piranha: stylized white figure lifting a red barbell with weights (Default)
[personal profile] piranha
this is an insanely popular franchise; there is a 37 volume manga (licensed by viz), an anime (subbed for the north american market), a taiwanese tv drama, a korean tv drama, a japanese film, and who knows what else. people go into ecstatic raptures over it. the manga won the 1996 shougakukan manga award, and is the best-selling shoujo manga in japan. so it made it onto my list of jdramas to watch (but i was prepared for disappointment; ecstatic general raptures seem to usually predict serious disappointment for me, and even award winners do not always come through). i have not read the manga, nor seen the anime or watched the chinese version.

the storyline is fairly cliched (though the manga started in 1992; maybe it was fresh then): makino tsukushi (inoue mao), a girl from a poor working-class family, attends an elite high school, where the other pupils all come from high-society families. at the very top are the "F4", a group of 4 boys from powerful families. naturally, they're all good-looking, and the entire school is ga-ga over them. unfortunately they also rule with an iron fist, and get away with bullying anyone who doesn't fit in. makino hates the lot, but is determined to keep her head down and just work towards graduation. but one day the only girl who befriended her accidentally runs into doumyouji tsukasa (matsumoto jun) (the leader of the F4) and spills food on him. despite apologizing profusely, that results in a "red notice" -- the F4's public call to seriously harass her. we're not just talking nasty words here, but physical abuse as well.

that's when makino's resolve to be quiet and unobtrusive cracks, and she tells doumyouji just what she thinks of him, and then punches him hard enough so he goes down.

the next day there is a red notice in her locker, and the entire school starts to make her life miserable. there seems to be only one person who's not joining in: hanazawa rui (oguri shun), another member of the F4, who likes makino's spunk and starts to stick up for her.

ok, so it's cliched, but at first glance the female lead seemed to be a strong person who wasn't shy in conveying her disdain for bullying, and i always like some butt-kicking by a strong female lead.

alas the drama is unmitigated crap.

i should really be inured to attempted rape followed by the rapee falling in love with their rapist from all the BL i've read, but i just find it unacceptable in shoujo -- it's too close to reality. doumyouji orders makino raped when she does not back down after the initial showdown, and she is only saved by hanazawa stepping in. so far so good, i thought; here's the love interest, and we'll spend the rest of the time watching them get together.

uh-hn. the story decides to break cliches by not making the first guy who sticks up for our heroine the destined love interest. makino does develop a crush on hanazawa at first, but instead of seeing that develop we spend the rest of the time watching her and doumyouji get together, because apparently he likes girls who can beat him up; they remind him of his sister. yeah, right. i am completely unwilling to buy it. they try hard to make me feel sorry for doumyouji, because despite being rich and spoiled, he's had a bad childhood without a father and with a cold, cruel mother for whom he is a mere pawn. ok, i feel sorry for him. i even buy that makino feels sorry for him as she finds out more things about him. i'd buy her befriending him, and changing him through the magic power of her bickering. but i am not willing to buy the romance. and makino doesn't know of the mother until later; makino feels sorry for him because he is sad that his best friend is leaving -- uh, even bad people have friends, you know. the deciding factor is apparently that after he's ordered her on a date and she stands him up, he waits for her for hours in the rain -- bad people can have perseverance, so what? at first i was hoping they were just setting up the stereotypical love triangle, but hanazawa is removed fairly quickly from the scene completely; at least at first. that's how the story lost me.

and there is really nothing here worth reconsidering. the story rolls out one of my least favourite standards: using misunderstandings and lack of communication as a major plot device. NOBODY, but NOBODY whom we are supposed to care about ever communicates anything but anger directly; the only person who actually uses indirect communication fairly well is hanazawa; the rest are just plain failures. i know that japanese culture values indirectness, and i am to some degree used to it by now, but here it is dragged into absurdity, because at every turn, when it would just take one sentence, or a mere smile to clear things up, people will avoid it. over and over and over. even after it clearly causes major problems. and what pissed me off the most is that makino, who seemed like such a strong person who actually would speak up, becomes the person who is worst at telling anyone how she actually feels -- while at the same time she is pretty direct when she criticizes tsukasa or makes fun of his frequent errors with kanji. i can swallow indecisiveness and shyness about love in a teenager; heck yes, i expect it, but not such complete prevarication.

secondly, there is no growth. umm. maybe a little -- again it's hanazawa. but tsukasa doesn't grow, he merely suddenly converts from a sadistic, powerhungry guy into a lovestruck guy who beats up fewer people now because makino doesn't like it. but when things go wrong, he always reverts to beating the crap out of random people. and what pisses me off most is that makino actually becomes weaker and weaker, needs to be rescued all the time, and becomes less and less direct. and to top it off, she takes on the "yasashii" (gentle, kind, forgiving) mantle when she casually forgives the person who threatened to cut her face up, and had doumyouji beaten so hard he had to be hospitalised for a week. i am sorry, but no; i refuse to accept this.

thirdly, makino is a mary sue -- everybody decent likes her immediately, and starts to go to bat for her to unbelievable degrees, and even most of her enemies come around to liking her fairly quickly. the most ridiculous thing demonstrating this is the "teen japan" competition towards the end, where the people who heckled her, the ones who cut up her dress, and doumyouji's fiancee all admire her for her determination. *yawn*.

i'm not gonna talk about the other characters because they're mostly forgettable -- makino's family are caricatures; doumyouji's sister and hanazawa's love interest are beautiful, elegant, and love makino at first sight, but they're blank slates, as is her best friend yuuki. the other two F4 characters don't get much screen time so there's not much to see. doumyouji's mother is unidimensional. there is one mildly amusing character; okami-san, the owner of the sweets shop where makino works part-time -- she makes the exaggerated humor work for her when she tells (ridiculous) stories of the many men who loved her.

as to the acting, it's very uneven, though part of that is my dislike of slapstick. that is strewn all through the show; characters will switch instantly from serious dramatic expression to total overacting for the comedic moments. maybe i should admire the technical competence, but instead it just makes me feel the acting sucks. which isn't actually true; especially inoue does a good job in the serious moments as well as when she's spunky makino. except that too is marred by the script: the perennial surprised "eh???" at any question; what, did she REALLY not understand what she was just asked? she doesn't seem to have a hearing problem. i am not so sure about matsumoto jun, whom i liked as sawada shin in gokusen. he has much more range here because the character of doumyouji is actually pretty complex, but i can't tell how good he is at it because the frequent slapstick destroys every good impression pretty much right away. oguri doesn't have the same range with hanazawa, who is most of the time composed and doesn't break his cool easily, but he does well with what he's got, especially with his voice (if he were a seiyuu, i'd probably add him to my list of seiyuu who decide whether i'll watch an anime or listen to a drama cd). ETA: ha. he actually is a seiyuu, but only for a very few things; nothing i have seen.

i like the music; it fits well with the emotions of the story. opening song is "WISH" by arashi (matsumoto jun's group); pleasant jungle. ending song is "planetarium" by ohtsuka ai; i like it too and let it play out every time.

the production values are unusually high; too bad they're wasted on such a uninspired show.

there is a second season, and a movie. i am debating whether to start the manga to see whether it's any better, but 37 volumes is a lot, and i didn't like the art when i looked at it. normally i wouldn't even bother, but if something is this popular i keep thinking maybe i missed something.

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piranha: stylized white figure lifting a red barbell with weights (Default)
renaissance poisson

March 2014

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