Drama Review (Part 2): Nobuta wo Produce (NTV, 2005)
Pure. Magic. Realism.
by Ender’s Girl
[Read Part One of review]
[Related post: Nobuta wo Produce / Seishun Amigo vid clips]
[Related post: The Nobuta wo Produce Readers’ Choice Awards Poll]
[Related post: 86 Nobuta wo Produce icons from topazera @ LiveJournal]
Kamenashi Kazuya, Yamashita Tomohisa, Horikita Maki, Toda Erika, Hiiragi Rumi, Natsuki Mari, Okada Yoshinori, Takahashi Katsumi
(SpoilLert: MOAR of ‘em!)
[Recommended companion track: “Seishun Amigo” by Shuji to Akira, natch!]
Welcome to Planet High School: Abandon Hope, All Who Enter!
The beauty of Nobuta wo Produce is that it doesn’t purport to be anything other than a high school drama, and that’s precisely what makes it so much more than just a high school drama. (Am I even getting my point across? Lol) What I’m trying to say is that the characters are every inch high school kids — no more, no less, neither dumbed down nor savvied up. But they speak from the heart because the writing keeps it all REAL and just lets the characters be themselves, be the thinking, feeling, self-aware teens that they are.
This drama explores the inner universe of adolescence, governed by its own whimsical vagaries and constant flux of emotions. And I love the judicious use of voice-overs as the main characters ponder such things as the future and the uncertainty of life. The dialogue is intelligent without being pseudo-intellectual, complex without being contrived (uh, Dawson’s Creek, anyone? man, talk about a series that tried too hard to be smart and deep and witty, but always felt like it was written by 40-year-olds *roll eyes*). The writing of NwP doesn’t try to be all these, it just IS. Just because the drama is about a bunch of high school kids doesn’t mean it has to be infantile and shallow, nor does it have to play at being implausibly grown-up.
In NwP high school life is rendered with spot-on detail: students tally the number of times their teacher hitches up his pants; are not above devious means to circumvent school rules; and feverishly latch on to the latest trends in fashion and accessories as quickly as they discard them. Perhaps this drama’s best encapsulation of high school life is the school fair in Episode 3. Anyone who has ever been in high school may remember their fair with great fondness: the flurry of preparations, the distracted zoning out of class lectures in the week of the big event, the extra shots of adrenalin and esprit de corps that amplify the convivial atmosphere on the day itself. This is perhaps the only time of the year when high-schoolers are happy to leave their adult-but-not-quite-adult selves at home and just let loose, enjoy the fair, and get a kick out of cheap thrills — be they haunted houses, maid cafes, silly boxing matches, fashion shows, amateurish plays and concerts, etc.
The high school stereotypes are here in NwP, but with a distinctive Jdorama twist. True, the Class Clowns aka the Destiny Duo may not have the most gut-bustingly funny of spiels, but at least they never annoyed me, and always seemed to be having so much fun in their own little world — making funny puns, and punny fun. Beetlejuice Guy would be the closest thing to the resident Obsessive Basket Case, and adds a dash – just a dash! – of signature J-screwiness to the overall flavor of Class 2-B.
Only Bando and the Bandettes are given the extreme treatment of all the 2-B students. True, the bullying is especially vicious in the first few episodes (because let’s face it: teenagers can be such mean little sh*ts, ya know), and I understand why this has turned many a casual viewer off the drama altogether. But the fact of the matter is that bullying as it is shown in NwP is probably closer to reality than we think. In his mind-blowing analysis of modern Japan entitled “Dogs and Demons,” Japanologist Alex Kerr makes this disturbing observation about school bullying:
“The acceptance of violence against those who are weaker than you is part of Japan’s educational process, as it enforces group unity. Given the intense pressure to conform from kindergarten onward, Japanese students frequently turn to bullying, known as ijime. Ijime is a national problem, and it results in several much publicized suicides of schoolchildren every year.”
Nobuta to Mariko: Seishun Amigas
And Mariko (Toda Erika) the Perfect Girl, she of the Amazing Bento Boxes – I love her! She’s sweet and kind but never irritating, and earns the viewer’s sympathy early on when she all but lays her heart on the line for Shuji, hoping he will one day do the same. (Oh, Mariko.) I enjoyed how the Shuji-Mariko arc was developed in the drama, because Mariko is clearly no idiot, and in fact susses out Shuji’s insincerity when all the telltale signs begin to add up: his blowing her off at the last minute, his glib excuses, and the realization that despite Shuji’s apparent enthusiasm about her (and her bento), their relationship has never really progressed beyond shared lunches in the science lab. Shuji breaking her heart is more of a slow, torturous descent than a blind-siding blow, and his raw admission in Ep. 8, really a confirmation of what she has guessed all along, is the inevitable coup de grace. (Poor Mariko!)
Nobuta and Mariko’s individual arcs, which have barely touched for the first seven or so episodes of the drama, finally get to converge right when both girls are at their lowest. They share a memorable scene in Ep. 9, where the two get to bond over roasted chestnuts… and their shared love for Shuji. (Mariko: “It’s lonely to be lied to.” Nobuta: “But lying for a long time is lonely, too.”) Both are still hurting (Mariko from her heartbreak, Nobuta from the full revelation of Aoi’s perfidy), and both need the reassuring empathy that only another girl can give. By opening their hearts to one another they feel the pain and loss becoming a little lighter to bear, just as both girls realize that they are actually stronger, more resilient than they thought. Oh Shuji, if only you had liked ONE of them.
That said, I’m very, very happy that Shuji and Mariko have their closure before he leaves town. His taking her out for a “Date at the Beach” is a sweet and unexpected conclusion to their almost-relationship. And just like the visibly delighted Mariko, you do appreciate all that went into this undertaking — the neon sea creature cut-outs, the picnic table and umbrella, the carefully packed bento boxes, the gentle sound of the waves (arigatou, Nobuta and Akira! *flying kiss*). And it isn’t so much the effort as it is the sincerity in which this little treat is given that makes Shuji and Mariko’s final date so special. It may not be the perfect ending for this non-couple, but in light of the circumstances, it is the best one. And at least you know they can part without rancor (though with just a little bit of regret), and you know that if and when they ever meet again, they’ll be able to smile at each other like old friends.
“Adults are just kids who owe money.” — line on bumper sticker, lol
The grown-up characters are shown to NOT know all the answers to life, or possess the key to the Fount of Adult Wisdom. They’re mostly shown to be… big kids, really, just more beat-up around the edges and looking the worse for wear, maybe a little wiser and more jaded, and more accepting of the realities and disappointments of life. Hirayama the Tofu Guy (Takahashi Katsumi) provides a solid, comforting presence as Akira’s ever-obliging guardian — though not without his own share of regrets and hang-ups. Hirayama has an interesting dynamic not just with Akira, but with Akira’s volatile CEO father (Masu Takeshi). Both men take their stake in Akira’s upbringing quite seriously, but share an interesting “good cop, bad cop” approach to this responsibility. (LMAO @ the time both grown men bond while assembling the Nobuta keychains in Tofu Guy’s living room!)
At first Akira’s dad is reluctant to give his son the space to live and chart his own life, and father and son’s epic rumbles in Hirayama’s tiny apartment can be a riot to watch (pun intended), but at the same time are indicative of the tough choices we all must make — and continue to make — as we get older. As a viewer you fully understand where Akira’s otosan is coming from, given his backstory where, as a young father, he also struggled with his own overbearing parents but eventually capitulated in order to give his family a comfortable life (*sniffle*).
Then there’s Shuji’s pinstripe suit-wearing dork of a dad (Ukaji Takashi) who hates his job even more than his two boys hate schoolwork, and who at one hilarious but “awww” moment ruefully dispenses this timeless nugget of fatherly advice: “Shuji, wear what you want now. When you grow up you’ll have to think of others and use common sense… making your superiors happy, making your customers feel good. You’ll have to take everything into consideration and you can no longer wear whatever you want.” (LOL, but oh-so-true.)
I love how the Kiritani family feels like a real family — well, ¾ of a real family. And Nakajima Yuto as Shuji’s li’l bro Koji is the most perfect little boy you will ever lay eyes on… except that this was five years ago and he’s not so little anymore (heh heh). The scenes where the three Kiritani boys (small, medium and large) are just chillin’ at home — dad cooking dinner, Koji doing his homework, Shuji (with that topknot, lol!) patching up a torn sock — are always enjoyable to watch. Ditto the dynamic between Shuji and Koji — case in point: the moment the brothers share in the haunted house in Episode 3 is heartwarming without being hokey.
It helps, of course, that Kame and Yuto (then a Johnny’s Jr. who also performed in the “Seishun Amigo” music video, poor kid, lol) share a wonderful on-screen chemistry. (I know a lot of fangirls, upon Johnny-san’s instigation — I mean c’mon, you really think the evil old gnome isn’t behind all this? — would like to read a wee bit more into Kame and Yuto’s overhyped senpai-kouhai relationship, but not me. I mean, NO. NONONOO. Gross.)
The mothers, however, are such non-factors in this drama: Nobuta and Akira’s moms are virtually absent from beginning to end, while Shuji’s own okasan flits in and out of the storyline and makes no significant impact on her sons’ lives. On the other hand, a small part of me didn’t want Shuji’s mother to be a more tangible presence because the family dynamic of father and two sons was already working so well. Even Akira’s mother being a superfluity sort of makes narrative sense because Akira’s main personal conflict is between him and his father; plus, he doesn’t even live at home at the time being. So this leaves me feeling very ambivalent about the moms… and like me, the writer probably didn’t know how to make all three of them relevant to the story, lol. But what I am sure of is that Nobuta’s mother should have been written in, because her relationship with her daughter would’ve helped us understand the root cause of Nobuta’s self-image issues.
I just love the faculty (!!!), this motley bunch of teachers who represent high school Jdoramas at their screwiest best. I felt that I got to know these well-meaning, if foible-prone adults; they weren’t one-dimensional clichés like teachers are depicted in so many other teen J-dramas, nor did they grate on me like, say, Nakama Yukie’s uber-hammy principal-nemesis from those Gokusens *shudders at the memory*. But oh man, these teachers in Nobuta wo Produce will pull at your heartstrings because the actors playing them never mug for the camera, and instead allow their well-written characters to shine through.
There’s Yokoyama-sensei (Okada Yoshinori), the nerdy homeroom adviser-cum-frustrated poet. The episode where the unsold copies of his self-published poetry collection become fodder for school-wide ridicule, is as hilarious as it is touching. Good thing Delphine the bookshop owner makes Yokoyama an offer he can’t refuse, and I love their little heart-to-heart at the back of the school building where Yokoyama discloses that despite what people may think, he has no regrets about leaving his failed literary bid to become a teacher. He says simply but truthfully, “It may be hard to believe, but my job right now is really fun.” And you believe him, you really do. When a youthful dream ends, it doesn’t mean the end of the dreaming, because a new aspiration — a better one, in some ways — may come along, and in the end, you’ll realize that you turned out just fine.
Then there’s Sebastian (Kimura Yuichi), the oversized teddy bear of a gym instructor who publicly gets dumped at school by a prospective fiancée for honestly saying he loves his mother more than he does her. (Poor Sebastian! Nice guys finish last, it seems?) His little story line ends with a terrific scene on the rooftop where Shuji walks in on a crestfallen Sebastian, and then sits with him through the painful postmortem while a strange fragrance fills the air, the scent of a heart breaking (oh Sebastian!!!!).
And I enjoyed the wackily skewed (but affectionate) dynamic between Principal Iehara (Fuwa Mansuko), that timorous little dumpling of a man, and his brassy deputy Catherine (Natsuki Mari), the progressive-minded, back-flipping, wall-climbing, rule-flouting “crow lady.” I looove Catherine to bits! For of all the teachers it is she who understands the growing pains of her adolescent wards best, and always seems to know when to let the kids be kids, and when to step in with firm but fair adult guidance — on matters of the heart or otherwise, i.e. “Don’t ever forget that there are heads and tails to money,” she cautions Shuji, Akira and Nobuta in Episode 6. In this sense, and if we take into consideration the magic-realism atmosphere of the drama, Catherine would be the closest thing to a fairy godmother these three kids ever had.
And if there were a fairy godfather, it would be Delphine (Kiyoshira Imawano), the eccentric bookshop owner-cum-temple caretaker. Though not of the high school faculty, he’s still very much an authority figure in their neighborhood despite his less conventional attributes — the outré makeup and psychedelic hair matched with traditional garb, the exorbitantly priced novels (which he of course authored), the weirdly discriminate store admission policy, i.e. “No bad girls,” “No ugly people” (poor Sebastian! for the love of Pete just let the chump read his magazines, Delphine!). And there’s a strange but comforting affinity that grows between Delphine and Nobuta, for he does come to her aid quite a few times. Perhaps their bond is born out of their shared oddness, but whatever it is, it gives Nobuta a boost of confidence knowing that even nutsos like Delphine can successfully belong in society and live normal, fulfilling lives just like anybody else.
The Magic Realism of Nobuta wo Produce: Finding Truth in the Strange (and the WTF!)
The realism of Nobuta wo Produce doesn’t quite have the gritty, inner-city feel of, say, Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver, because there are offsetting moments of hyperreality (e.g. the horrific bullying, the vandalism/sabotage arc, the zany characters) as well as surrealism (e.g. the living spirits, the dream about Santa Claus, and the dream about Aoi) that all add flavor and character to the drama without overpowering its faithful depiction of Planet High School. This balancing act between hyperreal and surreal is a tricky line to tread: a production that exaggerates plot and characters will always feel facile despite any entertainment value (uh, Hana Kimi anyone?), while a drama that is too dependent on fantasy/dream elements can feel rarefied and thus run the risk of alienating the viewer.
The strength of NwP is that it doesn’t skew towards either extreme, but reaches a comfortable — yet dynamic — equilibrium, which is no small testament to the virtuosity of both writing and direction. The finished product retains its solid core of realistic narrative/character development and naturalistic technique, but is complemented by these pleasantly unexpected but contrasting touches of loopy Jdorama hyperbole and floaty phantasmagoria. This drama, ladies and gents, is pure magic realism at its working best.
There are other fantasy elements that aren’t supernatural per se, but fall under the surreal because the main characters believe they have mystical qualities. The willow tree, for one, holds special meaning for both Shuji and Nobuta not because it’s enchanted, but because for all their nonchalance, teenagers deep down are ready to believe anything that can calm their restive souls — even the strange and unexplainable. Ditto the monkey’s hand amulet, the freaky little Mayonaka-sama doll, the ubiquitous Hontou Ojisan, the mysterious crow’s cackle terrorizing the whole school, and even Vice-Principal Catherine’s “Is she or isn’t she an 800-y.o. witch?” reputation (lulz!) — which all later prove to have a rational explanation behind them, but which help reinforce the overall sense of magic and awe pervading this drama.
The only truly surreal plot aspects that have no empirical basis whatsoever are the visitation by the living spirits in Episode 3, and the two dreams that Shuji, Akira and Nobuta share near the close of the drama. The incident of the living spirits actually ties in beautifully to the drama’s main motif of growing up, by evoking the very familiar adult nostalgia for the golden days of youth. Plus, the completely unlooked-for (and hair-raising) twist in this episode is a perfect complement to the haunted-house theme. The dream in Ep. 10 where Santa Claus visits the three in turn and offers to make their wishes come true, ends in hilarity while retaining the “awww…” vibe that typifies this whole drama: Nobuta passes up her wish and sends Santa off to Shuji, who sleepily directs him to Akira, who, instead of letting the Great Santa Runabout come full circle, promptly asks for — curry bread! LOL!
The trancelike sequence in Ep. 9 has a weightier significance because it serves as the main plot resolution to the ShujiAkiraNobuta vs. Aoi arc. I personally would’ve wished Aoi a far worse fate than jumping-off-the-rooftop-but-not-really-because-oh-looky-it-was-all-just-a-dream! I felt that she got off too lightly given her litany of crimes and I did not like how she was punished without really being punished. But I appreciated how this whole sequence was executed, and loved the progression of suspense punctuated at the end by a dream-within-a-dream twist. I love how the twist casts a deliciously eerie pall on the three friends (plus a shaken Aoi) as they stand over the low rooftop wall, looking down at the outline of a body in the grass below and coming to grips with the unsettling nearness of death and suicide… Such is the flipside of magic realism, this nebulous nexus of the strange, the dark, the frightening. The drama gives no explanation for the dream, and very wisely leaves it at that.
Technical Aspects: Direction, Lighting, Score
I was blown away by the director’s creative vision, which elevated this production to fantastic new heights and left its genre-mates biting the (Jdorama) dust. What struck me the most was the care and deliberation that went into the planning, framing and execution of each scene. I’ve seen a surfeit of teen dramas (and even just dramas, period) where the director was aiming for the barest minimum in style and rendition. In contrast, the direction in Nobuta wo Produce is never perfunctory, static or uninspired, but reaches a masterful balance between technical proficiency and artistry.
Director Iwamoto Hitoshi (Tatta Hitotsu no Koi, Enka no Joou, Gyne) and assistant director Sakuma Noriyoshi utilize a whole array of cinematic tricks to make the story of Shuji, Akira and Nobuta come alive for the viewer: the sweeping crane shots (e.g. those taken from the school rooftop or Shuji’s apartment complex) vs. up-close-and-personal zoom-ins (too many to mention!); the high-angle (e.g. Shuji sitting on the lush green grass beside a tree — niiiice) vs. low-angle perspectives (e.g. from inside the Shuji-Akira-Nobuta team huddles); as well as the rotating shots, freeze frame captures, and motion blur photography used in certain scenes.
The lighting design can also get very interesting: color gels and camera filters are used to bathe a scene in a particular type of light — i.e. warm yellows and oranges for the after-school scenes, and bleaker, bluish hues for the before-school shots. In addition, I love how backlight and under-lighting techniques are used to frame Shuji in silhouette as he thinks his dark, cynical thoughts — even while walking through a bright and busy school hallway. And there are times when the entire 2-B classroom is plunged into darkness to isolate Shuji, Nobuta, Akira and Aoi from everyone else. It’s an excellent way to accentuate the mood and tension within and among the main characters, and I appreciate the directorial team going this extra mile to make our viewing experience all the more enriching.
But above all, I doff my hat to the director for bringing out the best from his three teen idols. It wasn’t just enough to have a great script to work with, but he also took on the formidable challenge of putting flesh on the textual bones by helping the main actors understand and believe in these unique young individuals they were portraying. Nobuta wo Produce just proves that under proper guidance, even the most feeble of actors (*cough* Pi *cough*) can give the performance of a lifetime. These kids OWNED their characters, from the outward quirks and mannerisms to the riskier nuances of emotion and psyche. They also seemed to enjoy bringing Shuji, Akira and Nobuta to life. Kame, YamaPi and Maki OWNED these roles. Who wuddathunkit? Certainly not I…
And kudos to Ike Yoshihiro (Tatta Hitotsu no Koi, Magerarenai Onna) for the unforgettable score. From the morning reveille of “Seishun Banba” to the more subdued poignancy of “Gakkou no Okujou de” and “Green Willow” (my favorite track), the NwP soundtrack is a standout. Man, just listening to it can throw my tear ducts (and mucous glands) into overdrive. Now the drama’s theme song “Seishun Amigo” is another matter, heh heh. (See comments in related post.)
As for the end credits… W-T-effin’-F, man. Someone please help me make sense of that short animated clip, because I just don’t get it: So there are two little piggies living happily in a turret, then the blue one gets beaten to a pulp by three mafia swine, and so pink piggy takes blue piggy on its motorbike — but blue piggy falls off and DIES on the road, cradled in pink piggy’s arms — er, forelegs, then pink piggy throws back its snout and howls with grief. /End of animated short. Sure, the animation tallies with the lyrics of the theme song, but has nothing in common with the drama besides the obvious porcine connection to the titular character, of course. So if there’s something I missed, call me, because I’d love to know! Hahahahaha come to thunkofit — NOT.
My Top 8 Shuji-Akira-Nobuta Scenes (in chronological order):
1. Ruminations on the Roof (Ep. 3)
After a most unforgettable school festival, the three exhausted kids lie sprawled on the rooftop (with Yuto playing by himself in the background, lol). They are spent beyond words, quiet and pensive — but happy. Their conversation drifts to the strangeness of the day’s events, and on to other things as well… like how long they believe friendships — their friendship, really — can truly last.
Nobuta: “I was digging for a long time on my own, like a mole. And then suddenly, you two came up… In the future, am I gonna meet people like this, too? If so, it’s not so bad to keep digging just by myself.”
Akira: “You’ll be able to meet other people.”
Shuji: “And then someday… you’ll never see them again.”
It is indeed a sobering thought and they trail away into silence, content to soak in the moment — here on the rooftop, in their own secret place where time holds no sway.
2. Otanjoubi Omedetou, Shu-uuji-kun! (Ep. 4)
Today is his birthday, but he never meant to tell anyone, lest they fuss over him and do something so juvenile as give him a cake. Too late, Mariko has found out and actually baked him one. He has no choice but to accept it with a delighted smile and the promise that he will eat it at home, while his mind thinks of ways to dispose of the silly confection without being found out. So he takes it up to the rooftop and plunks it in front of Akira and Nobuta. They dig in with relish while he walks over to the railing, away from the offending cake. She goes up to him with a slice, which he promptly rejects. Mariko won’t even know I didn’t eat her cake, he tells Nobuta dismissively. At least here, with them, he need not pretend anymore.
But she won’t leave him be. Take it, she insists. Take it. It doesn’t matter if he likes cake or not, what’s important is that it came from the heart — Mariko’s heart. By honoring the gift, you really honor the one who gave it. Her quiet persistence needles him. Now isn’t the time to lecture him on what’s fair or what’s right. But he knows she’s right, and it irritates him even more so he snaps back at her unthinkingly. She stares at him for a moment, then wordlessly walks away and leaves the cake on the table, her shoulders hunched more than ever.
Akira, who has been watching them all this time, ambles over to Shuji and steers him to one side of the roof deck, bidding him to look down. There it is on the schoolyard, painstakingly drawn in multi-colored powdered chalk, a giant cake with the words “happy birthday.” Shuji realizes he just received two birthday cakes today, one of flour and the other of chalk, but both crafted with love, both made straight from the heart.
3. Dating Tips from Shuji + Akira (Ep. 5)
Shuji instructs Nobuta on how to behave during her upcoming date with Shittaka: act pleasantly demure, he tells her, and don’t freak out when he tries stuff like holding your hand. And Akira, who all the while has been sitting some distance from the two (due to a self-imposed restraining order, lol), jumps up in violent objection when Shuji attempts to demonstrate this with her. Under great psychological duress, Akira elects to take Shuji’s place on the seat beside Nobuta, but cannot bring himself to put his arm around her shoulders, for it would be a defilement of his pure, innocent, sacred love for her. (Oh Akira!)
So a compromise is reached, with Shuji and Akira playacting Nobuta and Shittaka, respectively. What ensues is one for the freaking books. I mean, oh my goodness I cannot begin to describe how unbelievably entertaining this whole scene is. The slash factor reaches Defcon 1 proportions… like, KERREYYZEEE. And the meta factor – you know, Kame acting like a girl the way he LOVES to act like a girl every chance he gets at a KAT-TUN con, ugh – is just hilarious!!! Love this scene to bloody, pulsating bits.
4. Red, Yellow, Blue (Ep. 8 )
After class dismissal, a still-ostracized Shuji makes ready to leave, but Akira and Nobuta come up to him with yellow, blue and red strings (one for each of them). Nobuta does a magic trick that links the three separate loops together, and she and Akira chant “Nobuta powah, chunyuu!” Then Akira drawls “Shu-u-uji-kun, let’s go home,” and the three link arms, leaving behind a suddenly quiet 2-B classroom.
Shuji’s fall from grace turns out to be a boon because it releases something: the truth. And it frees the three from having to keep their friendship a secret — no more furtive glances across the classroom, no more holing up in rooftop corners or stairway landings. The truth is indeed liberating, and this humiliating experience of Shuji may just have been the best thing that happened to their friendship.
5. “Call Me Akira!” (Ep. 10)
Shuji arrives at school to find Akira and Nobuta on the rooftop. He knows now is the time to break the dreaded news to them, that he will be leaving town during winter break — for good. But Akira preempts him with a weighty announcement of his own:
Akira: I… have something I wanna say to everyone…
*Shuji and Nobuta nod*
Akira: Why.. don’t you call me by my name?
Shuji: We don’t?
Nobuta: What did we call you?
Akira: Like “hey,” or “ne,” or “chotto”… But I call you guys Shuji and Nobuta.
Shuji: We do call you… uhh… *thinks* Kusano!
Akira: It sounds like you barely know me.
Shuji: Then what? What do you want?
Akira giggles and imagines Nobuta saying “Ne, Akira-kun~” with matching kon-kon hand
Akira: Call me by my first name!
Shuji: What’s your first name?
Akira: Akira SHOCK!!! You don’t know??? It’s Akira!
Shuji: Ahhhh… Ok Ok Ok
*boys are jolted*
Shuji: Are you mad? *faces Akira* You want this?
Akira: She’s mad…
Shuji: Try again.
Akira: Say it nicer!
Nobuta: A… AKIRA!!
Shuji: Say my name.
Akira: *indignant* She’s nicer!
Shuji: Then, say “Shuji” and “Akira.”
Nobuta: …Shuji… and… AKIRA!!
LOLLLLL. And while they stand on the rooftop laughing, Shuji cannot bring himself to tell the two that he is going away.
(Credit to Caffeinated Choco for the transcript)
Sidebar: I must say that parts of Episode 10 suffer from choppy editing. The most glaring continuity problem happens right after Shuji discloses to his friends that his family is skipping town. Nobuta wordlessly rushes out of Akira’s pad and he chases her to the playground, but before anything can happen, the scene changes to the Kiritani household, with Shuji at home. Here’s the deleted scene with Akira and Nobuta in the playground, followed by Shuji meeting Akira while on his way home.
6. Christmas Eve (Ep. 10)
Presents are exchanged, and they all receive the same thing – it’s the funny doll that Catherine had said would bring happiness to those who had two of each. This is the first and last Christmas they will ever spend together, and the room is unnaturally subdued. Little else is said, because little else needs to be said; they already know. They’ve said it through the presents. They already know.
Later — Shuji and Nobuta look out of the second-floor window of Akira’s place. Outside, the snow falls in a gentle white flurry to disappear on the asphalted road. Shuji, the Boy Who Loved Nobody, tells Nobuta, the Girl Who Loved Him: “I never understood what loving others meant until I met you. But because of you, I think I understand now… In the future, if ever I am able to love someone, I’ll probably remember you. Everything you taught me I’ll remember. Really, thanks.”
7. Breaking the Curse (Ep. 10)
While sweeping the yard of the shrine, Nobuta accidentally snaps a twig from one of the trees, an act which Delphine claims will bring bad luck to the person dearest to Nobuta unless she takes an omamori (or wooden amulet) to that person. Frantic with worry, Nobuta goes running off in search of – who else? – and finds the boys by the creek, crouched against the stone wall and talking. But who to give the omamori to, she cannot decide. For she loves them equally, that at least she is sure of.
What follows is a hilariously touching moment: each boy claims to not really want the charm, and instead enjoins Nobuta to give it to the other one. Then all of a sudden Akira wants it, and he just so happens to be carrying a pocket saw (LOL!!!) which he tries on the omamori. Nobuta finally decides to hurl the amulet into the creek. Whatever happens will happen, but no bad luck or misfortune can befall them so long as they are friends. And in their heart of hearts, the two boys know it, too.
8. Sayonara, Shu-uuji-kun! (Ep. 10)
So the secret is out of the bag, and Shuji says his goodbyes at school: to his teachers, who fondly give their farewell presents and later plan a big bon voyage bash that somehow goes all fubar (LOL! oh those sensei…); to his 2-B classmates who, being the teenagers that they are, have since forgiven his transgression and are back on chummy terms with him; and finally, to his two friends.
The last few scenes fittingly cap the whole drama on a moving and bittersweet note, one that will bring a familiar ache to your heart, tears to your eyes, and a loopy grin to your lips — and all staying long after you’ve turned off the monitor/TV screen. On the day of his departure, Shuji gets a touching and unexpected send-off from the entire 2-B class (even Aoi shows up, bugger! just go jump in2 da river, biyatch). The moving van stops by the wayside and Shuji alights to say a last goodbye to his classmates. They swarm around him with cheers, adieus and good wishes, and take turns posing for a souvenir photo with him: the Bye-byecycle Boyz, the Gatten Group, the Nerds, the Kimchi Clique, the Ikemen Posse, the Korete Destiny Duo, etc. The past is already ancient history, and to them, he is and will always be their popular, well-liked Shuji, everybody’s friend.
Standing on the fringes behind the excited crowd of students are the two people whom Shuji knows he will miss the most. They say nothing amid the clamor, content to watch in the background as the other kids occupy Shuji’s last few moments in this town. For they know that everything that needs to be said has been said. He sees them, and understands. And because they cannot help it, the two flash him the Nobuta power sign, their faces bravely conveying encouragement. Unobtrusively, he flashes the signal back, his eyes locked on theirs, his heart too full for words. Then it is time for Shuji to go back, and that is that.
As the moving van rumbles away, Shuji’s classmates try to keep up while calling his name and waving wildly. Their voices and faces become a blur, but he waves back and smiles just the same. Smaller and smaller they get, and his eyes search out the two who have also started to half-stumble forward on the grassy embankment, as if their legs would give way anytime. Nobody sees these two clench their fists at their sides and silently will all their love and strength over to Shuji, hoping it will be enough for the journey ahead, and for the life ahead — whether they meet again or not. Nobody sees them, except Shuji. And he can feel the power wash over him, coursing inside him to warm his heart, where it will always remain unless summoned forth. Shuji cranes his neck out the window, watching Akira and Nobuta until they are no more than still, dark specks in the distance, until they are fully out of sight.
After winter break, Shuji bikes over to his new school in his new town. He’s the new boy now, but doesn’t feel as apprehensive as others normally would. He has always been confident about fitting in; this was never a problem for him. I love, love, love how he is still the same Shuji in many ways: His old habits have not changed (except the bad ones that is, like lying), and he still fixes his hair before he mirror, he’s still kind of vain that way. His life philosophy has not changed either, maybe just tempered with a little more experience and perspective: “Everything in the world is a game. Thinking you’ve lost, or giving up midway, is stupid. The one who lasts till the end and enjoys the game, comes up the winner.”
And surprise, surprise, guess who also just (literally) landed in town…? WTF it’s Akiraaaaa!!! *E.G. SHOCK!* Okay, I know a lot of people who loved this drama (my best friend included) wished for Akira to have stayed behind with Nobuta, and believe me, had that happened I would’ve been happy about it, too. But Akira ending up with Shuji? That I didn’t mind!!! I didn’t mind at all!!!! Hahahahahha. But this was the last thing I expected, I thought Shuji would be alone from now on. When I came to the scene where he’s just about to enter his new classroom, I parked my thumb on the pause button and sat there blubbering before my TV screen. (It was some time before I could press play again.)
Then all of a sudden, the writer throws us this curveball — in the form and shape of that gooey screwy kon-koning little fluffball we’ve all come to love. (OMG Akira, being airlifted into town by Daddy-o’s private helicopter? That’s soooo Akira, hahaha. Oh, and did you say “Heli”? As in… Doctor Heli? Doctor Heli hahahaha! Lolz, sorry bad joke. Go away, nasty Code Blue memories, away, away!!!) For Akira to leave Nobuta — well, that is sad, too. But as much as a part of me — the Akira+Nobuta-shipping part of me, that is — mourned this unyoking of my two favorite weird people, I knew that Nobuta would be okay by herself. Even more than okay, in fact. And that other part of me, the part that, uh, shipped two boys in blue blazers? Happy as a clam.
She can feel a smile coming — bubbling up within her, tugging at her lips — and she races down the school corridor, leaving a slightly puzzled but smiling Mariko (I’m SO happy these two girls become friends!!!). She’s eager to show her smile to the two boys up on the rooftop. But she stops at the landing, realizing with a pang that they won’t be there anymore. Ever.
Back in class, she notices how the room feels… different, emptier, with those two vacant seats that have not been filled. Nor can they ever be filled by anyone else, she knows this in her heart. Beyond the window to her left, the sky beckons — inviting, reassuring. After dismissal, she wastes no time making her way to the rooftop — but less hurriedly now, for she knows there is nobody waiting. Alone on the highest point of the school building, she gazes up at the brilliant azure vastness of the sky, feeling a tear roll down one cheek. “I am able to laugh now,” she tells no one in particular, her soft voice breaking.
The smile that almost came this morning now lights up her face. And it doesn’t matter if only the sky is there to see it: she keeps on smiling — through the tears, through wave upon wave of emotion, missing those two boys so much it physically hurts. She keeps on smiling because her heart, though aching, is finally at peace.
Shuji and Akira
Two boys are on a sandy stretch of beach, looking out at the horizon where endless blue-green sea meets endless gray-blue sky. They do not say a word, but their thoughts are one. So they stand in silence, pondering the parting words that Nobuta had given Akira before he left Tokyo to be with Shuji — and upon her own insistence, at that. They can almost hear her as if she were standing next to them: “Shuji and Akira are who I love, together. I’ll be fine by myself. The first three days I’ll cry, but I’ll be all right.”
And both boys know who must be standing on the roof of their old school this very moment, looking up at the same sky. No matter what happens, some things will never change. Ever. And it is indeed a comforting thought.
Finally, Shuji manages to speak. “The three of us, we can live wherever we are.” Akira blurts out something goofy (as usual), and Shuji gives him a small affectionate smile before turning to walk down the beach. Akira will be Akira: some things will never change. Akira follows Shuji — the way he’s always followed him, and always hopes to. They spend the afternoon frolicking in the breakers and on the sand, two seventeen-year-old boys just being boys, and with their whole wide future ahead of them.
Where is the (Boy)Love? Kame to YamaPi: Seishun Amigo
I refuse to call this “slash.”
Okay, whatever. Maybe it is.
Oh, I’m well aware of the homoerotic undertones this whole drama oozes through every pore (and I’m not just talking about the characters, but the J-idols playing them). I’m also willing to bet my entire Kimura dorama DVD collection that if the average viewer was very much aware of this, how much more the writer, director, network execs, and actors, right? Well, you can credit that to the source material. In fact, the premise of the original novel is exponentially more homoerotic than that of the drama, and from what I’ve read about the book, there is no Akira character, the original Nobuta is a guy, and while Shuji is still the producer, their relationship is of a darker, more obsessive kind. (Well thank gawwwd NTV didn’t follow the novel to the letter, ne? *shudders* I mean, can you imagine a world WITHOUT Kusano Akira? Well dammit, but I can’t.)
But let me get this straight (pardon the pun, heh): I ship Shuji and Akira not as gay boys, or as friends-with-the-potential-to-become-gay-boys-later-on, but as FRIENDS. Just friends. Call it what you want, but to me, what they’ve always shared was this “extremely close male bonding.” Which also is… extremely refreshing to see. IMO, the reason they get to be so close (uh, waaay close, actually) is not because Akira is gay, but because Akira is Akira. Akira digging his chin into Shuji’s bony shoulder? The spooning in Shuji’s bed? The sticky hugs and puckered lips? All Akira, being Akira. LOL. I mean, seriously. Akira, GAY? Gimme a break. That gooney wouldn’t know GAY (or even “bisexual”) if it crawled up his wazoo and died there.
And by the way, I don’t ship Kamenashi and Yamashita in REAL LIFE, the way other NwP fans do. (What’s that they call the pairing? PiKame?) I mean, what’s the point. Pi seems straight, anyway. As for Kame, I think his brand of sexuality goes way beyond anything we’ve seen on this planet, so there’s no point in trying to define it, lol. Besides, there’s something manufactured and forced about the real-life boy-rabu-rabu being peddled in the J-Ent industry. (So stop stuffing it down our collective trachea, Johnny-san you dirty old pederast.) At least Akira being the way he is feels organic to the story, whether or not it was an intentional move by the writer and director to milk every last drop of slashy cracky goodness from his character. So, the Kame+YamaPi fake skinship? Not buying it. But Shuji+Akira? Hell yeah, forever and ever. And ever. => And this, dear readers, is why I did not object to NwP ending the way it did. For me, that last shot of the two boys at the water’s edge? Was perfect.
… An’ Diz Is Why Imma Jdorama Fangarlz, Yo
So, thanks to Nobuta wo Produce I will always, always, always hold Kame and Pi dear beyond words no matter what mess they’ve made — and continue to make — of their post-NwP career trajectories. Maki I remain fond of despite her lackluster performances in Hana Kimi and Kurosagi; I know I’ve been extra hard on her in my past reviews, but only because I think she’s capable of better things and hope a suitable film or TV project will eventually come her way. But my fondness for Maki is cosmically — cosmically I say!!! — eclipsed by all that I feel for Kamenashi of the pencil-thin brows, and Yamashita of the dead-fish stare. Now wait a minute, some of you might ask: How dare she even make that claim? Isn’t this E.G., who uses her blog to flay those boys alive as if there were no tomorrow? Isn’t she the harpy who likes to chain them to a rock and feast on their livers — again, and again, and again?
Er, yes on both counts. It’s haaard to explaiiiin, but the reason I rip these poor boys apart all the time is because I like to play with my food because they mean THIS MUCH to me. (Readers go, “Eeeehhh? Nandeee” *headscratch*) But see, such is the power of Shuji to Akira, that whatever Kame and Pi do in the years to come — whether as J-pop pinups warbling way off-key, or wannabe actors out to carve their own niche in the Leading Man Canon — I will be there to watch them, and love them in spite of it… maybe even because of it. Even if it makes my ears bleed, my eyeballs implode, and my spleen liquefy and dribble out the nearest body orifice (don’t ask which). I am their F-A-N, and their F-A-N for L-I-F-E — and all because of a pair of seventeen-year-old schoolboys who liked to bond over soy milk and take sunset bicycle rides together.
But I’m also the kind of fan who harbors no illusions about Kame and Pi’s dramatic abilities (for Pi, it’s the lack thereof haha); I’ve seen enough of their collective oeuvre (practically all of it, actually *blushes*) to know that Nobuta wo Produce is the best work they’ve ever done, or will ever get to do. (Like I said, that drama was puuure maaaagic!) Since NwP, each boy has made exactly ONE other drama I believe they can be proud of: Tatta Hitotsu no Koi for Kamenashi, and Proposal Daisakusen for Yamashita. (Never mind the rest; the rest are just the necessary evils you slog through to ultimately earn the title of “Kame/Pi Completist.” The reward? A 10-disc set of KAT-TUN+NEWS’ greatest hits. And a lifetime supply of cheap wine. *Kame fans remember Kami no Shizuku and promptly lapse into a coma* And one year’s subscription to AnAn. *Pi fans go: “YamaPi showah… chunyuu!”* Lulzzz)
Between the two, Kame is by far a more natural and versatile actor than his pink-loving seishun amigo; he does drama and comedy better than YummyPi my little Gummi Bear, who really can’t do much but… be himself. That’s why I’ve always thought that Yamashita Tomohisa’s best dramas — Lunch Queen, Stand UP!, and natch, NwP — worked so well because they just let him be his weird, spacey and endearing self — unlike the more recent ones which sucked the sweet, the warmth, the life out of the boy and left this… sleepwalking six-pack with deep-fried hair in his place.
And so, such has been my own “self-revelatory odyssey” that went from knowing nothing about these two boys a little over a year ago, to recoiling from the first photo of theirs (see above) that I came across (and it also made me go, “Egads, these kids look weeeiiirrrrd!” — sounds familiar? well hello-oo E.G.’s KimuTaku Space Odyssey, lol), to acquiring Nobuta wo Produce (I’d heard good things about this netizen hit, but left it on the back burner because of… said photo), to finally giving in and watching the damn drama. And just like my experience with Pride, the rest is history, my embarrassing (and at times, downright incomprehensible) Kame/Pi fangirly devotion lovingly smeared all over this blog. It’s too late to take it back, to act more dignified and unsullied by this dark, guilty pleasure of mine. But, hey — if Nobuta and Akira could live with their weird little selves, I suppose so can I.
And to end this review with the wise words of a Green Day song:
“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life…”
To Shuji, Akira and Nobuta, I hope you had, and continue to have, the time of your life… because you sure as heck gave me mine.
Artistic and technical merit: A
Entertainment value: A+
Photo credits: alypotato.multiply.com, anime.tedfox.com, babyj0sette08.multiply.com, blog.juno3.com, bura @ listal.com, burndvdburn.blogspot.com, cheesemon.livejournal.com, crunchyroll.com, darkeyedwolf.livejournal.com, dumbotaku.com, enmatehllama.blogspot.com, flickr.com, goddesscarlie.com, haraheta.wordpress.com, jamaipanese.com, japanator.com, keizou.blogspot.com, lezette.wordpress.com, listal.com, lungga.blogspot.com, mms @ d-addicts.com, omgasians.wordpress.com, protocolsnow.com, skyofblueberries.blogspot.com, tokidoki.animeblogger.net, tvrage.com, vesperholly.wordpress.com.
Video credits: CryBaby211, ntdlaurent @ youtube.com