Hana Yori Dango Final [Movie]: Doesn’t need to exist…

We’ve reached the final stage of the Japanese Hana Yori Dango drama series with the movie Hana Yori Dango Final (2008). As this follows up after Hana Yori Dango and Hana Yori Dango Returns, there will be spoilers for the two series.

movie

What’s it about?

Makino Tsukushi (Mao Inoue) and Domyoji Tsukasa (Jun Matsumoto) are finally engaged, having overcome all of their previous difficulties and having earned the reluctant acceptance of Tsukasa’s mother Kaede (Mariko Kaga). In a show of good faith, Kaede presents the couple with a family heirloom in the form of a tiara. However, their hotel room is broken into, and the tiara stolen. Tsukushi and Tsukasa decide that they must get it back quickly and quietly, and fortunately their friends, the other members of the F4, are there to help them. However, their travel to Nevada, USA, is only the beginning of a long journey.

The Positives

One thing that I really liked about this movie is that we finally get to see Tsukushi and Tsukasa as a couple. They’re actually pretty cute together, with their bickering back and forth. I also love Tsukushi’s reaction to Tsukasa’s constant stupidity… especially his mix-ups with idioms!

cute

I also like that we have Tsukushi being overwhelmed by Tsukasa’s life in this movie. It wasn’t a main feature throughout the series, but it’s obvious that she should be so shocked by a world in which money is only money. I also like that she doubts herself in this new strange world; it makes her a much better character!

The Negatives

As a whole, the movie was really haphazard. It jumps around from scene to scene really quickly, with some major mood changes. At times I was often wondering what the actual point of the movie was, despite having a clear plot… this was how jumpy it was! I also didn’t really like the plot of the movie itself; the reason for everything happening in the first place was… well… rather stupid. It would have been okay if the movie was sort of played for fun, but everything was treated super-seriously, and it just came off as silly. Finally, as with the drama series, we still have the inconsistent characterisation of Tsukasa. So much for character growth.

Anything else I should consider?

As I mentioned in my review of the second series, you don’t really need to watch this movie to feel like you’ve completed the story-line. And well… I don’t think you really should!

I should also mention that there is another movie associated with this series, although it is about Tsukushi’s family visiting New York at the same time she went at the beginning of the second season. I did not watch it.

Conclusion

Story: 5/10. Although parts were enjoyable, as a whole, the movie felt rather pointless and messy.

Characters: 6/10. Tsukushi shows further character development while Tsukasa remains the same… inconsistent.

As you can probably tell by now, I didn’t really like this movie. On the surface it is pretty enjoyable, with some cute Tsukushi-Tsukasa moments and a fun atmosphere, but when you start to really think about the plot and start to see how jumpy the movie is, you start to wonder if this movie was really necessary. Overall I give it a 5/10, and a recommendation to check out only if you’re a hard-core Hana Yori Dango fan.

-S

end

Goodbye, Hana Yori Dango!

Hana Yori Dango Returns [Drama]: Works well as a second season… for the most part

Here’s the follow-up post to the first season with my review of the 11-episode Hana Yori Dango Returns (2007). Minor spoilers for the first season within.

hanayoridango2

What’s it about?

It’s been a year since Makino Tsukushi (Mao Inoue) confessed her love to Domyoji Tsukasa (Jun Matsumoto) as he left for the USA. However, in that time she’s hardly heard from him, and has started to think that he no longer wants anything to do with her. Her fears are confirmed when she receives the dreaded red notice again, even though Tsukasa’s away! Hanazawa Rui (Shun Oguri) urges her to fly to New York to sort out exactly what’s going on, but can she find Tsukasa in the maze of buildings and people? And what if he really no longer loves her?

The Positives

I quite liked the plot for the second season. There were a lot of different plot elements to be included, and I think they were all handled pretty well and worked together nicely. I also thought the pacing of the plot was spot on. Overall, we get a more mature, more focused plot, which really helps our characters shine. Plus I love the whole [MINOR SPOILER/] Tsukasa moving next door to Tsukushi sub-plot. It’s so cute! Especially his relationship with her younger brother! [\MINOR SPOILER].

I also think the majority of the characters were developed in the second series really well (with the exception of Tsukasa, see below). I especially liked that Nishikado Sojiro (Shota Matsuda) and Mimasaka Akira (Tsuyoshi Abe) were further developed, and not just left out of the action. I think that Tsukushi also matures in the second season, understanding more about the how the world works, especially the world of big businesses. She proves to be a relatively intelligent female lead, and she’s got a lot of guts (I especially love the piano scene at the birthday party!). Rui, as ever, remains adorable in the second series. Perhaps even more adorable?

f2

Is this… backstory done well?!

The Negatives

As a carry on from the first season, the characterisation of Tsukasa is still pretty bad. We’re meant to see him maturing and developing as a person, which, on the surface he seems to do during this season. However, it only takes a couple of scenes of him losing his temper that you realise, actually, nothing has changed. He again swings between his out-of-control, psychotic persona, to his bumbling, boy-in-love persona. And it’s really annoying. In fact, I don’t care about him that much as a character, which is markedly different from both the Taiwanese and Korean adaptations. I could almost argue that, in this adaptation at least, Tsukushi should be focusing all her attention on Rui.

tsukasa

Tsukasa… cute, but also really, really not.

Finally, the last two episodes. Obviously [MAJOR SPOILERS/] ahead. I really don’t like the way amnesia is handled in this series, specifically the fact that Tsukasa remembers everything except Tsukushi. For me it wasn’t that big an issue in the Korean version, but in the Japanese version, Tsukasa can remember coming to the town, but then can’t remember why. THE WAY YOU CAME WAS NOT NORMAL, WHY ARE YOU NOT ACTIVELY TRYING TO REMEMBER THIS?! Also the fact that the rest of F4 don’t really try to intervene when crazy psycho girl (aka Nakajima Umi (Erika Toda)) basically worms her way into Tsukasa’s life and takes over it. Although, admittedly, seeing Rui act cold and bitchy towards Umi was kind of funny.

I’m also not a big fan of the last big sequence of Tsukushi trying to get to her graduation (? or prom? It’s not too clear). I know it’s typical shoujo-y stuff, but the big build up with all the problems and then blah blah everyone’s waiting for them blah. It was unnecessarily dragged out. But it’s also likely I had soured towards the season after the memory loss incident, so others viewers may have enjoyed it more. [\MAJOR SPOILERS]

Anything else I should consider?

To be honest, you could finish the series here without watching either movie. There is one movie that’s chronologically set at the end of the series (look out for the review), but if you’re happy with the ending here, then don’t feel guilty stopping.

Conclusion

Story: 7.5/10. The plot runs smoothly and fits together a lot of different plot elements, however the last-minute drama in the final episodes soured my mood towards it considerably.

Characters: 8/10. We’re treated to some nice character development for the majority of the characters. Except, you know, our male lead.

To be honest, Hana Yori Dango Returns is a much better sequel than I expected. There’s some genuinely good development in both story and characters, and some sweet, funny, and emotional scenes. However, it does get a little silly towards the end, and it’s disappointing to see Tsukasa staying the same throughout. Overall I give it a 7.5/10, putting it equal with the first series.

-S

rui

Too true!

 

Hana Yori Dango [Drama]: A fun and enjoyable adaptation

Well, I’ve finally come around to checking another adaptation linked to the Japanese manga “Hana Yori Dango.” I’ve previously checked out the Korean and Taiwanese dramas, but this time I turned my attention to the Japanese school drama Hana Yori Dango (2005). This 9-episode drama is only the first season of the Japanese adaptation, with a second season and two movies.

hanayoridango

What’s it about?

Makino Tsukushi (Mao Inoue), born to a poor family, attends the prestigious Eitoku school. She’s doing her best to keep her head down and not be noticed as the school is ruled by the infamous F4, the four sons of the richest and most influential families in Japan. However, when her only friend at the school, Sanjyo Sakurako (Megumi Sato), accidentally crosses F4’s leader, Domyoji Tsukasa (Jun Matsumoto), Tsukushi she stands up to them, making herself a target for the whole school to bully. When things start to go too far, Hanazawa Rui (Shun Oguri), the only kind member of F4 steps in. Naturally, Tsukushi starts to like Rui, but is it possible her stubbornness and determination has stirred something in Tsukasa?

The Positives

I found the characters in Hana Yori Dango to be pretty likeable. Having most recently finished the Taiwanese version with the lead Shanchai, I was worried that Tsukushi would be more of a push-over, but she proves to be both intelligent and plucky. She doesn’t back-down from what she believes in, and it’s very easy to cheer for her throughout the series. Tsukusa is cute and also sweetly stupid, which is emphasised throughout the series, although I did have issues with his characterisation (see below). I also really like Rui’s odd but adorable character. I also really like there is a decent amount of attention to Nishikado Sojiro (Shota Matsuda) and Mimasaka Akira (Tsuyoshi Abe), the other two members of F4. I also loved the unique character of Okami-san (Takako Kato), Tsukushi’s boss- she improved every scene she was in, and never failed to make me laugh! Helping the characters along is the fact that the cast all had a very good handle of their roles, especially the relatively younger main cast.

hit-him

Go Tsukushi! Show ’em who’s boss!

The second thing I really liked about Hana Yori Dango is that it’s very easy to watch. The pace moves quite quickly, so you’re getting through a lot of content in a decent amount of time. However, the quick pace doesn’t neglect the logic or meaning of the plot, and the story that plays out is easy to follow and by no means boring. I like that there’s quite a few unique events to this adaptation, so you’re not trying to predict the order of events as you watch. I was left wondering where they’d take the story at the end of the series, leaving the opening for the second season perfectly.

The Negatives

Although not always the case, as I’ll remind you that while bullying her, Tsukushi’s classmates put fucking SNAKES IN HER LOCKER, Hana Yori Dango is a much lighter adaptation. There’s no shots of Tsukasa being violent and/or forcing himself on her like there are in the other adaptations, and certain characters seem to be forgiven pretty quickly. In a similar vein, Tsukasa’s mother Kaede (Mariko Kaga) is a touch inconsistent with her attitude towards Tsukushi and Tsukasa, especially in the last episode, which makes the earlier troubles seem pointless.

bitch

Evil… or not really?

Speaking of, Tsukasa’s characterisation seems to be the weakest point of this series. He goes from being right up there as a sadistic psycho to an awkward, cute boy in love very, very quickly. His characterisation quickly jumps between these two extremes throughout the drama. I get that it’s Tsukushi that calms him down and helps him grow as a person, but he shouldn’t be reverting to his old self the second she’s off-screen!

Anything else I should consider?

From what I can tell from the first season, Hana Yori Dango presents the same plot I’ve seen already with slightly different characters. It’s a lot lighter and cuter than the Korean and Taiwanese adaptations, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lacking the details of Meteor Garden, but with an easier plot than Boys Over Flowers, it’s so far very watchable and fun. I’m interested to see how it unfolds over the next season.

Conclusion

Story: 7/10. This series is fun and easy to watch, with a quick pace that doesn’t neglect plot points.

Characters: 7.5/10. The characters are all pretty adorable, each with their individual quirks. The young cast does a great job.

Hana Yori Dango is an easy, fun watch with a great cast and some good characters that you quickly like and become interested in. The story unfolds well and sets the scene for the second season. Overall, I give the series a solid 7.5/10.

-S

f4

Cute!

Coffee Prince [Drama]: Your new favourite drama

This review got put on the back-burner while I focused on an assignment that was due. Sorry about that!

I had previously heard many, many things about this classic 2007 drama. I’ve watched a couple of gender-bent dramas and anime before, and I actually like this common trope… when it’s done correctly. Luckily for me, Coffee Prince (aka The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince) is perfect in just about every way!

coffee-prince

What’s it about?

Eun Chan (Yoon Eun Hye) works several jobs to provide the main income for her family. After a mishap on one of her deliveries, she meets Han Kyul (Gong Yoo), the good-for-nothing son of a rich family, who, like many others before him, mistakes her for a boy. Seeing that Eun Chan is desperate for money, and wanting a way out of dates arranged by his grandmother and mother, Han Kyul hires the girl to act as his gay lover. However Han Kyul’s family quickly tries a different angle, putting him in charge of a run-down cafe with the order to triple the investment money in three months. Han Kyul hires Eun Chan as the first “prince” working in the cafe, but what will happen as the two spend more and more time together?

The Positives

Let’s get started with our main couple and the love story. I absolutely adored Eun Chan as our main girl. She’s strong, determined, funny, and fiercely independent. I also liked how she’s a little unpredictable, as she’s ready to just do what feels right in the moment. Han Kyul is adorable as well, and I particularly liked his childish, almost innocent character. AND THEY ARE SO CUTE TOGETHER! I also liked how the whole “Han Kyul discovering Eun Chan is a girl” part was handled. I think it’s a lot fairer to Han Kyul’s character and a lot more realistic that what I’ve seen in other similar plot lines. I also like that this isn’t the climax of the two’s relationship, and that overcoming this obstacle doesn’t mean that there’s going to be smooth sailing on the other side… again, much more realistic. Yoon Eun Hye and Gong Yoo, the two actors, were perfectly cast. They really handled the various stages of the emotional roller coaster of a relationship perfectly. I also liked that we got to compare Eun Chan and Han Kyul to the older, more experienced couple of Han Sung (Lee Sun Kyun) and Yoo Ju (Chae Jung An), who get tangled up in everything as well. A fantastic touch.

socute

Gah, the cute >.<

However, with the setting in the cafe, our drama isn’t all about love. We have a few other “princes” that interact with our two leads. There’s not too much to say about Manager Hong (Kim Chang Wan) except that I liked his fatherly-mentoring relationship with Eun Chan, and the way he always knew what was going on with everyone else’s emotions. Min Yeop (Lee Eon) just reminds me of a adorable, bouncing, but super-sensitive puppy. I loved everything about his character. Ha Rim (Kim Dong Wook) is funny and quirky in his own way. I know there’s one section of the drama where he does get on the audiences’ nerve, but I don’t blame him for his actions that led him there. Sun Ki (Kim Jae Wook) provides the much-needed brains of the group, as well as fitting the bill as the mysterious, “cool” character. However, I really liked that he’s still as much of a dork as the rest of the princes, and has no problem loosening up around them. What really makes these characters great is how naturally they fit in and work with each other. Throughout the series, the cafe has a really fun and interesting dynamic, and I just couldn’t get enough of it.

princes

I would be a regular at the cafe just for the above three reasons! (L-R: Min Yeop, Ha Rim, Sun Ki)

Finally, I really loved that the series presented two functional, loving families. Anyone who’s seen a K-Drama know that this isn’t always the case, especially in any drama with a class divide between the main couple. However, Coffee Prince pulls this off these loving families convincingly. Scenes such as Eun Chan snuggling up with her Mum when she’s worried and Han Kyul teasing his mother and grandmother really sold me on this drama. No toxic environments and no hate allows the drama to be character driven and focused, which makes it so easy to watch!

The Negatives

To be honest, I didn’t have too much to criticise the drama for. Given how great their chemistry was, I would have loved more scenes featuring the cafe princes. They just all bounced off each other really well and were very entertaining to watch. I also would have liked more of Min Yeop’s, Ha Rim’s, and Sun Ki’s backstory. Ha Rim in particular seemed he had a lot going on in his life, and I feel that Sun Ki’s story had more potential. However, I’m still satisfied with what the drama gave, I’m just greedy 😛

Anything else I should consider?

This drama has (rather oddly) 17 episodes in total. However there is an 18th episode, which is a bonus episode containing behind the scenes cuts, interviews with actors and production staff, and the writer’s perspective on the story. It’s quite interesting to check out if you loved the series.

Conclusion

Story: 8/10. The story is largely character-driven, which works well in this plot. Plenty of funny, cute, and emotional moments. You’ll care about the characters the whole way through, so find a comfortable position, ’cause you’ll be glued to your screen for a few hours!

Characters: 9/10. Our main leads are amazing, but they’re not the only characters in this series that are wholesome and interesting and -gasp- act like real people.

It only took a few minutes into the first episode to fall head-over-heels in love with this drama. The emotion throughout the series in genuine, the characters are amazing, and everything was handled perfectly. Whether you’re a drama newbie or veteran, if you’re yet to check out Coffee Prince, I recommend you drop everything and watch it at once. Overall, I give this drama a 9/10.

-S

bcouple

Obligatory second-couple photo. As lovable as the main 🙂

Time Renegades [Movie]: A thrilling watch

Although I slept for the majority of the eleven-hour flight between Abu Dhabi and Australia, I did need to keep myself awake in the few hours before landing so I could adjust to the time difference. I needed an engaging, interesting movie, and the description of the Korean Time Renegades (2016) fit the bill exactly.

title-time-renegades

What’s it about?

The movie starts with the unfolding of New Year’s Eve for two men, thirty-two years apart. In modern times, Gun Woo (Lee Jin Wook), a detective, is waiting for a sign from his superiors to arrest a much-wanted criminal. In the 1980s, Ji Hwan (Cho Jung Seok) and his girlfriend Yoon Jung (Lim Soo Jung) are celebrating the night together when her handbag gets stolen. Gun Woo chases after his criminal and Ji Hwan chases after the thief. The events that befall the two of them are paralleled; both are injured in the resulting fight, rushed into emergency surgery, and experience near death on the operating table. When they awake, another connection is made; they both have unusual dreams in which they experience each other’s life. Both men feel that the dreams are too realistic to ‘just be dreams’, but they do their best to brush them off. That is, until Gun Woo is handed a folder of cold cases from the 1980s by his chief, Detective Kang (Jung Jin Young), and discovers that Yoon Jung is the first victim in a line of serial murders. Can Gun Woo in the future and Ji Hwan in the past work together to save her, and find the one responsible for the murders?

The Positives

There is plenty of solid acting in this movie. Of course, Lee Jin Wook and Cho Jung Seok are excellent as our two main leads. They were both very convincing in their emotions and the way they struggled with being connected to each other over a time span of thirty-odd years. Lim Soo Jung actually plays two roles in the movie, and she’s able to easily distinguish the two, but keeps (plot-driven) similarities between them. Great casting choices!

time-renegades

Where the past and the present meet!

I LOVED the story of this movie. It was interesting and twisting, and kept me glued to the screen the whole time. The story unfolded at a perfect pace; starting slow and then building to a massive, dramatic climax. Not even one second of this movie is wasted; every scene is used perfectly to create the story. After the emotional journey to get to the end, the movie is finished perfectly. There’s a definite sense of completion in the story, which is just so satisfying.

The Negatives

I did have some minor issues with certain parts of the story, however. Although this movie isn’t technically time-travel, it does have the whole “changed-actions-of-the-past-from-knowledge-of-the-future-affect-the-future” aspect. This always hurts my head. In this movie, this aspect felt a little contrived at times. This is particularly the case with one character who plays an important role in both the past and the present. I feel that as the past changed, the present-version character’s personality should change as well as his memories change. This whole memory-being-affected should have actually applied to more than one character, but in the case of all of them, they stayed the same, which didn’t really make sense.

uoh

How much will saving her affect the future world…?

Conclusion

Story: 8.5/10. Thrilling, interesting, and told completely and perfectly, I absolutely adored the story in this movie.

Characters: 7.5/10. The characters aren’t anything new, but the actors portraying them are fantastic.

Time Renegades was a very interesting and satisfactory movie to watch. I can forgive some of the plot issues I had because the story had me glued to the screen the whole time. Combined with likeable characters, superb acting, and a solid ending, Time Renegades is a great watch. Overall, I give it an 8/10.

-S

so-pretty

Such a pretty movie!

Faith [Drama]: Lots to love, a little to hate…

I was in the mood for something historical, having recently re-watched a couple of my favourite episodes of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, and the 24 episodes of Faith (2012) was on my shortlist. It sounded interesting, and so I decided to check it out (I swear I didn’t know it was a Lee Min Ho drama until I started watching it, honest!)

faith

What’s it about?

King Gongmin (Ryu Deok Hwan) is returning to Goryea to become the next ruler with his wife, Princess Nogoog (Park Se Young), and the Wuldalchi; highly trained soldiers captained by the infamous Choi Young (Lee Min Ho). However, the Princesses’s throat is cut when the group is attacked by enemies, and Jang Bin (Phillip Lee), the highly skilled doctor of the group, states he is unable to save her. Desperate, the King sends Choi Young through “Heaven’s Gate”, a mysterious portal that lands him in modern-day Seoul. The first doctor he finds is cosmetic surgeon Yoo Eun Soo (Kim Hee Seon); stubborn, materialistic, and straightforward, she is kidnapped by Choi Young, and dragged back in time. She succeeds in saving the Princess’s life, but Choi Young breaks his promise of sending her back, blocking her entrance to the portal. Eun Soo is horrified as she watches it close, realising that she is stuck in the fourteenth century.

The Positives

Faith is one of the catch-all dramas that pulls on many different genres to produce something to have a popular appeal. And it’s a drama that does this quite well. Of course, you have all the political manipulation and tension you’d expect in a historic drama (more on that later), but you also have the action scenes from Choi Young and the Wuldalchi as they protect the royal couple and Eun Soo, plenty of romance, and also a healthy dose of comedy. I think the series balances between all aspects really well, making Faith a very entertaining watch.

queen

Go Princess Nogoog!

Secondly, I was really impressed with a lot of the characters (and the actors who portrayed them) in this series. Starting with our mains, Lee Min Ho is the perfect choice for the moody warrior Choi Young. He’s got the screen presence that we all know and love, and pulls off the character’s epic lines and scenes with ease. I feel like if another actor had taken on the role, these aspects would have fallen flat or been corny. Kim Hee Seon did a really good job of bringing Eun Soo to life. I liked that Eun Soo was so straight-forward, loud, and funny, despite being in a time period when she should have acted “seen and not heard”. It shows that her character wasn’t going to let something small like time-travel compromise who she is! I also have to give a special shout out to Park Se Young as Princess Nogoog. I think she portrayed the young queen perfectly with the kind of emotional subtlety you’d expect to see of an actor with many more years of experience. I also really love a good villain, [MINOR SPOILER/] and Park Yoon Jae as Prince Deokheung [\MINOR SPOILER] (the villain) was really, really excellent. I haven’t seen a villain as intelligent and interesting as him for a very long time, and I was really surprised by the character. Definitely up there as a favourite villain! Finally, the host of side characters, but especially the Wuldalchi, really bring the series to like with their various personalities and interactions.

warriors

The best soldiers you’ll ever see!

 

Finally, I really like the mix of myth, fantasy, and history thrown together in this series. The only other historic drama I’ve seen was set in later Joseon era (18th century), so the setting in Goryea (14th century) was something very different. Here, we see Goryea fighting for its independence from (what later becomes) China, and I think this uncertainty of the nation’s future means that all characters are already in a difficult spot. As much as I hate politics in real life, they play out very well in this series, with plenty of twists and turns. I also liked the mix of myth, fantasy, and history throughout the series. I think there was a good balance between the three, retaining some historical accuracy but keeping things interesting with a new twist.

The Negatives

As much as I’ve praised Eun Soo’s character above, I also have a lot to criticise. For a surgeon, a seemingly prestigious surgeon, she sure is stupid. This is a problem with dramas relying too much on the damsel in distress female lead, and it clearly shows in this series. Now I don’t mind her issues with adjusting to Goryea (and honestly, who can blame her for trying to figure out what to do after being flung so far into the past), and her materialistic streak is all apart of her character.  However, I really hate that her character is compromised in certain situations so that she can be saved. My favourite parts of the series were when her and Choi Young worked together, not when he was saving her from the consequences of a stupid decision she made. While we’re on characters, actually, let’s have a quick look at Dr. Jang. Without spoiling to much, I know that there were real-life issues going on here, but I still feel that this character was meant to be much more important. In the first two episodes it’s clear that he’s more than just the royal doctor, and it’s hinted that there’s some serious back story to his character, but he then sort of fizzles off into a side character. I was looking forward to discovery more about him, but left feeling extremely disappointed.

dr-jang

Dr Jang… clearly meant to be more than a shoulder to cry on…

The second criticism I have against this series… well, I guess it’s one that I have against anything involving time-travel in general. It hurts my head. I followed everything throughout the series until we get to the last couple of episodes and everything is tied up… but sort of not really? I feel that there was a major plot hole in the end (see below) and there were implications, that, if they had been addressed correctly, could have changed the direction of the series, and made it much more interesting. The ending also felt a little anti-climatic (in terms of the “baddies” that we’ve been dealing with) as the drama rushed to focus on Choi Young and Eun Soo’s love. I can’t explain these criticisms any further without major spoilers, so if you intend to check out this series, continue onto the conclusion section of this post, and don’t read the following spoilers.

couple

Cute and all, but I feel there could have been more to this drama…

[MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
Alright, let’s get straight into this plot hole business. It gets established early on in the series that Eun Soo has travelled to further into the past (i.e. a time period before Goryea) before her “current” travel to Goryea. Past Eun Soo leaves current Eun Soo tips about what to do and not do to keep history on course and save those she loves. Some of the instructions she leaves suggest that “Past Eun Soo” was in Goryea at a point in which Choi Young was killed. From there, she travelled further into the past and left her future self information about not letting him die for when she travels into Goryea for the first time. I’m not sure how much sense that makes, but the take away message is this: Eun Soo has travelled to Goryea on at least one other occasion from her “current” excursion there. Keep this in mind. One of the other clues Past Eun Soo leaves is how to calculate when the time portal opens. Current Eun Soo is so desperate to get to the time portal in the series because it wasn’t going to open again for another 60 years afterwards. Now, I would assume that the time portal opening is the “same” amongst all time periods that it connects to (past, Goryea, current times); i.e. you can potentially travel through the three time periods when the portal is open. Past Eun Soo, at the point in which she’s known as Hwa Ta, goes into the time portal that brings her back to Choi Young a few years after she first leaves Goryea. Where did this time portal come from because I didn’t think there was going to be one for sixty years?! How can she create time portals left, right, and centre to travel through at the plot’s convenience to make the Goryea trip at least twice?! Or am I thinking about this wrong? Do the time portals only work in certain directions, so the one Eun Soo uses to get from distant past to Goryea wouldn’t allow her to get from Goryea to the future (i.e. her main focus during the series)? Is her “Faith” in returning to Choi Young  meant to explain these random portals popping up? Did she calculate them wrong in the beginning (but she seemed to know where they are)? Would it have been too hard to explain this in the series? This is why time travel hurts my head.

Secondly, [STILL MAJOR SPOILERS] if it is the case that Eun Soo made the Goryea trip on multiple occasions (remember, we’ve established that by the end of the series she’s done this journey at least twice), wouldn’t her attempt(s) to survive in Goryea without screwing up history and her attempt(s) to get back to Choi Young be so much more interesting to focus on rather than, oh, I don’t know, her getting poisoned a second time?! Honestly, I was just about ready to get give up on the series when that happened. It makes Eun Soo look stupid and it’s just infuriating to watch when we could have something with much more substance to enjoy! [END OF ALL SPOILERS]

Conclusion

Story: 6/10. A really fun mix of everything, but some bad plot decisions leave you feeling sour.

Characters: 8.5/10. A lot of the characters are well thought out and developed, although this is compromised in a couple of moments. However, a great drama villain makes up for it all.

Faith is certainly not the best drama I’ve seen, but it is definitely enjoyable. Although I have issues with some of the characters and plot decisions, I really loved the characters and the mixed bag of different genres kept me entertained throughout. If you like the first two to three episodes, you can be reassured to stick with it. Overall I give it a 7/10.

-S

choi-young

Lee Min Ho, why are you so handsome regardless of what they do to your hair?

 

R.O.D.: The TV [Anime]: Awesome concepts tangled up in a hard-to-watch mess

I wasn’t too sure how exactly I wanted to review the Read or Die (R.O.D.) series, considering it’s made up of a two different manga (Read or Dream and Read or Die), three OVA episodes (also called Read or Die), and then finally a 26-episode anime (Read or Die: The TV) (PLUS the light novels that they’re all originally based on!). I watched the anime series first (which occurs chronologically last), and since it has the most substance compared to the other series, I decided it should be my main focus for this review, although I will briefly mention the others.

rodthetv

What’s it about?

In an alternative future, the British Empire remains a world power due to influence the British Library, its external intelligence agency, has on the rest of the world. At the beginning of the series, famous Japanese author Nenene Sumiregawa is suffering from writer’s block after her friend Yomiko Readman goes missing. When she is bought to Hong Kong for a book-signing event, the three sisters Michelle, Maggie, and Anita are assigned as her bodyguards. When Nenene is threatened, the sisters reveal their powers; they are Paper Masters, having a unique ability to manipulate and control paper. Nenene is hopeful the three know Yomiko, also a Paper Master, and she brings them back to Japan with her. In Japan, the three sisters start doing odd-jobs for Dokusensha, a Chinese organisation that rivals the British Library, but the group soon find themselves in conflict with latter.

The Positives

Something that holds for all mediums of R.O.D. is the fact is that there are some super interesting concepts in this series. To begin with, Paper Masters are just so freaking cool. I never thought I would want a super-power that involves manipulating paper, but after watching the anime, it’s right up there at the top of my list! The Paper Masters of the series literally stop bullets with just a piece of paper! I like that within the are of paper-manipulation, there are different variations; Maggie makes familiars out of paper, Michelle uses ranged weapons, Anita is basically a ninja who uses paper as her weapons, and Yomiko does everything plus more. If you want to see some of this paper-manipulation in action watch this video (from the first episode of the anime)… It’s so cool!

Other interesting concepts in this series stem from the focus on books and literature. The fact that the British Library is an important organisation for worldwide politics is a good indication that this is a series in which books play an important role. In fact, a lot of the Paper Sisters’ early missions involve the retrieval of important books from the hands of others. As an avid reader myself, I really like the emphasis on the importance of books and the way certain books are central to the plot of the story. In this world, books are key for survival, dominance, and manipulation. We see throughout the series books (or at least texts) being “forced” into others, used to resurrect the dead, and even controlling the flow of information and power.

So many books!

Books, glorious books!

Finally, I really liked that this series is pretty much dominated by female leads. I also like that we get different types of female leads; while Michelle is incredibly feminine and confident in herself, Maggie is almost androgynous and quiet and reserved. Anita is stubborn and bratty, while Nenene is outspoken and proud. And that’s only the female characters you are initially introduced to, there’s more that follows! This series also features a lot of strong female-female friendships and bonds, almost to the point where one could argue that this title can be classified as yuri. There’s no overt romantic actions (or words for that matter), but, in particular, Nenene and Yomiko’s bond can be interpreted that way. However, I’m not a yuri expert, so I’m not too sure. Regardless of the classification, the positive portrayal of the strong friendships and bonds is done very well in the anime, and throughout R.O.D as a whole.

girlpower

Girl power!

 

The Negatives

The main issue I had with this anime is that the series just doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. You have all of these awesome ideas and interesting conflicts floating around, but the series just doesn’t pull them into a steady story-line. The story fluctuates between three strains; a sort of detective-agency set up, an almost slice-of-life story, and then, for the latter half, saving the world from a big, bad secret organisation. To help with the inconsistency, there aren’t enough explanations as to what’s going on. I get that the anime is just one of many parts of the R.O.D series, but the writers’ assumption that the audience already knows the background to a lot of the events doesn’t help the audience in anyway. The mess of all of this makes the audience feel that there is too much complication packed in to the 26 episodes. At the same time, however, the inconsistent pacing also makes certain episodes drag on forever, with the well-executed action scenes too few and too far between. For a large part, R.O.D: The TV is a lot of ominous talking about world affairs and a lot of confusion. That’s about it.

 

Anything else I should consider?

Probably the correct order of consuming this series would be R.O.D. manga, Read or Dream manga, R.O.D. OVA, and then R.O.D: The TV. However, if you only want a taste of it, I’d recommend watching the R.O.D OVA first, followed by R.O.D: The TV if you liked what you saw. The manga is only worth checking out if you’re really dedicated. Here’s a quick summary of all of these bits and pieces;
R.O.D (OVA): Three episodes, set before the TV series, and following the meeting of Yomiko and Nancy, and their work together for the British Library.
Read or Dream (manga): Four volumes, following side-stories of Michelle, Maggie, and Anita. Very cutesy with not much substance, but enjoyable if you like the characters.
Read or Die (manga): Four volumes, focuses on Yomiko and her work for the British Library. Also contains her first meeting and early friendship with Nenene. Very, very confusing.

Conclusion

Art:  6.5/10: This series was created in 2003, and the older art style reflects this. However, I still found the art to be neat and quite fluid, which becomes very obvious in the action scenes.

Story: 5.5/10: I really admire all of the unique concepts in this anime (and R.O.D as a whole). But you can’t enjoy these ideas to their full potential because they’re wasted in a messy, hard to follow plot.

Characters: 7/10: I really liked the diversity of the female leads and the strength of the friendships between them. However, I feel that the series falls short on meaningful character development.

There’s a lot to like in the R.O.D series. It boasts some of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen in an anime yet, and the strong female leads are a nice change.  However, the chaotic mess of the (sometimes incredibly slow) story ruins a lot of the good things about this anime. If you’re willing to wade through the confusion, you will probably come out enjoying a lot of the aspects of this series, but lamenting the wasted potential. Not everyone has the patience or care to do this, and so, overall, I give R.O.D: The TV a 5.5/10.

-S

papermaster

Paper Masters ARE SO COOL!