Series Spotlight is a monthly feature in which I talk about television shows or miniseries that has caught my attention and/or undying devotion. Have a suggestion for a TV show I should watch? Let me know in the comments!
The Premise: Makino Tsukushi just can’t catch a break. Her family’s barely scraping by, her school is full of rich snobs, and a Grade-A curly-haired grumpyface, king of the rich snobs, has decided to make her regret ever crossing him in the lunchroom. But Makino is a “stubborn weed” of a girl, and Grumpyface might just find himself regretting crossing her soon enough.
The Draw: I blame The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. In August 2012, I was lying in the dark, thinking about Darcy and Lizzie, and contemplating other fictional couples that reminded me of them. A memory stirred, a Taiwanese drama that I had seen (and hated) back in 2003: Meteor Garden. I vaguely remembered hearing that it was based on a Japanese manga and live-action drama, and I headed to YouTube, wondering if the male protagonist was any cuter than the dude I seen in Meteor Garden. The first result was a video called “Hana Yori Dango season finale,” and it was a 5-minute gut punch of an introduction to what fans affectionately refer to as “Hanadan.”
Fast-forward 2 ½ years later—Hi, my name is Angel, I’m in love with Matsumoto Jun and I have since dragged six people into the black hole that is the Arashi fandom because of this drama. You have been warned. This is the gateway. You will never be the same again.
Why You Should Stick Around: Real talk—if you have never watched an Asian drama before, Hanadan is the perfect way to start. The manga came out in the early 90s, and many of the tropes that are familiar to drama lovers now were introduced in it. The live-action adaptation plays up those tropes to excellent comedic and dramatic effect. While the dependence on tropes can get a little tedious close to the end of the second season, the actors are compelling enough to sell the ideas to you and make you glad you bought in anyway.
Makino Tsukushi, played by Inoue Mao, is an incredible female character. She is comfortable with herself and her status in life, and she refuses to apologize for who she is. She works hard and doesn’t ask for anything because she believes she is capable of achieving her dreams without help. When challenges do come her way, she picks herself up and pushes through anyway, often surprising and inspiring the people around her to do the same. Makino believes in herself and she isn’t afraid of anyone, and you can definitely see the stirrings of an excellent lawyer in her (studying law is her lifelong dream). Mao inhabits the role with ease, and her natural charisma only heightens Makino’s charm.
You might ask yourself how aforementioned Grumpyface Domyouji Tsukasa might ever be worthy of her, and it would be a valid question. He isn’t, and generally the show doesn’t try to make you believe otherwise. He is mean and ignorant and childish. (Trigger warning for sexual assault in the first episode, because his condemnation of Makino does lead to a pretty awful scene.) Domyouji is as afraid of himself and what other people think of him as Makino is brave. Rejected and dismissed by his mother, Domyouji acts out, and Makino has absolutely no time for that. She calls him out on his attitude and refuses to give in to his tantrums, and slowly but surely, he starts to learn how to be a real human being. My personal bias aside, Matsumoto Jun simply is Domyouji, taking what could be a flat, predictable character and giving him those much-needed strokes of humanity. His performance highlights the fact that Domyouji is a kid playing at meanness because he doesn’t know how else to be, and that he does want to be something more.
That development, while emotional and painful, also paves way for some of the funniest moments in the drama. The ridiculousness of F4, Domyouj’s group of friends, is played up right until the moment you realize that they’re together because no one else can understand what it’s like to be them. Domyouji, Rui, Mimasaka and Nishikado are loyal to each other because life is lonely without someone like you who just gets it, without explanation. Domyouji’s creative use of language hints at his social awkwardness, and his desire to be accepted. There are some problematic elements: the double standards for men and women play a part in how Domyouji treats Makino, especially in the first season, and as I mentioned earlier, there is a scene about halfway through the first episode that nearly turned me off the drama. While I could definitely do without those scenes, they also emphasize how much Domyouji needs to change to be a competent and functional member of society. The great thing is: he does, and falling in love with Makino gives him one (of many) reasons to start.
The love story between Domyouji and Makino doesn’t happen immediately–they trip over each other, misunderstand each other, hurt each other. They’re teenagers, trying to be adults, and realizing that while they might not need each other, they might just want to be there anyway. Watching them grow up was more than satisfying. It was also plain fun, because the screen just comes alive when they share a scene. It’s easy to cheer for Makino as she stands up for herself, and it’s just as easy to feel for Domyouji as he comes to the realization that this girl might be the person he could love for the rest of his life.
So take a chance on Hanadan, even and especially if you’ve never seen an Asian drama before. It’s okay, I’ll be right here waiting for you to finish (because you won’t be able to stop once you’ve started). And when you finish? Well, I’ve got a boy band to tell you about.
Next month on Series Spotlight: Sing me a song of a lass that is gone–say, could that lass be I?
Categories: Series Spotlight