06 July 2012

Ataru First Impressions

I looks like Ataru will be the only spring 2012 drama I will be covering for now. I tried to watch Kazoku no Uta and after sixteen minutes in quit as I was bored. Mainly from unlikable or bland characters and being told things instead of shown. While Ataru's first episode had its own share of problems it kept me watching for the entire episode and left me wanting to watch the next.

It is clear that the producers/staff of this drama knew they would be able to pull in good ratings with at least the first episode of this drama. There is a lot in the way of budget that you can see was put into this episode but I feel that their desire to impress had them sacrifice storytelling elements that should never be cut in a series like this. And I think the fact that the next few episodes saw such low ratings reflects this.

The mystery portion of the episode was a let down. Unlike Kagi no Kakatta Heya, the audience could not follow the clues and figure out the culprit on their own. Also they did little to really make the audience care about the mystery being solved as there was very little time given to the widow of the man killed in the episode and even less to the daughter, even though she got to show up to ring out pathos from the audience in a scene. But it just felt like the show was telling you to care and not actually working to make you care. The only thing that worked was that it was easy to want Ebina Maiko to solve the mystery to prove herself to be more than a pretty face. Though with the culprit being someone that was barely shown before there was not much of an emotional impact to it.

The characters in the drama are mostly over the top, with some really only there to be comedic relief. There are also a lot of them introduced in this episode. In fact Ataru is the only name of any of the characters that I can remember and that is probably mostly in part because it is the title of the drama. But we get a small legion of characters from the police department, Ebina Maiko's (the main female lead) family, the person looking for Ataru and Ataru's parents from his memory, cast members from a TV series Ataru likes to watch, and that is not counting the characters introduced in the episode connected to the murder. Honestly there are several of the police department characters that could have waited until a later episode to be introduced as they mainly just fill up time that could have gone to actually focusing on the mystery segment of the episode.

Probably the saddest part though was the fact that this episode was just over an hour long so they actually had and extra fifteen minutes or so but the episode still felt like it tried to cram too much in it for someone to take in easily.

Also it is confusing to figure out Ataru himself. I know he has "savant syndrome" and there would be issues with him not being able to communicate with others like normal because of it but I do not know what the syndrome really entails. And the episode does nothing to help with this, even though from press releases I know they have a character that will be able to explain these things, Tamamori Yuta's character Ebina Sho. But the two do not meet in the episode nor do we even get a scene to at least give a hint of what is going on with Ataru. This is alienating because you can see that he is not seeing the world or interacting with it as people expect others to do but there is no explanation of it unless you were familiar with the press releases and had read up about the mental disorder on your own. And this is not what a member of the audience should have to do to enjoy a TV show. Hopefully Sho gets to explain Ataru's behavior and thought process in the next episode as it is a key element of the series that needed to be addressed with this first episode.

Honestly even though I am coming to like Mitsumune Kaoru the more I see of her she really was not needed for this episode. Her character just got introduced quickly and went over information about another character that was repeated when one of the lead actors entered the scene.

Though for all the criticism I have for the first episode I did like it. Sure it is far from my favorite first episode but I can see potential and some of the mysteries they seeded (Like who is Ataru? And about Maiko's mother.) in it are interesting enough to want to see what the answers are. Plus knowing that the ratings eventually rebounded near the end of the series gives me hope that they fixed some of the issues with later episodes that were in this first episode.

Plus while the mystery failed the interaction between the characters and the drama tied to that was interesting. And I am really interested in Nakai Masahiro's portrayal of Ataru as he really does a fantastic job of becoming such a completely different character than who he normally is. He also brings something endearing about Ataru in his acting and I really want to know what is going to happen with him.

So while I am not thrilled with the first episode of this series there is enough in it to keep watching. Hopefully my mid-series impression will be a bit more positive.

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