Drama Review: Pride (Fuji TV, 2004)

The Iceman Cometh
(…and ohhhyes, is he smokin’ HOT!!!)

by Ender’s Girl

[Related Post: Favorite Halu-Aki Moments]

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The Cast:
Kimura Takuya, Takeuchi Yuko, Sakaguchi Kenji, Ichikawa Somegoro, Sato Ryuta, Sato Koichi, Nakagoshi Noriko, Megumi, Ishida Yuriko

In a Nutshell:
Pro hockey player Satonaka Halu meets Aki, an “office lady” from his company. The two fall in love amid the challenges of their personal and professional lives.

(SpoilLert: Extremely! I’m going for the whole schmear!)

[Recommended companion track: WHAT ELSE — “I Was Born to Love You” by Queen]

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For Love of the Game: The Nitty-Gritty of Sports Fiction

There’s something about SPORTS in general (and transitively, sports shows) that appeals to our primal nature. Nothing can unlock our raw, pent-up emotions or vicariously slake our bloodlust the way a live game, or match, or race can. Just picture this: hordes of screaming fans watch a handful of players battle it out in the arena using the most fundamental of human instruments: their bodies. (Plus a few other accoutrements, like say, a basketball, or a hockey stick.) Yes there are rules to follow, lest things degenerate into a complete free-for-all, but as each split-second ticks by on the shot clock, it is pure instinct that edges out rational thought, and a game’s final outcome —victory or defeat— is often decided in a single heartbreaking instant.

Regardless of country of origin or athletic category, sports movies and dramas almost always conform to a universal template, as is characteristic of any genre. The following clichés have become the hallmarks of the sports drama paradigm (I can think of only ten, but there may be more):

1) The gifted but emotionally conflicted HERO who, after a series of failures and much soul-searching, must DIG DEEP to unlock that SOMETHING inside of him — and only then can he go on to win that elusive CHAMPIONSHIP;

2) The seasoned COACH/MENTOR/SENSEI who pushes all the Hero’s buttons, but who understands his athlete like nobody else can, and is instrumental to the Hero’s eventual triumph — in his sport as well as in Life;

3) The loyal TEAMMATES who, together with the Hero, must overcome the odds stacked against them through sheer grit, determination, and even personal sacrifice;

4) The LEADING LADY who stands by our Hero through thick and thin, and who serves as his moral compass and emotional recharger throughout the story;

5) The arrogant hotshot STAR PLAYER of the RIVAL TEAM, who jealously defends his reigning championship title and who may (or may not) engage the Hero in a battle for the Leading Lady’s affections;

6) The niftily choreographed (and edited) SPORTS ACTION SEQUENCES with just the right blend of tension, drama, and buzzer-beating suspense to provide that cinematic oomph;

7) The requisite soundtrack built around a ROUSING ANTHEM that gets the spectators in the story (and, by extension, the movie/TV audience) all fired up to win!-win!-WIN!;

8 ) The use of sports as a METAPHOR for REAL LIFE, as the Hero learns valuable Life lessons both on and off the rink/court/race track/etc.;

9) The indispensable FINAL GAME of the season or championship series, in which the true mettle of the Hero and his Teammates will be tested to the hilt;

10) And the EMOTIONAL HYPERBOLE that permeates the Hero’s QUEST for team GLORY, personal HONOR… and maybe even national PRIDE.

These clichés are in no way all good OR bad; they just ARE. They’re what make a sports movie or drama what it is, and it is largely the treatment these stereotypes are given that will ultimately spell the success (or failure) of the show. Sports productions differ in the proportion of these clichés: some (targeting a female audience) focus on the romance aspect, others (to rope in the male viewers) are heavy on the sports action, while a few zero in on the team/coach interpersonal dynamics. The truly iconic sports movies and dramas are those that provide a balanced mix of all these elements, seamlessly interwoven to make the story much more appealing on as many levels as possible.

Hollywood has churned out scads of popular sports movies like The Karate Kid, Bull Durham, Coach Carter, Rocky, Friday Night Lights, The Mighty Ducks, Ice Castles, The Cutting Edge, and of course, the 2004 film Miracle, based on the true story of the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team. Sports-oriented TV shows, on the other hand, are less traveled terrain, and the few that Hollywood has done (e.g. the Friday Night Lights drama series, based on the book by Pulitzer winner H.G. Bissinger — an excellent read, btw) don’t really conform to the “iconic sports story” template, since Western series are much lengthier, often spanning several seasons — thus making this kind of template untenable. Sports clichés work best within a tighter plot, hence their greater popularity on the big screen — OR, if on the small screen, in a more compact format like the 10/12-part Jdorama.

And so we come to Pride.

Call it what you want: The Karate Kid on Ice? Rocky in the Rink? The Mighty Ducks, Rated PG? Or… (and I am being totally un-PC now)… Brades of Grory? (Lol, sorry, but how could I NOT put that in?)

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Sports, Love, and Rock ’n’ Roll

Pride is essentially a sports drama, yes, with all the standard clichés and trappings of its genre… (Okay so maybe not ALL the trappings, because while the hockey action sizzles in the first several episodes, you won’t find much of it in the drama’s second half — barring the championship match in the finale.) Whether you like it or not, these types of productions are emotionally manipulative to some degree: despite your enjoyment you’re always cognizant of all these strings being pulled to hook you into giving the intended response. And the thing is that, YOU DON’T EFFIN’ MIND. You DO root for the Hero with all your heart, you WANT him to beat the odds, and win both the Girl AND that Championship, so you cheer him on, you cheer for his team, you cheer as any sports enthusiast would during an actual, live game.

Never mind that ice hockey in the Land of the Rising Sun doesn’t enjoy the same level of popularity and adulation as portrayed on Pride (packed arenas, wow! screaming fans, wow! really Japan, really?). Never mind that pro hockey meets that play to near-empty stands are probably closer to reality. (Incidentally, the Japan Ice Hockey League folded in 2004 –the year Pride aired– due to diminished public support and advertiser sponsorship. The organizers have since joined forces with South Korea and China to form the Asia League, now comprised of seven teams, four from Japan. As an outsider, I don’t quite get why ice hockey isn’t a major sport in that country the way baseball or football are, when Japan’s climate zone practically dictates the preeminence of hockey. Temperate = cold = ice = hockey, ne? I mean, just look at the map: Japan is beside Russia for Pete’s sake. /end of pointless geocultural rant)

Never mind if certain scenes or qualities of this drama have a slick, romanticized feel. After all, Pride is a fairy tale in the truest sense of the word, and one that merges two universally resonant themes: the triumph of the Human Spirit, and the all-conquering power of True Love — both attainable through hard work, but at great cost. And as fairy tales are meant to entertain and captivate, so are they also meant to inspire. They don’t so much deviate from human reality as they mirror the best in it, the best in all of us — what we are and what we aspire to be. And as real-life stories continue to show us, yes there are everyday heroes, yes underdogs can upset champions, yes world records can be shattered, yes the human race is getting faster, higher, stronger, yes True Love is real, and yes — fairy tales do come true. (Maybe…? No. Must be! Lawl)

Pride doesn’t try to shatter any stereotypes about sports or relationships, but it draws out the best from them, reminding you of WHY these tried and tested formulas work so darn well in the first place. Pride, like any sport, packs a very visceral, one-two punch. This drama doesn’t seek to stimulate the intellect; it does something better: it aims straight for the vitals, for the heart, with all the momentum of a vulcanized rubber disc whizzing towards you at 200 kph. This is really entertainment at its purest, and Pride proves that it doesn’t take a lot to put on (and enjoy!) a thrilling show. All you need is sports, love… and a little help from Queen.

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The Face-Off: Of Icemen and Office Ladies

The first episode of Pride is everything a sports drama kickoff can hope to be. Copybook, in the best possible way. That heady confluence of hockey and romance is mined to the hilt, and the expository groundwork is very solidly placed. It’s hard to find an opener that’s written, executed, and edited this tightly, this cleanly. And the direction –dynamic, yet efficient– sets the pace for the rest of the drama. Pride hits the ground running, throwing you right into the action and just in time to witness the ritual team huddle of our Hero and his fellow icemen, the Blue Scorpions. Mere moments before the face-off, the locker room atmosphere is abuzz with the same purposeful chaos and tension-releasing banter as you’d find, say, backstage at a Broadway performance. The camera work and editing are crisp, the players’ joshing snappy, the background music –Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” what else– enough to fire you up just seconds into the show. And as the expositional gears start grinding, you get an instant feel of the main characters’ distinct personalities:

Satonaka Halu (Kimura Takuya), team captain, center forward and the league’s top scorer. Talented, focused and driven in the rink — but insufferably impudent off the ice. Inclined to give oblique and often smart-alecky answers at media interviews, but always manages to charm his way out of them. Serial monogamist who thinks that love is a game and women are “pretty and weak” creatures.

Hotta Yamato (Sakaguchi Kenji), goalie and Halu’s closest friend since childhood. Poor but hardworking and honorable, and fiercely loyal to the team and to Halu.

Ikegawa Tomonori (Ichikawa Somegoro), Halu’s wingman on the ice and off. Rich, easygoing playboy and unofficial team diplomat/arbiter, a cool cat if there ever was one.

Shimamura Makoto (Sato Ryuta), rookie forward and resident stooge/court jester/team pet. Idolizes his teammates (especially Halu) and wants nothing less than their approval and acceptance.

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Spliced in-between the locker room footage are shots of our Leading Lady, Aki (Takeuchi Yuko) being dragged to her first hockey match by her friends and fellow company employees, Yuri (Nakagoshi Noriko) and Chika (Megumi). Not the biggest sports fan in the world, Aki comes into the game (and into the story) expecting nothing out of the ordinary, still detached from the Blue Scorpion mania eddying around her. But the second she sees #9 skate into the rink, she just can’t stop looking at him. There’s something about this player that draws her eye, makes her intrigued, and already half a fan. (I mean, criminy crumpets, who wouldn’t be?) Aki can’t quite tell if it’s the athletic grace of his movements, or the in-your-face confidence his whole body exudes, or the boyish insouciance of his smile, or that bat-crazy charisma which he expertly uses to work the crowds, pandering to their adulation, stoking their bloodlust like the pro that he is (–oh–oh–I’m sorry, was I talking about Halu, or KimuTaku? hahahahha like there’s a difference hahahahahahaha). Watching him from the stands, her vision half-obscured by the sea of Blue Scorpion banners, she can feel the first fluttering sensations of a fangirl crush overrunning her insides, flitting even higher to infuse her cheeks with color — for the first time in two years, an eternity in her quiet, uneventful, romance-deprived life.

Her eyes remain riveted to #9 as he warms up on the ice in the final seconds before the match, zipping around in little circles while the galvanizing strains of “We Will Rock You” (aka the Ultimate!Hockey!Anthem!) continue to blare throughout the stadium, rising above the screams of fans and the whistles of officials. And the second he bows that tousled head and clutches the C-patch on his left breast, the rest of the arena follows suit. (Heck, I made a grab for that same spot, and in my overzealousness almost gouged out my bloody axillary lymph nodes, lol. Damn you KimuTaku! You will be the death of me! lol) The die-hards are no strangers to this little personal pre-game ritual, these precious few moments that allow him to dig deep and find his center, eyes closed, his mind zoning everything out — the fans, the day’s events, the outside world, the rival squad, even his own teammates. Then he skates to his spot at the dead center of the rink, hockey stick gripped obliquely but firmly in place, his lithe body taut beneath layers of padding and jersey, ready to spring to action in a heartbeat. His game face stares out from behind his protective visor, the determined flash of his eyes belying the cocky grin that he directs at the rival team captain at the face-off. The referee tosses the puck onto the ice with an ear-piercing whistle. The game is ON, and so is this whole emotional roller-coaster ride that Pride takes us through.

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(500) Days of Halu

Hoooz yo’ puck daddy? HOOOZ YO’ PUCK DADDY??? Lol. I’ll shamelessly admit that for me (and I suspect for many others as well, haha), Satonaka Halu is Pride’s biggest draw, being the center of his team and of much of the story. Pride is really Halu’s story, and the sub-plots involving the other Blue Scorpions, Aki, or even the Coach Hyodo-Widow Anzai arc, are all invariably linked to the wearer of jersey #9.

But first, let’s get something outta the way: this whole “Maybe/Must be” thing aka Halu’s Favorite Engrish Catchwords. Er… maybe — what? What, Halu, what? Maybe it’ll rain today? Maybe the sun will come out tomorrow? Maybe it’s time for a haircut? WHAT? Gaaahhh. Except for a few scattered scenes where “maybe” and “must be” were actually said IN CONTEXT, the excessive, non sequitur usage of these catchwords was both exasperating and hilarious. And apparently, the expressions were catchy enough to have wormed their way into the vocabularies of Aki, Halu’s teammates, and even that uber-cutie Wataru (but okay, the kid OWNED saying “maybe,” he OWNED it). In fact, the words were so darn catchy I found myself muttering them out of the blue (and then tittering like a loon) for like, a week. (Damn you Halu, damn you!)

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In a way, Pride bucks sports drama convention by NOT portraying Halu as the Underdog — y’know, the nerdy dude who can’t run/dunk/shoot/pass/kick/punch for sh*t at first, then after an MTV-inspired montage of training secretly in his bedroom and running up and down the hills at daybreak or something, bam! — now he’s all buff and ready for the championship match. Nooo, not this time. Halu is no Daniel-san of The Karate Kid, who has to “wax on, wax off” before he can (literally) kick some Cobra Kai butt… although Halu does have a training-on-the-beach-at-sunset moment in Ep. 1, hehe. (Incidentally, The Karate Kid is the late night movie airing on TV as I type this paragraph. Um, now that I know a smattering of Jdoramaspeak aka Nihonggo, I wonder why didn’t Mr. Miyagi call Ralph Macchio “Daniel-kun” or even “Dan-chan”? lolz. Ahhhh the Eighties *tear*) Nor is Halu of the same mold as The Mighty Ducks (“Ducks fly together!” “Quack, quack, quack, Mr. Ducksworth!” lolz. Ahhhh the Nineties *tear*), that ragtag bunch of teenage misfits who must trounce the district champions — and later, the dreaded Team Iceland at the Junior Goodwill Games. Nor is Halu Kung-Fu Panda… well, you get the drift, heh. But much of the appeal of Halu’s character lies in why he ISN’T the Underdog, but the exact antithesis: the Overachiever. You admire his giftedness, his passion and intensity, his discipline and dedication, his drive to not only to excel in his field but also inspire his teammates to be better, aim higher. There are few things (like, uh, world peace) more attractive than a sportsman on top of his game, and it’s this commitment to excellence that fuels the unique magnetic pull of Halu’s personality (although, um, the physical aspect doesn’t hurt either, yesss?). *cue Queen’s Greatest Hits*

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Okay, elephant in the room: I might as well deal with this… uh, so-called “physical aspect” before my brain turns to slush and starts dribbling out of my nose. KIMURA AS HALU: COULD HE POSSIBLY HAVE BEEN ANY CUTER THAN THISSSSSS????????? (Okay, so maybe when I do a re-watch of his other dramas I’ll be asking the same question, only changing “Halu” to “Sena” or “Teppei” hahaha.) I honestly don’t know what Kimura did with this role to make Halu so believable and accessible, and yet SO INCREDIBLY COOL. He’s too cool for school! The embodiment of cool! There’s a cool gene embedded in each of his 46 chromosomes! Coolness is a person; he walks around with a hockey stick and sports a #9 jersey! He’s so cool that he’s… HOT. Hehehe. Goodness gracious, but Kimura’s hotness in Pride is just through da roof. And his charisma comes so naturally that I wonder how much of Halu is the writing and how much is KimuTaku the Actor… But great bawwllz of faiah, I’ll walk around in a Jason X hockey mask for a week if it turns out this role wasn’t written with Kimura in mind. Both KimuTaku and Halu have that same innate athleticism, work ethic, competitive instincts, and maddening sex appeal. Coincidence??? Hahahahha. You know what, forget it, I don’t really care. Halu you rawk. Aki to Halu in Ep. 2: “You shine when you’re in the rink!” E.G. to Halu all throughout the drama: “Gggngngngn” (chewing on hockey puck). *cue Queen’s Greatest Hits*

So Halu ain’t the most clean-cut bloke around and doesn’t come to work in Brooks Brothers suits. But the rugged style is part of that whole “goodhearted rogue” charm he has going. As the drama’s most complex character, Satonaka Halu is a startling mix of contradictions: a bit rough and rumpled off the ice (ergo the casual plaid shirts and short, tousled hair with blond highlights — heehee I like!), but the epitome of sleekness and athletic finesse on it; still a big kid in many ways (ergo the lollipop addiction and the special closeness to Coach Anzai’s young son, Wataru), but commanding a sexuality that is in NO WAY juvenile (oh no no!); approaches his sport and his team with utter seriousness, but adopts a flippant attitude towards everything else, most especially love. And all these dissimilar qualities are what actually make Halu so intriguing, so endearing, so easy to fall in love with. *cue Queen’s Greatest Hits*

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Why? Because Halu is essentially a good, decent, honorable guy. A commitment-phobe perhaps, and at times demanding on his teammates when they’re unable to meet his personal standards, but certainly not a jerk, not an asshole. *cough* The BoyFiend *cough* And I love how Halu chooses his battles (meaning he uses his brain, yay), but isn’t afraid to take the fight to the streets, take it down to his opponent’s level (meaning he’s got street smarts too, yay). Another part of the Halu appeal lies in his regular-guy packaging. He’s no diva, no enfant terrible of the ice hockey world — far from it, because he’s so frigging NORMAL. Despite his childhood trauma and personal setbacks, he doesn’t walk around with a huge chip on his shoulder or a sense of entitlement — the way many sports stars do when they’ve achieved whatever measure of success. Hockey is the only thing Halu may take with utter seriousness, but his insouciance towards everything else —his relationships, his family— belie an inner, aching vulnerability that grips you and never quite lets go, not even a little bit. Damn, but Halu is the kind of guy you want to take home to cook and clean for and put your arms around (though he’ll never ask you to), and in so doing you’re shown into that little room where he hides his secret hurt, his unspoken sadness. And the moment he lets you into his heart, he’s all yours, wholly and completely yours. *cue instrumental track “Ice-man”* (Gotcha!)

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In many ways, Halu is still that little lost boy waiting for his mother, and Episode 6 so cogently captures this side of him. This episode, for me, is where the drama reaches its emotional peak, and not the final third (Eps. 9-11), which I found to be anticlimactic. In Ep. 6, when a sports documentary feature on the Blue Scorpions is aired on national TV, Halu’s mother (played by the lovely Matsuzaka Keiko) re-appears in his life after 24, 25 years of estrangement. But reconnecting with Halu is merely a pretext for asking her son for money, as she and her second husband (assuming she divorced Mr. Satonaka) have fallen on hard times. Only Aki becomes privy to the real reason, but she decides to dip into her life savings to shield Halu from the truth, and also shield the mother from Halu’s (anticipated) anger and disgust. Episode 6 succeeds on so many levels because this is when Halu reaches his lowest point (after his mother inadvertently reveals both her ulterior motive and Aki’s altruism). This development brings out the single most heart-rending scene in the entire drama, which begins in Halu’s pickup and ends on the train station platform, where the mother’s husband has come to meet her. Here Halu sees her for the woman that she is, and although her past abandonment of her two small boys can never be justified, in his heart of hearts Halu finally understands her, and forgives her. As mother and son wave goodbye using the winter accessories they had earlier picked out for each other, you know this is their final farewell. Leaning against a metal post and barely mouthing the word “sayonara,” Halu watches as the train chugs away from the station, carrying his mother back home. And the last shot of that striped muffler wrapped around a metal handrail paints a poignant picture of a six-year-old boy who has finally learned to let go.

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Episode 6 also marks the tipping point in Halu and Aki’s relationship with two significant events: their first major fight, where Halu cuttingly reminds Aki of her place (“You have nothing to do with this. She’s my mother… don’t act so arrogant.”) when she tentatively broaches her misgivings; the other event is (OF COURSE!) their eventual reconciliation at the rink, and later at Halu’s place, where DA MAGIC HAPPUNZ! (Needless to say the scenes in Halu’s pad are my absolute favorite — and, if you watched and loved Pride, probably YOURS as well, hehe.) Both the fight and the reconciliation scenes are watershed moments in their love story, enabling their relationship to mature and break new ground — to “level up,” so to speak.

Which brings me to their love story…

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Breaking the Ice: When Halu Met Aki

At the heart of this sports drama beats the Halu-Aki romance. Halu (Haru) and Aki, Spring and Autumn. (Which doesn’t sound the least bit corny UNTIL you find out that Aki’s BoyFiend is named… Summer. Blerg. He shoulda been named “Nuclear Winter” or something, for all the damage that asshole caused.) But Spring and Autumn sound nice, and you’re hooked on their story from the moment she catches his eye in that packed sports bar. Their love trajectory is the keystone that holds the drama together and gives viewers a reason to keep coming back for more!-more!-MORE!, until the romantic arc has run its rightful course, until the destined couple have found a way for their love to win!-win!-WIN! And theirs is the main thread that interweaves the different sub-arcs, such as Makoto’s/Yamato’s/Tomo’s stories, Halu’s mother returning, Coach and Widow Anzai (aka Yoko) falling in love, etc. so that these sub-arcs become satellite stories structured around the romantic core. But it’s done so organically that none of the Halu-Aki scenes seem forcibly injected into the different sub-arcs.

As the viewer, you actually get to know Halu and Aki more as they weigh in on the situations their friends get embroiled in. And at the same time you can see how the lovers get to know each other even more, how they become even closer. I always enjoyed seeing Halu and Aki discuss and argue, even take sides, when — say, Makoto is cut from the team, or Tomo deals with his (bogus) paternity suit, or Yamato and Yuri’s relationship takes a turn for the worse. Halu and Aki aren’t afraid to hash things out, and even if their own relationship isn’t the direct topic of conversation, the openness and honesty help strengthen their bond. Because they listen to each other, as in really listen. Case in point: When Halu gives Makoto a tough time in Ep. 3, and all the Blue Scorpions hate Halu and even “dethrone” him as captain, Aki asks him why he’s being so hard on Makoto. Halu answers, “When I see a person not aiming for No. 1, it makes me angry.” Aki realizes that Halu has been trying to push the rookie to break out of his shell, but she gently chides him for his lack of sensitivity, adding that not everyone is as strong or driven as he is. And you know that Aki’s two cents affect Halu more than he lets on, because in the next scene he resolves to go and see Makoto — but not expecting that Aki would meet him at the rink. Call it women’s intuition, but Aki just knows he’d probably need her, and so she appears by his side to give him strength — just by showing up, just by simply holding his hand as they stand at the locker room entrance, listening to Makoto’s quiet sobs. And later, during a decisive match, Halu personally enables Makoto to chalk up that much-needed assist, and it’s enough to keep the rookie on the team. It’s moments like these that evince the mutual respect Halu and Aki develop for each other: he listens to her and values her input and her judgment, as she does his. And that is bloody romantic.

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The dialogue is one of Pride’s strengths: as writer, Nojima Shinji is a master at amalgamating seemingly disparate elements into one seamless whole. I love the way he balances stock narrative clichés with his own nuanced touches, quirky humor with quietly moving moments, and heady romantic escapism with weightier themes like honesty and self-sacrifice. He switches emotional gears so deftly that a single scene can have all these different gradations of sentiment, intensity and meaning. One of this blog’s visitors, anastassia, wrote in the comments section of my Sora Kara… review that Halu and Aki’s love is special because it’s so pure. To quote: “Like a first love kind of feeling. Romantic and pure.” Beautifully put, and I couldn’t agree more. This isn’t a love that goes, “I want to jump you baby, let’s have “sexy time” in the penalty box, or on the Zamboni, or in the locker room–WHEREVER I DON’T CARE.” (Because that’s E.G.’s love for Halu, hahahaha.) Rather, the love between Halu and Aki is the kind that says, “I enjoy being with you and want to get to know you more. I’ll protect you no matter what.” Everything’s all fresh and uncomplicated and free of any sordidness, duplicity and intrigue, free of any star-crossed fate awaiting the lovers. Their respective commitment issues (i.e. Halu’s refusal to go all out to win Aki back from The BoyFiend, and Aki’s own doubts and insecurities regarding herself and where she stands in Halu’s affections) may have clouded things for them, but to the omniscient viewer, the love that Halu and Aki share has always been unequivocal, their true feelings and intentions heartbreakingly real and clear as day.

Nojima’s profound grasp of his main characters’ psycho-emotional machinery is what makes Halu and Aki’s love story so effective. He writes both characters so well because he knows them so well, imbuing them with flaws and strengths that make a person truly human. That said, the success of the Halu-Aki OTP owes as much to the chemistry between the two leads as it does to the writing. Kimura Takuya and Takeuchi Yuko OWN their roles as if they were written just for them. And they really connect to each other and kindle that romantic magic so compellingly, while still keeping it real at all times. I just love looking at Takeuchi Yuko; I never found her to be strikingly beautiful from the start (the first time I watched Pride I felt a wee bit disappointed to find the Leading Lady –I had no inkling who she was back then– less attractive than I had expected), but Takeuchi Yuko grows lovelier the more you watch her move, speak, smile. She may not be glamorous or overtly sexy, but her quiet allure and simplicity are what actually make her so attractive. Her kind of beauty is non-threatening, which suits Aki’s “ordinariness” superbly and provides the perfect foil to Kimura’s (and Halu’s) flashier presence.

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When distilled to their very essence, Halu and Aki are really archetypes — which explains their broad appeal. Sports jock Halu is a guy’s guy, and every inch the protector/defender; Aki, as the feminine counterpart, is the perfect nurturer/comforter. This kind of template has been used again and again since the first stories were told around a prehistoric campfire: about the warrior who must strive to overcome great conflict, and the princess, pure and ever-true, who needs rescuing from the evil wizard. *cough* = The BoyFiend *cough* No archetypes are subverted in Pride, no gender roles given an ironic twist, no playful stabs made at the dysfunctionality of human relationships (although that kind of treatment certainly works to great success in other stories, just not this one).

Some viewers may find this formula overly simplistic and smacking of thinly veiled sexism — which, needless to say, will greatly reduce Pride‘s entertainment value for them. I’ll admit to feeling irked by the drama placing a premium on a woman’s ability to wait patiently for her man (although Aki inwardly believes he won’t be coming back ever), to hold on faithfully to the memory of a promise (which the other party has shown no indication of ever fulfilling), and to run unquestioningly into his arms when the said boyfriend decides to pop back into town (although this is ultimately Halu’s fault instead of Aki’s). This passivity is the quality that I least like about Aki’s character, but it’s also what makes her the perfect complement to Halu’s aggressive maleness, it’s what causes him to be so deeply attracted to her. For Aki embodies Halu’s ideal mate: gentle, virtuous, devoted, “a woman from the last century.” Again, archetypes.

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But this is where the writing shines: Aki is not shown to be a cookie-cutter wilting flower, but a real person whose insecurities and self-esteem issues are what feed her passivity. And in all fairness to Aki, her weekly visits to The Bridge are more out of habit than of real devotion to The BoyFiend. She’s never been a risk-taker, and the routine makes her feel safe, comfortable. She has her moments of spunk (cheering wildly at a match, holding her ground against Halu, taking on a room full of hard-partying, pill-popping college goons, etc.), she just isn’t the kind of woman who really believed she would amount to much, or would ever be loved the way she only dreamed of. “Why me?” she blurts out to Halu in Episode 2, in the scene on The Bridge following their stop at the video rental store (which was a hilaaaariously written scene, with Halu nonchalantly choosing old movies about heroines who wait for their sweethearts to return, but with tragic outcomes. I was totally LMAO here!). Aki’s blunt question is a moment of raw honesty that shocks both of them, and for all their claims that their love affair is merely “a game,” a social contract between consenting adults to be voided when The BoyFiend (“who may or may not exist” according to Halu, lol) returns, both Halu and Aki begin to realize that while their lips may insist it’s all a game, their hearts are humming a different tune.

[This is the part where I skip over my favorite Halu+Aki moments, since I’m reserving them for a separate post. I shall now jump ahead to…]

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The BoyFiend: Enter the Douche Bag! (gonnnggg!!!)

Well, it had to happen sooner or later…

Aki’s boyfriend an architect? Yeah, more like… the Architect of the Third Reich. Gaaaaah, what the eff, Nojima Shinji. You made The BoyFiend TOO despicable a person: whatta supercilious, cheating sonuvabhetch, oh wow! — and because that’s obviously not enough, you just had to throw in some domestic violence tendencies!!! Blerg. The only good that came out of The BoyFiend’s sh*ttiness was Halu’s street justice moment: Watching Halu hunt the scumbag down to give him a sound thrashing in his own office, watching him administer those punches with methodical precision — I almost stood up and clapped. That wasn’t even enough, because if I were Halu, I’d break all of the bastard’s precious little model buildings and bridges, and then make him EAT the cardboard/plaster/wood smithereens, hahaha. (Although… stuffing the pieces up his bunghole would be an equally appealing notion, yesss…?)

This is my biggest bone to pick with the drama, Nojima Shinji making The BoyFiend too irredeemable for the story’s good. I was disgusted with Aki’s disenfranchisement, with her powerlessness over her own fate, having struck that “my life for Halu’s freedom” deal with The BoyFiend. (I know Aki’s an archetype, but this is ridiculous.) So the only way to extricate Aki from her hole is for The BoyFiend to break off their engagement at the very last minute — because, it turns out, he’s really a two-timing little sh*t with a second girlfriend on the other side of the Pacific, yada yada, big surprise. And it pisses me off knowing that a Happy Ending for Aki and Halu would’ve been virtually impossible had The BoyFiend NOT let Aki go. When he breaks up with Aki in the church (right after, uh, window-shopping for a wedding gown, WTF?), I half-expected him to exclaim, “Everything’s ohh-kayyy! Love makes us STRONG!” like that Caucasian maestro from Buzzer Beat, haha. This resolution was just too forced, too expedient for the drama’s denouement, making it Pride’s single most glaring shortcoming, IMO.

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Pride and the Power Ballad, or Why Don’t Icemen Sing the Blues?

Now I don’t care if it took you one episode or all eleven, but admit it: at some point you definitely started rocking out to all those Queen songs!

Pride struck gold with one of the catchiest and most memorable Jdorama soundtracks in recent history. Plan to make a drama on Sports and Romance? You can never go wrong with arena rock icons Messrs. Mercury et al., whose biggest hits have become so identifiable with these two themes. There probably isn’t a single hockey match that hasn’t played “We Will Rock You” or “We Are the Champions” at some point. And the other Queen tracks on the OST –like “Too Much Love Will Kill You,” “Let Me Live”, and of course, “I Was Born to Love You”– are just as effective in pushing all the right emotional buttons in us. It was just too easy: all Fuji TV had to do was secure the rights and release the cross-promotional CD tie-in (which they did), and then sit back to count the dinero (which I’m sure as hell they did) while Queen’s universal appeal and, like, awesomeness, simply took care of the rest. (Only “Bohemian Rhapsody” stuck out like a sore thumb, IMO. I don’t care if people think it’s the greatest song of all time, but it felt so out of place in Pride, having nothing whatsoever to do with sports and romance. Plus, it played during the “Halu + Ice Goddess Meet & Greet” scene in the final episode — WTF! Nevertheless, I can understand why the Fuji TV brass included this track, as in, “What the heck, it’s their freaking magnum opus, we might as well throw it in.” So, fair enough.)

While not as iconic as its soul brethren “Glory of Love” (Peter Cetera, The Karate Kid, Part II) or “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith, Armageddon), “I Was Born to Love You” is still your quintessential power ballad, and packs as much emotive punch as the best of the lot. Power ballads are the musical equivalent of a leather-and-stud-wearing Hell’s Angel biker who likes to stay home watching rom-com fluff when not on the road. Songs of this genre play up the same incongruity between form and content, framing slow rock sentiments within a heavy metal chassis (replete with crashing cymbals, soaring guitar solos and lung-busting vocals), or — the mush within the tough. Call these tunes cheesy (and you probably wouldn’t wish to be caught dead belting them out before people whose respect you want to earn, heh), but these songs do work in the proper context. It’s hard to find a kind of song with a broader mass appeal than the power ballad, because it aims straight for the heart.

Sports+romance-themed productions like Pride share the same spirit and intent, making the power ballad their perfect musical accompaniment. Like most power ballads, “I Was Born to Love You” unabashedly declares the bigness, the awesomeness, the invincibility of True Love. You can just picture Freddie Mercury strutting onstage, larger than life, and wailing the song in his trademark coloratura, and all you gotta do is listen without prejudice to the message: Love is your destiny, Love is both passionate and tender, both gentle and bold, Love inspires, Love is a risk you can’t afford to lose, Love is both ecstasy and pain, Love is the most “amazing feeling” in the world. And for a moment there, you believe him with Every. Single. Beat. Of your. Heart.

And as for the more sensitive moments, the lovely instrumental tracks –particularly “Ice-man,” “Goodbye Bridge,” the “I Was Born to Love You” cover (with its chamber music feel), and my personal fave, “So-So”– all provide a tonal complement to the hot-blooded rock songs. In short, the Pride soundtrack has everything you really need.

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Smells Like Team Spirit: The Mighty Dorks?

Of Halu’s teammates, only three are made out to be real persons: BFF Yamato, Cool Wingman Tomo, and Rookie Makoto. Aside from these blokes, only the two coaches, Anzai and Hyodo, and that hot chick of a Team Manager are given speaking roles. The rest of the Blue Scorpions are just warm bodies whose sole purpose is to provide the obligatory bobbing of heads and murmurs of assent in the background. The writing of this drama is clearly skewed towards the personal lives of the main characters (aka Halu and his homies) rather than the dynamics within the team, or between the players and the coach. In fact, an entire episode each was devoted to fleshing out Makoto, Yamato and Tomo’s backstories and current dilemmas. These three episodes, combined with the first and the second (which tackle the blood-and-guts physicality and high-risk aspect of hockey), make up what I consider the “first period” of the drama, which is largely expository in function. (Second period = Eps. 6-8, third period = Eps. 9-11.)

Of the three teammates, it was Makoto the Flunky whom I liked the least: always crying, always squealing, always playing the willing stooge, always hanging around Halu and his homies, bleating “Aniki… Aniki…” Makoto didn’t make much of an impression on me the first time, but in my succeeding re-visits to Pride, I became increasingly irritated by Sato Ryuta’s blubbering, face-scrunching and whimpering. Makoto’s Story (Ep. 3) just felt like one big waste of time, and I found myself wishing that Coach Hyodo had fired that useless goofus from the very start. NOBODY LIKES YOU, MAKOTO, LEAST OF ALL YOUR PRECIOUS ANIKI. Silly boy couldn’t take a hint.

Tomo’s Story (Ep. 4) has the least developed arc. Actually, Tomo is the least developed of Halu’s homies, period. Too bad, because he’s my second favorite BlueScorp, and it isn’t JUST because the actor who played him is Matsu Takako’s big bro, hehe. Ichikawa Somegoro kept his acting real, unlike Sato Ryuta and Sakaguchi Kenji, who overdid it at times (for Sato Ryuta, it was ALL THE TIME). I was so drawn to Tomo because of his easygoing personality and waggish sense of humor. Yamato may have been Halu’s BFF and confidante, but Tomo was his partner in crime. And Kimura and Ichikawa Somegoro have the best chemistry of all the male pairings (and let me repeat myself that it ain’t JUST because of the Matsu Rainbow Connection, wheee!). Tomo’s relationship with Aki’s friend Chika (whom I liked waaay more than Material Girl Yuri) is also the most poorly developed of the secondary love stories, which is equally a bummer. (But if it’s any consolation, AT LEAST in the drama’s finale, we see that Tomo and Chika are still together, yay!)

Some of the funniest moments owe themselves to Halu and Tomo’s badinage and wordplay, a perfect example being the dynamic duo’s “Love and-o Fight! Love and-o Fight!” team rally in Ep. 9, which ends in a blur of naked torsos, chest-thumping war cries, and copious amounts of testosterone. Another memorable Halu+Tomo scene is the Ep. 8 opener, where a tuxedoed Tomo emcees a short program at the Face Off, with a mortified Aki in attendance (natch!). The shtick pokes fun at Halu and Aki’s recent breakup, the highlight of the night being Halu’s self-deprecating rendition of The Checkers’ “Namida no Request” (and I just died whenever his eyes would slide to where Aki sat, ARGH). But my favorite Halu+Tomo moment would definitely have to be a few scenes later, where the newly jilted Halu and Yamato nurse their love woes at Halu’s pad (the perfect BGM would’ve been “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band, lol). The entire scene is a perfect exercise in bromance and guy (pillow) talk (bravo Nojima Shinji, and thank you for being male), but it’s only much later, with Yamato passed out in Halu’s bathroom and Makoto thankfully off on an errand, that Tomo and Halu get to bond, as in really bond. Tomo casually remarks to Halu, “If you really want to love her, don’t give up so easily.” Damn right, Halu, and that’s why Tomo should’ve been your BFF! Lol.

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And finally, we come to Yamato’s Story (Ep. 5). (“Mama, just killed a man…”??? “I’m just a poor boy nobody loves me…”??? — HAHAHAHAHAHA OH YAMATO, “Bohemian Rhapsody” IS TOTALLY YOUR SONG!!!!!) Oh I don’t hate the guy (both character and actor), but this episode had some of the most emotionally manipulative scenes of the drama. So Yamato accidentally killed some kid several years ago, and living the dead boy’s iceman dream has become Yamato’s atonement, but he still can’t shake off the guilt and remorse, and it doesn’t help that the kid’s dad shows up at BlueScorp meets to heckle Yamato. Fine, I get the sob story. But this episode left me cold for two reasons: there was no prior indication from Eps. 1-4 that this was such a Big!Part! of who Yamato was. What the eff, Nojima Shinji, it’s like you made this up as you went along. Not very responsible writing. *roll eyes* Yamato’s past felt like a curveball, nothing organic to the plot or to his character. Reason #2 is that this sub-plot was just irrelevant to the overarching storyline. What did Yamato’s Dark Little Secret do to advance the rest of the plot, besides show how Solid! And! United! the BlueScorps were in helping Yamato achieve his closure? Yawn. Burn away the fat, and the only scene of any narrative value in this episode is that of Halu and Aki on The Bridge (E.G. squeees and scurries off to write this scene into her next post, The Top Halu-Aki Moments).

Still, what I liked best about Yamato’s character was his closeness to Aki, and I’m glad they got to interact as much as they did — even if ALL they ever talked about was Halu, lol. But as for Yamato and Yuri? Gaaaaaahhh WHY was their love story given so much mileage??? Why why why??? I couldn’t stand Yuri above all the other characters, excluding The BoyFiend (who was more of a… force than a real person, anyway, lulz). And Yamato bloody annoyed me in falling over himself just to please that self-absorbed gold digger; Yamato buying Yuri the Shoes of Appeasement made me throw up in my mouth! (Chika rawks! Chika rawks! Yuri you suck!) Which is why I felt that much of the first period’s expository function was wasted on this pointless “character development.”

So Yamato grew up poor, and Yuri grew up poor, and Yuri wants to marry up, and Yamato has to act like he’s rich ‘coz that’s!how!much!he!loves!Yuri!, and then (naaatch) Yuri finds out the prince is but a pauper, and Yuri breaks up with Yamato and immediately hooks up with that snot-nosed, weasel-faced, shifty-eyed homunculus aka the GreMon “hotshot” (who, btw, is so puny and weak-looking that I’d LAUGH AT MY TV SCREEN whenever he sneered at any of the BlueScorps. HAHAHAHAHAHA dream on, GreMon), and the ever-noble Yamato gives Yuri away with his blessings, but not before trying to “reason” with GreMon into frickin’ marrying Yuri instead of stringing her along as his mistress, and GreMon naturally scoffs at this antediluvian notion (so, if Aki was from the last century, Yamato was from the last millennium, tsk), and in the heat of the argument GreMon pushes Yamato down the escalator and his head cracks wide open, voiding all his vital fluids. *ROLL EYES!!!* After analyzing both the, uh, morphometry and flowmetry of Yamato’s Lake of Blood, I came to three conclusions: One, HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Two, Yamato should’ve died on the spot. Three, HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Maybe if Yamato and Yuri’s romance hadn’t been developed so… intricately (lol), and the circumstances of Yamato’s career-threatening injury had been less… ridiculous, then maybe their arc could have worked for me. That said, if there was any good that came out of all the folderol, it was that incredibly moving scene between Halu and Yamato in the hospital room in Ep. 9. There’s something about male bonding (every bit platonic, none of the funny stuff) that’s so comforting, so encouraging. Maybe it’s because we don’t see such unabashed closeness between men as often as we ought to. But there was nothing mushy or corny about the bro love between Halu and Yamato, even in the way Yamato holds up his fist and tells his captain and closest friend, “Arigato… it’s because you’re here that I’m here,” and Halu grips his fallen warrior’s hand, and though few more words are expressed, each man knows the other’s heart. This line is mirrored back to Yamato in the drama’s final episode, when he sees Halu off at the airport. And that, I should say, is how real men bond.

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To Coachy with Love

Oh, the coaches. *roll eyes* Seriously, was Coach Anzai for real??? So Anzai teaches Halu just this ONE offensive move (the straight charge, which Coach Hyodo later laughs at), then he gets terminally ill and bed-ridden, during which time he totally ignores his wife and young son and instead fixates on his protégé, dispensing these golden nuggets of wisdom about how to get ahead in the game, i.e.: “Don’t ever love a woman.” “I think my wife, whom I have never touched since I got sick, is having an affair.” “Since I’m to kick the bucket before this day is over, I’d rather spend my last few hours on this earth watching you train instead of being with my wife and kid.” — Thus saith Anzai, Philosopher-King. Fine, so he was a well-loved mentor who was instrumental in the team’s success, but you wonder what kind of person he was off the ice. (And not a very good one, I suspect.)

Anzai’s death scene on the beach was just… weird on some level. The first time I watched Pride I was moved to bits, but the second time, the objective part of my brain started laughing at how hokey it all was. (Hokey! Ice hokey! Hahahaha) But the subjective part of me remained (and will always remain) cut to pieces by Halu’s reaction. The scene was actually directed well; when Halu walks back from training at the water’s edge and then stops some distance from the pickup, you know from his face he realizes his coach is gone. Makoto returns with refreshments but Halu stops him from going near the truck, admonishing the rookie not to “wake” Anzai. Halu’s voice strains with emotion and his face can barely suppress his devastation and grief. Bitter tears clog his vision, and yet he must take it like a man worthy of his mentor. So he bows deeply before the still figure, thanking Anzai one last time, and the dam of tears breaks. => Wow, heavy stuff, and one of Kimura’s finest acting moments in the drama.

Even if I didn’t like Anzai one bit, I’m still thankful for all the times Halu got to bond with Widow Anzai (Ishida Yuriko) and her uber-kawaiiiii son, Wataru. It was wonderful to see how much Halu loved spending time with mother and child. Plus, Widow Anzai served as Halu’s portal to the womanly perspective, helping him understand Aki more; I’m also glad she and Aki got to meet later on. Halu and Widow Anzai’s tête-à-têtes over tea in her kitchen or at the playground were refreshingly platonic, and I’m glad Nojima Shinji wrote that relationship in.

Enter Coach Hyodo (Sato Koichi), who –like I mentioned in my Buzzer Beat review— is such a nominal coach, a thinly written character but tangential to the plot. He basically enters the picture with this to-do list: (1) Tell the entire team “You suck!” before storming out of the locker room (2) Spit on Anzai’s game plan (3) Roll eyes (4) Chew gum (5) Watch scrimmage sessions with crossed arms and a surly look (6) Leak game videos and the precious team playbook to GreMon (7) Roll eyes (8) Chew gum. Coach Hyodo actually spent more time doing all of the above than dispensing actual hockey strategy. What, Coach, no “Flying V” formations? No triple deke tips? No advice on how to pull off that winning breakaway? No? None? Really, the coach-team dynamic was the most disappointing part of the drama. Coach Hyodo wasn’t a real coach, he wasn’t even a real person. So the writer went to great lengths to give Coach Anzai, Widow Anzai, and Coach Hyodo — A! Past! (oooh), fine. But even the best backstory can’t make up for poor character development. Sato Koichi was SO underutilized in this drama, which is A BLOODY SHAME given his acting caliber.

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But in the end, Coachy and Halu sorta kiss and make up, and it’s a particularly “awwww” moment to see Halu switch to Coachy’s jersey number for his major-league career. Coachy proves himself useful for just two things: (1) He introduces Halu to the ancient legend of the Ice Goddess (ooooh! so… is there a Hardcourt Genie as well? A Football Field Fairy? lol), who only shows herself to the best and most driven of hockey players. Beneath the rink she lives, rotating slowly through the ice in her birthday suit (but–but–ice is SOLID, Coachy! because of the crystal lattice formed by H-bonding! I durnt geddit… I durnt geddit… brain hurting *nosebleed*), BUT she appears in different forms to different people, personifying every iceman’s deepest inspiration. (Okay, so that surreal Ice Goddess scene with “Bohemian Rhapsody” as BGM was pretty whack, and I shall leave it at that.)

(2) The second thing Coach Hyodo does is reveal his REAL purpose for returning to Japan, which is to serve as Halu’s one-way ticket to the NHL (as per Anzai’s final request). Good for Halu, I’ll say. It isn’t a stretch of logic for an Asian to break into the NHL, since hockey requires much less from height and brawn than from a player’s speed and agility, stamina, puck-handling skills, hand-eye coordination, and nerves of steel. So, unlike YamaPi’s NBA dreams in Buzzer Beat, I didn’t roll my eyes at Halu’s NHL bid. Granted, it wasn’t very likely for him to be drafted at his age (31), but still possible given his skill level, and given the age range of active NHL players (early 20s to late 30s). However, it was less plausible for Halu to become the star player of the Vancouver Canucks, given the cutthroat competition and depth of talent in the NHL. Maybe a stint as a bench player would’ve been more believable, but certainly not a starter. But what the hey — Pride is a fairy tale, after all.

And now, pray tell, what happens to Coach Hyodo after Halu and the Blue Scorpions become champs? Why, he TURNS BLIND, is what!!!! WTF, where did THIS come from, huh Nojima Shinji, huh? Oh great, so it’s not enough that he’s a pretty useless coach, because now he has to go BLIND too? LMFAO!!!!! And you know who else comes to mind when I see the words “ice” and “blind” used together? I think of this guy:

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HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA *dies laughing*

And what purpose did Coach’s loss of eyesight serve the story? To get Widow Anzai to finally take pity on her first love and thus marry him? But their little story arc was given ample emotional buildup in the earlier episodes, making Coach’s blindness unnecessary, and really just a plot contrivance that took away from the satisfaction of seeing the two end up together. Like The BoyFiend, this is another bloody deus ex machina. BOOOOO. And um, I also don’t get why Management decided to keep Coachy, uh… employed? I don’t care if he was the best darn hockey coach in the Eastern Hemisphere, he turned BLIND for Pete’s sake, BLI-I-I-IND. As in unable to see, you know? (If Phil Jackson lost his eyesight today, would the Lakers think twice about giving him –and his ten NBA titles– the boot? Noooo.) Corporate should’ve sent Coach Hyodo off with a handshake and a tidy retirement package if they still cared about winning games more than pandering to misty-eyed sentimentalism. I mean, just imagine a typical Blue Scorpions game played in the Age of Blindness:

Hot Chick Team Manager (HCTM): “Coachy, the GreMons are giving it to Makoto rough. He can’t even skate two meters without getting body-checked. What should we do?”

Coachy (swaying head from side to side, humming “I Just Called to Say I Love You”): “Hmmm… Who else is in the rink? I need to visualize.”

HCTM: “Nos. 1, 18, 35, and Hotta. No. 7’s in the penalty box, serving five for fighting.”

Coachy (humming “Part-Time Lover”): “Hmmm… Where is #18? What is he doing? I need to visualize.”

HCTM: “He’s on the far end, and he’s got the GreMon center pinned against the glass. Coachy, we don’t have much time, it’s 2 minutes left in the third.”

Coachy (humming “We Are the World”): “Hmmm… Where is #35? What is he doing? I need to visualize.”

HCTM: “Makoto just passed the puck to him. Um, I think we need to call a timeout. Makoto’s down on the ice, crying and throwing up. Again. He looks like he needs a sub.”

Coachy (humming “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”): “Hmmm… So who else is in the rink again? I need to visualize.”

(Final buzzer sounds and GreMons win, 1-0)

HCTM: *sigh*

Coachy (humming “That’s What Friends Are For”): “So did we win?”

-The End-

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The Puck Stops Here, aka The Final Scorecard:

So to sum it all up, how did Pride fare as a sports+rubu-rubu drama?

Sports – 7/10. After a thrilling start, the hockey action loses a bit of steam (and airtime) in the drama-heavy second half, and a semi-paralyzed Yamato saving the day for the Blue Scorpions in the championship match is very HAHAHAHAHAHA. But overall, the sports choreography and editing are niftily done — to my untrained eye, at least.

Team/Coach Dynamics – 4/10 WHAT team/coach dynamics? Am I missing something here? Am I also… blind? Hahahaha

Romance – 10/10… heck, make that 7,433,883/10. The Halu+Aki love story is everything you’d want YOUR love story to be. So maybe The BoyFiend’s appearance made things a bit wonky in the latter third, but what the puck, right? Love rocks.

Pride was my first ever Kimura dorama, and it will always be my sentimental favorite. Always. It’ll take a LOT to dislodge Satonaka Halu atop the Tokyo Tower of my heart, and I’m glad he was my first Kimura-love. (But certainly not the last. Keep ‘em coming, dahhhling!) Pride is also my comfort drama, something I keep coming back to again and again and again as I relive the thrill of the game, the thrill of True Love. Despite its immense appeal, Pride is nowhere perfect, but each re-visit finds me loving this drama more and more. So I pop my already-battered DVD into the player, and the magic begins anew –the magic of the story, the music, the romance– and I’m lost beyond reason, swept into the rink where the Iceman himself awaits: hot as fire, cool as ice.

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Grade
Artistic & technical merit: B+
Entertainment value: A+
Overall: A

***
Photo credits: anime.nickestre.com, asianfanatics.com, bbs.btpig.com, cdn3.ioffer.com, dramastyle.com, gakuranman.com, jdramazone.com, j-fan.com, redgeofsanity.wordpress.com, tsinoy.com, yoake.wordpress.com, and yuukie085.livejournal.com.

Title credit: “The Iceman Cometh” by American playwright Eugene O’Neill (1939). Nothing to do with hockey whatsoever.😄

Addendum (Oh yes, there’s more. Sorry):

This review was the longest I’ve ever written (and hopefully, the longest I’ll ever have to write; I need to get my life back, lol). To those who endured till the end, I’m sorry if you started crying blood from all the eyestrain, but THANK YOU for bearing with me.

As an expression of my appreciation, allow me to leave you with:

E.G.’s Ultimate! Pride! Fantasy!

Scene: The Face Off sports bar.
Characters: E.G., Kimura as Satonaka Halu, and Sam the Pianist

E.G.: (camera zooms in for close-up) “Dahhling, we’ll always have… Puraido. Yesss?” (lurches towards Halu with hentai leer)

Kimura: (sitting at the bar) “Of all the sports bars in all the villages in all the world, she had to walk into mine. Ugh, gross.” (drains martini glass)

E.G.: (ogling Halu) “Here’s looking at YOU… Ki—Mu—Ta—Ku…”

Kimura: “What in heaven’s name brought you to Japan?” (puts on hockey mask and sidles towards exit)

E.G.: (to Sam the Pianist) “Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake… Play it, Sam. Play “I Was Born to Love You” by Queen!” (makes a desperate lunge for Kimura’s #9 jersey)

(Kimura beats E.G. back with his hockey stick)

Exeunt. Dim lights. Curtains close amid jeers from Jdorama fans pelting the movie screen with gnawed-up hockey pucks.

[With apologies to the writers of Casablanca, who are all probably dead anyway.]

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28 Comments on “Drama Review: Pride (Fuji TV, 2004)”

  1. jicks Says:

    In many ways, Halu is still that little lost boy waiting for his mother, and Episode 6 so cogently captures this side of him. This episode, for me, is where the drama reaches its emotional peak, and not the final third (Eps. 9-11), which I found to be anticlimactic.
    ^^Exactly my sentiments. Seeing Halu show his weaker side made me want to swim over to Japan (even though I can’t swim lol)& stroke his hair to make him feel better ^^;;; One of my fave scenes would be when Halu sees Aki meet w/ her man on THE bridge… his reaction was acted w/ pure perfection.

    Speaking of which, I agree w/ you, the one thing that let me down in the series was how the ex-boyfriend was eliminated from the story. Lame! I wish they’d made Aki’s heart the conclusive decider.

    Pride is far from being my overall favourite Kimura drama (I guess there was too much athletic machoness… although I enjoyed the bromance haha) but I would say it’s def one of Kimura’s best performances.

    P.S. Like your 10 sports dramas cliches (all oh-so-true)
    P.P.S. Phil Jackson doesn’t need to see, he could just spread Zen & other philosophies around camp. Kobe is the vision!
    P.P.P.S. lol @ Bae Yong Jun reference

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Lol, stroke his hair, ehh? After that long and arduous swim through the perilous waters of the Pacific, you suuuure that’s ALL you’ll want to do to Halu? XDDDDD

      Yeah, what’s with this whole “I’m a K/J-drama heroine so I can’t decide who to end up with on my own, I’ll just sit here and waste away until the Second Fiddle Guy gets tired of me” thing? Argh, someone find me a drama where the Heroine takes the initiative for once! Y__Y

      Hey, I’d like to hear the rest of your Top 5 Kimura doramas! =D (It’s pretty obvious what cops your #1 spot. …But, soft! I hear the tinkling of piano keys and the gentle sound of the surf!)

      LOL @ Phil Jackson and his Zen and Kobe the vision!!!

      Oh you know dear old Yonsama, always good for a laugh… Yuck, can you imagine Coach Hyodo bundled up in those appalling mustard-yellow mufflers and green knit sweaters and light blue denim pants? Throw in the apricot hair dye and glasses–because blind people OBVIOUSLY need glasses.

      • jicks Says:

        ^lol I never understood the glasses on blind people thing either… though after seeing dear Yonsama WITHOUT frames on his face O___o” …I completely understand why he wears them alot of the time (・_・; )

        Well you guessed my number one Kimura drama (how the heck did you know lol) Number 2 would be Beautiful Life w/o question. The remaining 3 spots would probably be a toss btwn… One Million Stars Falling From The Sky, Sleeping Forest, Hero, Good Luck… heck possibly even Pride now after reading your review!

        I will have to think about it & get back to you lol

      • maAkusutipen Says:

        About a drama from the East having the girl grab the aggressor, try last seasons Ohitorisama.. though it is your pedestrian OL drama.. its bearable i think… But i only lasted around 5 eps… XD…

        • Ender's Girl Says:

          @ maAkusutipen:

          Not that “bearable” if you lasted 5 eps, I guess… =D

          Oh looky, the lead guy on Ohitorisama is that dude from Gokusen. Never liked him. He reminds me of a Teletubby. Or one of those generic-looking cutesy stuffed creatures (of indeterminate species) that stare at you from inside a UFO catcher. *shudders* So, uh, I’ll think I’ll pass on this drama. But thanks for the rec just the same.🙂

  2. Una (aka Scottishlass Says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful, lengthy (but not boring) review. I laughed out loud as well as groaned out loud at a lot of places … THUMBS UP to you for this concise well.written review!!!

  3. Kelly Says:

    Brilliant review, E.G.! I never considered myself a Pride fan(trust me, I tried…), but your review absolutely encourages me to give it another TRY.

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Yo, Kelly! Lol, mebbe the second time’s the charm, ehhh? XP But in case Pride still doesn’t take your breath away, that’s cool… *giant sweat drop* Makes me wanna sing another Queen song, “Under Pressure…” lolz

  4. maAkusutipen Says:

    arghh rather long… but will read it entirely one of these days!!!

    But this is long overdue… joke..

    I really appreciate that you are spreading the LOOOVE…

    Well in the cocky days of Kimura Takuya… I really liked this dorama and would really recommend that this would be one good gateway dorama for the uninitaited.

  5. Ralph Moratz Says:

    Dear EG,

    What a wonderful review. Sorry I did begin to skip some of it in order to put in my comment while I have the urge to do so. I will go back and read it all soon (no I really will. Promise).

    I saw KimuTaku in one drama before this, Long Vacation wherein unlike everyone else I was not impressed. But Pride struck me like a powerful thunderstorm filled with so much power from Kimura Takuya that I became his most ardent fan and follower.

    Here I first recognized the greatness of this, for me, unequalled Japanese actor. His inate ability to change the moment with nothing more than the slightest shift of his eyes or tilt of his head or stance of his body.

    Like you, ‘must be, maybe’, played like an endless song in my mind long after I saw the drama for perhaps the 5th time or so. I don’t know if you mentioned the last scene in the ice rink in the park when Halu and Aki finally make the contract wrapped in ‘maybe/must be’. As a romanticist I found this the most memorable because they had to end up this way or I would never sleep again.

    Anyhow… thanks again for reawakening my desire to watch the entire drama again (and again) with your incredible review, which, gee whiz, almost a drama on it’s own.

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Thanks, Ralph.🙂 Oh bosh, don’t sweat it, no need to apologize for anything. My reviews are meant for slow, leisurely reading anyway, the kind you do when you have absolutely nothing better to do.😄 Who says you have to finish ’em all in one go? But thanks for the encouragement just the same!

      “As a romanticist I found this the most memorable because they had to end up this way or I would never sleep again.” – LOL! Well, you really are the hopeless romantic, aren’t you!😉 Good for us that unhappy endings are rather uncommon in Jdoramaland.

  6. SL Says:

    This is really quite a freaky coincidence. I started re-watching Pride a few days ago (a VCD mind you, so I’m pretty sure it’s more battered than your DVD,lol) and happened to chance upon your website from another blog…Great review!

    Pride is 1 of 2 Kimura shows I have, goes to show how much I thot of his acting in the past…Even after watching him in Pride, I thot he was more of a pretty boy who could act tough but CHANGE erm completely changed my mind. Was completely blown away by his acting as Asakura-san…I think his acting has really matured with time…that dark family drama he did made an impression as well…

    Oh, and can I mention that I burst out laughing when I saw BYJ’s pic?! lol But err, I do have to admit that I have 1 of his shows, Legend. That one’s quite a watcher, believe me. It’s LOTR Korean style. Do give it a try…

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Oh wow, VCDs!!! Yeah, I think I still have a couple of those floating around… =D Haha, maybe it’s not as freaky a coincidence as you think. Pride is probably one of the most re-watched Jdramas around (‘coz it definitely is mine).🙂

      Hehe, you remind me of someone I know from JiSubAddicts.com. She said she realized at one point that she was really a Halu fan than a KimuTaku fan. I guess you’re a Halu/Keita fan, then.😉

      Let’s see… as there aren’t that many blogs out there that have me on their Blogroll, I’m guessing you found me through thundie or dahee’s blogs, am I right? Heh. Fantastic people, those two. And the fact that they send a few unsuspecting stragglers my way every now and then helps, too.😄

      BYJ – oh gawwwd, this is the part where I’m NOT supposed to say “Bae Yong-jun was my first Asian drama love after seeing Winter Sonata in 2002.” I dunno when my feelings for him changed. Probably around the time he began morphing into a bleeping ajumma. Which explains why I have Legend but haven’t gotten around to watching it. (But dayyyem, I love LOTR so I just might give it a try one of these days…)

  7. v Says:

    rotfl at winter sonata!!! lol… as i said, pride is definitely my fav kimutaku drama cuz halu was just smoking hot! and cool. and i can go on.. anyways, thanks for this review!

  8. goblin Says:

    Sigh… I came back to read your review because I just gave up on “Pride”.

    Let me say that again. I just gave up on “Pride”.
    I’m shocked, shocked I say, that I could watch two whole episodes of this widely-adored dorama and absolutely hate it! I came back hoping to find out what on earth am I missing…

    I found Halu to be a pushy, thoughtless jerk, Aki overly passive and dull, and the emotional trajectory all over the place.

    I have grown to like Kimura when playing borderline unlikeable characters before (“Sora Kara”, “Engine”) but this is a romance dorama, right? Don’t I have to like him and/or her to actually enjoy the damn thing? That or the plot – and I have absolutely zero interest in sports of any kind.

    I’m glad you mentioned the sexism here, because even though it seems many people can enjoy this on the level of archetypes and fairy-tale logic, it just didn’t work for me. I don’t enjoy or believe in fairy-tale romance – not when it involves conventional gender roles like these. Damn. I really wanted to like this show.

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Lol, don’t beat yourself up over it. At least you tried — twice! — which is more than I can say for other drama fans who chucked this out the window before the first episode was even over.😉 At least you’re not alone, because a friend of mine from JDorama.com (and fellow KimuTaku fan) cited the same reasons you have for disliking Pride. He didn’t find the sports action appealing enough, and thought Aki a limp rag.🙂

      And you’re right, the lead characters’ likability from the get-go will play huge in your enjoyment of the rest of the drama — esp. if it’s a ren’ai. There has to be this instant spark between you and the leads lest the whole thing become a chore to finish. Same thing with me and Tsuki no Koibito, I guess. I watched the first ep. last week and found nothing in Kimura’s character that made me want to get to know him more. He’s just this cold, sh*tty, despotic jerk who wants to possess Lin Chi Ling’s soul or something, so I’m really having a hard time caring about this much-anticipated drama. Still finishing it, though. *sigh*🙂

      Lol, but Kimura’s character in Sora Kara wasn’t “borderline unlikeable” for me, more of “evil and twisted beyond repair.” My best friend was less complimentary, and called Ryo “a little manwhore, how blah” +D So anyway, different strokes, ne?😀

      • Ralph Moratz Says:

        When I started watching Pride, I almost gave up in the first 5 minutes. The only sport I am hopelessly addicted to is golf; consequently all other sports have a set order of boredom for me… beginning with guys taking turns hitting a ball with a stick once every 10 minutes or so… (great for curing insomnia) and probably hockey is at the very top of my boredom pyramid. So when I saw the bus pull in, hokey uniforms and hocky talk… blah… but I persevered and was rewarded with for me anyway a wonderful romance. I can see that Takeuchi Yuko, who I adore, may not be as much a causative factor for a gal as for a guy to stay the course.
        Then there is the other, simply no poking of the personal mental juices… Nodame Cantabile is the best example of a non-occurence drama that I absolutely despise even after giving it 10 minutes of my full attention. Yet the rest of the world drools over this imitation manga montrosity.

        • Ender's Girl Says:

          “probably hockey is at the very top of my boredom pyramid” << LOL! Too bad they don't do dramas/films about golf, eh?😉

          "Nodame Cantabile is the best example of a non-occurence drama that I absolutely despise even after giving it 10 minutes of my full attention. Yet the rest of the world drools over this imitation manga montrosity." << Okay now this was just too funny!!!😀 (Don't let bmwracer hear about his, or he'll have you banned from JDorama.com, lol) It took me some time (read: more than 10 minutes, lol) to warm up to Nodame Cantabile, but in the end I actually liked it. I don't love it the way the rest of humanity does, but I can see its appeal.🙂

          • Ralph Moratz Says:

            Everytime I see another of the endless fawning by BMW over NC, I get another hole in my tongue to keep from punching a hole in Jdorama. But I suppose some other entity may get equally tired of my endless fawning over Kuninaka Ryoko’s prowess as one of the best actors on the Jscene. Thank God for mouse clicks to swiftly shift the words before me in favor of a more favorable vision on my monitor.

      • goblin Says:

        Uh, yeah, Ryo was indeed an evil twisted manwhore. But the relentless driving energy of this dorama sucked me in – the gradually unfolding mystery, his doomed romances… I *felt* for him, even if I didn’t always *like* him. Mm. Yeah.


  9. […] The Little Dorama Girl (tiếng […]

  10. jobae Says:

    What a great review! I found myself lol and nodding my head in agreement from the beginning to the end. I have wanted to write a review of Pride for some time, but having read yours, I thought to myself — here’s a review of all reviews! Thanks for covering all the bases and more.

    Your character analyses are absolutely right on. Love Halu & Aki.

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Thank you!🙂 Though I think the Pride/Halu/Aki cosmos is rich enough to dive into again and again and again and get a fresh perspective each time, so do let me know when you’ve written your own take on the drama, ‘coz I’d love to read it😉

      Halu+Aki 4vr

      So… are you a Kimura fan or just a Pride fan?😀

      • jobae Says:

        Kimura fan or Pride fan? I guess I am, first of all, a Kimura fan. I have watched most of his dramas. Began with Love Generation and then I was forever hooked. His acting is under appreciated, if I can say that with all the awards he’s garnered.
        But the last couple of them, I didn’t enjoy.
        Of his dramas, Pride has to be my favorite. I have gone back and watched Love Generation, Long Vacation & Beautiful Life, but it’s not the same as Pride. I could watch Pride again and again — I do skip past a couple of the episodes — I don’t like Yamato’s episode nor Makoto’s episode. I really do agree with all of your assessments!
        Let me ask you, purely as a jdorama lover, give me your two favorite (perhaps the ones that haven’t gotten their due).
        My dark horse favorite is Aoi Tori (Blue Bird).

        • Ender's Girl Says:

          Hey — we love the same Kimura dramas!😀 (Btw, have you seen Karei?)

          My favorite dramas outside what Kimura has done would be Nobuta wo Produce and Tatta Hitotsu no Koi. And… Stand UP!😉 (well whaddaya know, Stand UP! has Yamapi and Tatta has Kame, and NwP has both. hahahaha whatta coincidence XD)

  11. Steph Says:

    First off, Pride is an amazing drama. One of my firsts and I’m so glad for that. Secondly, I’m sorry for reviving this three years after it was posted, but wow.

    I laughed my ass off at this review! Probably the best review I’ve read of all time. I just about peed my pants when you started to talk about Coach Hyodo! Lmaooooo!

    Definitely sticking around on here to look at your other reviews. Entirely epic and I thank you for the laughs and entertainment I got outta this one!

  12. Marhamah Says:

    Hi…2 years on from the last review and someone still reads your write up, E.G. Bravo!
    I LOVE PRIDE (or shd I say, Takuya-san?)….lovely, heart warming and leaves much to be desired….I’m just hopeless….


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