Hey, did you notice that we added Drama to the navigation bar a while back? Exciting! It also means that I should probably get my butt in gear and actually write about some of these shows in greater detail, so let’s put that one down as a new year’s resolution and come back to that at the end of 2017, when I have another list of shows I haven’t written about. That’s progress!
Joking aside, it’s been a good year for fans of J-drama. Netflix has been bringing us shows that we otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to see, and hopefully this will extend to shows that aren’t localised “Netflix Originals” in the future. The fansubbing community also seems to be more active than ever, and while there’s still a tendency for tokusatsu shows to get subbed ahead of drama, it’s definitely greatly appreciated. Twice now I’ve seen an interesting drama on TV in Japan and been able to find it fully fansubbed when I returned home.
Just like I did in 2015, I’ll be rolling through the drama I watched this year. Come have a look and see if there’s anything that you might fancy trying!
This isn’t Tanaka Naoki’s first foray into drama, but he certainly shows why he’s sticking around. He’s a campy actor, like we’ve come to expect from most J-drama regulars, but his experiences with Cocorico and Gaki no Tsukai allow him to take all of that comedic experience and perform well as our goofy-but-lovable lawyer protagonist, Hakamada Yukio. Being a show about lawsuits and compensation, Alimony Lawyer often flits between lighthearted comedy and an incredibly serious tone, so you might not find yourself a fan if you’re only enjoying the quirky moments in Hakamada’s office. It’s a fun premise, but I daresay that Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories does it better.
The Mysterious Thief Yamaneko
Admittedly myself and colons are still working our way through this one, but after seeing seven out of ten episodes this show appears to be moving from strength to strength. The Yamaneko is still a lovable jerk, and he’s even managed to hold off on preaching about bushido. This show’s biggest asset is its cast of characters as everyone brings something interesting to the table, and the show does well to rely on them to push the admittedly bizarre plot forward. On top of that the Yamaneko is played by a vocalist from a boy band, and there’s a recurring joke that he’s awful at singing. This will continue to put a smile on my face right up until the end of the show, I’m sure.
The Hero Yoshihiko and the Chosen Seven
The Hero Yoshihiko is a phenomenal show, that much is not up for debate. Unfortunately, as excited as I am for this third season, only two episodes have thus far been subtitled. The second episode in particular shows that this season is going to be another cracker, so hopefully it won’t be too long until more episodes begin to surface. One thing I did notice is that while this show has always been built on parody (Dragon Quest in particular) it’s slowly been moving towards parodying itself. That’s not really a criticism and more of an observation, given parody is where this show excels, but it’s interesting to see. Seriously though, watch episode two. And the first two seasons.
Good Morning Call
This might be a run-of-the-mill high school romance, but it was a darn fun one. The characters are adorable and you can’t help but pick sides and root for your favourites when the inevitable twists and turns start to happen. It’s a bit cheesy, sure, so if you’re something of a romance connoisseur you might not get along with this one, but for everyone else this is a good bit of fun and a great entry point into J-drama in general.
As great as this show is, I have to hold my hands up and say that I haven’t made it to the end (yet). I don’t think that the show is at fault for that, though there’s certainly more to digest per-episode here than there is in shows like Good Morning Call. I’ll likely pick it back up during the Christmas break when I’m pretending that work isn’t just around the corner, so perhaps I’ll have more to say about it in the new year. Until then, I’d highly recommend giving it a go to see what you think, as Hibana: Spark brings an interestingly western take on what is typically a traditional medium.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
This show has taken over my free time in the past few weeks, and purely by chance as I found it during one of my occasional searches on UK Netflix for foreign drama. MD:TS is a collection of stories about the patrons of a diner that only opens in the early hours, and while you can consider the owner to be the protagonist, he really only serves to gently push the stories forward. There isn’t much in the way of an overarching story, which helps given this is technically the fourth season of this show (the others don’t appear to be available on Netflix), but it also means you don’t need to know anything from previous episodes to enjoy. At 20 minutes per episode, it’s perfect for watching when you find the time for it.
The State of the Union
You’re really fighting an uphill battle when your show’s protagonist is an asshole, but I’d say this show managed it. While he, as protagonists usually do, changed very slowly over the course of the series into a better person, he still retains enough of his douchebag-iness to remain believable. Honestly I’m being too harsh as he’s not without redeeming features, and the dynamic between him, his father and his newly discovered younger brother are quite entertaining. His no-nonsense attitude can even be quite refreshing at times, but be warned, this show is an emotional roller coaster. This one gets the ‘ninjas chopping onions’ award for the year.
I do like to poke fun at this beautiful disaster, but it really isn’t that bad. Light’s actor does a pretty good job of being the maniac we’ve come to know from every other Death Note show, only this time he’s 300% more dork and also a crazy idol fan. L isn’t bad either, but at times appears to be far more sadistic than we’re used to, to the point where it almost seems like the show grabbed a cosplayer and asked them to act the part. Besides that, this is just Death Note with some minor changes, so if you want a real disaster you might want to wait for the US film.
Gaki no Tsukai
I wrote about this show a little in my 2015 drama roundup, but I feel like it deserves another mention this time around. Around June this year I got very ill, to the point where I was stuck in bed for a good couple of months. I’d eventually learn that it wasn’t serious (but still unpleasant, mind you), but the reason I bring it up is because Gaki really helped during that time. While I was trying to take my mind off of my condition, the catalogue of translated Gaki no Tsukai material really did wonders. Their famous end of the year batsu games in particular are what kept me going, as these things, often between 4 and 6 hours long, gave me plenty to watch. Best of all, they’re hilarious. Thanks Gaki!
This one is currently airing, but all signs are looking good if you’re already a fan. All of the characters look identical to their anime counterparts, with the only exception being that hair colours have been changed to be more realistic. Even with that, everyone is instantly recognisable, which is quite the achievement when this thing already has far too many mahjong girls in it. However, it does make me wonder who they’re aiming this drama at, because if they’re relying on existing fans to jump aboard, then I’m not certain they’ll care much for a reinterpretation of the first tournament. The other problem with being faithful to the anime designs is that, with the actors not actually being school kids, everyone looks a little too old for the characters they’re playing to the point where this just starts looking like a porn parody. Still, it’s a 4-episode series at 20 minutes a pop, so it’s worth a go just for the dramatic super powers.
RIP Begiragons. It’s incredibly unfortunate to see Megwin and company give up on their fun, subtitled challenges, especially with Gacha Bike 2 and the Bamboo House Challenge being so good. The new Begiragons crew appear to be giving it their best, but will never quite satiate the audience that have become hooked on the usual cast and their crazy antics. That said, it appears that Megwin and company will still create this content back on the Megwin TV channel, with a Conbini Challenge and Hamburger Game already out there. It’s just a shame that they’re not subtitled!
And the rest…
I watched a few other things and want to prevent this from turning into an essay, so here we go!
- Denpa Shounen Nasubi – If you haven’t heard of this, it’s worth looking into it. Nasubi, as the ‘winner’ of a competition, is tasked with living in an empty apartment to see if it’s possible to survive on the prizes won from mail-in and telephone competitions. Only when he’s won a million yen’s worth of prizes will he be released. The twist? This is a reality TV show. This actually happened, and you won’t be surprised to learn that Japanese laws had to be changed to prevent something like this happening again. Fortunately, Nasubi is doing alright for himself, having climbed Everest quite recently and doing charity work across Japan.
- Atelier – Another Japanese series available on Netflix, this one focuses on a company that designs and produces lingerie. It’s an interesting premise, but unfortunately it didn’t hold my interest for more than an episode and change.
- The Birth of Saké – A documentary film, also available on Netflix. It follows one of the last traditional saké breweries left in Japan, and the gruelling schedule they have to keep to in order to meet demand. An eye-opening view of how the famous drink used to be produced before it became largely automated, and a surprisingly emotional one, too.
- Kamen Rider Ex-Aid – I had high hopes for this show, although I’m pretty sure I’ve said that for the last three series’ now. As divisive as it is, I’m a big fan of Ex-Aid’s costume design, especially as the neon colours are basically the 1980s simmered down. Unfortunately the show was just awful, though I’ll be popping in for that Pac-Man crossover movie whenever that shows up.
- Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger – I fell off of this show as well, but Zyuohger was surprisingly good! I mean, not Kyoryuger good, but pretty good nonetheless. Unfortunately I think I’m falling off the sentai wagon, as I’m just finding J-drama to be more interesting at the moment.
- Gosei Sentai Dairanger – I watched a few episodes of this for two reasons: the age of the show and how awesome the opening theme is. As a sentai show it didn’t really do much for me, but it’s a fun look back at Japan in the early 90s.
And that’s a rap! Have a good 2017 folks!