Alternative titles: Hibana
Novel adaptation by Netflix
Tokunaga, one half of the comedy duo Sparks, can’t find success. He’s due to enter his second year in the industry without anything to show for it until he meets Kamiya, a fellow comedian. Kamiya is somewhat successful, and is well known for his inappropriate jokes. After a night of drowning their sorrows together, Tokunaga asks to become his apprentice. Kamiya agrees on one condition: Tokunaga must write his biography.
Euri’s verdict: Slow, Intriguing and Addicting
Asian drama has a bit of a reputation for being different in tone to what you see on TV in the west. It’s usually a little more camp, the actors like to wear their emotions on their sleeves and the pacing is brisk. Personally, it’s these differences that keep me coming back; variety is becoming harder and harder to find in popular western dramas that demand grit, dull colours and gratuitous death. I love me some Game of Thrones, but I don’t need to watch more of the same. The rare shows from Japan that do get subtitled tend to be romantic comedies, which quite frankly is exactly what I want alongside the western shows I follow, especially now that Good Morning Call has finished.
Hibana: Spark is not your typical J-drama. In fact, it shares more similarities to popular western drama, a direct influence from Netflix Japan who have produced the series. This gives it an almost film-like quality, something I’ve not seen before in Japanese drama. If nothing else, this makes me very excited about the prospects of Netflix Japan creating more shows, as we’ve already seen by way of Good Morning Call that they’re still willing to stick to the existing formula. This feels like an experiment, and I’m excited for Netflix trying something new with Asian actors.
The story follows Tokunaga, a comedian who is quite frankly sick of waiting for his big break. He and his partner perform small gigs at minor events and locations, but after a year with an agency that specialises in TV actors rather than comedians (and doesn’t seem to have their best interests at heart), they find themselves still stuck at the bottom. They both have to work part-time jobs to make ends meet, and Tokunaga finds himself afraid to visit his parents for Christmas because he has nothing to show for his time away in Tokyo, even lying over the phone about how well he’s doing. When he meets Kamiya, a loud-mouthed and somewhat successful comedian who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, Tokunaga can’t help but want to become his apprentice. Thus begins a story of finding success, and a drunken promise of writing a biography.
It takes a while to build up steam, but Hibana‘s slow pace does well for selling the believability of the story. After all, this is a relatively simple story about the struggle to find success, something that is easy to relate to yet doesn’t lend itself well to development after development, continuous revelations. This isn’t the show for you if you want to dive right into the meat of the story.
That said, my first impressions are incredibly positive. Not only is the acting way above par, but the camera work, locations and comic timing really makes me think that this will be a show to remember. Fortunately for us the entire series is available on Netflix already, so there’s no need to wait for a new episode each week. If this seems appealing, I urge you to give it a go if only to support Netflix Japan in continuing to try out shows like this. Hopefully a good reception outside of Asia might give them more freedom in their next production.