So here we go.
10. Papa Wa Idol (パパドル!) "My Daddy is an Idol!"
I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot for silly, self-referential comedies. I am sad to say I have seen most Seth Rogan Movies because of it. Papa Wa Idol falls into that category. It is a very silly premise but the writing and the acting just work.
The story follows Nishikado Ryo (played by Nishikado Ryo), an idol in the Osaka-based boy band Kanjani8 , who is feeling like he is missing out on the small things in life. One day, he meets and falls in love with a single mother. Despite the fact that his contract forbids marriage or out in the open romances, he secretly marries her and tries to balance his busy career as an idol and his duties as a husband and step-father. Hilarity ensues.
|It is especially difficult when the youngest child is a fan of Arashi's Sakurai Sho and compares Ryo often|
For those not familiar with the idol scene in Japan, Nishikado Ryo is a real person and so is his group, Kanjani8. Everyone played themselves, or at least exaggerated versions of themselves. Maybe the Seth Rogan reference wasn't too far off from the truth because in many ways, Papa Wa Idol feels like This Is The End. Kanjani8, Nishikado, and even the cameos from the boy band Arashi feels like a parody of themselves.
But even if this vehicle was an excuse to make fun of the idol world, it didn't lack heart. Between the fish out of water shenanigans and the hilarious Dad!Fail moments, the drama has some serious scenes. It feels like something John Hughes would have written -- zany but not afraid to talk about something sad. It is comedy but the serious moments keep it grounded. It discusses the stress idols are often under, what it means to be a part of a unit (Ryo is forced to choose between his band -- who he sees as his brothers, and his new family for instance), and even the troubles of single, working moms. A premise as off the wall as Papa Wa Idol, the drama needed these moments or it would have fallen apart.
I have only watched this drama once, but I intend to watch it again in the future. Besides, I don't care if the paparazzi reported Ryo bit a hostess while drunk or something, he is just so charismatic and endearing, especially here.
|That smile, I just can't.|
9. Kisarazu Cat's Eye (木更津キャッツアイ)
This drama I have only watched once but it made such an impression on me, it has earned a spot on this list. There is so much about the choices made in this drama that I found intriguing. And once again, it is a comedy with a heavy, heavy message. I felt raw when I finished watching it because ... well, let me back up.
This drama is based on a manga (I don't know if it was turned into an anime or not) that follows 21-year old Kohei, nicknamed Bussan. Bussan lives in this small, sleepy sea-side town of Kisarazu in which most people just kind of do what their parents did and so forth. Bussan's dad is the barber and that is what Bussan is training to be for instance. Anyways, Bussan gets diagnosed with lymphoma and is told he only had six months to live. Concerned about his legacy, he concocts this idea with his friends who he played baseball with in high school (and they still play at times) in which they steal from the corrupt in town and give what they stole to the less fortunate.
The show is downright bizarre. And the funny part was it didn't necessarily start off like that. It starts off normal enough. Bussan is our narrator and he introduces us to the colorful characters of Kisarazu. And then as the drama continues, it gets more and more surreal. And it took me a few days after I finished watching to realize -- it was because Bussan was dying.
I am not even sure if the last episode wasn't just the final firings of Bussan's synapses. The very last scene in the show in which there is no Bussan narration I think really did happen (and oh man, I was crying).
Despite how bizarre the drama could be, I couldn't help but relate to the setting. I, too, grew up in a lazy, sea-side town in which most people were obsessed with baseball. Bussan's posse kind of reminded me of my brothers' friends. The characters are extremely relatable, well-rounded, and fun. Even Bussan's character exists past "That guy with cancer."
|For instance, one of them is married with kids -- there is one caper in which he had to bring the kid along|
The setting really makes the story, I think. It just wouldn't have felt the same if it took place in Tokyo, for instance (or even in the closest city of Chiba). There is a scene in which Bussan is getting sicker and sicker, and it is showing. He just kind of collapses on the beach and looks up at the sky, "Kisarazu is the best place in the world!" He says that even with all its problems they were trying to rectify, even if in the scheme of things, Kisarazu is but a drop of water in the vast ocean. The drama has many of those simple moments that hit you like that.
Oh, this drama is classified as a comedy. It is funny, but it hit me in the gut like a drama. I also still sometimes think about it. I think it is rather strong as far as cancer stories go.
I would recommend it for people who like the somewhat surreal. Or buddy stories. It is more than just a cancer story but it will break your heart like one. One day, perhaps I will rewatch it and ponder my choice but I have to mentally prepare myself for it first.
8. My Boss My Hero (マイ★ボス マイ★ヒーロー)
Now, we're going back to the more silly comedies. This one I have watched way too many times and I am still trying to pinpoint what it is about this show that I like so much. Sure, Nagase Tomoya certainly helps.
My Boss, My Hero is about 27 year old Sakaki Makio, son of the boss of a Yakuza gang. Makio is not very bright, although he is a tough fighter. This is the opposite of his little brother, Mikio, who is sickly but college educated. Things change when Mikio expresses he wants to take over the gang when their father passes on citing his older brother's lack of intelligence as a reason to gain the birthright. The father proposes Makio finish high school (which he never did) and then he would think about it. Makio goes back to high school and much laughing is had.
I wasn't kidding when I said this is basically the Japanese Billy Madison. What is Makio's favorite food? Pudding. Yep. He even yells for pudding much like Billy yells for snack packs. It is different, though. Makio is your stereotypical yakuza thug and he has to hold his temper and *GASP* let himself be pushed around by bullies. Sure, Makio is not very bright and lot of the humor is focused around on how much Makio just doesn't get basic academic subjects but Makio does take his life as a thug pretty seriously. And there is a bit of "honor among thieves" part of his personality as well.
As I said, I am not sure why I like this drama as much as I do. It is a typical fish out of water storyline that you can totally see being proposed in a board room. "Hey guys, I have an idea. See, he is in the YAKUZA. And he has to go back to high school!" But it really is Nagase who carries the whole drama. Yes, his supporting cast play up to the rather large personality that is Nagase Tomoya, but I could not see anyone else play that role that HAD to be over the top in order for it to work. And it is almost cartoonish in some parts with its ridiculousness.
But I like it. It is consistently entertaining every time I watch it. I can watch Nagase Tomoya's rubbery face until the end of time.
|My response if you say you'll skip this drama tbh|
7. Samurai High School
This is another drama I've seen an embarrassing number of times but unlike My Boss My Hero, I can really word why I like it so much. Simply, it is the characters and the chemistry the main trio has with each other, the witty script, and *sigh* I hate to keep on bringing up this topic but it is a comedy with a message and a lot of heart. And parallels, man, I love parallels.
Samurai High School is an original script and not based after anything. There is a manga called Samurai High School but it shares no similarities with the drama. The drama focuses around Mochizuki Kotaro (played by the dynamic Miura Haruma), a high school student who is... somewhat of a slacker with a deep fear of confrontation. When his teacher encourages him to further study Feudal Japanese History, he finds himself at a mysterious library and while there, he gets possessed by the ghost of a samurai who has his exact name.
The show continues with Kotaro wrestling control of his body with the gung-ho, principled samurai who usually takes control whenever Kotaro hits his head or witnesses some grave injustice (one in which Kotaro seemed willing to look the other way or run away from). Then Kotaro wrestles control whenever the samurai hits his head or whenever the samurai tries to mack on Kotaro's childhood friend and love interest, Nagasawa Ai (played by Ken Watanabe's daughter Anne, who brings different layers to the childhood friend/love interest archetype).
As the drama continues, Kotaro is forced to face some harsh realities that he can no longer run away from.
There is so much I like about this drama. As I mentioned above, the characters together with a witty script really makes this show just plain enjoyable to watch. Kotaro's friend, Nakamura Tsuyoshi (played by Shirota Yu, who is going against type) is just plain endearing as the stammering gentle giant type. Kotaro's spacy father is one of my favorite characters because of his awkward attempts to dad but his heart is in the right place. And man, as soon as he enters Kotaro's room with popsicles, I know it is going to be both a funny and warm father son moment. Then there is the cocky police officer who keeps on running into Kotaro at the most inconvenient times.
|The police officer has a picture of himself in front of a motorcycle on his desk|
That is what I mean by brilliant parallels and just a lot of thoughtfulness. Yes, the drama is about Kotaro's coming of age, but it also continues further telling him life is tough, life is unfair, but that doesn't mean you should accept it for what it is.
Samurai High School does have a silly and been done before premise. Also, the special effects are kind of silly. But it is just a good time to watch with a solid script with interesting characters. And Miura Haruma does a fantastic job. I mean, just look at how his face transforms from derpy high school student to badass samurai.
6. Galileo (ガリレオ)
I have another less embarrassing confession to make -- I love detective shows. I've always been big into mysteries and some of my favorite TV shows tend to focus around detectives. You really can't go wrong with it. Well, you can. You can have crappy writing, poorly written characters, and just boring mysteries for them to solve. But every season has a detective show and that includes both Japan and the United States.
Normally, I get excited when I see a new detective drama but very few stick with me or that I couldn't wait until next week like I did with Galileo. I haven't revisited this drama in a few years but I have watched it more than once (I feel I need to rewatch soon). The characters are engaging and the mysteries are pretty interesting and leave you guessing. I also like the science bent the mysteries tended to take.
Galileo is based on an absurdly popular novel series in Japan. I have not read the novels so I can't say if it on par with the novels or better or complete crap. I just know they are popular. I can see why. It is an interesting way to look at the detective storylines. If I had to think of an American equivalent, it is House MD meets Bones with a pinch of X-Files. But it really stands on its own.
Galileo is about a university professor named Yukawa Manabu (played by Fukuyama Masaharu), nicknamed Galileo for his eccentricity. Galileo is a physicist primarily intrigued by things science cannot explain which draws him to focus on finding-and often debunking paranormal phenomena. This brings in rookie cop Utsumi Kaoru (played by Shibasaki Kou) who for some reason keeps on getting assigned all these crimes involving some sort of paranormal phenomena. She enlists the help of Galileo to figure out the science involved so she can solve the cases. The two balance each other out; Galileo the logical, coldly honest scientist and Utsumi, the hot-tempered, justice seeking cop. And of course there is tons and tons of UST, even early on in the series when they clearly Do Not Get Along.
I don't want to give too much away but Shibasaki and Fukuyama play off each other with ease. I fell into the will they or won't they plotline but also the science, mystery, and paranormal themes of the crimes they are trying to solve. Also, I feel so bad for Galileo's interns. He ran them through the mill.
I highly recommend this series for anyone -- jdrama aficionados or not. And you can bet if they ever translate the novels or I sit down and learn Japanese, I would read the hell out of them as much as I do Harry Potter.
5. Nodame Cantabile (のだめカンタービレ)
I grew up in a musical family. My grandfather was a professor of music. My brothers both longed to be musicians -- one of them becoming a bassist in a popular local band. As for myself, I played trumpet/baritone in band but I really enjoyed taking voice class. My grandfather though, was this classy gentleman who was obsessed with perfection. He was known for throwing his baton at people who were flat while he was conducting. Don't get me wrong, people remembered good things he did. But I'm making a point here.
What drew me to Nodame Cantabile was how the main character reminded me of stories about my grandfather when he was younger -- formal, took his craft really seriously, and clashed with people who didn't. That is probably part of the reason why Nodame is so high on the list. I watch it and it reminds me of my grandfather. Sure, there are other aspects I like too, but I will get to that later.
Nodame Cantabile is based on a manga and was adapted both for jdrama and anime. It follows Chiaki Shinichi (played brutally by Tamaki Hiroshi) a musical genius who dreams of becoming a famous conductor one day. He goes to a Japanese University, Momogaoka College of Music even though he would rather go to a European university which would be "better" for launching his career. The only problem is he has a crippling fear of flying. So Chiaki is an uptight, bitter, perfectionist who is a big fish in a small pond.
In walks Noda Megumi (played by the adorable Ueno Juri), nicknamed Nodame, who is everything that makes Chiaki cringe. She's childish, loud, messy but she is basically a piano prodigy. Chiaki is told to mentor Nodame and the drama is about their blossoming relationship from enemies (well on Chiaki's side), friends, then romantic partners. There is a lot of belligerent sexual tension. Chiaki gets Nodame to look at her talent more seriously and Nodame gets Chiaki to lighten up and really appreciate what music is all about.
|Their differences captured in one picture|
Not only do I like to see how Nodame slowly begins to melt the ice prince's heart (as well as the audience's) but Nodame has a rich ensemble cast. This is due to a subplot in which Chiaki is given the opportunity to conduct but it is an orchestra made up of the worst students at the uni. You have the rock enthusiast violinist Miine Ryutaro (played by a fun Eita) who doesn't look much like a classical violinist which irritates Chiaki to no end. If only Miine knew about Lindsey Stirling...
|I love Eita's hair in this drama|
Another aspect I really like about the drama is the choice in music. They tap into all the classic composers and even assign variations of those themes on each of the characters. Nodame for instance is Mozart -- a child genius with a sense of bounce and "pinkness" as Nodame says. Miine is Gershwin -- someone who looks to meld the old with the new. Chiaki is Beethoven -- a genius who is limited by some sort of problem (Beetovan deafness and Chiaki his fear of flying)
Nodame Cantabile borrows heavily from its source material. It feels very mangaish in many ways even employing floating hearts above people nursing crushes and the like. Also, when Chiaki whacks Nodame with either scores or whatever he has his hands on, Nodame flies very far away, further than someone normally would. It is a shame because I think the story holds its own without the manga references.
Despite that, I really enjoy this romantic comedy and if you don't mind what I mentioned above, you may like it too.
|Hurry! puppets await|
4. Kimi Wa Petto (きみはペット) You Are My Pet
The following drama has an incredibly strange premise but it is really good. Trust me on this.
Kimi Wa Petto, based on a josei manga, is about a journalist named Iwaya Sumire (played by the extremely talented Koyuki) who just got dumped by her fiance. He told her that she was taller than him, better educated (graduating from the extremely prestigious Tokyo University), and had a higher paying job than him. She made him feel inadequate as a man. Then, later that day, her boss sexually harasses her to which she responded by punching him in the face. As a result, she got demoted. Things can't possibly get any worse.
In a storm, she comes home and finds a young man in a box (played but the adorable Matsumoto Jun) who was badly hurt. Since it was storming, she brings him inside and nurses him back to health. He desperately wants to stay with her to which Sumire jokingly responds that he could only stay with her as her pet. To her shock, he agrees and even takes on the name Momo.
|I'll take ten|
What I find most interesting about this drama is that you can really view it as a feminist narrative. Sumire is a very intelligent, driven woman but that scares most men away causing her to not only feel lonely at home but also at work. She is threatening to others because of her abilities and she's a woman no less. She is able to bag the man she thinks she wants, the one society tells her she should have but she is no more happy because she can't be herself. Then there is Momo who likes her Just The Way She Is but that is a relationship (which is non-sexual at first) that others would frown on.
There is a growing conflict between Sumire and Momo's status with each other throughout the drama. And in the end, the theme really is about romance as equality -- a romance between equals.
As I said above, it seems like it would be a very weird premise but in the end, I loved the story and I loved the message.
3. Nobuta Wo Produce (野ブタ。をプロデュース) Producing Nobuta
Make-Over Storylines. Man, they've been done to death. It is rather shocking that I placed one at Number 3 on this list. But there is a reason. This drama took the storyline for the ages and added in a few variations. For one, this is not a story about romance -- although feelings from one almost destroys this perfect trio -- it is about friendship first and foremost.
Nobuta Wo Produce is narrated by its main character Kiritani Shuji (played by Kamenashi Kazuya) who is without a doubt the most popular kid in school. Even though he has many friends, he still feels kind of lonely and distant and is probably a step away from an existential crisis. He is always looking out for everyone whether it is little brother, absent-minded father, or his classmates but at the same time is big on developing his reputation as the golden boy. He is nice to everyone, except for Kusano Akira (played by Yamashita Tomohisa who knocks the role out of the park) who is obnoxious and odd and doesn't shower regularly and "can't read the atmosphere".
Enter Kotani Nobuko (played by an endearing Horikita Maki) who is a bigger mess than Akira is. She's shy and uncouth which immediately makes her a target of bullies. Shuji feels bad for her as does Akira. The two hatch a plan to "Produce Nobuko" to make her the most popular girl in school.
|Boys know nothing about make-overs!|
As I said, there is nothing too special about the premise. It is My Fair Lady but there is no bet, Shuji offers to fix up Nobuta (the nickname they give her) because he feels sorry for her. And in the end, despite Shuji having many people around him who want to interact with him, he finds two true friends in Akira and Nobuta. And he learns to be more honest with himself too and to not care so much about what others think. See, Nobuta doesn't change who she is to be popular, she changes her outlook and she begins to like herself. And qualities her classmates initially found disgusting, they begin to find endearing.
The drama is so good because each of the main three characters have their outside appearances and their inner turmoil. Much like how this type of storyline goes down the path of don't judge a book by its cover, that is a theme constantly explored. It makes for very intriguing, layered characters. Even the goof ball Akira has some secrets he keeps hidden and why he chooses to march to the beat of a different drummer makes a whole lot of sense.
|Akira instructing Nobuta on confidence|
I have mentioned before about how much people just like to focus on romance and not friendship. Friendship means so much to me and yet I feel it is so underappreciated. Nobuta Wo Produce wants us to remember how precious real friendship is. It is about mutual respect and it is about support and yes, about platonic love.
2. Kazoku Game (家族ゲーム) Family Game
I adore a well done trickster. I just love what they contribute to a story. They not only bring the chaos and often teach the protagonist (or villain) a lesson in an unconventional way but they often have delicious ambiguous morality and dubious end goals. It is partially my love of this archetype that Kazoku Game made it to the prestigious number 2 spot.
Kazoku Game, which is a remake of a 1980s drama and movie which was based off a novel, focuses around the Numata family. On the surface they seem to be the perfect family in every way. The father (played by an incredible Itao Itsuji) maintains a high paying job which managed to help him secure a rather nice residence. The mother (played by the equally amazing Suzuki Honami) is a demure housewife who never complains and is sweet and apparently loving. The older son, Shinichi (played by Kamiki Ryuunosuke who has acting chops like I never seen) is the golden boy, straight-A's, heavily involved in activities. The Numatas seem perfect.
Any family should want to like them except they have a problem with their youngest son, middle schooler, Shigeyuki (played by a woobie Uragami Seishuu) who threatens to shatter their reputation. Shigeyuki refuses to go to school, to leave his room even. The neighbors are starting to talk! The father hires a tutor named Yoshimoto Koya (played expertly by Sakurai Sho) whose ad guarantees to help anyone to the point they could get into Tokyo University.
|The kid with the monitor on his head has to be different.|
Yoshimoto is a bit of an odd duck whose methods vary from strange to morally questionable. And Shigeyuki is not his only student and it is clear Yoshimoto wants to teach the entire Numata Family a thing or two. Apparently the perfect family mask is really just that. But will Yoshimoto help them or break them?
|Well, he already invited himself over for dinner -- that is never a good sign|
When I finished watching Kazoku Game, I went right back to the first episode and watched the entire thing again. It is that good. There are so many layers to the story. You could watch the whole thing as a comedy or a drama or a psychological thriller and you'd get a different experience from watching it. There are parts of the drama in which you feel uncomfortable but you're supposed to be. The key theme of Kazoku Game is empathy and the way it moves, the writers/director wants you to empathize as if daring you to turn away just like everyone else is doing when things get real.
|Yoshimoto drags a sobbing Shigeyuki to school until the kid just kind of collapses in a heartbreaking scene|
But probably most amazing about this drama alludes to what I wrote in my first paragraph. Yoshimoto is an excellent example of a trickster character. When he arrives in the Numata Family's life, he turns everything upside down. He teases, he mocks, he calls out the members of the family on various issues. In reality, he is holding up a mirror for them to see their ugliness and urges them to change it -- although admittedly in a not too nice way. When I noticed these similarities to the trickster, as I was reading more about it, I found that the author of the novel meant for Yoshimoto to have shades of Susanoo, the Shinto God of Storms -- a well-known trickster figure.
Sakurai Sho created a great character too. Yoshimoto has a specific walk, one with a purpose and almost robotic in someways. He also has a catch phrase, "Ii ne" which means "Good". He switches from manically cheerful to darkly sinister at a drop of a hat which causes the viewer to question his motives.
|This is Yoshimoto blackmailing Shinichi, who steals when he thinks no one is looking. Yoshimoto looks, he always looks.|
I had originally written up a long analysis of Kazoku Game but just never published it. There is a lot going on and I seriously recommend it. There is a lot of thoughtfulness in it and by the end, you will be questioning your own levels of empathy.
1. Nobunaga Concerto (信長協奏曲)
Come on you knew this one was coming. It may be because it is fresh in my mind that I place this at number one, and there may be some truth in that. But honestly, the more I thought about it and the more I read about the actual Nobunaga and the people in his life, I just like it that much more. It is a solid story (although iffy timeline) with outstanding performances. And really, a historical setting usually wins me over 9 times out of ten.
I'm not going to spend a great deal of time on this one because I wrote an entire entry about it. So go read that one! Shoo Shoo!