So when I’m not traveling to random places I’ve never been before, you might have noticed that I write a lot about Japan and jdramas here. Reviews, complaints, venn diagrams, relationship graphs, the whole deal.
But what if you’ve never seen a jdrama before? What is all this jdrama nonsense, and where do you even begin? Well, my friends, you’re in luck. The Ganbatte Times has given me a column all about jdrama! I’m starting with the very basics: the “what,” “why,” and “how” of jdrama, and then I’ll work my way into reviews of shows and recommendations on what you should and could be watching, for any and all levels of Japanese knowledge.
I started out in April with an Intro to Jdrama, which covered:
• What jdrama is and who watches it
• How jdramas are different from western TV shows
• Why jdrama addiction is for everyone
My second article came out this week, and it covered How to Watch Jdrama which covered all the technical details of how to get your hands on jdramas, even if:
• You don’t live in Japan
• You don’t know Japanese
• You don’t like computers
Or, of course, if you DO any of those things.
The Ganbatte Times is a Kyoto-based webzine aimed at (and mostly by) the JET community, so there’s lots of other cool articles about non-jdrama stuff too, if jdrama isn’t your cup of tea. The reviews here aren’t going anywhere, and I’ll always mention here when I have a new article or review up. I might not be quite ready to quit my day job, but I’m totally thrilled about getting this writing gig, so a big thank you to Laurel and all the people at the Ganbatte Times!
About six episodes into Massugu na Otoko, it occurred to me that the best episodes were behind me, and I was only continuing to watch for Fukuda Kyoko’s fashion sense. Oh boy.
Massugu na Otoko (“Straight Man” or “Honest Man” in english), an extremely recent drama (aired Jan-March 2010 in Japan) stars Sato Ryuta as Matsushima, an incredibly honest, upstanding dude who is confronted by the existence of Narumi (Fukuda Kyoko), a cheating, mischievous girl who effectively tricks Matsushima into giving her money, free food (mostly parfaits) and, eventually, falling in love with her. Whoops!
Fukuda Kyoko has left a bad taste in my mouth since Strawberry on the Shortcake so she made the perfect pretty bad-girl. She is bitchy, she’s self-centered, she can’t hold a steady job, she had a rocky childhood, but even though she’s borderline homeless at times, she still manages to have perfect hair and makeup and a killer wardrobe. Hmmm…
Fukuda Kyoko (left) doesn’t need a roof over her head at night to maintain flawless makeup.
Sato Ryuta on the other hand, normally a pretty funny guy, had way too straight of a character for this show to be any fun. He’s great because he’s bizarre, not because he can lecture people about ideals of honesty during coffee break at work better than any other actor. His main skill in this role was being able to pull off naiveté like nobody’s business, which is pretty important, as only really naive people ACCIDENTALLY FALL IN LOVE WITH CRIMINAL WOMEN.
And then decide to raise someone else’s child for said criminal woman.
LOOK HOW HONEST HE IS: REALLY HONEST
But I guess on the inside, Massugu na Otoko is just another Upstanding Guy Meets Unconventional Girl and Falls In Love genre of drama. Let us recall: Nodame Cantabile (Nodame is freaking bizarre, and can’t keep her room clean), and Hotaru no Hikari (Hotaru definitely does not have her act together whatsoever, also does not have a clean room). In both of these other dramas, as well as in Massugu na Otoko, the girl just kinda shows up and throws herself into Upstanding Male Costar’s life, wreaking havoc on the perfect world he has constructed around himself.
The side characters were as slimy and perfect as the main two: Kanjiya Hihori played the good girl-next-door, who Sato Ryuta was SUPPOSED to be in love with. She’s just the girl next door and boy is she boring.
The girl next door could use some help with her wardrobe
And finally, we have Watabe Atsuro, the creepy ex of Narumi, who kinda just hung out with her at the bar, constantly. I guess they slept together sometimes? It wasn’t clear what his role was, because although he was unreliable theoretically, he did seem to ALWAYS SHOW UP AT THE BAR whenever she wanted. I guess she just wasn’t that into him.
Watabe is just as smiley and weird in this show as in ROOM OF KING
There was also a female bartender who seemed to exist for the sole purpose of (other than serving the occasional drink), making sexy eyes at Watabe Atsuro for no reason.
This also brings us to an important point about jdramas that will need to be eplored later: WHY DOES EVERY SHOW HAVE A FREAKING BAR IN IT!? I know they’re convenient sets to have, but it’s getting a little odd how almost every drama has a minor character who happens to own a bar that is doing so poorly that only the 3 main characters in the show ever visit said bar, and yet the bar never goes out of business and is never closed. Either something fishy is going on, or all of my friends in Japan also must own bars and I’d better get into the bar-owning business right away because it seems to run on magic and dreams and fairy dust.
Empty bars are an essential part of Japanese social life.
Sadly, as expected, Sato Ryuta manages to turn Fukuda Kyoko into a nicer, more upstanding young lady. I’m not sure whether they live happily ever after, but I do know that when Fukuda Kyoko’s character turns good, I worry that her fashion sense may suffer.
Also, she has a giant Rilakkuma pillow that I am insanely jealous of. If you are a fan of mokudekiru, please buy me this pillow immediately!!
AND a kotatsu? Fukuda Kyoko is LIVING MY DREAM here.
Are you a guy who’s never seen many (or any!) jdramas? This article is for YOU.
I’ve been into jdramas (Japanese dramas) for 3+ years now and I love any opportunity I get to spread the jdrama joy. As I’m a Computer Science major, about 90% of the people I meet and interact with on a daily basis are guys. Over the past couple of years, I’ve had quite a few requests for jdrama recommendations… all from guys. Since a lot of jdramas are romantic and more girl-oriented, I wasn’t sure at first which to recommend. Here’s the list I tend to recommend to guys (and they’ve reported back that they liked). All five are superb shows by the way, and everyone (not just guys) should watch them.
Oh, and one note before we start: A lot of the clips have non-english subs. Apologies to those of you who don’t speak either Japanese or the language the clip is subbed in. All of these jdramas should be readily available with subs, though… so don’t let that stop you.
Here we go!
1. Kekkon Dekinai Otoko The pitch: Neurotic architect resists pressure to get married… or eat anything except for steak.
More info: Kuwano is nearing 40. He lives alone in an insanely neat and clean apartment. He cooks himself steak for dinner every night, and has a glass of milk. He is an architect obsessed with creating wonderful kitchens. He hates people, has no intention of getting married. However… he’s a little anal, some health issues take him to the doctor, involving his next-door-neighbor, who won’t leave him alone. Hilarity ensues. I promise.
Why it’s fun: Ken-chan, Kuwano’s neighbor’s dog, is probably the best actor you’ll ever see.
Kuwano’s neighbor and doctor spy on him doing something unbelievable…
Kuwano and his architecture assistant obsessively read the blog of their architect-competitor
Ken-chan (the dog), about to be in BIG TROUBLE
Sample: Kuwano is uhh… a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to making okonomiyaki.
2. My Boss My Hero The pitch: Yakuza boss goes back to high school.
More Info: Makio (Nagase Tomoya) is in line to become a yakuza boss. Unfortunately, he’s not the brightest crayon in the box, so his father (a current yakuza boss) insists that he go back and graduate high school. Makio becomes a high schooler by day, and a yakuza member at night (when not doing his homework, kanji practice and arithmetic).
Why it’s fun: You get to hear Makio’s aggressive, yakuza-speech style thoughts that go through his head while sitting through class… and become completely worthless around his cute, adorable crush played by Aragaki Yui <3
Makio is sure one intimidating gangster. He has this facial expression for 90% of the show.
Night job = YAKUZA aka intimidating people.
But Aragaki Yui is still TERRIFYING
Sample clip: Let’s just say getting the pudding at lunchtime is VERY IMPORTANT to everyone… including Makio.
3. Stand Up!! The pitch: 4 dudes find out they’re the last virgins in high school… and go on a mission to change that fact. Maybe.
More Info: The story is set in a low-ish class Tokyo neighborhood. One of the 4 boys’ families runs a love hotel. One boy has a hopeless crush on their extremely attractive english teacher. A girl, Chie, comes back to town for the summer and awkwardness ensues. (Also, these 4 main characters are all major stars now, FYI).
Why it’s fun: Do you know how to insult a dude by calling him a virgin in Japanese? Well, you will.
Sample: Uhh… kissing practice?
4. Kisarazu Cat’s Eye The pitch: Baseball player finds out he’s dying of cancer, his team decides to become burglars!
Summary: This show surpasses description. It moves at 1000 miles a minute and you will probably be left in the dust. In a good way. Also, there are TWO movies.
Why it’s fun: Probably just Sato Ryuta’s hair. Oh right, and EVERYTHING ELSE. This show is hilarious.
Sample: The baseball team visits Tokyo!
5. Nodame Cantabile The pitch: Messy spaz / brilliant pianist Nodame goes to music school, studies under uptight aspiring conductor. Hilarity ensues.
More Info: This one is a pretty famous drama based off the manga of the same title (there’s an anime too which is totally not worth watching, IMO). Technically, Nodame is a love story, but the music (primarily orchestral) is the major thrust of the drama. It’s cute, a little cartoonish due to its origin in manga, and very good. Great music selections too. If you’ve ever played a musical instrument, this drama is a must-see (and even if you haven’t played one, really…)
Why it’s fun: Nodame is insane. GYABO!
Sample: Chiaki shows Nodame how this whole cooking thang is DONE!
Thanks for stopping by! Hope this list helped direct you towards a jdrama you’ll get completely hooked on. To all the guys who watch jdramas out there, let me know if you have a favorite that should have been on this list!