Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hana Kimi: The Dorama That Started It All

A couple entries ago, I mentioned how I am a big fan of Asian Dramas. It is one of my niche "geekdoms" if you will but I like it enough that I can't run a geek blog without talking about the ones I really like. I plan in the future to write reviews or other thoughts on series I enjoyed but before I do that, I want to talk about the drama that started it all -- Hanazakari no Kimitachi e or as it is called colloquially by the fandom as Hana Kimi. Translated, the title means, "For You in Full Blossom".

Let's play a game of spot the girl

I stumbled on this magical craziness pretty much on accident. In college, I got really into anime and manga. It wouldn't be that far to call me a weeaboo (an internet term indicating someone obsessed with Japanese culture to the point they think Japan is the best place on Earth. Granted, I never felt like THAT). Then I joined the army and I fell out of anime. I remember the last series I watched before shipping off to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri -- Ouran High School Host Club. That series is still one of my favorite animes I sometimes revisit.

Welcome to my world of Jdrama obsession

Anyways, I'm in Germany and in the army having difficulty adjusting to being so far away from my friends/family when I see an online friend of mine post some funny gifs that I didn't know what they were from. So I asked her. She told me it was from Live Action Hana Kimi. I was immediately floored. Hana Kimi happened to be one of my favorite manga and is the longest full series I own(all 23 volumes). I asked where could I get this magic and she showed me where and thus began my journey.

I loved it so much it gave me a nose bleed

Hana Kimi follows the misadventures of Ashiya Mizuki (as a side note, I will be giving the names in Japanese convention so last name first), a Japanese-American who transfers to a school in Japan called Ohsaka Gakuen. The reason for this big move across the Pacific has to do with the fact Mizuki is a huge fangirl to one of the students who goes there -- a professional high jumper named Sano Izumi. Sano recently retired from the sport for seemingly unknown reasons and Mizuki transfers to his school in hopes she can use her American optimism to get him to jump again (typical American amirite?). There is just one catch; Ohsaka Gakuen is an all-boys school. Oh, and Mizuki and Sano are roommates. And there may be feelings developing between the two of them. You know, typical Shojo stuff.

I was going to put one of the accidental kisses but here is Sano waking up Mizuki instead

I am not quite sure why this manga appeals to me so much as it does. I think part of it is the fact the dialogue is very witty and the side characters are very fun and interesting. The story is absolutely silly but there is something charming about Mizuki's pushiness and Sano's aloofness in the 23 volume long will-they-or-won't-they saga that kept me coming back for more. I also happen to have a weak spot for gender humor in which Mizuki's cross-dressing antics provides much of that.

So Mizuki is cross-dressing as a guy cross-dressing as a girl and oh just forget it

I kept on hoping they would do an anime adaptation of Hana Kimi but instead they did a Live Action -- Four Actually. Taiwan did a version, South Korea did a version, and Japan did two. I'm going to be talking about the 2007 Japanese version starring Horikita Maki, Oguri Shun, and Ikuta Toma.  It is weird I got so into this because when I was into anime, I never ventured into the live-action realm of things. I never got into J-pop or J-rock or the anime adapted into live-action. But now, I don't watch much anime these days but I do watch a lot of variety shows and dramas.

Anyways, I watched Hana Kimi and absolutely fell in love with it. It was silly and light and fun, exactly what I needed at the time. I watched this drama many times -- an embarrassingly large amount. I have scenes memorized in Japanese. It is no masterpiece but it is incredibly entertaining. The first episode opens on a disclaimer "This Drama is fictional. Pardon the Foolishness". And this drama is so unapologetically foolish and silly and it is because it doesn't take itself so seriously-- that you just have a lot of fun watching it. In fact, you can tell the cast just had a lot of fun filming it and you have fun with them. I can't think of an American equivalent. Except maybe Glee if you take out all the random musical numbers. Wait...

The style you could tell the drama went for was manga or anime come to life. The set is very colorful which is only dressed with an equally colorful ensemble cast. The use of symbols commonly used in anime and manga were applied to the screen and also anime-like special effects. Maybe in hindsight, this jdrama worked like a gateway from anime to live-action.

Those are hearts in his eyes.

The drama differed from the manga in many ways. I could see how it could because the manga is 23 volumes long. By the time the 13th episode rolled around, I felt disappointed in that they didn't use my two favorite plots from the manga -- Nakatsu's Kansai stereotype mother coming to visit and Mizuki's American bff Julia coming for a visit. But then came the special in which both these plots were used and the special was epic in of itself because of it. However, otherwise, there were a couple changes from the manga that bothered me ... not enough for me to hate the drama but enough that I have to point them out.

 For one, the drama opens up that the school only accepts good-looking boys and it shows them walking to class with girls from the nearby schools watching them go, cheering like fangirls. This concept wasn't in the manga. Ohsaka Gakuen is just an all-boys school and it is near an all-girls school called St. Blossom's. At its best, it is annoying and at its worst, it is a little patronizing. However, Hibari and her gang of girls (students at St. Blossoms) do such a good job of eating up the scenery I can't hate them too much.

I mean come on -- they have their own rehearsed entrance!

The other change that kind of annoys me is the Dorm structure. In the manga, the Dorms are set up almost like Hogwarts Houses. Where you live is directly in relation to your extra-curricular activities. Dorm 1 is the Physical Activities like Martial Arts or any other sport. Dorm 2 is involvement in both arts and athletics. Dorm 3 is if you are involved in the arts. The drama has Dorm 2 be affiliated with sports while Dorm 1 is just Martial Arts. I can't hate it too much because Dorm 1 is absolutely hilarious with their RA treating all of them like samurai going off to war.

Sorry about using a jdrama confession but it only further shows why it annoys me

The last change that kind of annoys me is the character of Akiha, a nosy reporter and photographer who wants to know why Sano quit the high jump. In the manga, Akiha is a guy who has a past relationship with the school nurse, Umeda-sensei. Umeda is openly gay in both the manga and the jdrama. In the jdrama, it is implied they did use to date until Umeda decided he preferred the company of men. Akiha still follows Umeda around despite this fact and the two are pretty funny together, especially since Umeda acts like Akiha has a gnome down there. But still, I felt the sex change wasn't necessary. It was almost like the drama writers thought, "We can have Umeda still be gay, but not too gay."

Besides we already have Oscar, the Dorm 3 RA for that

Despite these three nitpicks, even when you have to suspend your disbelief over some of the antics our heroes get into, I just really adore this series. The plot isn't anything special -- very typical shojo. But the power behind the themes and how it is presented is really well done. I still hold my breath every time Sano jumps and wonder if he will succeed or fail this time. That is what is so well done about this drama. The story is about not giving up on yourself. True to shojo formula, Sano is a closed off, damaged individual but by the end, he learns to believe in himself and open up to those he cares about. But what is perhaps different from the usual formula is that it is not just the love interest, Mizuki, who helps him. His friends in general get behind him.

Mizuki trying to use her power of persuasion and optimism to get Sano to jump again

That leads to one of Hana Kimi's strongest theme which is the power of friendship. At the end of the day, everyone in Ohsaka Gakuen are out to help each other. It examines what it means to be a friend. Mizuki at the beginning is pushy and nosy but she learns that when it comes to something like learning to jump again, that has to be on the individual in question. All you can do is just indicate you are there for them. I know the power of friendship is something that everyone looks at as an Aesop as something that is just kids' stuff but I think adults can stand to revisit what it means to be a true friend.

Hugging your friends even when they say no -- number 1 rule of friendship

Hana Kimi is nothing without its quirky cast. Without it, it would be just any other shojo story. It is an ensemble show and even the characters who have one or two lines have distinct personalities that you can track in the background of each episode and notice their own stories are going on at the same time the main plot is. Every time I watch the drama, I attach myself to a different side character. I feel I have to say something about each of them.

You can't have too many Nakatsu gifs

Nakatsu Shuichi ignited my interest in Ikuta Toma, his actor. I consider myself a big fan of Ikuta and I have seen most of his work in which he continues to impress me as an actor. Everything he's in, you can tell he is trying extra harder than he did in his last role. I saw an interview with him in which he said his goal in life is to be a perfect actor. Even if that concept didn't exist, he still wanted to strive to it.

Anyways, Ikuta's performance as Nakatsu made me realize how much I liked him. In the manga, I liked Nakatsu okay. Nakatsu is a loud mouthed, soccer-loving fool. He is a stereotypical person from the Kansai region. has a page about it called "That Idiot from Osaka"  Nakatsu is not bright. He also develops a crush on Mizuki which sends him into a spiral questioning his sexuality. In the drama, Nakatsu doesn't change much from the manga but it is Ikuta's performance and interpretation of Nakatsu which made me really love drama!Nakatsu.

Japan -- Because if there isn't a scene with someone with panties on their head, why bother?

Nakatsu is the only character in the show (besides Sano in the special) who has scenes with internal monologue going on. His lines of reasoning are ridiculous. Like he justified jumping into the shower with Mizuki by saying it would conserve water. This never happened in the manga. In fact it is Sano who has internal monologues. Even so, Ikuta sells it and chews the scenery while doing so.

She's so adorbs

Ashiya Mizuki played by Horikita Maki, I feel like I can't continue without mentioning her. What I really liked about her in the manga and in the drama is that she honestly tries to be a good person, even when she screws up. I also like how she's kind of an American stereotype from the Japanese standpoint (she's a big eater, loud, and nosy). But I can't complain about Horikita's performance. I felt she captured the essence of Mizuki rather well.

Just look at the brooding, damaged glare of the typical Shojo hero

And if I talk about Mizuki I might as well mention Sano Izumi played by Oguri Shun. I always really liked Sano. I felt he was a highly complex character dogged by his own insecurities connected to a domineering father and letting down women he tried to help (his mother and Mizuki). He comes off as brash and harsh but he is just broke inside. I've seen so many male heroes in Shojo go down that road of being aloof but to the point they're really mean. Sano never goes over that line. He can say some things out of line but his good side comes out in what he DOES versus what he SAYS. He is never malicious in his actions and actually is a good friend and a good person.

Pictured -- Umeda mentoring

Umeda Hokuto (played by Kamikawa Takaya) is my favorite character in the manga and was kicked off number 1 by Nakatsu in the drama, not that Kamikawa did a bad job. Umeda is the school nurse and his role is that of mentor to Mizuki (and is one of the people who knows her secret from the beginning) -- heck, pretty much anyone. I really like mentor characters which is why I like Umeda-sensei. He provides good advice but can be bluntly honest at times. And while he knows everyone's problems, he doesn't ever get directly involved. He'll slip something in his advice to people but that's it. As I mentioned above, Umeda is openly gay and I like how he goes against stereotypes. His story is not marked by some torrid love affair that makes him dark and angsty. He doesn't have the gaynst. No, Umeda-sensei is very comfortable in who he is and doesn't care if you aren't.

I don't know about you guys but I want them as my RAs

The RAs of Dorms 1, 2, and 3 are worth mentioning. Tennoji Megumi, Nanba Minami, and Himejima "Oscar" Masao are so over the top, you can't help but love them. Tennoji, the Dorm 1 leader, as I mentioned runs his dorm like he is shogun and his kohai are his soldiers. He is a big, tough guy except when his betrothed Kana-chan is in the picture, then he is butter. Nanba (which is a play on words of Nanpa, meaning flirt), is Umeda-sensei's nephew and a total ladies' man. He is always hatching schemes. In fact, he kind of reminds me of Ferris Bueller in a way. Then there is Himejima, the over-dramatic, narcissistic head of Dorm 3 who steals every scene he's in with complete and utter ridiculousness. I think what I like the most about these three is that they spend most of the series squabbling with each other and getting into competition with each other but when it comes to the school and their kohai, they will put that aside.

"I detect a rainbow aura around you, Nakatsu!"

Probably my second favorite character in the manga and in the top five for the drama is Kayashima Taiki played by Yamamoto Yuusuke (who I share a birthday with). He's Nakatsu's roommate and also can read auras and fortunes and sees ghosts. He kind of belongs in the Addams Family. But also, like Sano, he's not what he seems on the surface. He is actually extremely soft-spokened -- when not talking about ghosts and things like that. He uses the softer word for I "boku" while most of his classmates tend to use the stronger "ore". In the manga, his backstory is revealed in which he expresses that his abilities scare people away, which makes him feel lonely. The drama doesn't particularly address that but Kayashima is a very good friend to Nakatsu, the only person who doesn't seem frightened of him.

Oh yeah, Sekime somehow can talk to dogs -- which is never addressed

I may be one of a few people who adores Sekime Kyoga who is played by Okada Masaki. He's in Mizuki's class. In the manga, he's kind of Mizuki's Lenny -- he's always there with his roommate Nao and he provides comments here and there. In the drama, they give him a run-on gag that no one can get Sekime's name right. He also has a romantic subplot in which he pretends to like Gundam to get the girl he likes. Basically, nothing ever goes right for Sekime. 

Haha, she's so over the top
Even though their existence is problematic, I can't help but like Hanayashiki Hibari and the rest of the Hibari 4 (plus Komari, that bitch). Hibari has the hots for Sano and she and her girls get into shenanigans because of it.

No one cares, Komari. Shut up.

You can tell the actress who plays Hibari just had so much fun going over the top as this universe's answer to Regina George. I didn't like her the first time I watched the series but the more I watched it, the more hilarious she became.

Presented without explanation

Not only did I discover the awesomeness that is Ikuta Toma in Hana Kimi, but I also discovered Shirota Yu who plays Kagurazaka Makoto who is Sano's rival in high jumping. What I like about him as a character is that he comes off as a big tough guy who is the antagonist in a couple episodes. And he plays the role. However, as Mizuki points out, Kagurazaka misses the rivalry he had with Sano and the two don't hate each other. They have respect for each other's abilities. They only talk smack because what is sports without smack talk?

Shizuki is not a panty thief -- Mizuki on the other hand...

I also have a soft spot for Mizuki's brother Ashiya Shizuki (I know their names rhyme). In the manga, Shizuki is actually Mizuki's half-brother who is like 15 years older than she is. Also, unlike Mizuki, whose mother is Japanese (her father is American born), Shizuki's mother was white and he has blond hair. They didn't incorporate that part of his story into the drama. But I guess what I liked about Shizuki is the fact that there is such a huge age difference between Mizuki and Shizuki and they have a close relationship. You don't see that too often. Also, Shizuki is played by Okada Yoshinori who is in everything. Seriously, he is like the Japanese Judy Greer. He has a lot of roles and plays them well enough but he is never the lead.

Wow, this entry turned out to be longer than I intended it to be. I just really love Hana Kimi. I know it is not for everyone but it may be for you if you just like off the wall silliness or need to take a break from the Breaking Bads and Game of Throneses of TV and just need a feel good romp into a magical place called Ohsaka Gakuen, where logic takes a holiday. Maybe one day I will revisit Hana Kimi with my top ten favorite moments but for now, I'm closing up.

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