Sunday, November 30, 2008

Room of King eps 1-4

Room of King starts of very well. You get introduced to certain characters who are later approached to stay for cheap rates at a luxurious apartment. They do not realise that it is all a set up for a game between three old dudes with the name Ijyuin. The purpose of the game is unclear but it seems that the Ijyuins selected the people because there was a strong possibility they would be 'King' or rich and famous. So basically its like a race to see which of the occupants becomes king first.

The premise is weird, but that's ok when they use it to explore or do stuff you don't normally see. Like the bank robbery scene at the end of ep 1. That has to be the funniest scene that I've seen whole year. Its so random and wacky and unexpected. I thought that was the key to this series. The cook suddenly appearing and doing something completely random. That was comedy genius.

Unfortunately, the show quickly plunged from the great heights of episode 1. It got mired with the boring characters and their boring lives. Its worse than watching Big Brother because the writers would have written interesting conversations or have stuff actually happen. We've got a lazy part-timer who's done nothing, a neurotic OL, a doctor who keeps doing the same thing every episode and a stylist who spends 4 episodes worrying about how to dress someone like gundam.

In summary, there are too many character threads and nothing actually happening. I wouldn't have minded, if the other 3 episodes were actually funny. This show is complete fail and is a waste of Suzuki Anne's acting talent. Just watch episode one for a laugh and know that the rest of series is not as good.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mendol eps 1-3

Can these 3 girls convince the world that they are guys?

Mendol is basically a jdorama vehicle for AKB48 members Kojiharu, Takahashi Minami and Minegishi Minami. I would even say a lot of doramas are just vehicles to push idols and singers. So many doramas are cast based on names and popularity rather than acting skill and suitability. That said, I have less of a problem with Mendol because it doesn't pretend to be anything more; a midnight dorama for AKB48 fans.

Staple sport of midnight doramas; throwing girls on the bed.

This isn't what it looks like, or is it?

Mendol is the story of three girls who dream of becoming idols and achieve their dream, accept that they are pretending to be guys instead. With so many Johnnys who look like girls anyway, that sounds like a pretty plausible story. Storywise... well, there isn't much there. Its about gags and putting the girls in as many weird situations as possible. There are as many cringe worthy moments as there are sukebe moments.

I think they're suppose to take their clothes off when doing breast exams...

The show utterly and completely fails when it gets serious and tries to be dramatic. Its the necessary evil of the show. Some of the jokes are pretty funny especially Papaya Suzuki's character in ep 3 who is bewildered by the fact that he is turned on by the three guys. Yes, its all about gender jokes and mix ups. There's the lesbian boss and her secretary and infatuation between Hanako Takigawa's character, Rei and Takahashi Minami's character. Gender mix up situations are everywhere and I'm pretty sure we'll encounter all situations one can think of by the end of the episode.

No words can describe the happiness I feel when looking at the above screencap..

These better not be body doubles!

Watching this show makes me wish Tsunku had pushed Momusu in doramas better back in the day instead of stupid movies like Morning Cop. Yeah Nacchi, Maki and Kago have been in jdoramas but there never was one designed to push Momusu as a group and appeal to the core audience. Then again they had their own tv show show Tsunku probably thought it a waste of time. Momusu never wanted to just go after the niche otaku audience but AKB48's all about satisfying their core fans.

Any excuse for girl on girl action...

Hhhm, Takigawa Hanako....

Mendol is bad and its nowhere near bad that its so good. The only reason I managed to sit through 3 episodes is Kojiharu and all the fanservice. Fanservice in jdoramas is seriously lacking compared to anime. I must admit, I had a lot of fun taking screencaps. Unless you are a fan of AKB48, avoid but if you like the screencaps, what are you waiting for? Takigawa Hanako to suck you finger?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Giragira eps 1-4

Kohei, the former no.1 host who must now work his way from the bottom again..

Before watching Giragira, I'd recommend this documentary called 'The Great Happiness Space'. Its a documentary about the world that male hosts live in and the girls that patronise them. It will blow away all your preconceived notions of what the industry is about. Giragira being a jdorama is pretty much a sanitise look at hosts. Even the main character is super idealistic. Normally, it would be a huge sticking point for me but instead of the usual idealistic rookie, we have a 30 year old unemployed salaryman who used to be a no.1 host!

.. while at the same time keeping his family happy...
I think stories about former legends/no.1s trying to reclaim their past glory is better from a storyline perspective. Firstly, you don't have to experience the growing pains of the rookies. From them making mistakes that makes the audience cringe to making sweeping idealistic statements without having paid their dues. An idealist who has been through fire and brimestone is taken much more seriously than a greenhorn. Everyone starts with ideals but find that the profession changes them so anyone who can hold on to their beliefs/changes the profession instead has the audience's support.
If you see an actress which nice boobs, you know she's a gravure idol...

Kohei obviously can't help staring at Hara Mikie..

Second story use of having veteran as the main character is that you have the whole backstory to mine. With a noob, the only backstory you can do is childhood (that's why there's always an osanjimi) or parentage. Giragira does this with lots of hints about Kohei's past whenever onlookers have to give comments on the action.

something I'll never see when I wake up...

Its good to finally see Sasaki Kuranosuke play a main character. He's always the supporting dude in so many shows. He is usually the nice guy but never memorable. This role fits him to a T. He is the former no.1 trying to win with the odds so stacked against him that the audience can forgive him for his outrageous/fake take on hosting. Its not everyday that you can cheer on a jdorama character who is happily married and spends his nights entertaining beautiful women like Hara Mikie and Mitsuya Yoko.
Mitsuya Yoko always got my attention since KDO. When's she gonna get her jdorama push instead of doing guest appearances all the time?

There are parts which are very lame like Kohei talking about how good the other hosts who were fired were with the floor manager but on the whole, these are small flaws that do not detract of the show. I have to accept that this is not the nitty gritty, realistic version of the world of male hosts. The important thing is that there is always an interesting challenge for Kohei to face and all the audience wants is to see him win and to see what happens when his wife finds out about his job. :)
Hey, aren't you fighting terrorists in Bloody Monday?

I was fearing that the show would have plenty of Johnnys who can't act but so far the male cast has been decent. Maybe I'm just blinded by all the chicks in the show. I'd recommend this flawed but very enjoyable show. If my screencaps don't convince you, nothing will.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bloody Monday ep1

Can't remember when I last played an ero-game. I blame it on having a 7 year old PC.

This is going to be a pretty spoiler filled review so if you haven't watched it yet, I'd recommend you to give this show a try. Its not great but it does the espionage/thriller genre pretty well for a jdorama though it has its flaws. Recently we've had our bad share of really bad cop show/thrillers in Koshonin and SP but Gonzo proved that the Japanese can make a good cop show/thriller show even with all the jdorama cliches as long as they have good actors and the pacing is decent. Bloody Monday is kind of like the Japanese version of 24 except the main character is of course a goddamn shonen hacker. Just like how only kids on pilot robots in Japan, only schoolboys can save the world.

I would a terrorist for those puppies!
I can live with that. It just means that the government agency in charge of anti-terrorism, Third-I is the supporting cast and comes off looking incompetant. The bastard who impregnated Shida Mirai in 14 Sai no Haha is the Hero, Takagi Fujimaru, the son of a Third-I agent and an expert hacker. Putting hacking in movies/doramas brings its set of problems like the better hacker is the one who can type faster. I'm prepared to shut of my brain in this area. They use CG animals and closing doors to describe the hacking so that's a plus. The fact that Takagi can hack into a shopping complex's security cameras in 5 seconds from a laptop on the net is asking a bit too much in suspension of disbelief. Not to mention that the whole scene was utterly pointless. Overall, he does a pretty good job as Fujimaru .

On the whole, I was really impressed with ep 1. It really looks like a big budget dorama and the number of different scenes and location shots means that it must have taken them ages to shoot. They avoided the first major flaw of SP and Koshonin which was to stretch scenes as long as possible because of budget. As I've said before action/thriller shows are all about pacing. One scene after another, always something happening. Like a constant drumbeat, occasionally slowing down for emotional scenes but brief enough not to bore the audience. I was impressed even with the ending sequence of ep 1. Shooting an action scene with crowds is time consuming. Its only easy when they are standing still.

If you think she looks familiar, its because she's the super doctor girl from Iryu 2! My, how fast she has grown. :)

Kichise Michoko (Liar Game secretary) is the main villain in ep 1 and she is perfectly cast as the seductress. She just oozes dangerous feminine charm. I think she's in danger of being typecast as the seductive woman and I'd love to see what else she can do. Nobody else in the cast really stands out so far. There's this Hannibal Lector type character who might be the leader of the organisation but nothing's been revealed about who he is and why he's being kept in a cell with a glass wall. At he is better than that poor excuse of a villain in Koshonin.

I would hug trees for Kichise Michiko.

Bloody Monday ep 1 manages to establish the basis of the story while leaving a lof of questions to be answered in later episodes. The only flaw in episode in would be some gaps in logic. I can accept stuff that have pretty straightforward explanations like the other people besides the clown who coughed blood because they most probably were agents of the organisation as well. But trying to explain the whole purpose of the blackout to turn the air conditioning so that the virus can 'spread easier'? I have no idea how air conditioning can reduce the effects of airborne viruses but I can't imagine it would be by much. They really need to explain why because the terrorists really put so much effort into getting Fujimaru to hack the power station and then to break into the power station. Why not just blow up power line and backup generator? Or just break into the complex's control center and turn off the air cond?

maybe it'll get too hot and she'll take the top off?

Why bother pulling off a fake attack in the first place? Why want to warn the authorities before you pull off the actual attack. They better have a bloody good reason besides it'll make a good twist for the ending of ep1. And WTF did they not try to find the clown guy after everyone stormed out? FFS he is their one chance to get more into and all they do is a poor version of the Iryu walk cool as a group thing. Besides the above questions about the plot, I enjoyed ep 1. I remain skeptical as to whether they can keep up the pacing. They certainly went in guns blazing for ep 1 but IMO its more important that the quality of a show be consistent rather than putting too many eggs in one basket.

They really need to bad the Iryu group slomo walk. Any show that tries to do it just looks lame and cheesy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Celeb to Binbo Taro eps 1-3

I first saw Ueto Aya in Koukou Kyoushi 2003 and was smitten. Then I saw how good she could be in Kinpachi Sensei 6. Then she went through her Shoujo manga adaptations phase with Attack No.1 and Ace wo Nerae which I thought she didn't a decent job at. They weren't great shows but they were still entertaining. Attention Please was her graduation from playing high school characters. Hotelier showed that she wasn't ready to play a more mature character no more how much she perms her hair. Her child-like face which had served her so well had become an obstacle. It was painfully obvious that she can't play women, only girls.

Celeb to Binbo Taro is Ueto Aya going back to her Shoujo style roots. Its part normal dude meets celebrity and part rich girl meets poor guy. Like so many Shoujo style jdoramas, Celeb to Binbo is very anime like. Lots of bright colours, weird sound effects and plenty of overacting. Ueto Aya plays Mitazono Alice, the Japanese version of Paris Hilton (without all the sex) who has issues with her stepmother and old boyfriend. Somehow this poor father of three, Taro ends up working as her driver and he gets involved with her personal life.

I really have to compare this show with Staa no Koi which is a pretty good normal guy meets famous star jdorama and the first thing that Celeb to Binbo lacks is good casting. I think the actor playing Taro is bad. I'm just not buying into his poor character. Maybe its his plucked eyebrows and obnoxious shouting. Maybe its him doing manual labour in clothes which are pristine clean. Sure, he has no money to pay his bills and debts but he lives in a decent sized house when a lot of working poor live in very small apartments or have no fixed addresses and sleep in manga cafes. The Devil is in the details and I'm not buying his poverty.

Compared to Fujiwara Norika, Ueto Aya doesn't have that star power. Of course Ueto Aya is a better actress but she doesn't have that screen presence that makes her a star and stand out from the other characters. However, that's probably cause Alice is more of a spoilt rich kid. That would explain my apathy for her character. Not to mention the non-existent chemistry between Taro and Alice. I'd rather they take the risk and swap Ueto Aya and Kuninaka Ryoko's roles. We all know she can play nice girl and I really want to see whether she can act as an ojousan. Or they could have cast Matsumoto Rio (the ojousan from Ace wo Nerae).

Well, I certainly can't blame them for making Alice a spoiled kid. After all, the purpose of this show is for Taro to change her attitude. Yet somehow I am completely disinterested in seing that happen. Taro and Alice are just cutboard characters who are neither entertaining nor empathic. In summary, Celeb to Binbo Taro lacks the chemistry of Staa no Koi and the heart of Konna Koi no Hanashi, two shows that you should watch if you haven't and that are infinitely better than Celeb to Binbo.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ryusei no Kizuna ep1

Nino and Toda Erika in the same dorama! Both of them are good actors in my book with Nino being the only Johnny besides SMAP who can act. Plus the story is about 3 siblings who want revenge for their parent's murder! Sounds like Byakuyako meets Sleeping Forest with a third wheel who can't act. I'm all for dark, gloomy, mystery doramas anytime! The beginning was cool enough; flashback to childhood, kids going on secret trip only to come home to find parents murdered. I was excited.

Then came the bright happy intro song which was so out of place. It was so jarring that it set of alarm bells in my head. Next was this scene with Nino and Ryo and Nino's boss. The camera didn't feel like a serious dorama but rather a comedy. It had stupid comedy music and some conversation about the boss' wife that was not the least bit funny. We just saw the kids' parents getting killed and now why have unfunny sitcom comedy.

It was then that I realised what Ryusei no Kizuno was. It was a comedy built from a dramatic premise which IMO has very little chance of working out. If the premise of a show is not even mildly amusing, how can it be funny? If they wanted to do a comedy with serious parts, ie Mukodono, the serious/dramatic bits need to flow from the comedic premise. Its like the realistic prologue of the kids somehow leads into this overacting sitcom world.

Ryusei no Kizuno felt so disjointed that I couldn't even bear to watch the rest of the first episode. Of course, I should not judge the show just because it was not what I wanted it to be but I'm pretty sure the fact that I didn't laugh during the first half of the show is a good enough reason for me to drop this show. Sigh, I want to watch more Toda Erika but between this and Code Blue, she needs to seriously reconsider doing doramas with Johnnys.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Nanase Futatabi eps 1-2

After Maou, we have another show about psychics, Nanase Futatabi. Apparently its been done 3 times before, kinda like Sukeban Deka or any other sentai show. Renbutsu Misako stars as the title character, Nanase who on her mother's death bed discovers that she has the ability to read minds. There seems to be a connection between her powers and her long dead/missing father played by Kita Yoshio. Kita Yoshio is in so many shows that its starting to get irritating. Or maybe I'm just jealous that he gets to act with so many hot actresses all the time.

Hhhm, what should we call our superhero team? 2 telepaths and a seer?

Nanase slowly learns to deal with her powers and meets a kid with similar gifts and a magician, Kosuke who can see the future and who has some history with her father. Unlike your typical superhero movies where the discovery and experimenting of powers is fun, Nanase Futatabi shows that mind reading is a curse not a blessing. Nanase discovers that people never mean what they say. I just love the super powers set in real world vibe. In fact, I was kinda expecting Professor Xavier to make a cameo in his wheelchair. :)

The only thing to stop Nanase reading my mind would be Magneto's helmet...

So far, the first two episodes have been solid. The first episode establishes the characters and the second has Nanase and Kosuke finally catching a serial killer. Its hard not to compare this show with Maou since both have a similar dark tone and psychic character. Maou's big flaw IMO was letting the pacing towards the end. Jdoramas like Nanase Futatabi are more about the stories and character development stuff should be inbuilt/inferred so that it does not slow down the pacing.

Luckiest kid in the world.

Renbutsu Misako is pretty good as Nanase, I have no idea where they keep finding actresses like her. And I can't believe she's born in 91! Truly WTF! The younger actresses in jdoramas and the members in Morning Musume get, the more I feel like a hentai ojisan. I mean she looks so much more mature than so many pseudo 'actresses' out there. *cough* Aragaki Yui *cough* Along with Shiori, its nice to see non lolita type actresses get the push. The problem with a lot of actresses who look younger than their age is that when they reach 20+ they have serious problems convincing the audience their character is a 20+ woman. See Ueto Aya in Hotelier. Its too early to judge Renbutsu Misako though. I need to find time to watch Tenkousei, Sayonara Anata.

Picture of Nanase's shock after reading my mind.

Once again, its a damn shame that another good dorama has crappy ratings. Its probably because there's no Johnny that this show is decent. It hasn't blown me away but it doesn't have to. I'm perfectly happy as long as the show keeps it pacing and continues to come up with interest cases for them to solve or enemies to fight. Definitely check it out.

Monday, November 03, 2008

OL Nippon eps 1-3

OL Nippon is about many things. Firstly its a show about outsourcing in the world economy today where many companies find it more cost effective to outsource part of their operations to a cheaper country. We encounter it all the time, especially with call centres outsourced to countries like India or the Philippines because of the cheaper labour. It is a story about Japanese-China relations, their differences in culture and China displacing Japan as Asia's preeminant power. Its a dorama about restructuring in a country where life long employment is a thing of the past. Its a show that examines the role of the OL which originated during the boom times and its (ir)relevance in today's tough economic world.

All the above themes are issues that must be faced by Kanzaki Shimako, a 31 year old OL, played masterfully Mizuki Arisa (Saito-san). When I first read about this show, I knew I had to watch it regardless whether it was subbed or not. Saito-san worked because of Mizuki Arisa and I was eager to see what else she could do. With the lack of wooden acting Johnnys, the chances of it being subbed were low but luckily haruspex once again came to our rescue. He did mention he might just write synopsis for a few episodes only because of irresponsible people putting subbed jdoramas on streaming sites without permission but I hope he will sub everything cause its not going to stop those who profit from free fansubs anyway.

The basic plot of the show is that the general department of Kanzaki's firm was being outsourced to China and two chinese girls, Chan-san and Yan-san were sent for training in Japan and to create a manual for the workers in China. Straight away, one could easily empathise with Kanzaki and the Japanese. Management telling them to train someone who was taking away their job? I've seen this happen in my workplace, in that the person who was acting in a job for a long time and did it well lost it to an outsider and its an insult to current employee to train the outsider. I was worried how they could pull off the show when the two chinese girls were instantly the villains.

What OL Nippon did was show that the not only were the Chinese better but the Japanese had become too complacent in their jobs. In some ways, its a critique for the Japanese that the hardworking spirit from the post war era had been taken for granted for too long. I'm surprised to see a jdorama showing the Chinese in a good light but I think it would be wrong to simplify this show as just a Japan v China show. Its a show about how people of different cultures and background think, work and behave. How people with hardships view life versus people who are content. In other words, human behaviour and expectations are just a by-product of our environment.

OL Nippon has another element I love, and that is gray area morality. Sure, in a 'free' economy whoever is more efficient wins but then again, we are talking about people's jobs and livelihood here. There is no right or wrong just parties with competing interests and priorities. It is through Kanzaki's eyes that the viewer is invited to make up their own mind. While Kanzaki views Chan-san and Yan-san as enemies, she cannot help but be impressed by their hardwork and never ending drive to better themselves. She is lost as to what the right thing to do is and so am I. As someone who is a contract worker, I know job security is a fickle and stressful thing. Yet there is a need to acknowledge and even praise those who work harder and are better, even though they be enemies.

Abe Sadao (Arase from Iryu) is the man in charge of bringing the girls in and is Kanzaki's antagonist. He torments her and seems to slightly take joy in watching her wallow in her moral dilemma despite his feelings for her. Perhaps he had the same experiences as her in the past and has come to possess a cold outlook on outsourcing work out of Japan. Abe Sadao and Mizuki Arisa surprisingly work very well together. The scenes where he gives voice to her thoughts are a hoot to watch and so are his use of reverse psychology to manipulate her. Not to mention his mandarin pronunciation is not too shabby.

Its just so freaking weird hearing so much mandarin in a jdorama and seeing actual chinese actors. Sure there was that very forgettable Faye Wong jdorama years ago but the less said about that the better. Kudos to the girl playing Chan-san as the chinese girl you cannot help but root for. She's like the tragic heroine from one of Zhang Yimou's older movies. She even out-hatarakis Hatarakiman! I'd be very interested in hearing about the opinions of Japanese who've seen this show on whether they would emphatise with the Chinese girls or their reaction to Abe Sadao's character saying that the outsourcing is Japan's fault.

Probably the best thing I can say about OL Nippon is that besides being a very entertaining show, it really encourages the audience to think about issues. It doesn't provide definite answers but rather highlight certain points for the audience to ponder. I have no idea how this show is going to end as it almost a certainty that the whole general department will be outsourced unless there is a comprising ending which would sort of be a cop out. People losing jobs is not an easy thing to accept, especially to people overseas. I'm not going to concern myself too much and am going to trust in the writer. Highly recommended.