Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Musings on the Jdrama

"Or, A Short Chronological History of my Experiments with Jdramas"

If I consider my discovery of Kdramas to be recent – as in barely a year and a half ago – then my introduction to Jdramas was barely a moment ago. I had no conscience that they even existed just half a year back. It wasn’t until I was scouring articles about Kdramas on the blogosophere that I ran into mention of these curious beings known as Jdramas or J-doramas or doramas.  But like the young and fresh thing I was, I figured what could be cooler than expanding my horizons just a little bit? I perused a giant list of recommendations from Koala’s Playground, and going by what plot synopsis seemed interesting – because I had no earthly idea who any of the actors were, I chose Nobuta wo Produce.

Will any drama ever again capture such a beautiful friendship??
Could there have any been any better introduction to the world of Jdramas? I think not. I cheered, I cried, I raved, I told every blogger I knew to hurry up and watch this. I roped my husband into starting his first Jdrama, and thereby watched it TWICE within just two weeks.

Next on my hit-list was Hana Kimi, a little quirky (okay let’s be honest: it was totally quirky) but priceless, and again I’ve already watched it twice. I followed it up with a romantic option: Tatta Hitotsu no Koi, and wow did I sure love its slow boiling story and sweet OTP.  Then to make sure I didn’t become too one-genre centric, I watched Bloody Monday. I like a good thriller. By the way, did I mention that every single one of the above mentioned dramas also boasts a pretty cast. Eye candy, people. Never underestimate good eye candy.

Business plot lines aside, you have to admit, this drama
did have some fairly nice romantic scenes.
Unfortunately, like all great things, there comes a time when the honeymoon period ends. I didn’t hit rock bottom all at once, but the next round of Jdramas became increasingly less appealing and less entertaining overall. They weren’t duds necessarily, but they were definitely approaching the dud territory, had a certain amount of charm not saved the day. 

I’m talking about Love Shuffle, Pride, Buzzer Beat, Rich Man Poor Woman (pictured right). They hit a right chord somewhere, were otherwise kind of meeh. See my individual reviews for each of these for more clarification about what I mean.

Warning: The Ranting Begins Soon.

I should give a disclaimer: I think something’s possibly wrong with my sense of humor. If I offend your precious Jdrama babies, I apologize endlessly. *extremely low bow*

I don’t even know what happened. Here I was, mindlessly going on my merry Jdrama way when I came across two (in my eyes) atrocious Jdramas. I’m appalled. They’re all so well spoken of, and highly praised, and I’m at pains to figure out why. Hence the premise of this entire article.

READ MORE for partial reviews of Atashinchi no Danshi and Nodame Cantabile, with possible explanations for why I just couldn't stand them (No Spoilers)

Atashinchi no Danshi (2009)

Chisato, played by the usually cute Horikata Maki marries an older man to save herself from debt. The catch is that once he dies she becomes the acting ‘mother’ of his 6 adopted children, all males aged 12 to 30. Can we say, full [angsty brooding] house? She is then given tasks to reforge the family unit, solve the brothers’ misunderstandings with one another and their late father, and simultaneously run a failing and outdated toy company. If she fails, the debt falls back on her – with the added grief of 6 boys still sitting around all angsty and brooding, mostly naked in their in-house sauna.

 Honestly, I like the premise. What girl wouldn’t want to go and live in huge castle (however full of ‘tricks’) with some overage hot guys, and bully them around in [motherly?] love. I take it back. That sounds ridiculous and my 3 of 10 rating stands.  

Her expressions is kind of what I looked like
for most of the time while watching this show.

Problem No. 1 - Atashinchi no Danshi is just too weird for me. It's from the same culture that adores manga and anime-like creations with its over-the-top characterizations, and I just dislike both. I’m not even fond of cartoons (the wild exception still being Looney Toons and Scooby Doo).  

Problem No. 2 which is related to No. 1 – Having no background in this type of entertainment, I am ill-used to dealing with character exaggerations, overacting, or whatever bizarre-ness these drama adaptations typically exude. It drives me nuts.

Reading over the plot description again, I can imagine all that being done in a typical melodrama-esque fashion. Can you picture it? Well don’t. It’s hectic, zany, laugh-out-loud stupid (except that I didn’t laugh – not even once), with an episodic plot and the craziest hare-brained plot twists I’ve ever seen, major or minor. Throw logic to the wind, because apparently that’s boring. Through in illogical decisions stemming from sheer character stupidity – and I don’t even know what to say about it, because that’s just how the story goes.  Not even the easy-on-the-eyes pretty boys, most notably Kaname Jun and Mukai Osamu as brothers number 1 and 3 respectively, could save the day. Oh, and if you were looking for a little romance on the side, good luck. It’s unrequited all the way. What a shame. 

Nodame Cantabile 
"On Hold" at ep. 1

After the debacle with Atashinchi (which I initially dropped, then forced myself to finish), I became curious about this newfound and complete dislike I had developed for cheesy, cartoonish plot and character types. Nodame Cantabile, someone told me, was similar in this sense. I couldn’t resist seeking it out, to determine if it was true, and if I could possibly like it any better, or if the test would still stand. Sure enough – unrealistic and overly simplified cuteness, wacky characters, and eyebrow-raising plot devices in the first episode alone, and I am already sure this is not to my taste. 

Not even sure what's going on here,
but that guy's hair is scary...
Nodame Cantabile (at least through ep. 1) is the story of prickly master piano student Chiaki Shinichi (played by Love Shuffle’s Tamaki Hiroshi) who aims for greater things, namely to become a world-famous conductor. Then he meets Nodame (Ueno Juri), free spirit pianist, master slob, and possessed with “unusual qualities”. That might be an understatement. Whatever the case, I could barely pay attention. It saddens me, but I think this is yet another classic I am not destined to finish. 

Moving Forward: 

The good news about these experiments is that I know a little bit more about my tastes, and what I am likely to enjoy in the future. Discovering yhe Jdrama world is a lot harder than wading through the sea of available Kdramas and even Taiwanese drama. For one, there is the language barrier of the systematically un-translated titles. And the consistency of its manga and anime influences will probably always bother me, even more so than cliché Kdrama plotlines. Lack of romance plot lines in every drama is often a drawback, particularly for those dramas where the hints are definitely there, but never come to a head. 

The strange part is that these failings don’t bother me in everything I've seen. Nobuta wo Produce with its frustrating romance lines, and Hana Kimi - if ever a Jdrama was perfectly representative of the crazy over-the-top and overacted story and characterizations, there is Hana Kimi. But that one I adored!! (maybe because the main characters themselves were not as overplayed?), and the same producer/screenwriter/director team of Hana Kimi worked on Atashinchi no Danshi. I don’t know how to reconcile myself with this. 

Abundance of Genres: 

A definite plus to watching Jdramas is that there really are so many different drama types to choose from, especially if you’re new at it like me. Aside from some of Japan’s earlier romantic offerings (including Kimi wa Petto), there are apparently a million detective/crime shows, which I am not a huge fan of, but don’t mind overall. I’m working now on Kimura Takuya's Mr. Brain. I don’t like the plot so much, but I enjoy seeing all the guest actors (particularly Kame). On the thriller/fantasy side, there was Orthros no Inu – a recent 10/10 favorite of mine, and I promise you: the gorgeous main leads (Nishikido Ryo and Takizawa Hideaki) were worth only half of that score. I may not be exactly enjoying another popular favorite, Maou, but hey. Not everything with Hana Kimi's Ikuta Toma could be awesome overall.

It’s the tip of the iceberg, people. I’ve got many more Jdramas to sample. All suggestions are welcome.

**Also worth a look at is blogger Jandoe's abundant Jdrama Collection for drama reviews, praise, snarkiness and more!**


  1. OMG I love this post! :)

    Not slighted about your lack of love towards Nodame but I do really think it's worth giving it another go. If you still can't... then we'll let sleeping dogs lie.

    As you pointed out, Jdramas are awesome though, in the sense that the same creative team can be behind 3 projects and they'll all be different and one may not love or hate all three.

    For anyone curious and also if this listing helps as you'd commented the other day, here's my Have-Watched list, updated regularly:

    If you like quirky, maybe Antique and Satorare are two oldie-goodies that you'd enjoy to give a go next! (but I'm not sure if you can find them on the net, they're pretty old)

    1. Oh yes. Added your Jdrama link. Because I really did enjoy perusing through it xD

  2. These dramas sure can be unique. :D
    I will look out for those 2 you mentioned. Perhaps they are hidden away somewhere.. *goes on the prowl*

  3. Unfortunately there are a lot of jdramas with this problem of overacting and craziness. Actually there are a lot of jdramas that do it right (HANA KIMI!) but others totally miss the mark.

    I watched part of Nodame but never finished it, and I never understood why Atashinchi was so popular. T_T I believe both of these are live action adaptations of mangas though (I'm not 100% sure though) so that might explain their overacting.

    1. Hello!
      Wouldn't mind recommendations of the type that does it right! Really, it can be so entertaining. While others are just.. So not. Pity.

      I researched atashinchi and apparently it doesn't even have a manga of origin. It was just flat out written like that. Kind of boggles the mind. I know nothing about Nodame, maybe because I still hold some hope that I will finish it one day.

  4. i also stopped watching nodame at episode 2! my friends like it, but i dont get it...
    can you do a review of proposal daisakusen? (it's a yamapi drama, im considering watching now...)

    1. I watched the first ep of proposal daisakusen a very long time ago but didnt have the time to watch the rest. I should go back and fix that problem soon, and then I'll be sure to review it!

  5. all i can say is watch takuya kimura's dramas!!! they're one of the best japanese dramas

  6. HELL spent 30 minutes typing only to see it all disappear on hitting publish ARRRGGGHH.
    Can't do that again, so frustrating, so summary-
    (1) finish Proposal Daikusen 7.5/10.
    (2) watch (all dramas)
    Jin 1 & 2 riveting time travel drama with a great plot and acting. High production values put you realistically in 1860's Japan. The 2 leads esp the female one are magic. 9.5/10
    Mother - (part of my review survived, paste,,,,)Next, Mother. In a nutshell - aloof, spinsterish woman in 30's falls into being a preschool teacher as she needs the money. Doesn't particularly like kids but there is one little girl who is quite unusual. The kid is unusual because of an abusive homelife as the lady finds out. The local authorities don't want to interfere and with an incident that puts the child at extreme risk the teacher decides to become the child's Mother and go on the run to save her life. Completely engaging. 9.5/10
    Kekkon Dekinai Otoko - comedy romance about a bloke in 40's who has his life in order to the nth degree but then he falls ill and he has to accept a little help. That little crack in his perfectly ordered world just keeps getting wider and keeps inconveniencing how no matter how much he tries to act like he always did. Superb acting by the two leads in a late adulthood romance, the whole cast is excellent. Laugh out loud funny in parts. And Kenchan, sooo cute LOL 9/10

    1. I hate it when I accidentally lost my long comments! It's the worst feeling, lol. Thank you for trying to start over, even if you claim it's only a summary :)

      I have been thinking about Proposal Daikusen again recently, that I need to finish it. My drama watching has been somewhat stagnant lately, but every now and then I marathon a Jdrama like it's the first time, haha. Maybe that one will be my next.

      2) I've heard good things about Jin 1 & 2. Lots of people rec them!
      Mother, same thing. I just need to get in the mood for it haha
      Kekkon Dekinai Otoko - now this one I have never even heard of before! But be sure, I'll bookmark that name and check it out sometime.

      Thanks for commenting!