2013: The year in j-dramas

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2013 was a pretty big blogging year for me. It was the first year that I’ve followed through with all my recaps and posted something at least once a month. It was tough, but ultimately enjoyable and I hope that I’ll be even more active this year. With that being said, I couldn’t blog about everything I watched, so I figured a look back was in order to get a better scope of what I saw last year.

Winter:

Shotenin Michiru no Mi no Uebanashi (The Life Story of Bookstore Clerk Michiru)

This drama was a headscratcher. Was it about the evils of money? Was it about Michiru trying to gain control over her life? Was it about taking responsibility for your actions? I don’t really know and it makes me wonder what the point of the story was. It’s a shame just because those first few episodes were very promising as the show moved at a self-assured slow, yet even pace as it follows the unraveling of a Michiru’s life after she wins the lottery. Unfortunately, everything drops off after the climax and we get a rather underwhelming resolution. I think the biggest block I had with this drama was sympathizing with Michiru, whose actions I could rationalize on a mental level, but was a character I couldn’t connect with emotionally. She didn’t have to be perfect, in fact it was a nice change to have such a flawed main character, but she never took action, always using someone else to resolve her problems (which inevitably led to more problems) even at the end. It’s hard to root for a character that doesn’t actually do anything, so it was hard to get invested in the story.

Saikou no Rikon (The Great Divorce)

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I was curious how Sakamoto Yuji would tackle a rom-com after writing such heavy dramas like Soredemo, Ikitie Yuku and Mother. I already knew he could wrench my heart, but would he be able to deliver laughs as well? It turns out that all my worries were for nought though, because by episode two I was hooked. A quirky drama that never compromises sincerity for comedy, Saikou no Rikon follows two couples as it explores the ups and downs of marriage and the repercussions of divorce.

I’ll admit, it took me a while to warm up to Hamasaki Mitsuo, the uptight, OCD hero and if Eita wasn’t playing him, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the drama. You knew he wasn’t trying to be an ass, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to strangle him from time to time. You can’t help but wonder what his cheerful, scatterbrained wife Yuka (played wonderfully by Ono Machiko) sees in him. I didn’t find the secondary couple’s story as compelling as Mitsuo and Yuka’s, which mostly had to do with the fact that they had a less than satisfactory resolution, however, Maki Yoko turns in a solid performance as the devoted wife to cheating husband Ayano Go.

If you’re in the mood for a more mature romantic drama, Saikou no Rikon is definitely the show to watch.

Spring:

Itazura na Kiss~Love in Tokyo (Mischievous Kiss~Love in Tokyo)

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The Itazura na Kiss remake was the last drama I thought I would watch this year, let alone fall in love with, but I obsessed over it for three months and practically cried when I had to let it go. Who knew that the story of a clueless girl hopelessly in love with a socially withdrawn boy could be so addicting?

Itazura na Kiss was long overdue for an updated version, with the first adaption airing way back in 1996, so it was nice to see a modern take on it while still remaining true to its source material. The story feels a lot more rounded out this time around as we see things not only from Kotoko’s view, but Naoki’s as well, and more effort is put forth into developing Kotoko’s relationship with Kin-chan, so I felt more like I was watching real people instead of flat stereotypes. Of course, Itazura na Kiss couldn’t work without its OTP. There was some eyebrow-raising at the ten year age gap between Honoka Miki and Furukawa Yuki, but seeing how they lit up the screen (not to mention how baby-faced Furukawa is), it really didn’t matter.

It’s a little unconventional for a j-drama, running sixteen episodes instead of the normal ten to twelve, and I think that did hurt it more than help as there were definitely some filler episodes and the ending was way too rushed, but I think season two will more than make up for that.

Last Cinderella

I have no idea what made Last Cinderella such a cracktastic show, but it seemed to be the only drama most people watched during the spring season. I think it had to be the pretty, because how could anyone resist watching a drama with Miura Haruma and Fujiki Naohito? Not even a crazy second lead, two-timing husbands, and a super-annoying mother-in-law could keep me from tuning in week after week. Looking back on it, Last Cinderella definitely isn’t a drama I want to watch again, but suffering through it with the rest of the fandom is what made it such a fun watch.

Summer:

LIMIT

I don’t even know why I not only watched this, let alone recapped it. LIMIT had the potential to go somewhere interesting, but in the end it fell back on the same boring tropes used in every high school drama ever. Definitely six hours of my life I could’ve spent doing something more useful.

Woman

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In spite of the fact I was really excited for Woman before it aired, I don’t think I caught up with it until it was halfway through its run. I think you just have to be in a certain frame of mind to watch a certain type of drama, and I wasn’t in the mood to watch a heavy drama like Woman at the time.

A family drama that focuses on forgiveness, repentance, and the bond between mother and child, Woman showed once again why Sakamoto Yuji is one of Japan’s best screenwriters. He writes scenes that are just so emotionally powerful that one doesn’t even need words to understand what the characters feel. The whole cast is amazing from little Suzuki Rio to the comedic Kobayashi Kaoru, but I have to give major props to Mitsushima Hikari and Tanaka Yuko who were brillant as the estranged mother-daughter pair. It does suffer from some weak episodes in the middle and I think the story should have been a little tighter, so it falls a little short of Soredemo, but it’s still way ahead of other dramas. Definitely a must-watch drama of 2013.

Fall:

Dokushin Kizoku (A Swinging Single)

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Despite my misgivings about Dokushin Kizoku, it was a show I kept up with week to week and found myself enjoying it. A drama that tried to weave a romance reminiscent of old Hollywood, Dokushin Kizoku may have set its standards a little too high. Riddled with poorly executed clichés (sibling rivalry, an arranged marriage, and a heroine who falls into trouble all the time) and centered around an OTP who had little spark and spent more time with the second leads than with each other, Dokushin Kizoku can be called average at best. So why did I not only watch it, but actually like it? As much as I hate to say it, I loved Mamoru. A straight-laced guy with more than a few quirks, his cynicism towards love made me salivate for the moment he fell for Yuki and started to fight for her. Sadly, the latter never happened, as he was willing to let her find happiness with his brother and silently help her from the shadows, but that made me like him more because c’mon, he sacrificed his first love because he thought it was best for her and his brother. It got me in the gut and made me want to see if Mamoru eventually got the happy ending he deserved because it’s not Noble Idiocy if you think the other party doesn’t love you too. It was only near the end when the show kept pushing the OTP apart for no reason (even the characters wondered why they weren’t together), that not even my love for Mamoru could tamper down my frustration and it became a struggle to finish.

Kurokouchi

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A dark crime drama with a dash of comedy, Kurokouchi was a pleasant surprise.The set-up isn’t new; immoral, money-grubbing hero is pairs up with a justice-seeking, upright heroine in order to solve crimes and take down the Big Bad, but with the unlayering of a real life mystery serving as the main plot, not to mention Kurokouchi’s more than questionable actions, the show usually managed to keep things interesting.

While I eventually warmed up to the over-the-top acting of Nagase Tomoya and Watabe Atsuro was suitably creepy as the evil governor Sawatari, Kurokouchi never dug deep with its characters. Characters existed to keep the plot moving without standing on their own as actual people, so the ride is fun, but ultimately soulless.

Miss Pilot

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This pretty much sums up Chisato and Haru's relationship
This pretty much sums up Chisato and Haru’s relationship

 Miss Pilot endeavored to be an inspiring story about a young woman chasing her dream and while I liked Haru and wanted her to succeed, I was more interested in the other female pilot candidate, Oda Chisato. If it wasn’t for Chisato and the great character arc she gets halfway through the series, I probably would’ve dropped the show. Smart, capable, and prickly (but never malicious), Chisato is the natural foil to the bubbly and cheerful Haru. It would have been very easy to make Chisato and Haru rivals, but instead they become good friends. As much as I love a good bromance, female friendships are rare in dramaland, so I loved watching these two learn to depend on each other.

Other than Chisato and her friendship with Haru, Miss Pilot didn’t have too much going for it. By the middle, it wasn’t as plodding as it was in the beginning, finally getting rid of the contrived single-episode stories to focus on the camraderie between the pilot candidates, but I wish the other characters were more fleshed out or at least for there to be more obstacles during the training. Not a bad watch, I enjoyed it and I was impressed by Maki’s improvement, but definitely had the potential to be better.

Overall, not a bad year for j-dramas (there have been better years, but there have also been years that were a lot worse). I didn’t watch as much as I thought I did, but considering all the k-dramas and anime I watched, nine isn’t too bad. Then again, judging by how many of those dramas I watched were absolutely bad, I think I’ll be a bit more picky about what I watch this season.

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2 thoughts on “2013: The year in j-dramas”

  1. Note to self: do watch Saikou no Rikon, and probably Woman. I hear too much about them to NOT want to watch. Now I just need to get motivated. I haven’t watched a Jdrama since I finished Orange Days several months ago..

    Thanks for the recap. I only got around to INK and Last Cinderella of the Jdramas that aired this year. I confess, most of the dramas I watch are older bc I feel like I have so much to catch up on. Not that I’ve even scratched the surface.. it’s quite an impossible task.

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    1. Yes, you MUST watch Saikou no Rikon and Woman, way too good to pass up. You also reminded me I need to go back and finish Orange Days…

      I understand wanting to watch older dramas (I still have quite a number of dramas I haven’t watched yet). When people reference older dramas in other reviews, I feel out of the loop because I haven’t seen it so then I want to go back and watch it. I usually go back and watch older dramas whenever there’s a slow season, but I always get sucked back into watching currently airing dramas. A lot of older dramas, even those that were released about ten years ago, also feel a little dated so I admit that kind of keeps me from watching considering how well-produced dramas are nowadays.

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