I feel like I mention it every year, but official localisations of J-drama continue to become more and more common. Both Netflix and Amazon have brought over a handful themselves, but we’re also seeing companies like ShoutFactoryTV and TOKU throwing their hats into the ring. That said, it’s fortunate that there’s still a thriving fansub community, as there are many, many shows that would never be enjoyed outside of Japan otherwise. We’re not at a point where we can rely on the big streaming companies like with most anime, and given the niche of it, we probably never will be.
Still, it is easier to see the shows you want to see with English subs on them, one way or another. This year, I think there was only one show that I found myself unable to find subs for, which is a lot better than I’m used to seeing.
Unfortunately for me, anime at large had a pretty good showing this year, so I didn’t find myself watching as many dramas as I’d have liked. But man, I did manage to watch some bangers. As I’ve done for the past three years, I’ll be rolling through the drama I watched this year. Here we go!
Something we noticed a few years back when Netflix commissioned Hibana: Spark was that the J-drama that go through these giant video streaming services tend to have more of a western style when it comes to camera angles, lighting and, in some cases, acting. Miss Sherlock, a product of Hulu Japan, is no exception. To me, the style of this show feels very similar to that of BBC dramas, though perhaps that’s a bit of a biased view considering the BBC have their own Sherlock show. At any rate, what I’m trying to say is that Miss Sherlock is a stunning show, and incredibly entertaining on top of that. Yūko Takeuchi plays a terrific Holmes, evolving from a character that is smart, a little rude and who can’t bring themselves to care for others, to someone who is smart, a little rude but that values their friendship with Watson. She also brings quite the flamboyant wardrobe with her, which is a huge plus in my book. The supporting cast are also great, the mysteries are fun and I’m very eagerly awaiting news about a second season. Definitely worth your time, even if you’ve been watching all the other Sherlock shows out there.
Jimmy: The True Story of a True Idiot
Jimmy has proven to be a tricky show to talk about. Jimmy Onishi, the man that the show is based on, is a hilarious person. He has a frankly bizarre sense of humour, which is why he’s basically weaponised each year during the Gaki no Tsukai New Year’s batsu game, as his ridiculousness never fails to get people rolling on the floor. The idea that his crazy backstory would be adapted into a drama makes a lot of sense – he’s very popular, his mentor is incredibly famous in Japan, and he’s just a lovable guy in general. And for some of it, Jimmy is a fun, if slightly embellished look at Jimmy Onishi’s life, showing how he moved from comedy to art and the trouble he ran into along the way.
The problem arises in that Jimmy’s character appears to be portrayed as having some form of autism (which, for the record, may actually be correct as there’s not a lot of info about the guy in English) and the majority of the show plays on him being taken advantage of. The drama is quick to call him an idiot, but portrays him as a kid who has learning difficulties. Without knowing more about Jimmy himself it’s hard to say just how accurate their depiction of him is, but as someone who was already a fan of his before watching, it left me pretty upset at times. I really hope for his sake that he was treated better.
Minshu no Teki/The Public Enemy
Tomoko Sato lives with her husband and young child, but they’re struggling to make ends meet. They work part-time jobs so that they can look after their kid, but the situation is made trickier when Tomoko is fired for going off-script working the telephones. When her child starts eating his dinners with his eyes closed, trying to imagine it as steak, she decides enough is enough, she’s going to get a well paying job and support her family. It turns out that politics pays well.
The Public Enemy largely follows Tomoko’s political career, as she learns what the job demands of her, how to do well by her constituents, and how to also care for her family in the meantime. It also tackles some particularly Japanese issues, such as her husband becoming stay-at-home to look after the kid, and tricky situations arising from your family name. On the surface, you’d think that a story about politics might be just as fun as the real thing (namely, not much fun at all), but The Public Enemy is incredibly endearing, and quite capable of injecting drama when it needs it. Highly recommended.
Liar Game (Season 1 and 2)
I originally watched this show close to a decade ago. I was a huge fan of the manga, and basically binge-watched this drama when I found the subs for it. But given it was so long ago, I found myself curious about whether it would hold up nowadays, or whether I enjoyed it because it was one of my first J-dramas. For the rewatch, I roped in fellow Glorio-er colons and hey, it’s still good! It’s a little more eccentric than I remember, featuring some terrific wigs, baffling colour-grading and very experimental camera angles, but damn if isn’t incredibly charming.
Liar Game is about a faceless group forcing people to participate in games with a lot of money at stake, with winners getting the option to proceed to later rounds, and losers stuck with extreme amounts of debt. The games never rely on pure chance either, so each episode is a showcase of fun mind games, gotcha moments and Ace Attorney-calibur meltdowns. Plus if you get into this, you can watch the One Outs anime which is a similar, albeit baseball-themed, story by the same author.
Kamen Rider Build
I miss Build. Don’t get me wrong, Build is not a good Kamen Rider show, but if Zi-O has done anything for me this year, it’s made me miss the characters in this show specifically. Sentou and Banjou had, if nothing else, an endearing chemistry and plenty of character development that made sense. In fact, with the exception of Gentoku’s personality shift, everyone was pretty fun. The show was let down by asking more questions than it was willing to answer, power-up overload and some completely nonsensical final episodes, but even though it was messy I did look forward to watching it each week.
What if we kinda-sorta retold the early story of Bleach, but the actors are ex-Kamen Riders? Well, that’s we got, and it doesn’t suck! Sota Fukushi (Kamen Rider Fourze) as Ichigo is a superb choice, and his co-star from back in the day Ryo Yoshizawa (Kamen Rider Meteor) as Ishida is pretty good too. Rock musician Miyavi playing Byakuya is a wild choice, but also kind of perfect.
As for the film itself, we don’t actually set foot in Soul Society. It’s a mostly-faithful adaptation of Bleach up to when Rukia would be taken prisoner, but with a quicker resolution written for the movie slapped on. It does make me wonder what a sequel would look like because of that, and I have to assume a sequel is on the cards. It also looks pretty nice, which is more than I was expecting after watching Netflix’s Death Note movie, and features a bangin’ tune from Alexandros about drinking milk.
Documental (Season 1 and 2)
Matsumoto, of Gaki no Tsukai and Downtown fame, now has his own Amazon TV show. By which I mean that the first two seasons are officially subbed, even though Japan has, like, five seasons and they’ve been around a while. At any rate, this isn’t a J-drama so I’m breaking my own rules, but it is very funny and worth your time.
The premise is simple – ten comedians enter a room with a 6-hour time limit, and they get a strike every time they laugh. If they get two strikes they’re out, and the winner takes home 11 million yen (though honestly I call shenanigans on that part in particular). The comedians that show up aren’t small names either, as Matsumoto is such a comedic juggernaut that his association with this show can pull in almost anyone he’d like. Plus Jimmy is here, and Jimmy is great.
Each episode consists of the remaining comedians using anything and everything at their disposal to make the others laugh, while Matsumoto, from the comfort of a security room with a bunch of live-feeds in it, cackles at everything that’s happening. It’s really good.
99.9: Criminal Lawyer (Season 2)
I talked about the first season last year, and I’m pleased to say the second season is just as good. There are a few changes this time around, with Nana Eikura’s character, the diehard wrestling fan in our main trio, being explained out of the season as “working abroad”. She’s replaced by Maiko Ozaki, an ex-judge who is re-evaluating her views of the Japanese legal process, and is played by Fumino Kimura who you may recognise from The Many Faces of Ito. Don’t worry though, a new paralegal character played by Azusa Babazono (Princess Jellyfish) joins the office crew to keep up the swathe of wrestling references.
Fumino Kimura, along with returnees Teruyuki Kagawa and Arashi’s Jun Matsumoto, have a terrific on-screen chemistry, perhaps even more so than their stellar performance in season one. We get some follow-up to plot threads from last season, as well as a good overarching villain and a good portion of character development for everyone in the main cast. Honestly, I have very few complaints – it’s a terrific season.
On top of that, celebrity cameos are also ratcheted up a level, with wrestlers, comedians and manga artists (including the creator of many fine space operas, Leiji Matsumoto) showing up throughout the series. If you want a bit of Ace Attorney in your J-drama, this is a great series to start with.
Hey, I talked about drama on UK radio!
Last month, myself and colons took over the UK’s most popular FM anime radio show. As part of that we had an hour-long slot to play whatever we fancied, so we played some of the music from J-dramas we liked, and talked a little about them. It was good fun, so if you’re curious about what shows we talked about you can listen to the episode below (it starts 04:50 in).
And the rest…
I watched a few other things and want to prevent this from turning into an essay, so here we go!
- Kamen Rider Zi-O – The highlight of this show so far was the two-parter that featured Kamen Rider Ghost and Kamen Rider Decade, and it didn’t come without a boatload of plot holes. I think that says all that needs to be said.
- Ultraman R/B – For all the details on this show, check out our series of articles! We’re currently waiting patiently for the later episodes to be subbed, so we’ll hopefully finish it up in the new year. We also have another toku show ready to go for when we’ve finished, so look forward to coverage of that in one form or another.
- My Brother’s Husband – After a great episode one, it’s a shame that this show has seemingly been abandoned. Hopefully someone will sub the other two episodes in the near future. Also Ryuta Sato is in this and he’s great.
- Neko Atsume no Ie – A live-action film based on that mobile game that was popular a few years ago, where you don’t really see many cats but it’s cool when you do! It’s actually a very sweet movie, focusing on a writer who is in a slump, who then surrounds themselves with cats because cats are great. There’s not even a shoehorned romance! Perfect film, honestly.
- Rentaneko – Because cats are still good, here’s all about a lady who rents cats to people who can’t afford one normally. We get to see a number of people that she helps in this way, as she has a very thorough interview process to make sure the cats are getting a good, temporary home. I still find myself yelling “Rentaaaaaaaaneko. Neko neko.” months after watching it, so there’s that.
- Gintama – It’s been many years since I tried to push through the millions of Gintama episodes and failed – though admittedly I did enjoy what I saw. At the time, I was writing for another website and I was busy with other things like Hunter x Hunter coverage. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I’m vaguely familiar with the early arcs, and the Gintama live-action movie was surprisingly competent and fun. I look forward to seeing the sequel next year.
- Memories of Matsuko – The first of three films I watched that Tetsuya Nakashima was involved in. Memories of Matsuko is a sad story about the life of Matsuko Kawajiri, who we learn at the start of the film has recently passed away. Her nephew Sho receives some of her belongings and begins to piece together what kind of a person she was, as she was estranged from the family. It’s funny at times, but mostly it’s upsetting, dark and very emotional. A good film, though, and worth a watch.
- Lala Pipo – Nakashima wrote the screenplay for this one – a story about six people involved in the porn industry. I kinda love this disjointed type of storytelling, and as silly as some of the stories are, it all comes together in a weird way in the end. Also it has Hiroki Namiya, who we learned is very good back when we watched The Mysterious Thief Yamaneko.
- Kamikaze Girls – The final Nakashima film I watched, and this time he’s in the director’s chair. How this hasn’t got an anime adaptation at this point is beyond me, but it feels like a story Gainax would have told 15-20 years ago. That’s a compliment by the way – it’s a lot of fun. It’s about an unlikely friendship between Momoko, a girl heavily into lolita fashion who doesn’t have any friends, and Ichigo, the leader of an all-girl biker gang. Also featuring the most impressive pompadour I’ve ever seen.
- The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness – Not a drama, but rather a documentary on Studio Ghibli, shot back when they were working on The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya. It’s very charming, as well as informative, so definitely seek it out if you’re up for a good time.
- Gaki no Tsukai – Unfortunately, you may have heard about the most recent batsu game despite not following the show. Not cool. That aside, the show was another fun romp in general, with this year’s theme being American cops. My personal highlight would probably be the ‘choose your own adventure’ live-action drama they played, featuring a bizarre murder mystery at an onsen.
And that’s a rap! Have a good 2019 folks!