29 July 2014

Kamen Teacher final impressions

I happy to say that I ended up enjoying this drama from start to finish. Definitely a good series to get back into watching J-dramas once again.

While not 100% perfect this drama is still one of the better ones for its genre. A lot of this falls into the fact that the characters are strong and their actions make sense and do not feel like they are being done for the sake of hitting the next plot point.The theme of the series, starting over from past mistakes, is woven into the story so it is not beaten in to the heads of the audience as the themes in dramas like this do tend to be. And is able to mix the fun, action and drama of the series well.

Araki Gota (Fujigaya Taisuke) is a great protagonist. He is easy to like and want to see succeed in forging a new path for Kamen Teacher where students are saved by moving their hearts not forcing them into line with fear and fists. It has been interesting getting to learn more about him throughout the series and have him have to face the challenges of keeping true to his principles, even when he finds himself in doubt.

Seeing more of Kusanagi Keigo (Jesse) in the second half he is a character that works well to be the counter to Araki. It does feel as if his story is not completely done at the end but there is still a good amount about his character covered and a sense of change over the series, even if minor.

Ichimura Miki (Oomasa Aya) ended up being a character that I came to like quite a bit. She really became more than the love interest, in fact the whole romance angle with her and Araki seemed to be just something in the background in their interactions as we see much more of them bonding over wanting to truly take care of the students. It is sadly rare to find a well developed supporting female character, which is part of what makes Ichimura shine.

While I remained iffy about why Takehara Kinzo (Kikuchi Fuma) was considered more important than the rest of the M4, but the final story arc finally solved that. It finally gave him the chance to shine above the rest even though everyone in the M4 got their moments.

Overall I was quite glad to see that these characters did not fade into the background and remained important throughout the series. It really drove home that the change that happened with them was not superficial and their battles with Kamen Teacher truly did affect them.

And while all the major plots are wrapped up by the end of the series there is still enough given to justify a continuation, which of course is the movie that will be out on home video in Japan soon. That said I do wish we got more of an understanding of what was going on behind the Kamen Teacher program. That was probably the weakest part of the series as it just seemed like the head of the program was doing whatever he pleased, and while that put things in place for the plot it did not make an interesting plot itself.

Overall I really enjoyed this series. It is the kind that I would have no trouble going back to rewatch later if I ever have the time. It also shows what a show in this genre is capable of if more thought is put into it. I hope that the movie will not disappoint, as I cannot see how this would work in a much shorter time span.

With this series done I will be moving onto the next late night NTV series, 49 soon. With any luck I may finally catch up before the summer is over.

26 July 2014

The Shounen Club 3 December 2010 review

I can't believe I am on the December episodes for 2010 already. Despite some set backs it looks like I feel like I am finally catching up with these episodes, especially as there will be a few weeks of two reviews a week for the 2011 episodes in about a month.

The show opens with the usual medley. The Juniors perform songs from 2010 and in the cases of NEWS and KAT-TUN they have the hosts, Koyama Keiichiro and Nakamaru Yuichi, perform with them. There is not a lot of focus on the main Junior groups in this, so it does not feel like the usual introduction.

Like in the past few episodes we get the guest of the episode to perform at the end of the medley. For this episode there is all of Hey! Say! JUMP for a change and they perform their only single released for 2010 so far, Hitomi no Screen.

The theme of the episode is 2010, and I guess we shall see how well they stick to it. Interestingly enough Arioka Daiki, Takaki Yuya and Nakajima Yuto are introduced as the supporters for the show even though they have the rest of the group there. I wonder how it would have been if those three were the only ones to host the program once Koyama and Nakamaru left.

This is followed by a performance led by Morimoto Shintaro with Snow Prince Gasshoudan and Hip Hop Jump of Boogie Woogie Cat. That is definitely not a song from 2010, so already we have theme deviation. But it is nice to see the main younger Juniors perform, especially as some are now some of the better known Juniors.

There is then an MC segment with Shintaro and B.I.Shadow. They all get to talk about something that happened to them in 2010. BIS go first as Shintaro's turn starts as they get ready for their performance after this.

BIS perform Akuma na Koi, which is nice to see them do as a group seeing as they were a part of the single. What is also nice is that all the members get plenty of camera time instead of the usual two getting most of it.

Jumping Paradise is next and is more of a talk segment this time around. The members of HSJ go over three of the big events the group did in 2010. The first is the group going to Hawaii together, then it was the SUMMARY concerts and finally their first album being released.

Kis-My-Ft2 is up next to perform and they do their group song Inori. IIRC, about this time the group had a commercial deal with one of the companies in Japan that sells ringtones and songs for phones with Inori and Firebeat being used in the commercials. Which of course helps explain why those songs are being performed again on the program.

Then it is the You no Otegami Yomitai Desu! segment with the usual trio of Juniors as hosts. The first letter brings out the natto lovers trio to discuss the topic.

The second letter is another letter that tries to match something to a Junior and this time it is Tamamori Yuta with an alpaca.

This is followed by A.B.C-Z getting to perform what was a new song for them, A to Z. It definitely seems to be a song written to play to the group's strengths as there are plenty of breaks for them to show off their dancing and acrobatics in it.

We have a Kansai Junior ni Q for this episode. B.A.D. joins BOYS as hosts for the segment this time around. The topic is about things that give you power and B.A.D. get to talk about it first, with Nakama Junta citing fan letters for him. Kiriyama Akito on the other hand jokes about it being on the Junior ni Q segment.

Most of the Kanjuu called up are new faces to the segment and I honestly have no idea who they are. There is one exception and that is Kaneuchi Toma. He talks about the bed his mother makes for him is what gives him power. It is odd to see him so reserved as he has come out of his shell so much since then.

HSJ then get an MC segment. While he was stuck in the back Yaotome Hikaru did the most talking, though Arioka Daiki made sure to chime in from time to time. They mainly talked about going on a trip together.

They started off the show with their first single for 2010 and here at the end they perform their last for the year Arigato ~Sekai no Doko ni Itemo~. This is always a fun song, or at least for me, as I enjoy hearing all the different languages used in it and it really is the start of a new style of song for the group post-1st album.

The show ends with HSJ performing again, this time an album track, Thank You ~Bokutachi kara Kimi e~. My main complaint about this is the fact that the group had only just done a performance and would rather have had that previous performance come in earlier in the program if they were going to end with this. Otherwise it is a nice mellow song to close on, and the album was released in 2010 so it can fit the theme.

Also what is nice is that at the very end the main Junior groups and Shintaro, all get to say something. Seeing as they all did not get highlighted at the start of the program it is nice to see them getting that kind of attention here.

A good episode of the show, if just because it do a good job in getting a large range of Juniors a chance to perform and get some camera time. Otherwise it was pretty forgettable overall.

Yet it will not be longer before we get some status quo changes with the program, for better or worse, as we soon enter the eventful year that was 2011.

HSJ's Weekender

I know I am late sharing this, but I am still on the fence when it comes to Hey! Say! JUMP. But the group will be releasing a new single in September on the 3rd. It will be a double A-side with the A-sides being the songs Weekender and Asu e no YELL. There are four versions of the single.

The first is the Limited Edition Type 1 that will come with a DVD with the PV for the song Weekender and the making of footage for it. The CD will only have the two title tracks on it.

The Limited Edition Type 2 is basically the same as the Type 1 except the DVD will have the PV for the song Asu e no YELL and making of footage on it.

Then there is a First Press Regular Edition that will just be a CD with the two title tracks as well as two B-sides not on any other versions of the single. One will be a Hey! Say! 7 unit song called Tada Mae e and the other a Hey! Say! BEST song, Suits Days. It will also have karaoke versions of all four songs.

The Regular Edition is just a CD with the title tracks and then two B-sides for the group not on any of the other versions of the single. The B-sides do have their names out and they are; Through the night and Rainbow Candy Girl.

You can get all four versions of the single in a bundle set. Just to make getting all four easier.

HSJ for me has become a group I would rather just wait for their album to buy. Unless I fall in love with one of the B-sides that gets previewed I doubt I will be buying this single. But I do like that they are releasing something this year after their album. It gives me hope that I will not have to wait too long for that next album, especially with this being a double A-side.

24 July 2014

Kamen Teacher mid-season impressions

I planned on watching an episode a day but this series has really won me over, so I should be done much sooner than I planned.

For a series that I had little faith in once I started watching it Kamen Teacher has really gotten me hooked. On the surface it is the usual teacher-reforms-a-delinquent-class drama that is popular in Japan but Kamen Teacher shines by taking it all another step further. Instead of merely winning the hearts of the students by a single confrontation it has to be won by doing much more than that. It may not be perfect in this front though, but it tries, which is something more to say than other dramas of its ilk.

Araki Gota (Fujigaya Taisuke) remains an interesting protagonist that is easy to want to cheer for. His steadfast belief in the way to help students is by reaching their hearts instead of forcing obedience by force is easy to empathize with. He is an easy to like hero, especially as they dialed back a bit with his overly cheerful and positive attitude, or I guess that was explained to be the face he tended to show to hide the deeper emotions he is feeling.

The pace has been brisk without being rushed. We have had each member of the M4 get their stories told and had their battle with at least one Kamen Teacher. But probably the best thing is that once those stories are told the characters do not just fall into the background. I am honestly surprised that at the half-way mark all have been "dealt" with as there are six more episodes to go. Yet from how this drama has been playing out I doubt they will just disappear from the story either.

Not sure if I feel like I should see Takehara Kinzo (Kikuchi Fuma) as someone more important than the rest of the students yet. I know he was played out to be a major character but I have not seen anything yet to really back that up. But there are still plenty of episodes left to see if that will change. If anything having his story tie with Shishimaru's (Kishi Yuta) did at least help give him a bit more screen time.

I was really glad that Ichimura Miki (Oomasa Aya) has been developed a bit as a character outside of simply being there to give Araki information he needs or as just the love interest. And I rather liked the fact that she started off uninterested in Araki, instead of being stuck in a will-they-won't-they relationship with him throughout the series. I think for a love interest she is one of the better ones in the fact that she could stand as a character in her own right.

While I made no mention of  Kusanaga Keigo (Jesse) in my first episode impressions post it was because there really was little to say about the character. He just stood around and was mysterious. He still remains so for the most part but his presence expands and he starts an antagonistic relationship with Araki and is certainly tied to the Kamen Teacher program. There has not been much of him to make a fair judgement, but I have the feeling that will change in the second half of the series as really the only thing that looks like Araki really needs to deal with is the black Kamen Teacher.

Probably what has continued to impress me about the series is the fact that Araki seems to be confronted with challenges to his ideals. As fun as the battles are the fight Araki has with whether or not his choice not to use violence to force troublesome students to behave is one of the more interesting fights to play out. Even though it looks like he will keep to his ideals there have been times where it really looked like he would slip up or convince himself that there could be an exception. And it is believable with all the pressure he gets.

And as an aside, I rather enjoy the 3-B Gumi Kinpatsu-sensei segments with Tsukada Ryoichi. They are wonderfully silly and do help pinpoint what the theme of the next battle will be. In a way it kinda reminds me of the Shadow Girls in the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime series as their segments had the same narrative function and were also rather odd. But it helps keep things light, which is needed at times.

Overall this drama is a great breath of fresh air for this genre. It may not stray far from the usual tropes but it does them well. And in doing so it makes using them feel natural and not as if the writers were just pulling them out for the sake of having them included.

I do hope it all keeps it up as it will undoubtedly become one of my favorite late night NTV dramas if it does.

20 July 2014

Kamen Teacher first episode impressions

Alright, I am going to see about trying to catch up with my drama viewing finally. Hopefully I can at least do so with the late night NTV dramas first.

I have to say I am glad that this was an hour long episode. I was not very impressed with the first half of it and was not sure if I was going to like watching this until the second half kicked in. Most of it stemming from the fact that things were presented so black and white during that first half while the second went past that and started to highlight all the gray that the story should be exploring to keep it interesting.

Araki Goto (Fujigaya Taisuke) is a character who on the surface is rather straight forward and fits the shounen hero trope well. But thankfully he is more than that as we see that he is someone carrying guilt over his past actions as a Kamen Teacher as well as trying to find another way to deal with the mission he has been given. The fact that he is just so earnest in everything is endearing and I am cheering for him.

The students that it looks like that are going to be the main focus belong to a group called the M4, made up of Shishimaru (Kishi Yuta), Kotaro (Maeda Goki), Ryota (Yanagi Shuntaro) and Bon (Kyomoto Taiga), and then the one positioned above them, Takehara Kinzo (Kikuchi Fuma). Outside of Bon, who got some focus this episode there is not much to say about the rest as they just fill the usual yankee stereo-types for a school drama. But if Bon is anything to go by then they will break out of that and become much more interesting characters as they all get their turns facing the Kamen Teacher.

As I have already mentioned Bon gets the focus in the second half of the episode where we learn about why he became who he was and refused to believe in friendship. Kyomoto plays the role well and I do hope the character does not just get pushed to the side as the series goes on.

We also get Takada Sho playing the character pivotal to Bon's story, Imai Satoshi, and it is always nice to see him in something. Especially as he does seem to be the next Johnny's on the actor-track as he does not seem to be doing anything else these days.

There is not much to say about the love interest of the series, Ichimura Miki (Oomasa Aya), as she seems to mainly be there to give Araki the information he needs to understand what is going on with the school. There does seem to be some hope for her, in the fact that we at least get the feeling that she is someone who would like to be more like Araki with the amount of hope he has for his students, but had given up. Hopefully that gets to be explored more and she gets to become an actual character and not just a convenient plot device.

So basically the second half of the episode saved the series for me so far. I have my hopes returned that this is going to be a good watch and eagerly await to get into the rest of the series. Which I am going to go do right now because I do also need to make sure I can catch up with my drama viewing as I have the means and the time now.

19 July 2014

The Shounen Club 12 November 2010 review

Did you think the last episode was lacking in guest performances? Never fear, this episode has plenty...

Things start off in the standard way with the main Juniors performing a song, WA ni Natte Odorou, as a way of introduction, though very few of them get their name/group name on the screen.

NYC is back as guests for this episode as they were in the last one and like last time show up at the end of the first performance to take over performing. They of course perform Yuuki 100%, as this is the era that the song is done to death.

The first talk actually lets the members of NYC speak a little this time before moving on to introduce the theme of the episode, Happy. Which is one of those theme that they would have to work really hard to screw up as Johnny's has plenty of songs about happiness to choose from.

 The theme medley has the present members of groups whose songs are being covered join in the performance. Such as Koyama Keiichiro performing Happy Birthday with Kyomoto Taiga and Kawashima Noeru.

Between the songs of the medley the Hey! Say! JUMP supporters asks little Juniors what makes them happy. Not many are still with Johnny's but Hashimoto Ryo is one of those Juniors and I know he is still around.

The first MC segment is for NYC and all three members get to talk about things that make them happy. I was able to get that Yamada Ryosuke talked about a place in his room, not so sure about the other two.

NYC then performs the song they did last episode, Yoku Asobi, Yoku Manabe. There is not much change in the performance which makes me wish they performed another song, or at least a medley of some kind so it would not feel so redundant.

Next is the You no Otegami Yomitai Desu! corner, as we get a couple of new faces to be the hosts for it, Hashimoto Ryosuke and Senga Kento. The first letter is from a mother asking for advice about what to get her son for his birthday. The other letter I could not get what exactly it was about other than a girl needing some kind advice about her father.

There is then a collaboration performance for the Junior groups, Question? and Mis Snow Man, as they perform the song Running to the top together. It is nice to see the two groups get the chance to take the stage like this as neither has done so for some time. Question? is the lead in the performance as MSM does not appear on stage until about half way through the song.

No time is wasted with an MC segment as it moves to the next performance, Kis-My-Ft2 performing their song Kis-My-Calling! This is always a fun performance to watch as the guys are allowed to just have fun and do tricks with their roller skates that they would not really be able to fit in another performance. And since they have performed this song a few times they have audience interactions they can do with it in the way of fan calls.

Again there is not much time between performances as Yara Tomoyuki with They Budou are up next to perform a song called Gekkou. Not a song I care for but like usual the five put on a strong performance, though nothing exceptional for them.

If one wonders why there is just performance after performance they can finally get their answer as a special guest is announced for the episode, KAT-TUN. They perform Change Ur World, which is honestly one of my favorite songs from the group and I did not feel disappointed with the performance here.

There is finally an MC segment, with KAT-TUN of course. They joke about Taguchi Junnosuke being a "captain" because of a piece of cloth tied around his upper arm. Junno also manages to do his introduction bit, so overall he did well with the MC. The other members all got some time to talk as well as they are asked to talk about the theme of the episode.

Then it is time for the Junior ni Q segment where the topic is to talk about a "happy item". Nakajima Kento is up first and his answer was fan letters.

Tanaka Juri gets called over to explain answer of natto. During the conversation they end up calling Yasui Kentaro over as well to join in.

Then Kawashima Noeru get a turn as he talks about a letter that he keeps with him. If I got it right it was from his first year of high school. And that wraps up the segment.

We then get a Gekkan Koyamaru segment squeezed in. It is Koyama's turn this time so we get a picture of NEWS. This is from their last tour and they went out to eat together in Osaka.

Following that is a Junior medley, which focuses on the younger Juniors. Hip Hop Jump get to perform a song on their own, Magma, during it, which is a rarity for the group. But basically the medley is for them, Morimoto Shintaro and Snow Prince Gasshoudan.

Then it is time for the final performance of the show to wrap everything up. And we do so with Ultra Music Power, being lead by the half of HSJ that was present. Of course they are joined by some Juniors, but only as back dancers. Except for Nakayama Yuma who gets to actually join them in performing the song close to the end.

So while there were no short number of guests in the episode it felt like it was balanced out a bit with the fact that we got to see more of the Juniors that we normally do not see a lot of. The fact that they cut the usual MC segments to make sure they could get in all the performances helped a lot with that.

With how often KAT-TUN has been showing up on the program I get the feeling that Johnny's really wanted to cement the fact that the group was the five members it was then. Which I guess was to be expected as they had lost a member for the first time and with it being one of their main members they did need to rebrand a little.