Saturday, June 12, 2021

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 25 - pt. 1

With summer approaching, I'm happy to finally say that I've finished the remaining three J-dramas from 2020 that I was interested in watching, plus one that aired during the winter 2021 season! Which means it's time for a new J-drama review! I'm writing about all of these shows in the order that I finished them, and the following two were the ones I watched entirely with English subtitles.

オー!マイ・ボス!恋は別冊で (Oh! My Boss! Koi wa Bessatsu de/Oh! My Boss! Love Not Included) - TBS/2021 

  • Nami leaves her hometown in Kumamoto and follows her childhood friend/unrequited crush to Tokyo, having no dreams other than to hopefully be in a relationship with him and lead an ordinary life. 
  • To her surprise, Nami is hired as the assistant to Reiko (Nanao, 'FIRST CLASS'and 'FIRST CLASS 2'), the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine called MIYAVI. Nami is selected by the deputy editor for this role specifically because he believes a person with no fashion sense or lofty industry aspirations will fulfill her duties earnestly, and not look down on the job as mere grunt work or a brief stepping stone toward higher places.
  • Nami discovers that her friend/crush is already engaged to someone else. As she works tirelessly to meet Reiko's near-impossible demands and help make each issue of MIYAVI perfect, Nami also stumbles into a love triangle between MIYAVI's culture writer Ryota and a photographer named Junnosuke (Tamamori Yuta, 'Grand Maison Tokyo'). Junnosuke just so happens to be Reiko's younger brother.

This show is basically The Devil Wears Prada, except the characters are nicer to each other. Reiko seems cold and mean because she cares deeply about the quality of her work and doesn't entertain unnecessary conversations or people wasting her time, but she's nowhere near as cutthroat as movie villain Miranda Priestly. And unlike movie protagonist Andy (who uses her experience as Miranda's assistant to kickstart her journalism career), Nami isn't a very ambitious person at all. Nonetheless, working closely under Reiko exposes Nami to the fashion world and opens her up to the possibility of wanting more, even if she doesn't know what "more" specifically means for her yet. Tangentially, much like Stanley Tucci's character in The Devil Wears Prada, the deputy editor of MIYAVI is very clearly gay, but it feels like overkill when the actor in 'Oh! My Boss!' always holds his pinky up in every scene he's in. I'm not part of the LGBTQ community, so far be it from me to speak out of bounds, but that's the impression I got of his character. Why include such a stereotype with the pinky thing, when his styling and other mannerisms already get the point across? And speaking of the magazine! Of all the possible names to choose for a fictional fashion magazine, I'm so curious as to why the show writers chose "MIYAVI", when a very famous Japanese musician and actor named Miyavi already exists in real life. Are the show writers fans of him? Did Miyavi give some sort of approval for his name to be used in the show? I have no clue.

As for Nami and Junnosuke, their romantic relationship progresses way too quickly to be believable in my opinion, but they're so adorable together that at some point I simply stopped caring! They encourage each other to explore their respective passions, even to the point of breaking up to avoid holding each other back. (Spoiler: They don't stay broken up.) Also, I have to say that I'm really impressed with Nanao's acting in her portrayal of Reiko. As someone who started out as a model, she could very easily stick to roles that wouldn't require her to deviate too much from the model type, but she challenges herself to step up her acting instead. Not to say that she didn't have solid performances in both seasons of 'FIRST CLASS', but she's obviously progressed so far beyond that. She especially sells it during her crying scenes in 'Oh! My Boss', making viewers feel her frustration and distress in those moments. Speaking of quality acting, it was so nice to see my birthday twin Takaoka Saki ('Kenja no Ai', 'Everyone's Getting Married') appear as the nice-nasty kimono expert/fashion exec who almost hires Nami away from Reiko. And props to Kurashina Kana ('Ubai Ai, Fuyu'), who plays Junnosuke's friendly violinist ex-girlfriend.
'Oh! My Boss!' is definitely the cutest, brightest, most colorful, and most easygoing show that I watched in this J-drama roster of mine. But the final episode did leave me with a plethora of questions. The episode doesn't feel so much rushed as it feels... random? After spending the entire series antagonizing Reiko and gloating upon finally taking Reiko's job when she's ousted from MIYAVI, all of a sudden Reiko's rival (Takahashi Maryjun, 'Dying Eye') quits because some advertisers have pulled out and now she insists that only Reiko can lead MIYAVI? Junnosuke decides to pursue photography again instead of forcing himself to be his dad's business successor, only to almost immediately tell Nami he's leaving to do public relations for an NGO in Cambodia? When he'd never mentioned being interested in Cambodia or NGOs before? Then he gives Nami an engagement ring and leaves Japan, but doesn't communicate with her at all during the next three years that he's away? And she doesn't even bring it up when he finally does return? The show skips ahead three years in the last eight minutes of the episode? Maybe filming or writing complications due to COVID meant the people behind the scenes had to slap some things together in the 10th episode that might've been developed more if the show had the usual 11 or 12-episode run? So many questions.

In all, 'Oh! My Boss' champions the idea of following one's dreams, but without arguing that being average is inferior or that people settle for less when they choose to have an ordinary life. Rather, the show acknowledges that the ordinary-ness of life will always be there, and that the extraordinary—such as the dream of pursuing a career in fashion/publishing that Nami didn't have at first but discovers later on—can be found and nurtured in the most ordinary of people and places. 
恐怖新聞 (Kyoufu Shinbun/Terror Newspaper/Terror Bulletin) - Fuji TV/Tokai TV/2020
  • A Kyoto college student named Shizuru moves into her first apartment, and one of the movers has her sign up for the Kyoufu Shinbun without her realizing what paper she's signing. 
  • People cursed with the Kyoufu Shinbun regularly receive newsletters from a supernatural source, and each newsletter predicts an imminent death (depicting the victim, manner and cause of death, date and time of death, and the perpetrator if one is involved). Each time the holder of the curse receives a newsletter, they get 100 days shaved off of their own life expectancy. The only way to be rid of the curse is to die, or to pass the Kyoufu Shinbun on to someone else by having them sign one of the newsletters. 
  • After her father falls victim to one of the newsletters, Shizuru works with the help of her coworker-turned-boyfriend Yusuke and her best friend Momoka to prevent more deaths from happening. But after her relationships with both of them fall apart, Shizuru continues trying to stop the curse on her own, with eventual assistance from her mom and constant hounding from a suspicious detective.
I wasn't always sure if this show wanted to be taken seriously or not. The death scenes are extremely violent and graphic... but also kind of campy? I'm not sure if the show is comical on purpose for the sake of taking the edge off of its dark tone, but I was tempted to laugh during or after nearly every death scene. Maybe that says something more about me than the show, I don't know. 

One of my favorite parts is when Shizuru discovers Yusuke cheating on her with Momoka, and she confronts both of them immediately! No dilly-dallying! She spots them at a restaurant together, calls Yusuke while looking in the window from directly outside the restaurant, catches him in a lie when he tells her he's at home, makes her presence known, and then confronts the traitors together. And then when Shizuru tells her mom about it, her mom has her back, even going so far as to nonchalantly suggest passing the Kyoufu Shinbun on to Yusuke. Shizuru is tempted to do just that, but ultimately is too compassionate of a person to go through with it. She's apparently compassionate to a fault, because even though Shizuru does resolutely break up with Yusuke and make him wait a while before taking him back, for some reason it takes her until the second to last episode (episode 6) to stop giving Momoka the benefit of the doubt and realize that her bestie truly does hate her.

I thought each episode was going to set up an impending death, show Shizuru's attempts at preventing said death, and reveal all the tricky ways in which she's foiled by fate as the people she tries to save die anyway. And the first three episodes are like that, with all of the rules of the curse not fully revealed until episode 3 (specifically the rule that if the current holder dies, the curse returns to the previous person who had it before them). But from then on? Oh, that's when things really got cooking and I was hooked! Completely sucked in. In particular, I was absolutely not expecting the direction that episode 5 went in. Shizuru's past life is alluded to in the preceding episode, and I thought that was just a throwaway line. But episode 5 takes it literally by portraying Shizuru's former self in feudal Japan, explaining how the Kyoufu Shinbun curse got started, and revealing exactly what Shizuru did in her past life that's causing her to be tormented in the present. And I normally don't enjoy watching historical stuff, but I was captivated by what that episode set up. From one episode to the next I never knew exactly where the overall story was heading, and that made the show that much more thrilling of a ride. Sure, it's kind of a corny horror series in the way that 'Tokyo 23-ku Onna' was. But unlike 'Tokyo 23-ku Onna', 'Kyoufu Shinbun' doesn't drag. It provides twists and turns that build onto each other and pay off in the end for the most part. Even the aspects that are unintentionally comical (especially the supposedly scary but actually silly-looking demon reveal at the very end), demonstrate that there was a lot of thought put into how this show's plot would unfold.

All in all I'd say 'Kyoufu Shinbun' is a fascinating exploration of fate, reincarnation, atonement for past sins (even sins from a past lifetime that you didn't know you'd had), self-preservation, and human greed. Most characters who get the curse want to get rid of it so they can live longer, but two particular characters actually use the curse to profit off of being able to predict future events, which I didn't see coming! I was thoroughly entertained by this show, but I also felt genuinely sorry for the main heroine. Poor Suzuru, just trying to live her 20-somthing life on her own for the first time, only to wind up cursed and have her life put in danger. If there's any moral to be learned from 'Kyoufu Shinbun' at the end of the day, it's this: Be careful what you sign!

I've still got two more shows on this roster to write about, so don't miss part 2 of this J-drama review!

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