Drama Review: Buzzer Beat: Gakeppuchi no Hero (Fuji TV, 2009)
Attack of the Killer Cheese Floss! The Giant Pecs of Doom! (And Other Hardcourt Horrors)
by Ender’s Girl
Yamashita Tomohisa, Kitagawa Keiko, Aibu Saki, Ito Hideaki, Kaneko Nobuaki, Kanjiya Shihori, Maya Miki, Mizobata Junpei, and Yamashita Tomohisa’s various muscle groups
In a Nutshell:
Hotshot hoopster Kamiya Naoki crosses paths with Shirakawa Riko, an aspiring violinist who has just moved into his neighborhood. Though they have little in common, the two become good friends and cheer each other on through their respective setbacks and victories. But love pulls a fast break — despite Naoki’s serious relationship with his cheerleader girlfriend, and Riko’s budding romance with Naoki’s head coach. Will Naoki and Riko ever make that slam dunk into love? Or will they only foul out at the buzzer? (And will I ever lay off the lame basketball puns? Not a chance! Hahahaha)
(SpoilLert: Major-league spoilers up ahead! I left all the good stuff in, sorry.)
The apartment complex. The neighborhood basketball court. The strains of classical music wafting from an open window. The friendship growing into love. The bouncing rubber ball… Now, where have we seen these before? Heh. But before all you Long Vacation fans wheel out your beat-up old pianos while warbling the “La La La Love Song” chorus and Cagnet medleys, before you start sobbing “Sena… Sena…” into your tattered Live Aid T-shirts… <oh, so was it just me doing that? lol> Chotto matte! This ain’t about Long Vacation. (Well, duh.)
Of course this is all about the drama Buzzer Beat starring “Mr. Getsu 9” himself, Yamashita Tomohisa — lest we forget that this whole production is really his vehicle. Interestingly enough, Buzzer Beat was co-directed by Nagayama Kozo, the same dude who shared credits for the two hottest Kimura Takuya dramas of the ‘90s, Long Vacation (1996) and Love Generation (1997). Same director, eh? That would explain Buzzer Beat’s obvious similarities to Long Vacation in setting, story, and atmosphere, as well as the few references to Love Generation (like the ubiquitous billboard emblazoned with <insert love proverb of choice>). I felt I had to address the LV and LG allusions right off the bat, these proverbial elephants in the room. (There are also the unavoidable comparisons to Kimura’s iconic 2004 sports ren’ai Pride, but more on that later.) I don’t know if the homage to LV was intentional, but given the same director, this “tribute” really did seem self-referential more than anything (i.e. “Let’s do LV all over again, but with sports+YamaPi thrown in to jazz things up for the Heisei generation!”) So yeah, I believe it was done on purpose.
But here’s where it gets sticky: Yes, there’s nothing wrong with Buzzer Beat riffing off familiar motifs from well-loved dramas. BUT when you’re watching Buzzer Beat and ALL you can think of is how it’s SO NOT Long Vacation, and how inferior the drama is to LV in terms of writing, direction and acting, when the drama’s flaws become even more glaring because the 1996 dorama was just so bloody wonderful, then Buzzer Beat no longer becomes an homage, but just this second-rate imitation, a fuzzy and forgettable throwback to the Golden Age of KimuTaku renzoku ren’ai. Just because it feels like Long Vacation doesn’t mean it’s as good as Long Vacation, or ever will be. To pay tribute to such an ICONIC and universally loved drama (even by non-Kimura fans) is a humongous gamble, one you should only be willing to take if you’ve got all bases covered, if you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed you t’s. And if you don’t merely rely on fan nostalgia, but have something new to bring to the drama, a fresh take on the old staples that will really make a dent on the viewers.
I wanted Buzzer Beat to be a good and satisfying drama, really I did, because the premise alone (while not exactly original) at least promised some honest-to-goodness ROMANCE amid this parched landscape of high school vaudeville and police/forensic/medical procedurals that the Jdoramaverse has become. But the first episode alone failed to grip me: everything about it was so static, so pedestrian. (I’m not surprised that the writer of Buzzer Beat, Omori Mika, also penned that soporific 2002 clunker Looooong Love Letter. She ought to move to Korea where the more drawn-out plots will better suit her style, heh.) Yes I know that first episodes are really expository in function and usually provide little room for character development. But the purpose they serve is not merely to introduce the characters and premise, but to interest the viewer enough to want to watch the succeeding episodes, enough to want to get to know the Hero and the Heroine a little better. Just to illustrate, Pride was my first Kimura drama and I didn’t even like him before watching the first episode (but that’s another story for another day, heh), but the first few minutes of Episode 1 had me all fired up — and I don’t even play hockey, lol. I wasn’t in love with Satonaka Halu yet, but I was intrigued as heck, and was so engaged by the dynamic direction and editing, by the natural acting, by the crisp dialogue and adrenaline-pumped sports action. In short, I was hooked before Ep. 1 was even over.
Not so for Buzzer Beat, despite the big season-ending match that opens the drama. Don’t get me wrong — basketball is my #1 sport (fave player: Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns PG, woohoo), but the disappointingly choreographed sports action did not impress. And I know we’re supposed to buy into YamaPi the Hardcourt Heartthrob, the ace shooting guard with a deadly arsenal of ankle breakers and baseline jams (haha yeah right), but it was a bit tough getting past the plausibility barrier, lol. Really, YamaPi, really? What’d you do to prepare for this role, watch High School Musical 1-3 so you could “analyze” Zac Efron’s spin move+jumper, which was the only trick that Disney munchkin knew anyway, and which he did over and over and over again while lip-synching those mind-numbing HSM songs? (Go… Wildcats!) *evil laughter* So, you gonna take your hoop dreams all the way to the Olympics, you say? To the freakin’ NBA? Shuuuuuure. Why nawwwt. (But truth be told, you wouldn’t last a week in the D-League, sorry.) The network execs were obviously banking on the same Code Blue viewership to swallow whatever highflying version of YamaPi they thought of peddling this time. (But if you think about it, YamaPi the Pro Baller is much, much easier to stomach than YamaPi the Flying Doctor, yesss? YamaPi the Pro Baller scoring a double-double on any given game night is infinitely more believable than YamaPi the Flying Doctor performing a… double heart bypass using a rusty old nail, dental floss and a thimble, yesss? So that’s settled, then. Lol.)
And ZOMG, during that game in the first episode, the head coach of the JC ARCS acted like a giddy cheerleader with ADHD instead of their head coach, jumping up and down the couch — er, bench. How OTT, ugh. To add to that, the JC ARCS of the Professional Basketball Association — a fictitious analog of the JBL — didn’t act like a real team, on or off the court. And their regular-season games are just shown in the first and last episodes, and in between are like, 392 episodes set during the off-season, where ALL the coach and players do is (1) talk about how “near” the next season is, (2) attend perfunctory scrimmage sessions, and (3) talk about how “near” the next season is, lol. Where’s the REAL basketball action? Where? Where? You don’t open with a “thrilling” match, only to leave the viewers picking at (sports) crumbs for the bulk of the drama. The writer/directors just didn’t know how to seamlessly blend sports action with romance, the same way that was so effortlessly done on Pride.
As for the rest of the first episode… it’s not that nothing happens, but that nothing happens that really grabs you. I wasn’t asking for mad, passionate lip-locking five minutes into the drama — in fact, I like the concept of the two leads, Naoki (Yamashita Tomohisa) and Riko (Kitagawa Keiko), starting out as friends (because they’re either involved with, or at least like, someone else). I really do admire the intention of the screenwriter to delay gratification for a full hour before giving the viewer that “chance” encounter on the outdoor basketball court. And even after Naoki and Riko become friends, they don’t get romantically involved until the halftime mark (c. Ep. 5-6). It’s brave to not rely on romantic sparks to get a drama off the ground. The 2006 K-drama Soulmate did the same thing for the first half of its 22-episode run, but the difference is that while I was watching Soulmate I never once felt impatient for the two leads (Shin Dong-wook and Lee Soo-kyung) to finally meet on that park bench (*squees*), because the writing made their individual story arcs so engrossing, and I really cared about the other characters peppering their yet-to-collide worlds. I wish I could say the same for Buzzer Beat, but no dice. The first episode doesn’t bait the hook, it doesn’t even entertain (haha mebbe except for that locker room meat fest featuring YamaPi and the Chippendales, hahaha).
I liked the characters of Naoki and Riko very much — if only as theoretical constructs, since I couldn’t really connect to them emotionally for the first few episodes. Not even when the JC ARCS failed to make the playoffs, thus lowering Naoki’s market value as a pro athlete. Not even when Riko’s violin string broke and she almost ended up on the casting couch of that greasy violin virtuoso obviously named Porn — because he is. And okay, so Naoki’s biggest internal conflict is that he needs to be… stronger. Or so he tells his coach. But this isn’t even explored to a satisfactory degree, IMO. Granted, in basketball (or any sport), mental toughness is just as important as athletic ability, if not more. But show us, YamaPi/writer/directors, don’t tell us. Show us why Naoki thinks and feels he isn’t mentally and/or physically strong enough. Show us how he finally breaks through that wall and gets his game back. Show, don’t tell.
And as for Riko, I also wasn’t convinced that she lived, dreamed, breathed her music. I wasn’t convinced that her violin playing was such an essential part of her, because there weren’t enough scenes proving she had that burning passion. But this is more the writer’s fault than Kitagawa Keiko’s, who undeniably gave the best performance on this drama (and it was indeed refreshing to see such a spirited leading lady for YamaPi, someone the poor boy actually had chemistry with). But again, it was a case of the writer telling, not showing. I mean, I just think of that scene from Long Vacation where Sena decides to sell his beloved piano, and even though he says very little, you can clearly see how much it’s killing him because that piano is already grafted to his soul. It’s scenes like these that make you believe that a character REALLY IS what the writer says they’re supposed to be. (Riko’s friend Mai didn’t convince me she was a damn good flutist, either. Her attempts at being Riko’s quirky bohemian sidekick fell flat for me. It’s not that she was annoying — she’s was just this non-entity, a space filler.)
The writing/direction/editing connect the dots so unevenly: some transitions make no narrative sense, like the time Naoki leaves his cell phone on the bus, which Riko obviously finds, and Naoki goes running after the bus, and Riko sees him from her seat, and Naoki’s phone rings, and — WTF! Cut to the town square and it’s evening and Riko and Mai are there to see Coach, who — as it turns out — was the caller from earlier, and they’re meeting so they can turn the phone over to him, so he can pass it on to Naoki, who was the same dude running alongside the bus, gesturing and waving at Riko earlier in the afternoon. Helloooo??? Where’s the continuity??? If Riko had just stopped the bus, explained the situation to the driver, and relinquished the phone to Naoki in the first place — the whole thing would be over in three minutes. What transpired instead was this pointless rigmarole that sold narrative plausibility down the river in exchange for this contrived encounter. Obviously this scene is supposed to be the introduction to Riko and Coach’s relationship, but everything about it just feels so manufactured. I don’t know if it’s laziness or stupidity on the part of the writer — or both. Another random WTF! moment: in Episode 4, Naoki has just had a fight with Natsuki, Coach is sitting glumly in some park, Coach whips out his phone and calls Naoki, Coach tells Naoki, “Let’s go to the beach!” => transition to The Requisite Beach Scene Involving All the Characters. In another scene, Riko and Naoki are drinking beer in their favorite spot when some dudes arrive with a truckload of broken appliances that they just plunk down in the middle of the court, because the writer obviously thought that dumping refrigerators in public places would make the smoooothest transition to the Next!Level! in Naoki and Riko’s relationship => The Requisite Girl-Gets-Drunk-and-Guy-Carries-Her-Home Scene. Argh. (Although it was really sweet of Naoki to clean Riko’s flat and cook for her. I love youuuu Theoretical Naoki! Lol.)
Shoddy transitions aside, the most flagrant foul (haha) committed by the Buzzer Beat writer is the way that Coach Kawasaki (Ito Hideaki) and Natsuki (Aibu Saki) are written. I’m fine with our Heroine figuring in a love triangle with the Hero and an older, more stable man (=> Coach), that’s fine. But what the hell, Buzzer Beat writer, thanks for building Coach up only to rejigger him into this needy, insecure douche bag who steamrollers Riko into meeting his parents — as his intended bride — while he pigheadedly ignores the “I don’t want to be with you, eeeew” vibes she shoots his direction. Thanks, Buzzer Beat writer, thanks for turning Coach Kawasaki into… a K-drama Second Fiddle, hahaha. My best friend and I were watching Buzzer Beat together, and at some point we looked at each other and went, “WTF he’s a SEASON DRAMA Second Fiddle!!!” (For the non-K-drama fans, the Hallyu Season Dramas — Autumn Tale, Winter Sonata, Summer Scent, Spring Waltz — are the mother lode of Second Fiddle Clichés.) And then — Coach disappears for like, 54 episodes (lol) because he’s off scouting for imports! Oh wow! Ito Hideaki is handsome (with the squinty-eyed cuteness of Yoo Gun, and the bone structure and physique of Oh Ji-ho… heh, more K-actors, sorry), but his character is a terrible, terrible coach whom I wouldn’t even entrust an all-girls preschool basketball team to. Coach Kawasaki has NO RAPPORT with his players, and never acts like the mentor he ought to be. He’s such a nominal coach — the same way that Coach Hyodo was with the Blue Scorpions (one of the things I didn’t like about Pride). But at least Coach Hyodo didn’t hit on Aki (eeeeww) and make her feel guilty about liking Halu while spouting BS like “I trust youuuu… Coachy is waaaatching youuuuu…” *jabs at eyes with index and middle fingers* And when Coach Kawasaki comes home from his fruitless Boston jaunt, oh — so NOW he’s all nice and understanding, is he, and lets Riko walk away with his blessings, does he? Ugh. A douche bag of a suitor, and a worthless booby of a coach: great combination. Whatttaman!!! Whattaman!!! *dies laughing*
And let’s not forget that behind every K-drama Second Fiddle Guy, there’s a K-drama Second Fiddle Girl: Enter Natsuki the Cartwheeling Office Lady! (Ganbatte, Aibu Saki! Ganbatte!!!). It’s so hilarious that the one unassailable proof that she’s eeeevil!!! is that she’s secretly… a smoker!!! (Ooooh) LMAO!!! Thanks, Buzzer Beat writer, we never would’ve guessed her to be such a sneaky little skank if it weren’t for those one million scenes of her puffing away on a cancer stick while bad-mouthing YamaPi under her nicotine breath. Durrr. But for all her Delilah ways, I understand Natsuki’s desire for more passion and excitement in her relationship with The Right Honorable Kamiya Naoki, who’d much rather make her French toast than… French kiss, lol. So Natsuki’s sexual frustration coupled with her disappointment over Naoki’s recent career setback — that’s absolutely valid. But instead of making this a simple case of incompatibility (like what happened with Kimura and Matsu Takako’s characters on Long Vacation), the writer JUST HAD to go and demonize Natsuki, with the cheating and the messy breakup and the attempts to re-weasel her way into Naoki affections while stabbing Riko in the back. Gaaaaah. Well, at least she was consistently bitchy, and the nasty things she’d say to her equally odious inamorato, Yoyogi Ren (Kaneko Nobuaki), were highly entertaining.
Speaking of Yoyogi, whom I shall call Yoyogi Bear (“Hello Mr. Ranger, sir! Hey there, Boo Boo! I’m smarter than the average bear!” Lol): Eeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww………………….. *throws up in mouth* From what OPIUM DEN in China did that whey-faced crackhead come slithering out??? I mean, look at him! How did such a scraggly-looking string bean ever become a pro basketball player, let alone get recruited to the Japanese National Team??? I was watching the FIBA Asia 2009 qualifiers some months back, and those Team Japan dudes are ALL solid Wagyu beef, baby (average height of roster: 1.93 m/6’4’’, average weight: 86.7 kg/191 lbs.). Naoki and Yoyogi Bear look so puny in comparison. Even Team Japan’s bishounen point guard Igarashi Kei, who could give those Johnnies a run for their money (he even cameos on Buzzer Beat — yeah, he’s the dude who fouls Naoki for that pivotal 3-point play in the Ep. 11 championship game), is 5’11 and 150 lbs. Just saying they should’ve cast someone who actually looked like a pro athlete, not some opium peddler with a half-a$$ed Fu Manchu.
And then it’s later revealed that Yoyogi Bear has an ax to grind with Naoki! So it’s payback time for his loss to Naoki during their college ball days back in the late Nara period (lol), and he exacts his revenge by dribbling circles around Naoki during practice meets (ohkayyy) and shtupping his rival’s cheerleader girlfriend — in between snorts of cocaine. And his biggest revenge of all is by NOT being a… Team Player, oooohhh… Whatta complex character…. hahaha NOT. And wow, those scenes where our favorite F**k Buddies, Yoyogi Bear and Floozy Natsuki, engage in their… extracurricular activities at Skank Central aka Natsuki’s place — WOW. Just like watching a train wreck. (Perfect BGM: Bobby Brown’s “Humpin’ Around,” lolzzz) Honestly, Yoyogi Bear and Natsuki should’ve ended up together so they could start breeding their own crack babies — enough to populate a basketball team and a cheerleading squad, oh wow! But noooo, turns out Yoyogi Bear mends his wicked ways and by the end of the drama, he and Naoki have kissed and made up and keep giving each other warm, gooey looks during the championship match. Ugh.
And the BEST YoyogiBearxFloozyNatsuki moment of all? Why, the locker room scene, of course! Where Yoyogi Bear, sidelined from Team Japan because of his “ankle injury” (which that deadbeat druggie probably just faked anyway, lol), turns to Floozy Natsuki and begs her, his voice oozing with self-pity, “Give me some confidence.” Hahahahahhaha confidence??? CONFIDENCE??? When did “confidence” ever stand in for “gimme a quickie roll in the hay, you ho”? LMAO!!! Then — it just gets better! Naoki walks in on the two making out, and YamaPi’s face — LMFAO!!!!!!!!!! CLASSSSIIIIIC!!!!! Let’s play the “Guess that Emotion” game with Yamashita Tomohisa! A) Inscrutable? B) Enigmatic? C) Ambiguous? D) Sphinx-like? Hahahahha *dies laughing* Ohohohoho my goodness, that was just freakin’ hilarious. How can you be emotionally involved during such scenes if the actors don’t even know what they’re supposed to DO? Times like these, my best friend and I would amuse ourselves by playing the “What Would Akira Have Done?” game. (Akira, of course, being THE Kusano Akira, YamaPi’s character on the best damn drama he’s ever done, do I even have to spellitout here, of course it’s Nobuta wo Produce (NTV, 2005) IloveyouuuuShuujiNobutaAkiraaaaaaa *flashes V-sign*) Just picture Akira flapping his wings (of course) down the corridor leading to the locker room, gurgling happily (of course) between sips of soy milk (of course) while looking for… Shuuji (who else? lol). So Akira prances into the room and catches Yoyogi Bear and Floozy Natsuki sucking face, and of course he goes: “Akira, SHOCK!” Lollllllllzzzzz
Sigh. Oh YamaPi. Why couldn’t you just be an Akira forever. So, what have you gone and done this time, huh YamaPi? (And no, I’m not just talking about your hair.) Yes, I know you’re being groomed to be The Next KimuTaku. Yes, I know you want so badly to follow his career trajectory — and what better way to speed things up than by doing a mash-up of not two, but three KimuTaku doramas — all cobbled together into Yamashita Tomohisa’s offering for the Summer 2009 dorama season! Yay. Hit three birds with one stone: sports! music! romance! Whoopee.
Sigh. Oh YamaPi. What have you done with Kamiya Naoki.
Despite Naoki being a pro athlete, his character is actually closer to a Sena (Long Vacation) than to a Halu (Pride). Naoki and Sena share similarities in temperament (sensitive, reserved, kindhearted, sexually repressed lol) as well as current career situation (talented but in a professional rut, insecure about their own abilities, etc.). But before the Long Vacation devotees crush me to death with their Steinway baby grands while crying bloody sacrilege, let me say that the similarities end here. There is no way in a million years that Naoki will ever be an iconic character like Sena. No frigging way. And before the NEWS fangirls start attacking me with a fusillade of purple sneakers and moldy French toast, let me say that I really, really like the IDEA of Naoki’s character. I like that he loves to cook, that he takes his relationships seriously and doesn’t sleep around, that he works hard, that he’s honorable and honest, that he adheres to the Kyoto Protocol (reduce your carbon footprint! ride a bike to work! lol), that he’s just this really decent guy. I even grew to love his inexplicable fetish with purple clothing and accessories (dubbed Code Violet by my best friend, mwahahahah), even that enormous eggplant constantly strapped to his back… oh, I’m sorry, was that his knapsack? Lol. Anyway, I liked the idea of Naoki and was truly prepared to fall in love with this young man, the same way you fall in love with the Hero of any romantic drama (for such is their purpose in this world, ne?).
Except for one itty-bitty hiccup: the Naoki I liked so much remained just that — an IDEA. And the one mostly to blame for the disconnect between Theoretical Naoki and On-screen Naoki? I’m looking at you, Yamashita Tomohisa. (Big surprise there? Not.) Yes, His Royal Woodenness strikes again! Poor Kitagawa Keiko must have felt soooo frustrated in her scenes opposite YamaPi (and Aibu Saki), tsk. All her efforts gone to waste, lol. The scene where Naoki (coming off his breakup with Natsuki) cries on the phone after being serenaded by Riko’s violin — LMFAO!!!!!! It’s a pity because that emotionally pivotal scene had such great potential, but just look at YamaPi’s face!!! How many brain capillaries had to burst by the thousands, how many colorectal polyps had to sprout overnight — just so YamaPi could shed a tear??? LMAO!!! I was laughing so hard during that scene, and I’m laughing hard still. YamaPi proves once more that terrible acting is the limiting factor of any character’s portrayal; not the writing, or the direction. (Really, when a glassy-eyed mannequin such as Aibu Saki is able to show more emotion than you, what does that say about your acting?)
That’s just too bad, because Proposal Daisakusen (2007) made me believe that YamaPi 2.0, Romantic Lead wasn’t altogether a lost cause. But he hasn’t done anything since to convince me that he’s actually improving — if only incrementally. Well, NEWS (haha) flash: he’s not improving. It’s like he plateaued somewhere between Blank and… Plank. Even though there were a few scenes in Buzzer Beat that made me feel a twinge of sympathy for Naoki, 90% of the time, all I could really think of was how this role could have been more effective, more believable, in the hands of a marginally more talented actor. (No, I’m NOT looking at you, Nishikido Ryo… oh just go beat someone up, will you? *roll eyes*) All that YamaPi really proves on this drama is how undeserving he is of the “Second Coming of KimuTaku” tag being trumpeted by everyone from the geinoukai spin doctors to the grunts at Johnny’s Evil Empire to YamaPi’s own fangirls. He lacks the charisma, the screen presence, and the confidence to be a Romantic Lead, never mind the looks — well, the looks, too. With those feeble acting skills coupled with the famous “dead fish” eyes, unattractive teeth, hollowed-out face (where’d his cheeks go? it’s like someone carved out the flesh and left those protruding cheekbones in place. he used to be so much cuter, tsk), spindly legs, awkward gait and negative bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, YamaPi sadly does not have what it takes to be the next KimuTaku. (He’s got the same fried yucky hair though, but nothing else in common.)
But don’t be sad, YamaPi, because you get to win not one, not two, but three MVP honors for Buzzer Beat! Shall we award them now, shall we? *rubs hands evilly*
1st MVP: Most Vomitous Perm!
Oh, that hair!!! That hair!!! The horror!!! The horror!!! The hair!!! The horror!!! What’s the difference!!! (Run away!!! Run away!!!) Oh YamaPiiiiiii. *disapproval!* Question: what’s the most effective way to snuff out your character’s romantic appeal? Here’s how: First, hunt down and kill some random woodland creature, a squirrel maybe. Skin the critter and drape its matted brown fur over your head, like so. Sprinkle generously with cheese floss, with some meat floss tossed in for “lowlights” (like so). Bake in oven at 120 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes, like so. Voila! — YamaPi’s Buzzer Beat hair!!!!
2nd MVP: Most Vacuous Presence!
I believe I’ve already expounded on this in great detail, yesss? And it’s really self-explanatory, yesss? (See photo below)
3rd MVP: Most Valuable Pecs!
Oh YamaPi. Who’s ever gonna believe that your character’s ONE insecurity is that he’s not “strong” enough, when your pectorals alone are packed with enough meat to feed the top five nations on the Global Hunger Index, hmmm? I mean, great balls of fire, YamaPecs — er, YamaPi, WTF is it with your obsession with growing double-D man-boobs? They’re just grooossssss!!!!!!!! I like your toned arms and I love your ripped abs, but those bazooms have to go, capisce? They’re distraaaacting. In a baaaaad way. But careful, careful — those pecs are deadly! Naoki’s secret weapons! They can box out the opposing players, AND rebound, AND do a deep three, AND do a mean pick-and-roll… and all by themselves!!! LMAO!!!!!!!
*takes a moment to recover………..*
Despite the drama’s many, many shortcomings, the love stuff on Buzzer Beat does not disappoint — as a whole. Fine, there were those irritating plot contrivances to expedite the romance, like the two instances when Riko screams “encouragingly” at Naoki — when he’s about to do a free throw. Wow. I’m speechless. I mean, who freakin’ does that? And on what planet will you find a basketball game where the whole arena is deathly silent (from anxiety? or from boredom? lol) while a player is making a free throw? Wow. And of course, there’s that cellphone-on-the-bus scene I mentioned earlier. So contrived. And it’s exceedingly funny how the writer just had to choose the most jejune love platitude for this drama: “Love makes me strong.” (Really? It does? Wow. Who knew.) The line is more of a truism than a proverb: it says nothing new or interesting, it gives you nothing to chew on — unlike, say, the quote used in Love Generation (“True love never runs smooth,” borrowed from a line in “Much Ado About Nothing”). And what’s even funnier is the ham-fisted way the writer tries to wrap it all up using the Caucasian maestro’s over-enunciated reiteration of said truism (“Everything will be OH-KHAYYY. LOVE makes you STRONG!”), which of course is the epiphany that Riko needs so she can race off to her own… buzzer beater. Doh.
But I’ve saved the best for last. Contrivances aside, the love story was actually very sweet and charming, and though it won’t hold a candle to classics like Long Vacation, I very much liked the progression from friendship to romance. The winner here is really the formula more than anything else: it didn’t have to be YamaPi, it didn’t have to be Kitagawa Keiko (but I’m glad it was her, anyway), it didn’t have to be basketball or the violin. It’s the Friends-to-Lovers template that carries the day (and the drama). And it helped of course, that YamaPi and Keiko do have chemistry despite the glaring disparity in their dramatic abilities, despite the many key moments where Keiko emotes her heart out while YamaPi… watches the paint dry, lol. (But eeeww, I hated the BGM for the Naoki-Riko scenes — apart from the B’z song, which I liked. Sheesh kebab, why did they have to use that bloody infant music, the kind you hear coming out of a crib mobile or something? Makes you think of bloody diapers and teething rings, gaaah! “Baby Naoki is so kawaiii! Baby Naoki is waving his pink rattle!” Hahaha)
So anyway, the love stuff was satisfying, the little moments between Naoki and Riko ranging from cuuute! to ohyeaahhhh! Lol. Here are my Top Five All-Star Naoki-Riko Moments:
5) The iPod Moment. Because it’s short but charged, because they look up and their eyes meet at the same time, because the first sparks hit them (and hit you) so unexpectedly — all while doing something as innocuous as listening to classical music, because it was the first time in the drama that made me say, “YES. They got chemistry, yay.”
4) Their First Date. Because it’s well-executed, because the location is so pretty: those stone steps by the water’s edge, because they’re so In the Zone here, perfectly content in each other’s arms (with him encircling her from behind — a little sexy, and very sweet), because they’re finally out as a couple and Coach Stupid is ancient history, because she asks for a kiss so endearingly — and he gives it to her, and it’s a lovely little moment altogether.
3) THE Kiss. Because the buildup to the kiss (the Romeo+Juliet balcony scene, where emotions are already running high) is terrific, because of the urgency in his steps as he sprints up the stairs to her apartment, because it’s the first time he’s this sexually aggressive (woohoo!) and actually takes the initiative, because the scene is both romantic and funny, because the lip action is hot… enough (for Naoki’s standards, and for YamaPi’s as well, lol), because they finally break through the friendship barrier by confessing their love.
2) The Hug on the Hardcourt. Because of the pretty intense lead-in from the night before, because she just knows intuitively that he needs some lovin’, because nothing’s more irresistible than a guy at his emotional nadir still putting up a brave front, because the blocking of the scene is so atypical, so original, because they’re frakkin’ kneeling on the floor, because of the different levels of emotion the scene takes us through — like in a tango: he hugs her then pulls back, she hugs him tightly and he responds the same way, she pulls back, she tackles him to the court, they just stare at each other interminably, he’s so awkward and can’t even touch the small of her back, doesn’t even know where to put his hands — which is just so frikkin’ sweet, and the closeness of their bodies creates that lovely tension, and you know that all they really want to do at that moment is make out, but their own unresolved issues prevent that from happening.
1) The Spooning!!! Because it happens so unexpectedly, because there’s still that frustrated desire carried over from their previous moment (The Kiss), because the anticipation is simply maddening, with him holed up in her room the whole night (wearing those purple cutoffs lol) and us viewers kept on tenterhooks, hoping the stupid best friends would just pass out already, gaaahh!, because everything about this scene is sweet perfection — from the moment she tiptoes in and watches him “sleeping,” and he just GRABS her like that, and they lie in bed looking at each other, and he calls her “Riko” with a little smile and she calls him “Naoki,” and they’re so in love, and damn damn damn he turns her around and holds her tight — right up against him, with his voiceover playing in the background, wafting over their little cocoon while he keeps nuzzling the side of her face until she dozes off, nestled in his arms. And because YamaPi and Keiko are never afraid to get touchy, and because spooning is ALWAYS da bomb.
This drama review was brought to you by the number 8, and by the colors pink and purple.
Okay, this is totally random, but for Team Japan+KAT-TUN fans, I found this (unsubbed) clip of Igarashi Kei in a shoot-out with KAT-TUN’s Junno and Ueda on some variety show. This was a few years ago, back when Igarashi was still playing for Hitachi, and Junno had blond hair. Not sure if this is Utaban, but Nakai Masahiro is hosting (*waves at Nakai*). Igarashi Kei naturally trounces KAT-TUN, 14 baskets made to KT’s 8. (Igarashi was 14 for 15 from the line, pretty nifty. Really, that point guard is way cuter than most Johnnies out there. Yesss, I’m looking at YOU, Nishikido Ryo! Lol)
Artistic & technical merit: C+
Entertainment value: B-
Photo credits: afad.nl, alypotato.multiply.com, asianpopcorn.com, barefootfuture.wordpress.com, birdofpray09.livejournal.com, bumbleberri.livejournal.com, innerkaleidoscope.blogspot.com, in-vulnerable.livejournal.com, japanator.com, mokudekiru.com, mysoju.com, protocolsnow.com redgeofsanity.wordpress.com, soumatou.blogspot.com, tazou-chan.livejournal.com, tomatomo.info.com, tumblr.com, uisceros.livejournal.com