Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Densha Otoko

It was a normal day for Yamada Tsuyoshi, until he rode home on the train. The train ride was interrupted by a drunk man who started harassing the other passengers, including the woman that was sitting across from Tsuyoshi. After standing up to the drunk man, Tsuyoshi is thanked by some of the passengers, including the woman. Neither of them realized what road this situation would lead to.

Tsuyoshi & Saori

Based on a true story, “Densha Otoko” is a 12-episode (with a special, ending the number at 13) Japanese drama about Yamada Tsuyoshi, an anime otaku who falls in love with Aoyama Saori, a beautiful girl that he meets on a train, and the decisions he makes with help from a message board singles thread. Each episode contains several suspenseful, comedic, and sometimes heartbreaking events that bring Saori and Tsuyoshi together. Tsuyoshi’s growing relationship with Saori is not all fun and games. In fact, so many unlucky things happen to Tsuyoshi that nearly jeopardize his and Saori’s relationship, with some of them being really unbelievable (or perhaps it’s the fact that these bad situations tend to snowball around the same time?), or “too” ironic.

Yamada Tsuyoshi, our hero

The series is also filled with many humorous characters. Tsuyoshi spends part of each episode on a message board talking to people who give him advice. Viewers are able to see the people on the message board, who are all cheerful and full of personality, and who each have their own stories to tell. A favorite of ours is seeing how each person is characterized. One character is often superimposed over different cultural settings (being depicted as a world traveler), so we had fun guessing where he would show up next. Sometimes, however, a few of the characters came off as a little weird (such as a board member who kept repeating that he had “moe” for Hermes), but eventually this anxiety wore off as the series progressed.

One of the many message board posters

Each of them is supportive of Tsuyoshi’s plight, either right from the beginning, or they are eventually won over. One realizes how involved his message board peers are when they begin to examine their own lives, after hearing about Tsuyoshi taking his stand against the drunk man to protect Saori (nicknamed “Hermes” on the message boards). From re-evaluating a broken marriage, to learning to stand up to an abusive husband, or going to rehabilitation for a sports injury, each of the members grows along with Tsuyoshi in some way. The board members help him by contributing advice and encouragement on his journey. However, the message board can be the cause of conflict, either with Tsuyoshi himself or between other members. Because of the various subplots and connections, it often seems a little disorienting at first, but eventually one finds a comfortable spot to sit back and enjoy the show.

Another poster on the message board

Another great aspect of this show is the pop culture littered throughout the series. As Americans who don’t speak much Japanese, this makes the series all the more relatable. Popular movie scenes are parodied as a source of humor. The music is the most prominent of these pop culture hints, such as using the popular Darth Vader theme song (“The Imperial March”) for a side character, or the song “Mr. Roboto” by Styx in the first episode, parodying Japanese otaku culture. The theme song opening sequence (using the song “Twilight” by Electric Light Orchestra) pokes fun at Japanese pop culture especially, paying tribute to the famous opening video from Japan’s Daicon IV Convention (right down to the song!), albeit using a different character. This character, Mina (from the newly released “Getsumen To Heiki Mina”), also continues to play a role in the plot aside from appearing in the opening sequence. As a random point of interest, the first episode file on the disc we had contained the commercial break, so we got a nice juicy taste of Japanese advertising (and now we crave some Blendy, darn it).

After one conflict after another is resolved, it is hard to think of what could possibly happen next. There is always another obstacle that threatens the characters. The ideas are not less thought through or less interesting towards the end. Instead, everything that happens is equal in suspense. We found ourselves rooting for Tsuyoshi. While the nearly hour-long episodes can be disorienting to a few viewers (we watched this series in two days over Spring Break, but you don’t have to marathon like we did), don’t let it dissuade you from this one-of-a-kind series. Throughout this series, the viewer is kept awake by all of the humor and suspense that make “Densha Otoko” what it is: the amazing and heartfelt story of two people who care about each other and are pulled apart and brought back together by everything else that takes place in their lives.

- The length of the episodes can be disorienting.
- In some cases, it was unbelievable how many bad things happened.
- Some of the characters can seem weird at first.

- Amazing characters who are all different and interesting.
- Interesting things happen to the characters.
- There is no lull in the action.
- Random pop culture references make the series more fun.

The final grade? Halie and Kat give this series an A.


1 comment:

Heero2020 said...

Ahh Ito Misaki. She's one of the top Models in Japan. But I prefer Sukeban Deka with Matsuura Aya. She's hott...