mec: (Kame)
[personal profile] mec
Disclaimer: I'm not taking this series seriously, so don't expect any deep discussion or amazing revelations. These are my opinions only and should in no way be taken as fact.

Crossposted to [livejournal.com profile] 6nin

Drama review index post can be found here.


Nobuta wo Produce - Episode 1

Plot: Brushing your teeth, rearranging your pineapple hair into something approaching order and going for a bike ride are all normal morning activities. Not so normal? Dashing to touch a willow tree because if you don't, you can't go to school. Welcome to the wonderfully weird world of Kiritani Shuuji, where life's a game and you'll lose if anyone ever finds out you're playing.

On the surface, Shuuji's a smart, well-liked high school student who's got something to say to everyone, whether they've got equivalent social status or not. Problem is, what he says and what he thinks are two different things, and while he's making all the right noises and facial expressions as he listens to your stories about what you saw on TV last night, he's thinking about how pathetic you are. Not out of any personal hatred for you, necessarily - you'd have to matter to him as a person for that to happen. Shuuji's playing the part of the perfect high school student and if he makes it all the way through without letting his mask slip, he wins.

Even taking his real self into consideration, Shuuji's far from the strangest guy in school. There's the guy with the odd fixation on insects, the two guys who appear to be making out in the corridor...and Kusano Akira, Shuuji's natural enemy because he couldn't put on an act if his life depended on it. Akira's totally natural (or unnatural, depending on your point of view), and just plain weird, even by Shuuji's standards. (Most people don't ambush their classmates on the stairs to discuss the death of God.)

Akira's pretty insistent they're friends, but Shuuji wants nothing to do with him. It's not exactly a match made in heaven.

When Shuuji next follows his usual routine he discovers his beloved willow tree has vanished. Even in Japanese dramas, trees don't normally get up and walk off and it sends the poor boy into a frenzy, to the point where he even demands answers from the fish. You'd think the tree was Shuuji's sole link to sanity, the way he rants and raves, and checks everywhere in the immediate area (including down his pants, oddly enough) to see where it's gone.

Fortunately for our hero's mental health (or perhaps not, under the circumstances) he's not the only person in town who likes to hang out with the willow tree. When a mysterious young girl with dark hair hiding her face appears and tells him the tree was removed that afternoon, he thinks he's met the willow fairy.

Of course, when she starts telling him the tree wouldn't have been much good for hanging herself, and attempts a smile so twisted Shuuji thinks she might be ill, it doesn't take much to persuade him to get on his bike and pedal away from the weird woman at top speed.

What Shuuji doesn't get to see yet but the audience does is that this girl also has a home to return to, albeit one where she sits by herself, destroying pretty people in pictures and hating everyone. Then of course, there's Akira, who lives in his own little world. Because of these two people, Shuuji can kiss his peaceful high school days goodbye.

Cue opening screen with two adorable little pigs, to be seen again later, playing out their angsty love story in pastels.

Next morning, Shuuji's class (2B) are being entertained (and I use the term loosely) by their resident comedy duo, Honda and Hasegawa, collectively known as 'Destiny'. The boys have a story to tell, about a well-known old bookstore where the owner refuses to let anyone who's not goodlooking read at the store without paying. One of their teachers, Sebastian, who definitely doesn't qualify, attempted to read and got turned away, as did Bando and her friends (heavily made up girls in the class), who weren't even allowed in.

In fact, the only person who has been allowed to read in the store is Uehara Mariko from Class A. C'mon, she's played by Toda Erika. Wouldn't you let her read at your store? (Or walk off with the contents of the cash register, or anything else she wanted?) Mariko's gorgeous, talented, and loved by many.

Not that this stops anyone from being excited when they hear they're getting a new female student, rumoured to be prettier than Mariko. Ah, high school. How fickle... They're talking about the possible change in rankings when Shuuji bounds in full of fake enthusiasm and greets his classmates with a ridiculous little routine that they obviously know well. As part of creating the perfect high school student identity, Shuuji must be willing to do slightly daft-looking things to fix himself in the minds of his peers.

And of course, he already knows about the new student because he was the one who made Tani spy in the office. Just as expected from Shuuji-kun! But Tani can't tell them anything helpful - it's the beetle guy who's got a picture, though only from the back. She looks harmless from the back...

Bando and co. aren't interested in the picture of the new girl, presumably because girls are territorial creatures and when a new one starts she might be competition. Akira's also not interested, because his brain has finally caught up with the bookstore story from earlier and he feels the need to reiterate it - a stupid move, Shuuji thinks, given that he's telling Bando she didn't stand a chance. That's playing with fire. Good thing Akira had a head start.

After years of watching delinquent dramas, it's a bit of a novelty to see students in a classroom with no graffiti, guitars, footballs, baseball bats, bad perms, broken furniture, massive chips on shoulders...you get the picture. Shuuji's class are a lively bunch but they generally don't try to beat up their teachers, even when said teachers bring in a new student who doesn't quite live up to their expectations.

Nobody could possibly have expected Kotani Nobuko, who looks no less scary in her new school uniform than she did as the "willow fairy". Fortunately for Shuuji's carefully-built reputation, his recognising the new girl is assumed by the class to be a sign of shock.

Nobuko's self-introduction is less than successful, and mostly performed by the teacher. She has no interest in joining clubs, nor does she have any plans for the future, presumably because she doesn't plan on having a future. (All I can think is: the poor girl must have such a pain in the neck, constantly bending down like that. Looking downtrodden and miserable is hard work!)

Not having a future is a goal made that much easier by the fact that Bando is actually sitting in Nobuko's assigned seat and isn't too thrilled by having to move to her own seat. I think it's safe to say they don't have the most observant of teachers. In one move, he's doomed the new girl to a lifetime of torture by bitchy high school girls, a fate I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

To ease the tension in the atmosphere, Destiny are called up to entertain the class. While the actual joke falls flat, Shuuji saves the day (of course) by joining in, thus alleviating the ticking time-bomb air in the room. Taking attendance was never this bizarre in my school...

While oblivious teachers drone on in the background, 2B pass a note around the class, each member adding something mean about the new girl. For a moment, Bando looks almost pretty, but the panda eyes put me off. Leave the eye make-up to Kame, please.

Lunch rolls around, so Shuuji's girlfriend comes to collect him. At least, the world thinks Mariko is Shuuji's girlfriend. Shuuji's interest in girls extends about as far as his interest in the rest of the world, so romance is not exactly on the cards. But he sure does do a good impression of someone who is over the moon that his girlfriend has made him lunch. Mariko's lunches are sought after by other boys, but for Shuuji it's just food, which doesn't stop him yelling out "Ume!" ("Yummy!") at the top of his lungs, like he's on a variety show and testing out the guest's favourite food. I have never seen anyone so enthusiastic about broccoli before.

Back in the classroom, Bando's clique attempt to reclaim Nobuko's desk because apparently, all four of them normally eat lunch at that one tiny desk and they'd like her to move so they can have their table back. Inevitably, Nobuko's lunch winds up on the floor, Bando and friends leave after giving apologies that sound even more fake than Shuuji when he promises to go to karaoke, and no one else in the class does a thing to help. The one girl who does try (after Bando has left) is warned off by her friend in case the new girl decides to follow them around. Nobuko scoops up the remains of her lunch by herself and goes to find somewhere to throw it out.

Back in a deserted Home Economics classroom, Shuuji tries frantically to talk Mariko into letting him out of a date he'd apparently promised to go on, using the somewhat extreme excuse of a funeral he has to attend. (Good thing he has a black tie in his pocket for just such an occasion.) Mariko must think he's just been putting on a brave face all morning. Escape is not that easy, however, as she presses him for another day, and Shuuji has to hem and haw like a politician at election time to avoid committing himself to anything. There are no words to describe how uncomfortable he looks at the mere thought of agreeing to go on a date with a girl. Because one date might lead to another, and that might lead to her getting to know him, and that's the last thing Shuuji wants.

The answer to his prayers appears in the form of Nobuko, wanting to throw out her lunch. In order to avoid the dreaded date issue, Shuuji makes like he's being nice to the new girl and takes her outside to find the bins. He even makes attempts at conversation, which Nobuko has no real interest in till she sees him throw away the black tie. The tie, as it turns out, he found on his way to school and kept in case he had to avoid social activities, a scheme neither Nobuko nor Catherine approve of.

No, not the Catherine Kame searches for when he does his Dylan impression. This one is the wacky vice principal who travels around the school over the rooftops to save time (this is a secret from the other teachers), and pops out to make cracks about her students when they least expect it. She instructs Nobuko to make Shuuji a better person - I doubt any of them realise how accurate that will be.

After school, Shuuji is off the camera and almost ready to make his escape when Akira, who can't find the key for his bike lock, comes up behind him, grabs him by the shoulders, and insists that the long-suffering Shuuji give him a lift home. Poor Shuuji. Akira is the worst backseat driver ever. I'm surprised Shuuji manages not to pedal them both into a wall before they reach the tofu shop where Akira lives.

Against his better judgement, Shuuji allows himself to be invited inside to join Akira for a drink, where they watch the sun set and Akira explains that he's the son of a company president, sent to board in the tofu shop in order to make the most of his youth before he has to take over the company. Not only does Akira not know what "youth" is, he can't make up his mind which cake to have, and is therefore not really the kind of guy you want running a company.

Shuuji, surprisingly, is still here, though night has fallen and Nobuko is trudging home by herself in the dark. Shuuji's idea of youth involves doing things that no one has ever done before, or pushing yourself to the limit. Akira thinks this is a great idea and wants to know what they're going to do about it, but Shuuji doesn't trust him to make a decision on anything since he can't even pick a cake, inferring from this that he probably doesn't want either, and leaves. That he might not want either choice is a new concept for Akira, and there's a nice visual pun here where he sees clearly because the scale has fallen from his eye...but not, because his contact lens has fallen out, and for the moment I associate all contact lenses with BANDAGE and start looking around for Jin.

As Shuuji approaches his own home, his younger brother Koji (back in the days when Nakajima Yuuto was knee-high to a grasshopper) comes running out to get him with the news that something might've happened to their mother. On TV, the news is covering a plane crash and Shuuji's mother is on the passenger list. (I didn't realise she shared a name with Nobuko!) The Kiritani men are...well...not quite the family Shuuji would like his classmates to see, because his image would immediately be ruined. Koji's still on the young side but Shuuji and his dad both have extreme, flaily reactions to things, in which they trip over each other and crash into stuff in an effort to dial Mrs. Kiritani's cellphone.

Shuuji's dad hasn't been able to say a word the whole time, he's so choked up, so when the phone rings, possibly for identity verification (Shuuji and his dad share the same wild imagination), he has to leave it to his eldest son to answer.

They're all relieved when it turns out to be Mrs. Kiritani, safely in Nigeria for work, and most assuredly not dead. She's just as eccentric as the rest of them - upon hearing that they had gyoza for dinner (who makes a long-distance call for that?), all she can do is repeat it in varying tones of voice, intriguing the Nigerians around her. The Kiritani men celebrate her non-death by having gyoza.

Now he's at home, Shuuji can let his hair down - or rather, put his hair up, in that cute little fringe fountain that keeps it out of his eyes while he does the mending. Since his mother appears to spend all her time travelling around the world (I wonder if she ever runs into Mrs. Shochikubai?), he's filling in on the domestic side. Dad does the cooking, big brother does the sewing...does Koji do anything? Does anybody clean?

Back in school the next morning, and Shuuji's usual greeting falls on deaf ears as the class tries to pretend they're not watching Bando and co. at work. I'm pretty sure there's a joke I'm not getting here due to my total lack of understanding of plants, but whatever, Shuuji talks them out of it and Nobuko is able to walk through the corridor relatively unmolested. She knows better than to try to eat her lunch in the classroom again, though.

Shuuji, however, is not so good at hiding, despite covering himself with his jacket the moment he spots Akira down the corridor. Undeterred, Akira tackles him (no, really) to give him a contact lens, because he made Akira see clearly. Poor Shuuji does his best to avoid being touched but trying to give Akira a hint is like trying to talk a chocoholic out of the junk food aisle in the supermarket - mission impossible. In the end, Shuuji resigns himself to making superficial conversation noises while Akira clings to him from behind and tells him that he doesn't have anything that he particularly wants to do. (I appreciate that he means it in the context of life in general, but since he's trying to rest his chin on Shuuji's shoulder at the time, it looks to me like he's trying to get Shuuji to decide what they should do on their date tonight.)

Akira's shocked when Shuuji drops the contact lens down the drain, but not for long. (Given the bewildering array of bins available in Japan, I think I'd pick the drain too.) He follows Shuuji down the corridor, but they both stop when they hear Bando's clique bullying Nobuko in the ladies' room. And can I just say how appalled I am that it doesn't appear to have a door? The girls get Nobuko down on the floor and soak her with a hose - which is a lot nicer than what happens in Loop's 'Akanishi wo Produce' doujinshi, I have to say - and promptly do the same to Akira when he attempts to intervene. Well, he shouldn't have been in there, but even so...

Shuuji does what he does best - lies - to get the girls to go away, and even though Akira's treating the situation more like he jumped in a swimming pool fully clothed and is surprised to find himself wet, the two boys take Nobuko up to the roof to dry out. It's all downhill from here - we've seen Gokusen/ROOKIES etc.; we know the roof is for troublemakers!

Lecturing a girl who's just undergone a traumatic experience is probably not the most considerate move Shuuji's ever made, but he's not the kind to consider being tactful in front of two people who've already seen more of his real self than anyone else in the school. He suggests that perhaps Nobuko should try to change herself a bit so that she fits in better, a suggestion she dismisses as impossible because there's nothing she can change. She already tried making an effort when her mother remarried, to treat her stepfather as her father, but he explained that he wasn't her father and she felt embarrassed over it. Ever since, she's been unable to open her heart to people, and she's used to it.

Shuuji's appalled that she's giving up right at the start. Apparently, Bando will forgive her if she's allowed to read at the shop today, which Akira thinks is impossible and Bando's just looking for a good laugh. Shuuji has other ideas.

Never mind politics; perhaps he should go into law. He asks the owner if he can have all the books across a couple of shelves, leave them there for a few days, and come read them in the store for research. Bearing in mind that Shuuji, despite looking half-starved and in desperate need of something sinfully high in calories, is phenomenally goodlooking, I am sure store owners routinely agree to anything he wants.

Shuuji's part is to make the agreement, Nobuko's is to read the books, and Akira's is to pay. That's what you get for admitting you come from money. Having a gold card really helps smooth things along, though.

Next thing we see, Destiny are relating the tale of how Kotani Nobuko set a new record, beating even Mariko, reading for over two hours while Bando's crew watched in horror through the windows. My favourite part of the story is actually that Sebastian figured the entry criteria had gone down, so he tried again and was still rebuffed, thus proving to the school that Nobuko is secretly a supermodel. She and Mariko even have their picture taken together and pasted on the school noticeboard, which doesn't go down too well with Bando.

Akira's on cloud nine now he and Shuuji have teamed up to change things for Nobuko, but Shuuji knows he's being naive. Nobuko can't fit in unless she takes it further, makes permanent changes in herself. So Akira proposes a plan - the two of them make Nobuko popular. In Shuuji's considered opinion it doesn't matter if she changes on the inside because people will judge by the outside, and if the popular people think she's one of them, so will everyone else. He knows the strategies for making lead appear to be gold, to make it more valuable to everyone else, which makes me think Kame's been having words with Johnny about how he manages to pick tiny, normal-looking kids out at the audition because he knows they'll be knockouts in five years or so.

And so the idea of producing Nobuko is born, though Shuuji thinks Akira could do with a bit of producing himself. Akira pleads so cutely, and is convinced he's found his youth, that Shuuji can't get out of it.

It's a good scheme, if only they can convince Nobuko to go along with it. But she doesn't like the idea of lying, so she's working with the wrong guy. It's the same as breathing to Shuuji, but of course to him, it's not so much lying as creating an illusion and that's what he tries to convey to her. She's still not interested. Akira's youth has been shattered. BANG!

On his way back down, Shuuji gets ambushed by Catherine as she needs someone to get a box down for her. (So she asks the really short guy?) Once Shuuji manages to climb out from under all the boxes that fell on him, he finds out what Catherine was looking for - she's got a couple of monkey paws, each granting three wishes, for reasons best known to her own incomprehensible mind. Shuuji looks like he's just been trapped by a madwoman.

Nevertheless, he wishes on the monkey paw that his willow tree is living well in another place, bless him. He passes the paw onto Akira when he finds him, tells him he's got two wishes. I'm not sure letting Akira wish for anything is wise - he'd probably get the word wrong and wish for something that didn't exist.

As Shuuji predicted, the bullying continues. Bando's crew corners Nobuko, taunting her with the news about her reading success...and finally, Nobuko snaps, fighting free of the girls and running away, remembering Shuuji's words to her.

The 2B grapevine is pretty good because within minutes, Shuuji's being told about Bando going after Nobuko again, though why anyone thought he would care is a mystery. I mention this now because Shuuji says "Ciao" when he leaves the classroom to go find her, and that amuses me for reasons most people reading this will understand.

Nobuko's resourceful, climbing through a window to escape her tormentors, running through Mariko's netball practice and out the front till they finally catch her, getting her down in the sandpit before she breaks away again, leaving school grounds altogether. Poor Mariko. Shuuji runs straight past her and doesn't even hear her call his name, he's so caught up in pursuit.

The girls just don't give up...but they don't have a choice when Nobuko takes shelter in the bookstore and the owner sends them flying (literally). Shuuji, who is miles behind, finds Nobuko's tie in the sandpit while she gets tea and sympathy from the bookstore owner, who clearly sees her great inner beauty. That, or he's seen Horikita Maki without the curtain of hair over her eyes.

On her way home, Nobuko passes Catherine making a wish of her own on the monkey paw - that the principal's hair would get thinner and thinner till eventually, in three years, he'd be bald. Interesting wish, hmm. Catherine passes the paw onto Nobuko with two wishes left, along with the surprising revelation that she's killed a number of people in her mind and found it therapeutic. She advises Nobuko that the paw works really well so she should be careful with her wishes, so what does Nobuko wish for, on the site of the old willow tree? That Bando should disappear from this world. Now that's therapeutic.

Shuuji sees his willow tree passing by on a boat en route to its new home. Did his wish come true? Nobuko's been out at the old site and Shuuji takes her on his bike to see the tree going to be replanted somewhere else. Follow that boat! He doesn't even stop to think about it, just drags her off and cycles with all his might so that they, the people who have the most attachment to the tree, can see it continue to live and grow. Aww, bless.

Cue talk about becoming big trees that no one can uproot, after which Shuuji returns Nobuko's tie to her, patched with a tiny pig to cover the hole where Bando's gang damaged it. The pig is identifiable as such, which means Kame probably didn't draw it himself...

Later, as Nobuko is on her way home, she examines the pig and decides to use the monkey paw to cancel her wish. Not that Bando doesn't deserve it, but because she, Nobuko, will learn to survive and live in a world where Bando exists, rather than taking the cowardly option. Having served its purpose, the monkey paw gets binned.

Not Akira's, which he's using to scare his guardian and wish for world peace. Expecting immediate results, he switches on the TV to check to see if peace has broken out. A trifle optimistic, perhaps? He generously lets his guardian have the final wish, which he uses to cancel world peace.

Shuuji's habit of brushing his teeth up on the roof of his apartment building strikes me as just plain bizarre, though no more so than Akira yelling that he has a secret at the top of his lungs. Evidently, no one else in the school ever uses the roof for anything, so it's become their top-secret hideout for planning the production of Nobuko. Since she's a secret project, she should have a secret nickname - with the pig (buta) on Nobuko's tie, Nobuta is born.

Shuuji finds it fun, messing about with them on the roof, but he thinks it's because it's a game that he's enjoying himself. The concept of spending time with people for fun is one he hasn't gotten the hang of yet. And if the person who's written "Shine" ("Die") on Nobuko's desk has their way, that fun won't last for long...

I'm not going to comment on the too-cute-to-be-true end credits because the pastel piglet love story has already been examined in greater depth than I could ever bring to it.


Obligatory Pikame commentary: I guess this should technically be 'Shuuji to Akira commentary', but Pikame is easier to type and besides, it sounds cute! Shuuji's such a prickly little soul, which means the touchy-feely Akira is the worst possible friend he could make because Akira has no concept of personal space whatsoever. He treats Shuuji like his own personal plushie - entertaining for the fangirls, but not so much fun for poor Shuuji, getting grabbed, squeezed, draped over, leaned on and generally mauled whenever Akira gets near him.

Despite this, Shuuji doesn't treat Akira too badly - with relatively gentle exasperation, rather than the hostility you might expect from someone in his situation. Nothing in Shuuji's usual bag of tricks can do anything to affect how Akira treats him, so it doesn't make any difference if Shuuji's playing the part or not - why act for someone who won't appreciate it? He can be as blunt as he likes to Akira and it's water off a duck's back, doesn't make it through the hazy, psychedelic filter through which Akira views life. Isn't that great, to be able to say exactly what you're thinking to someone and know they won't think worse of you for it? Shuuji's luckier than he knows.


Best Scene: This has to go to Shuuji's reaction upon finding his precious willow tree has disappeared. The fishes will not answer you, no matter how much you yell at them, and why would you search your own body for a missing tree? I love seeing Shuuji break out of his everyday act and prove he's just as prone to fits of craziness as the rest of us. Second place goes to the scene in the bookshop, with Shuuji using his powers for good for a change, and the three of them teaming up for the first time. Good thing Akira's rich. Oh, and bringing up the rear would be just about any scene in which Akira's walking down the stairs, flapping his arms and reeling like a drunkard. How he keeps his feet, I'll never know. Are there blooper reels of Yamapi tumbling head over heels, I wonder?


Conclusion: High school girls who wear more make-up than JE guys actually do exist, giving someone a contact lens means you have permission to snuggle up to them whenever you like, and it really pays to be handy with a needle and thread.
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Mec

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