A look at 2012: J-drama Edition

Drama ReviewsEnd of the Year ReviewsJapanese Dramas

This year in jdramas.

The must-watch

Keizoku 2 SPEC: SP (Sho) & Movie (Ten)

Watch this if…….

  • you saw season 1 of SPEC
  • you want MOAR Toma & Sebumi

[Yes, I’m including j-movies in this end of the year review because I can’t not talk about them..]

The SPEC special and movie are a great treat for any big SPEC fan.  I give the SP & movie raving reviews because I LOVE TOMA & SEBUMI.  I WAS SO INTO THE SP & MOVIE.  I was busy swooning over Toma’s smartness and Sebumi’s invincible strength!  And laughing over their quirkiness whenever they’re together!  And sniffing at all the sad parts!

But, what it comes down to is that the SP is better than the movie.  It really gave me the closure I needed over season 1 because it has a huge reveal as well as an explanation of Toma’s fight with Chii.  On the other hand, the movie didn’t feel like it went above and beyond the drama.  I enjoyed all the emotionally charged moments between Toma & Sebumi in the movie, but at the same time I was disappointed by its cheesy CG effects and the plot.  The movie really did not push itself to improve and bring us something new from SPEC, which is probably why it felt lacking.  BUT!!!!!!!!!!! BUT!!!!!!! DON’T GIVE UP HOPE.  The movie gives us a glimpse of a NEW VILLAIN.  FOR NEXT TIME.  YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!

Rurouni Kenshin (Live Action Movie)

Watch this if……

  • You like action movies
  • You saw the Rurouni Kenshin anime
  • You didn’t see the Rurouni Kenshin anime
  • ORO!!?!?!?!!?  THERE’S NO REASON NOT TO WATCH IT.

It would even be an understatement to say this is one of my top movies of 2012.  I mean, THIS LIVE ACTION MADE MY DREAMS COME TRUE.  I cannot believe how well it adapted it into a movie!!! o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/  There are a few gripes about the casting, but overall the acting, action scenes/stunts, and plot is A++++.  Sato Takeru is perfect as Kenshin, Aoi Yu is interesting as Megumi, and Sano looks like he walked straight out of the anime.  And even if you didn’t see the Rurouni Kenshin anime, you can still enjoy this movie because it sets up the main characters’ back stories very well despite the limited time.

Sprout

Watch this if……

  • You like the slice-of-life genre
  • You like high school romance dramas
  • You want a HS jdrama that is different than the rest
  • You want quality, not fluff

Sprout was a rather popular summer jdrama this year, but it still went relatively unnoticed in comparison to other hits like Rich Man Poor Woman.  It doesn’t have a big-name cast or a preppy rom-com storyline that will draw in first-time viewers.  But Sprout has a special place in my heart because it was the perfect melancholy and nostalgic drama for my summer.   It’s a simple, earnest coming of age story about four young teenagers who are in a love square.  The cinematography, soundtrack, and acting is all great.  (Yes, although you’d expect horrible johnny acting it’s actually pretty good!)  Although the ending was not quite what I wanted it to be, the drama is more about growing up than it is about the love square.  Watch this if you want to watch a different kind of HS jdrama, one that will make you feel bittersweet, nostalgic, and happy all at the some time.  This was most definitely my favorite jdrama of the year.

Osozaki no Himawari

onhe6-7

Watch this if…

  • YOU LOVE IKUTA TOMA
  • You like slice-of-life or human dramas
  • You like feel-good community dramas
  • You want a heart-felt drama–a bit of sadness, soul-searching, and faith in humanity to warm your heart

This is a fun yet touching drama about a city guy who moves out to the country to help revitalize a small town.  I like the concept because it’s refreshing to see a drama set in a rural area rather than the big city.  Also, Ikuta Toma and his supporting cast really make the drama feel warmer and funner.  This is my personal favorite of the year.

Double Face SP

Watch this if….

  • You liked Infernal Affairs
  • You wanna see a kick-butt Japanese adaptation of Infernal Affairs
  • You like action dramas
  • You like quality AKA WOWOW

Double Face is a 2-episode special that is a remake of the Infernal Affairs movie.  And it is freaking awesome.  Leave it to WOWOW to give us something good, eh?  I was really impressed by the high quality and all that they managed to cram into a mere 2 episodes!  Seriously, this 2 episode special was better than a lot of other airing jdramas that were at least over 6 episodes long!  And even if you haven’t seen Infernal Affairs, you can still enjoy this SP because it’s awesome nonetheless.

Not for the weak of heart

Hitori Shizuka

Watch this if…

  • You like dark mystery/suspense
  • You like an intriguing and mysterious anti-heroine
  • You are ok with very slow build-up

Hitori Shizuka was probably one of the most intriguing jdrama that I watched this year.  It’s not necessarily a detective/police drama, not exactly your usual mystery drama either.  Each episode shows the connections between a crime and a mysterious girl, Shizuka.  The catch is that Shizuka has disappeared, so the other characters investigating the crimes are left to put together the pieces about who she is.   It’s just about finding out who Shizuka is and why she’s done the things that she did.  Oh and by the way, Kaho as Shizuka is amazing!

The reason I say this is “not for the weak of heart” is that the drama has a very dark and bleak atmosphere to it the whole time through.  Don’t watch this if you want a shining happily ever after.  Also there are some scenes later into the drama that are more violent.  If you are finding the first episodes a bit slow like I did, I’d definitely recommend eps 4-6, which are excellent.  At first I thought Hitori Shizuka wasn’t my cup of tea, but I found myself continuing to watch all because I was so intrigued by Shizuka.

Hatsukoi

Watch this if…

  • You want a sad, bittersweet story
  • You like pretty cinematography
  • You sorta want a tear jerker?

“Hatsukoi” meaning “First Love” was another quality jdrama by NHK that went quietly unnoticed by most jdrama fans.  (Although I heard it had strong ratings in Japan.)  It has an excellent cast with amazing acting as well as beautiful cinematography.  It’s about a mother/wife who gets diagnosed with liver cancer, and is reunited with her first love because of it.  She ends up getting entangled with her first love (a sort of “fate” concept) although she loves her husband & son dearly.  Yeah.  That’s…cancer + cheating + family issues + first love ALL IN ONE.  And yet Hatsukoi isn’t necessarily a tear-jerker even though there are plenty of moments that made me want to cry.  It’s not the kind of drama that’s trying to make you cry buckets of tears..instead it’s the kind that’s trying to make your heart hurt. (if that makes any sense)

Anyways I enjoyed eps 1-5 better than the last half of the drama because the switcheroo in the other half feels like it’s pushing the “fate” concept too much.  Also I wasn’t a fan of the WTF ending..even though it sorta gave closure, I just wasn’t satisfied with the outcome.   I don’t think it’s a must-watch but it is worth checking out if this kind of drama is up your alley.

The inexplicably obsessive drama

Strangers 6

Watch this if..

  • You’re a fan of some of the main cast members.  *cough* BOWIE LAM, KARASAWA TOSHIAKI *cough*
  • You want bromance!
  • You can understand Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean!  (AHAHAHA. JK! Ok well not really.)
  • You can read the Japanese subtitles or there is somehow miraculously English subs someday!
  • You like agent/action dramas
  • You are willing to forgo all common sense in the plot, and just watch for the pretty & the bromance

Ok I made the “watch this if” conditions sound rather……harsh.  Ok I’m not quite sure how to explain my love-hate relationship with Strangers 6.  For one thing, the cast is freaking amazing.  I mean, there are awesome actors like Bowie Lam!  And there are actors/actresses from China, Japan, and Korea!!  It’s one huge ambitious project!  And for the first half of Strangers 6, I was absolutely OBSESSED.  OBSESSED.  Even though I could only understand like 20% of what was happening. (I’m serious.)

It was awesome seeing all the action scenes, bromance, and the agents’ interesting relationships.  It also had great production values and managed to solve the language barriers between the agents.  However the catch is that…..the plot sucked.  The writer clearly had no clue what he was doing.  Also, the drama tanked so it cut out SEVEN EPISODES and slapped together a hurried, unfinished ending.  *facepalm* Apparently they ran out of money or something.  T___T  Overall, I cannot even recommend Strangers 6 as the drama was a mess.  I was obsessed while watching it but not for any good reason. T_T”

The mediocre and the above average

Sarutobi Sansei *Updated*

Watch this if…

  • You’d like to see a decent live action with NINJAS.
  • YOU LIKE NINJAS

Somehow Sarutobi Sansei completely slipped my mind when I was writing this post up.  Anyways Sarutobi Sansei was actually a pleasant surprise because the action is actually pretty good.  It feels a lot like a live action (because it actually is..but I haven’t read the manga so I don’t know if it holds true to it) so if you like anime/manga then you might want to give this a try.  I also enjoy that the main guy, who is the son of a famous ex-ninja, is not a mysterious pretty boy ninja.  Instead he’s almost monkey-like (I don’t mean it in a bad way..) in his great agility and his playful personality.  I ended up dropping this drama, overall it is average.

Rich Man Poor Woman

Watch this if…

  • You’re an Oguri Shun fan
  • You like the heroine-transformation
  • You like office dramas (corporate? I don’t know if this is classified as an office drama?) & rom-coms

I’m sorry RMPW, it’s not you, it’s me.  I was actually really excited for this jdrama because of OGURI SHUN but somehow I just couldn’t get into it.  Maybe one day it will make its way out of my mediocre list but I just felt that it didn’t have that must-watch feel to it.

Kekkon Shinai

Watch this if..

  • You are a fan of Amami Yuki & Kanno Miho
  • You like romance dramas about older women trying to find love
  • You SOMEHOW survived Watashi ga Kekkon Dekinai Riyuu (I applaud you.)

I have really mixed feelings about Kekkon Shinai.  I survived about halfway through, only because of Amami Yuki & Kanno Miho.  They have great chemistry, almost a sort of bromance except it’s like..a sisterhood. O_O  I was really going to watch for Amami Yuki but ended up staying because of Kanno Miho.  She is absolutely charming and loveable as Chiharu and really makes you want to root for her.

However I felt that Kanno Miho wasn’t quite enough to move the drama along and make it something more than your usual older woman love crisis drama.  I guess the main problem is the writing.  It’s an improvement from Kekkon Dekinai Riyuu but it’s not at all subtle.

Kaeru no Oujo-sama

Watch this if…

  • You like underdog dramas
  • You like feel-good dramas
  • You want a go at a musical jdrama
  • You’re a fan of Amami Yuki
  • You’re ok with cheesiness and a low budget

I really don’t know how I managed to write so many posts on Kaeru no Oujo-sama since it was actually a rather mediocre jdrama.   The singing is not that memorable, and the plot is rather simplistic.  Also there are some j-pop idols so some of the acting isn’t that great.  However I enjoyed Kaeru because it was fun seeing familiar faces like Amami Yuki…..and even funner to see them singing!  Also it felt like the singing wasn’t really the focus of the drama..instead it was more about making friendships and unifying through a choir.

Overall

I guess what I can take from this list of jdramas of 2012 is that my tastes are definitely changing.  Maybe before I would’ve been drawn in by a drama like Rich Man Poor Woman, but now I’m just not interested.  I’m getting more into the serious, darker jdramas like Hatsukoi or the slice-of-life dramas like Osozaki no Himawari or Sprout.  Of course I’m still watching some fluff like Kaeru no Oujo-sama and Kekkon Shinai along with that.  But I think that once you start to consider genres that are out of your usual comfort zone, you’ll really be pleasantly surprised.  Previously I probably wouldn’t have even touched Hatsukoi or Hitori Shizuka but now I’m glad I tried it out.  Even if you think Japan’s dramas are going downhill (which..they are) that doesn’t mean you can’t find hidden gems.  All you gotta do is look for them.

I know there are several jdramas of 2012 that I haven’t mentioned here.  Of course, I didn’t check out every jdrama so I can’t write up my impressions on all of them.  So, if there are jdramas I didn’t mention, be sure to hit up the comment box below!   Also comment with your favorite jdramas of the year!  Are there any jdramas that surprised you?

heisui

I'm heisui, an Asian drama blogger and the creator of My Drama Tea. I love stories and writing, so I watch dramas and blog. I especially have a penchant for Japanese and Chinese dramas, and those hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. Oh, and I'm Legend of Zhen Huan-obsessed!
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  • For 2012 J-dramas, I only watched Hana no Zubora Meshi and Ooku – Tanjou -.
    I watched Hana Zubora because I wanted to learn some easy lazy recipes. It’s pretty funny and the recipes are perfect for a lazy person like me, LOL.

    Then I watched Ooku because I like historical dramas. Sakai Masato is absolutely gorgeous to look at! I just love his smile~ The ost, “DEEPNESS” by MISIA is amazing too. The ending is somewhat tragic, but overall, it’s a great drama! 🙂

    Oh, and the one drama I looked forward to, Majisuka Gakuen 3 turned out to be a disappointment because they recasted all the characters and made it into a new story.

    • Oooo Hana is the cooking one right? HMM maybe I will check it out because I need some easy recipes too.

      So Ooku is worth it for Sakai? I’m mainly skeptical of Tabe Mikako as the lead actress…

      I wasn’t interested in Majisuka because it is an idol drama..

  • i watched ooku after mmokie suggest it..that drama is tragic!i cried during final episode and cant wait to watch the movie starring kanno miho and sakai masato later on.. have you legal high? it starring sakai masato,gakky as well and it was absolutely amazing!!sakai was totally great in there..i absolutely recommend for you to watch it

    • I attempted the 1st episode of Ooku but wasn’t really interested. I thought the lead actress didn’t really fit the role. On the other hand I am looking forward to Kanno Miho as the lead in the Ooku movie.

      I also heard Legal High was good but I didn’t get around to it. Maybe I will check it out!

  • I actually like kekkon shinai i watch all ten ep (i think there is 11) up till the last one. i was waiting for it to air but after a week that it did i just never feel like going back…i dont know what made me sit thru and watch all ten…i gotta agree with you i watch it because of amami yuki but chiharu was so cute in here that i just wanted to pinch and her wish i had someone at adorkable in my life. i dont think will ever finish this though…i dont know why i just lost interest. now that i think of i dont even remember what i liked from the jdrama from 2012 beside spec and beginners.

    • What really made Kekkon Shinai was Chiharu’s character, and the great chemistry with Kanno Miho / Amami Yuki. I guess the thing is that I was invested in Chiharu’s character but not in the story itself. >_<

  • I sidetracked jdramas for 3 years since twdramas lengthened to 80 eps and kr cable tv started adding to the neverending kdramas watch list. Thanks to your blog i may eventually try the popularly hyped Rich Man Poor Woman and your highly recommended Strangers 6 (although i only understand canto/mando and can only read eng subs).

    • Actually I would not recommend Strangers 6 because it really goes downhill in the second half. T____T It is also hard to understand especially since it is not English subbed. I would only watch it if you are a hardcore fan of one of the cast members.

      As for Rich Man Poor Woman, I didn’t personally watch it all the way through but it is highly recommended by many other bloggers. You can check out the recaps on Himono Tales to get a sense of what the drama is like.

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