Asian dramas and women through the ages: Sungkyunkwan Scandal and The Glass House

For some reason, several of the dramas I’ve seen recently have tackled, whether as the primary topic or as a secondary one, the question of the role of women in society. They were set in vastly different times, and arguably conveyed similar messages about what women — and men too — should always try to do: something they love and can take pride in. Admittedly, this can seem difficult, especially in societies where financial stability is often placed above happiness. But whilst both dramas land on the same side of the debate, the way they were crafted produced different experiences for this viewer, one that I will look back on nostalgically, and one that I would rather forget.

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Nodame Cantabile: it’s otaku power that rules the world!

This year, sadly, saw the end of one of my favourite series. After almost 10 years of bewitchment, Ninomiya-sensei finally drew the curtain on her window into the lives of Nodame, Chiaki and friends. If I were to pick out exactly what it was that wove its spell around me, I’d have to say it was Tamaki Hiroshi’s Chiaki conducting that final concert at the end of the Japan arc. Rousing and majestic, I’ll never again forget Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7. But going deeper, I would say that it was the rich feelings of love that this story is steeped in, a demonstration of how ardent love is key to so much in life. Whilst it is sad to say goodbye, I will never forgot the important lessons that I learned from this wonderful story of life, love and music.

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Review: Ketsuekigata betsu onna ga kekkon suru houhou

血液型別オンナが結婚する方法, or “How to get your fairytale marriage as a woman of blood-type (~)”

Over the past couple of years, Japan has gone crazy over a set of books by Jamais Jamais, which have become somewhat of a bible for the understanding people by their bloodtypes. The books have been on hold at the library every since I first spotted them, so I chose simply to buy my own set…though now I have no time in which to read them.

Well…I do, if I make the time, but that’s besides the point.

Anyway, I recently learned of this 4-part drama special from April of this year. Each episode depicts a woman representing one bloodtype, who is trying to attract (or find) the guy of her dreams. The four women are all named Sachie (幸恵) (which means “happy/fortunate blessings”), and their best friends are all played by Kondo Haruna. The stories are otherwise unconnected in any way. The stories were sometimes cheesy, and will probably rankle feminists, but Ketsuekigata betsu onna was, for me, a somewhat entertaining four nights.

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Little things that can make a world of difference, part 1

I never really thought about this until I ran across someone who mentioned that the Cross Game characters are now into their second year of high school (anime obviously, not manga). The truth? They’re only about 5 months into their first year!

Why the misconception? Well, the answer lies in a difference between the schools in Japan and those of certain other countries. Schools in the U.S., Britain and Australia all begin the school year after the long summer vacation. Students typically do not have any summer homework (because their teachers are changing anyway!), and they happily while away 2-3 months at the beach, shopping centres and movie theaters, or perhaps in a darkened home at room etc etc. Wonderful childhood, really, and of course it makes sense to have arrange the school year such that kids get a nice long rest after all their hard work, right?

Perhaps surprisingly, Japan doesn’t subscribe to that particular philosophy. Instead, the school (and working) year is designed around the seasons. Spring (April) marks the new beginning of the year for all layers of society, from kindergartens to companies. For the Japanese mind (and heart), it is fitting that this bright season, floating in sakura petals, marks the new beginning of just about every stage in a person’s life.

Quick summary: the Japanese school year is divided into three terms, with the corresponding “holidays”: Spring-Summer term – summer vacation (about 6 weeks from late July-early September) – Autumn term – Christmas/New Year break (about 2 weeks) – Winter-Spring term – Spring vacation (about 2 weeks in late March/early April). The exact timing of the breaks differs from region to region. In Okinawa, summer vac is unusually long, whilst the winter break is obviously longer in Hokkaido. edit: and in case there are people who don’t know – lots of subbers change the year level into the respective American grade, after all – the Japanese education system sends children through 6 years of elementary school (小学校), 3 of junior high (中学校) and 3 of senior high school (高校), with normal graduation at the age of 18. I might make another note on this at a later date.

The other thing that might confuse foreigners, especially those from Australia, is the fact that the 3rd year students stopped playing just 3 months into the year, when the preliminary tournaments are over. That’s because the rest of their year will be devoted to studying in order to get into their desired colleges or universities. Of course, those who win the prefectural/regional tournament will be representing their prefecture or region in the national tournament, which is held over the summer. The younger students will either be enjoying their one and only summer vacation (Haruhi and co.) or busting their asses to get to the respective national tournaments in their last two years. There should be another regional tournament towards the end of the Autumn term, where the teams will show the fruits of their summer labours, but the summer prelims around May will always take precedence.

Well, this particular difference probably wouldn’t affect your understanding of any show or manga with a school setting, but it might be interesting to know.

Random thoughts: Osen

The impression left on young Ezaki Yoshio by an elegant Okami awakens in him a yearning to be part of “real cuisine”. As a young man, Ezaki comes to a restaurant called Isshou-an to work under that okami, only to find that she has retired and left Isho-an in the hands of her daughter, Handa Sen. But Ezaki’s first impression of Osen, as she is known, leaves a lot to be desired. How does a young woman who has beer breath in the morning, drinks beer whilst having a bath, and otherwise gives the impression of an air-head, run a restaurant so steeped in culture?


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Review: Ryuusei no Kizuna

The dramas that have come out since Last Friends ended haven’t really enticed me. Even after watching the 笑ってもいいとも! Autumn special, nothing beckoned, although the セレブと貧乏たろう episode that I caught on TV was kinda interesting, if only to see a certain actor (whose name I don’t know actually) up the sleazeball ante from his character in ハチクロ. I ended up watching Ryuusei no Kizuna (流星の絆) on a whim, and the humour in the first episode kept me watching what turned out to be a pretty interesting series about three siblings who decide to take justice into their own hands as the deadline of the statute of limitations on their parents’ murder approaches, complicated of course, by growing romantic feelings and certain inconsistencies that lead to a dark secret…

Ryuusei no Kizuna

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Review: CHANGE

CHANGE. A Kimura Takuya drama about politics, recommended to me by a friend around the time we were watching Last Friends, CHANGE brings a glimpse of what Japanese politics is like, fast-tracked somewhat unbelievably and spiced up by a hint of romance of course. (Summary) Elementary school teacher Asakura Keita – better known to his fifth-graders as Mojakura for his…er…cauliflower hair style – is forced into politics when his father and brother are killed in a plane crash. His surprising win against veterans brings him into the scheming world of Japanese politics, where his naivete make him the perfect pawn in the manuveurings of the party’s senior politician and mentor figure, Kanbayashi. However, Keita’s ideals and earnestness gradually win him allies both in his team and in the parliament, whilst also endearing him to a public that has for too long felt separated from and deceived by their government.

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Review: Last Friends

Last Friends (ラスト・フレンズ) is probably the most gripping Japanese drama of last year. It deals with the stories of 5 people who interact around a shared house in Tokyo: an air stewardess losing her faith in love (Eri), a woman with a troubled self-identity (Ruka), another (Michiru) with an abusive boyfriend (Sousuke), and a stylist with a traumatic past (Takeru). Each of these fire represents a different problem faced by the current generation: Love – Michiru; Liberation – Ruka; Agony – Takeru; Solitue – Eri; and Contradiction – Sousuke. These are the kinds of stories where, especially in Japan, the people experiencing them might just bury their problems and bear them as well as they can. However, the these issues are slowly drawn out into the open through Sousuke’s altercations with the rest.

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2008 Year Review

Yes, I know, it’s incredibly late. But I had a few series that I really wanted to praise, so here it is (though I will backlog it in about a week or so done). I also have yet to review one major series that I’ve included, but I will get there.

And a warning, there is at least one major spoiler this time (Code Geass), so don’t click unless you don’t care.
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Quick review: Hanakimi special

I found out by accident a couple of days after the fact, but last Monday, there was a Hanakimi~Ikemen Paradise~ special, consisting of episode 7.5 (Julia invading Osaka Gakuen) and Graduation – of the 3rd years and Mizuki. Here’s the stuff I thought about…

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