Thanks to certain, uh, worldwide events this year, I’ve not actually been to my place of work since mid-March. I was already lucky enough to work remotely 60% of the time, but with my twice-a-week three hour round trip commute no longer in the picture, I in theory had a lot more time on my hands to really get through my backlogs. Believe me, whether it’s anime, drama or video games, my backlogs do a terrific job of making me feel like I have no time for anything.
So I must say I found myself dumbfounded when December finally rolled around, and I realised just how little drama I’d actually watched this year. Alas, I don’t think I can get away with a drama-focussed end of year post featuring season three of Akagi and two Kamen Rider shows, but it did function as a pretty big kick up the ass to finally whittle away the drama backlog a bit. It’s not like these shows weren’t ready to go either – they’ve been staring me in the face on my Plex server for months.
On a side note, it’s been a weird year for official drama releases. It’s not that there haven’t been any, but there’s a quite noticeable difference in just how many we got this year versus last year. Obviously the pandemic hasn’t helped things, but on the flip side with so many people working from home, there was a surge in fansubs. If there’s something that aired this year and it didn’t get an official release, there’s a decent chance that there’s a fansub for it. Definitely support these subbers where you can, they’re doing a heck of a job.
Anyway! As I’ve done many times before, I’ll be rolling through the drama I watched this year. Here we go!
Hanzawa Naoki Season 2
Of all the J-drama that I’ve watched over the years, the second season of Hanzawa Naoki was, by quite some metric, the thing I was most looking forward to in 2020. The first season is one of my all-time favourite J-drama, with its mind games, trickery and massive focus on payback being incredibly entertaining to watch. It’s also the most watched TV drama in Japan, so it’s safe to say that the sequel to this 2013 drama was hotly anticipated.
The continued adventures of Hanzawa Naoki, the banker trying to do the best for his company despite constant backstabbery and internal politics putting him down, was so damn good. I think I might place the first season above this one if I had to choose, but only because the arcs it covers are a tad more personal in that one. The second season is terrific though, and I sincerely hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for a third season.
Akagi Season 3
I must admit, I spent much of the first episode wondering if I’d already watched this. The first season of the Akagi drama kicked off the Washizu arc, which features a rich old man with too much money playing mahjong with unsuspecting gamblers with the goal of draining them of their money and their blood. Despite the second season focusing on a separate arc, season three returns to Washizu to finish it up in a set of three special episodes. A little confusing, especially when it has been years since that first season aired.
Still, the Washizu arc has a great story, and this finally gives some closure on Akagi’s greatest rival. Definitely queue this up if you’ve got a passing interest in mahjong.
Sengoku Basara: Moonlight Party
I didn’t even know there was a Sengoku Basara drama until early this year when fansubs appeared for it, and it apparently aired way back in 2012. If you’ve watched any of the anime or played the games, you’ll pretty much know what you’re in for here as the characters and costumes are identical to those versions. However, I have to say one thing: do not start your first episode with an extended, stylised flashback sequence. This went on for over half of the episode, and these shots of characters on completely black or white backgrounds made me think I was watching a repurposed audiobook or radio drama. Seeing characters that have been captured via green screen bobbing up and down to give the illusion they’re riding on horseback does not look good and does not set a good first impression to what is still a pretty mediocre show.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken
This drama came out suspiciously quickly after the anime, in a way I haven’t seen since Erased and its two separate live-action adaptations. The three main girls being played by members of Nogizaka46 didn’t do much to stave off fears that this was trying to capitalise off of the buzz around the anime, but in the end it wasn’t terrible!
However, there’s really no reason to watch this version instead of the anime. The actresses playing the three lead characters do a pretty convincing job and are by far the highlight of this adaptation, but the story just doesn’t lend itself well to a live-action format. There’s also a lot of focus on the other societies at the school and how ridiculous they are, which kind of runs counter to the school council’s strictness towards approving new ones. At any rate, just watch the anime.
Gokushufudo/The Way of the Househusband
With manga panels being tossed around on social media and news of a Netflix-funded anime adaptation on the cards, I was fairly eager to get stuck into Gokushufudo. Admittedly I’m still making my way through this one, but it’s been a fairly solid romp thus far and I’m looking forward to watching more of it.
For those unfamiliar, the premise is that the legendary yakuza Tatsu has chucked in a life of crime to become a househusband. With his former yakuza family trying to pull him back in, and his intimidating appearance constantly getting him into trouble, his life as a househusband is far from a quiet one.
Personally, I really like that there are plenty of comedians in the cast alongside the actors. Naoto Takenaka plays Tatsu’s former yakuza boss, who you might recognise as Edith from Kamen Rider Ghost if you’re also a toku nerd, and Cookie from the comedy duo Yasei Bakudan shows up as a weapons dealer. I’ve not seen him in any acting roles before, but he was an absolute monster in Documental so I don’t doubt he can bring some of that chaotic energy to a drama.
Kamen Rider Zero-One
Gosh, it has been a long time since we had a Kamen Rider show as good as Zero-One. It was a terrific start to Reiwa-era tokusatsu, with a bit of staff shakeup behind the scenes making the fight choreography and camera work just that much fresher. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t a few things here and there that I’d like to have seen, from early Zero-One forms that vanish as soon as he got a power-up, to the lack of an upgrade for Thouser – you can tell I’m nitpicking though, as I’m certainly not going to complain about a lack of a power-up very often. This show was a hell of a lot of good fun, so I’m sure the second Kamen Rider in Reiwa must be even better!
And the rest…
I watched a few other things and want to prevent this from turning into an essay, so here we go!
- Kaiji: Final Game – I was so excited for another live-action Kaiji romp, but unfortunately this film is the weakest of the three. It has its moments, but the majority of the film is spent on a game Kaiji has little control over, while focussing on two people we really don’t care about. Weird direction to take it in, honestly.
- Grand Blue – I enjoyed the anime more than a lot of people, I think, and outside of a few iffy jokes this was a pretty fun adaptation. Plus the main duo are played by Kamen Rider Build and Kyoryu Red, so that’s ace.
- Cat Cafe – A film about the lives of customers that gather at a cat cafe. On paper, it’s like Midnight Diner but with cats. In actuality, it’s four pretty weak stories that have been written specifically to try and make you cry, and it’s far too ham-fisted about it to succeed. The cats are good, though.
- Documental S4 – Spending most of this year annoyed that Amazon still hadn’t officially subbed this pretty much sums me up, but now that I’ve seen it, it seems pretty obvious why they might not want to. Thankfully fansubbers are coming to Documental‘s rescue, and boy am I grateful for it. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.
- School-Live! – Despite releasing four years after the anime adaptation, this film plays it safe by covering the same events, ending upon the group’s “graduation” from school. It’s pretty so-so, let down by some bad choreography and some mediocre performances from the main cast. This is also another manga-based film that has thrown idols into the starring roles, though not managing to get away with it like Eizouken does. There’s also a scene where one of the girls claims “we’re not idols!”, which made me slam my face into my coffee table.
- Kaguya-sama: Love is War – Not a bad adaptation, honestly. It covers the majority of the stories that appeared in the anime’s first season, albeit at breakneck pace in order to squeeze everything in. It works fairly well, although Fujiwara is more cutesy-annoying in this than her high-energy counterpart you might be more accustomed to. On top of that, they made one of my long-time favourite actors Jiro Sato the narrator, and while he doesn’t have as big of a role as the narrator from the anime he does get to play an additional character and break the fourth wall a bit.
- Kamen Rider Saber – This show is hot garbage and the only entertainment it gives me is seeing how low it’ll go.
- Gaki no Tsukai – These new year’s batsu games are just under 5 hours long, so they take quite a while to come out despite fansubbers busting their butts over them. Despite that, this coming out in July feels like forever ago. The theme for this year was ‘Youth High School’, and thanks to a lot of shakeups, it was one of the more memorable shows in a while. I’m very curious about how this year’s batsu game will go – we know it went ahead, but it’ll be hard to avoid masks and distancing if it happened as normal. The regular TV episodes have been good about making everyone not in the main cast wear masks, so I suspect it’ll be a very different New Year’s special to allow for that.
And that’s a rap! Here’s to 2021!