuno, who happens to have the same phone, only her future diary tells her about the things that will happen to Arata. The two get wrapped into a supernatural game set up by Deus, the god of time and space. There are seven people in possession of the special phones equipped with the future diary, (Hongo Kanata, his sister, his cousin, and some unknowns round out the group), and…everyone gonna die. Deus charges the group with killing each other off one by one until only one remains, and this person will become the new god of time and space. Each person’s future diary will help them cheat their own deaths and bring about the deaths of their opponents.

After watching the first episode, I made the observation that this drama is like LIAR GAME x Eden of the East x Bokurano x GANTZ, all of which are awesome in their own rights. I’m still not sure how I feel about Mirai Nikki, though. It’s an interesting concept and done pretty well for a drama in the short slot (this drama runs 15 minutes shorter than most dramas). Okada Masaki is long overdue for his big star push, but seems to be on the rise now. His ability on this show isn’t really on display though. While not terrible, his portrayal basically consists of being in a constant state of shock and worry. On the other hand, Gouriki Ayame (who might actually be on a faster rise than her partner Takei Emi) is doing something I’ve yet to see from her. Her character is bubbly and bright, if not somewhat crazy and obsessive. There are also veterans Hongo Kanata and Hiraoka Yuta to balance things out, as well as semi-newcomer Fukuda Mayuko who has had small parts in several series, and I have a feeling she’s going to be very popular in the coming years. I’m interested in Mirai Nikki mostly for its sci-fi, Lord of the Flies aspect as I always enjoy a story that pits the wits and strategy of its characters against each other. I’m hoping that the characters develop well and it doesn’t just become about Okada not knowing what the hell is going on around him.

 

Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou

If you’re not a fan of AKB48 or Johnny’s Juniors, you can totally skip this section. Bakaleya is a pretty obvious attempt at two giants of the Japanese entertainment industry to maintain good relations with one another. The entire principle cast of this show is made of AKB48 girls from Team 4 and kenkyuusei and young men from Johnny’s Juniors. It’s a ridiculous show, but people will watch it because they just have to see their idols on screen.

One day, one of the local tough guy schools, Bakada High School, is taken over. But this time, it’s not a group of rival delinquents, but a group of prim and proper young ladies. Catteleya Academy has decided to close its gates and merge with the nearby Bakada High School, merging the once gender specific institutions into a co-ed campus. What’s more, it’s now full of ironic juxtaposition! How will the uncouth delinquents get along with girls of higher class? The answer: who really cares?

Honestly, it’s an idiotic premise for a television show and the only reason this is on air is because Akimoto Yasushi and Johnny Kitagawa are titans of industry and get what they want. Yeah, people are going to watch, but these people are already fans of these idols, so does anyone really win? The acting from the Johnny’s boys is actually okay, as most Johnny’s tend to be talented in that area. But my AKB girls need to step their game up. The first couple of episodes are middle of the road and bearable, but only barely. It will take a lot more for me to admit that the show is okay, compared to the grain of sand waiting to tip this whole thing over into crap.

 

ATARU

The standout of this season, for my money, is ATARU, starring SMAP’s Nakai Masahiro, Kuriyama Chiaki, and Kitamura Kazuki. A police prodecural, without the procedure, ATARU disguises its espionage undertones with a colorful, well acted detective drama.

The plot revolves around Nakai’s character, simply called Chokozai, an autistic savant with a penchant for solving strange homicide cases. Underneath this story is a seemingly seedy, Jason Bourne like world of espionage following a secret orginazation on the hunt for their missing weapon: Ataru. This underlying story is worked into the plot of each episode pretty blatantly, but still remains a side story for the most part. Each episode sees detective and police force poster girl (quite literally) Ebina Maiko, played by Kuriyama Chiaki, handling a misconstrued homicide case with the aid of Chokozai’s abilities. No one takes Ebina seriously due to her photogenic side assignment and she is constantly trying to prove herself. After stumbling upon Chokozai at the site of one of her cases, Ebina is saddled with the job of his care, but gains the perk of his help. Ebina’s superior, Kitamura Kazuki in the role of Sawa Shunichi, begrudgingly allows her to work the incidents and ultimately stands by her and Chokozai’s side as they build their cases.

There is something wholly quirky about this drama. I’m not sure that I can put my finger on it, or even describe it accurately. There are just moments on the show that are funny, and they are meant to be funny, but they’re funny for weird or awkward reasons…something like that. Anyway, the drama is funny and at the same time serious with a great balance of the two going on. The cases are very well thought out and very interesting. You will have a hard time playing along though, as the point of the show is Chokozai’s abilities to see the unseen and tie together seemingly unrelated streams of information. The look of the show is also fantastic, every shot is very bright and colorful–but not in a strained way, you just kind of notice it, and it’s nice. Nakai’s performance is strange. At first I was put off by it, he didn’t seem as autistic as I would’ve imagined (I’m sure that sounds horrible), that is to say he didn’t seem like other portrayals of autistics that I’m used to. But as the series goes on, I become more and more accepting and impressed with his performance. Kuriyama Chiaki is a gem in this role. Something about her acting in this is just great; though, like with the overall feel of the show, I just can’t put my finger on it. In a nutshell, this is a great show and I’m not totally understanding of its recent drop in ratings.

These are just a few of the many dramas airing this season. I have checked out two others that I’m not prepared to review in full. Kaeru no Ojou-sama starring Oshima Yuko seems very Glee-like yet boring, but after only one episode I’m hard pressed to decide. Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri was freaking stupid and I couldn’t sit through even the first episode, but if you’re a fan of ARASHI’s Aiba Masaki, give it a go. Word on the street is that Legal High is quite the show, but I have yet to check it out, and I’ve also heard good things about Odagiri Joe’s Kazoku no Uta. So, if you’re looking for a good drama or two this season, I hope this little digest was able to help you decide on some of the bigger titles out there.

 

Reviews based on the first 2-3 episodes of each series.