I think I’m reaching that point where the number of noteworthy j-drama I’m watching is beginning to significantly outweigh notworthy anime. I hadn’t really thought about it until it came to listing my anime of the year, where I quickly realised that I had a bigger pool of j-drama to pick from.
Part of that is because there just aren’t as many fansubbers for j-drama compared to anime, which means the good shows are getting prioritised. However, I think it’s mostly because I still don’t feel confident enough to dive into dramas blindly, and will instead seek out recommendations so that I don’t waste time on a show that isn’t to my tastes. Perhaps 2018 is the year where I start watching more episode ones, but we’ll see.
There may be a smaller fansubbing scene compared to anime, but we’ve also been pretty fortunate to see numerous great dramas released through official means. It would be good to see services other than Netflix throw their hat into the ring (and we’ve seen this a little with Amazon this year), but still, we’re in a good place.
Blue Blazes/Aoi Honoo
We start with an absolute banger. Blue Blazes follows the student lives of many notable people still in the anime industry today, including the guy behind Evangelion, Hideaki Anno. You’ll be able to tell that this show is based on a manga due to the fascinating attention to detail that goes into emulating the style of an 80s-era shounen manga. The characters are ridiculous and hyperbolic interpretations of their real-world counterparts, emphasised by a slew of manga panel-style effects and background music lifted from 80s anime. If you haven’t seen a j-drama before and are loosely familiar with Evangelion, this is a pretty good gateway show.
Silver and Gold/Gin to Kin
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Netflix was the only video service in the west pumping out localised j-dramas, especially as Crunchyroll appears to have given up on it, but here comes a show from Amazon of all places. There’s not a lot of talk about it either, which makes me wonder if it’s completely slipped under the radar. That would be a shame for most shows, but Silver and Gold is another drama adaptation of a Fukumoto Nobuyuki manga, who you may know for Kaiji, Akagi and a few other things. As you might expect if you’re familiar with any of his works, this focuses a lot on money, gambling and criminal dealings, so jump on in if that sounds like your jam.
Good Morning Call Season 2
Hey, it’s the sequel to last year’s cheesy-but-fun, maddening-but-adorable romance. If you’ve seen a fictional Japanese romance before, be it drama or anime, you know what you’re in for already: misunderstandings, pouting, love triangles and that awkward thing about j-dramas where the couples don’t kiss because that would be weird and instead just hug a lot. Kidding aside, this is still a very fun show, but it’s not going to do anything for you if you didn’t enjoy the first season. Both are up on Netflix if you want to see some huggin’, though.
10 Dark Women/Kuroi 10-nin no Onna
This is a show that both myself and colons started watching after finally being done with that bad Death Note drama. I knew that it was a dark comedy before going in, but I don’t think there’s anything that can quite prepare you for what this show actually is. This is a show about 10 women coming together to murder the man they’ve all been dating simultaneously, but the act of murder and the planning behind it are so far-fetched that, even though they’re serious about it, it’s hard not to laugh about it. Even with that, what really makes this show stand out is the art-student style camera cuts, sweeps and spins. The camera can even get erratic to the point where it’s hard to keep track of, but there’s something about it that’s just so bonkers that you can’t really hate it. 10 Dark Women also does a pretty good job of characterising the titular women, and you quickly learn why each of them is motivated to murder the guy. Interestingly, this show is also a modern adaptation of a movie from 1961, something I’d love to watch in the future. The fact that it has a relation to this crazy TV series is something I can’t even begin to fathom.
We started watching this show right after 10 Dark Women (you can fit a lot of j-drama sessions into a year, who knew!), hoping to find a show that had some Phoenix Wright vibes to it. A show like that exists (read the next entry) but Hello Harinezumi isn’t far off either. We’re not done with it yet, but so far we have a low-key, struggling law office, quirky characters and even a touch of the supernatural. The characters are notably what set this apart from the goofiness of Phoenix Wright as they are far more dark and gritty, but they’re not without their charms either. The cases themselves have ranged from heart-wrenchers to the bizarre, and I’m looking forward to finishing this one up early next year.
99.9: Criminal Lawyer
This was the real Phoenix Wright law drama. I started watching this one on a whim because it had Teruyuki Kagawa in it, an actor I’d seen in other shows like Hanzawa Naoki and the Kaiji movies. He plays brilliant villains in those shows, but I found myself intrigued at the prospect of seeing him play the hero for a change. Arashi member and schoolgirl crush Jun Matsumoto plays the protagonist – an eccentric investigator that gets roped into criminal law. Nana Eikura is the third member of the main trio, a wrestling enthusiast that takes no shit from the other two. What really makes this show work is the dynamic between these three characters, with Jun Matsumoto running after leads like an excitable dog while the other two try and reign him back in. Highly recommended, and with a second season coming out next month, there’s no better time to get up to date.
Earlier this year, I became curious about what dramas were best received by the Japanese public. One name that kept coming up was Hanzawa Naoki, and for good reason. Not only did it have the highest viewership for a drama episode in the Heisei era within the Kanto region, but fans continue to clamour to the hope of a sequel even now, four years after it aired. It’s easy to see why this show is so beloved – Naoki is a character that is easy to identify with, and his determination for crushing the corruption out of his company is enviable. Throw in Naoki’s sad past and you’ve got the perfect protagonist to get behind. The show is a terrific battle of wits and has quickly become one of my favourite j-dramas, but now I have to wait for that rumoured season two along with everyone else.
Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman
Netflix put out so many localisations of j-drama this year that Kantaro managed to completely sneak up on me, and what a surprise this show was. The term ‘food porn’ is pretty commonly used these days when it comes to shows that focus on the meticulous details of food, and I think it’s safe to say that this show fits that description… to a point. Kantaro’s narration of food fits that bill, but once he’s eaten enough sweets, he enters another world entirely. What happens there is truly bizarre and absolutely the reason why you should watch this show. An interesting point of note is that the locations Kantaro visits are real places, so if you have a sweet tooth and are planning a future trip to Japan, this could be the show for you.
Plus the shows we talked about earlier this year!
- Check out our Final Thoughts of Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.
- Check out our Final Thoughts of Death Note (The bad 2015 drama).
- Check out our First Look at Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light.
- Check out our Final Thoughts of Virtual Detective Tabito Higurashi.
- Check out our First Look at Million Yen Women.
- Martin has been doing our Kamen Rider Build coverage, so here’s me on record saying it’s pretty okay!
And the rest…
I watched a few other things and want to prevent this from turning into an essay, so here we go!
- Shin Godzilla – This is a terrific film. I’ve seen it several times this year already, and Santa gave me the blu-ray to continue feeding my addiction. Hideaki Anno is very noticeably behind this production as there are some very Evangelion-esque moments, but it’s ultimately a gripping, realistic approach to what might happen if Japan was faced by the threat of a big nuclear dinosaur. It’s exactly what I wanted from a modern Japanese Godzilla film, and all I could possibly ask for now is for a future film to have Gen Urobuchi involved. Oh wait.
- Gaki no Tsukai – This one is likely to come back each year due to their phenomenal 24-hour batsu games. It was great to watch a new instalment while not being ill for a change, and it was one heck of a 6-hour marathon once the subs were completed some time around June. If you haven’t given the batsu games a go before, check out some clips from this one on YouTube and see if it’s your cup of tea.
- GameCenter CX – Unfortunately I didn’t watch as much GameCenter CX this year as I might have liked, but after being bedridden with flu a week or so ago, I finally got a chance to see more of Arino’s antics. Nothing particularly new, mind you, but watching Arino’s attempts at beating Ghosts ‘n Goblins is always good fun.
- The Many Faces of Ito – An interesting show about a screenwriter who hasn’t been able to top a past success, and how she writes her next drama based on the romantic experiences of five women she’s been giving advice to. I’m only a couple of episodes in, but it seems like it’ll be a good one.
- Akagi S2 – This has been out for a while but no one has subbed it yet and I’m very sad about that. Hopefully it gets some love soon!
And that’s a rap! Have a good 2018 folks!