Thursday, August 16, 2012

Drama Review: Nobuta wo produce (2005)

Grade: A

Jdrama; Coming-of-age friendship

What it’s about
Two high school boys—one the class clown and the other the school heartthrob—make a project out of winning popularity for the new girl, a strange, shy loner. 

First impression
I decided to give this show a try on the recommendation of a Kdrama friend, and really like it as of episode 1. I was turned off Japanese drama early on in my Asian TV obsession after watching some of the freaky Yamato nadeshiko shichi henge. I didn’t understand that show at all, but now I know why: it’s a miles-over-the-top spoof of Nobuta wo produce. Duh.

Final verdict
Television doesn’t get more heartwarming than this show: it’s a tale of an unlikely friendship and a poignant reminder that the perils of adolescence aren’t so different, no matter what country you’re from. Tinged with a dark hint of magical realism, Nobuta wo produce’s 10 forty-five minute episodes were over far too quickly—and made me realize just how bloated and listless Kdrama plotting can be. Every episode stands refreshingly on its own as a fully contained story, but also contributes to the larger narrative arc of the three central students journeying to adulthood. With its slice-of-life vibe, quirky cast of characters, and zippy pacing, this is a drama that pulls you fully into its world.

Random thoughts
• Watching a Japanese drama feels like traveling to a foreign country for the first time: Who are these peculiar people and what is this crazy language they’re speaking? Funny to think Kdramas once felt that way, too—especially now that I’ve internalized Korean culture to such an extent it’s my fellow Americans who leave me confused.

• It might be a touch early in my relationship with JDramas for sweeping generalization, but far be it from me to think I actually need to know about something before I can write about it. So I’ll just come out and say it: To me, Korean drama is 100% fairly dust. Japanese drama, on the other hand, is 30% fairy dust, 60% Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, and 10% unicorn farts. A strange, shocking mixture indeed.

Episode 1. I had nightmares about those damn monkey paws last night, all thanks to W. W. Jacobs’ terrifying 1902 short story of the same name. Eek! Is this show going to scare me?

Episode 4. I’m not a very fast runner, but I’d like to be this truth guy. Imagine what fascinating secrets you’d hear if you made a habit of going up to strangers and demanding that they tell you the truth? (Assuming they actually did it instead of punching you in the face.)

Episode 9. Call me crazy, but I love the little informative notes Japanese-language subbers like to include in their dramas. They make sure their viewers come away from an episode not only having enjoyed the show, but also truly appreciating the finer points of the script. Without them, English speakers like me would never have appreciated Akira’s clever (but goofy stupid) wordplay throughout this drama.

Episode 10. And the award for the most delightful moment of the show goes to: “Does anyone have a saw?” Nobuta asks at random as she and her two friends hang out after school. “Of course I don’t,” the first friend replies ruefully (and understandably, as the request is both inexplicable and utterly unexpected). The second friend pipes up, pulling a small handsaw out of his pocket. “Actually, I do,” he says. “I keep a saw with me just for times like this.” Seriously? Could you be any crazier, drama? Or more wonderful?

• Episode 10.
—::Amanda cries::
 —::Amanda cries some more::
— ::Amanda progresses from crying to weeping::
— ::Amanda edges from weeping toward bawling::
— It’s over??!? What fresh hell is this?

Watch it
Drama Crazy (Psst...some genius has posted full episodes on YouTube that you can access at the bottom of the link list, next to the name JKShows)

You might also like
Playful Kiss, for its homey, coming-of-age wackiness 

Boys over Flowers, for its strong friendships and the gritty, real-world atmosphere of Jan Di’s life outside of Shin Hwa High


  1. What! I can watch a whole episode! Sweet! I'm making my husband rewatch it with me this time around - because I need someone else to agree with me about how awesome it is. He's also seen enough Kdramas know to probably appreciate how succinct Nobuta's plotline is.
    Nobuta power.. enter! *siiiighs*

    1. I just watched To the Beautiful You, and it really made me appreciate how great Nobuta was. Each individual episode had something specific to say and its own, stand-alone plot, giving the viewer ten satisfying story arcs with beginnings, middles, and ends. In contrast, most Kdramas seem to string together a series of scenes, slap a cliff-hanger on the end, and call it an episode.

      It looks as if I'm the only person on the entire internet who liked To the Beautiful You, anyways. ;)

    2. I was thinking of giving that a try tonight - I watched the first two episodes of Faith and all I get is big blaaaaaah. And actually, contrary to some other reviewers who only like LMH and his character, I am strongly coming to the opinion that he is way overrated and not all that pretty. Honestly, he bores me, and he needs a haircut.

      I compare him to Lee Joon Ki (read me out before you kill me now): Both have not always chosen the best of dramas, but when they have halfway decent roles, LJK brings so much more to it than LMH. And I'm saying this as someone who really liked City Hunter (flaws and all). But when it comes to what sticks with you.. comparing the two pretties.. Joon Ki is just so much more my boy - and he of course, can actually act. I was really hoping Faith would test and stretch LMH's acting abilities - but he just looks and acts just like he's always looked and acted, whereas even with LJK's more blaaher roles (and yes that will be a word, once I send my petition into Webster), he still gives it more than the role calls for. Then again, this insightful rant may just still be leftovers from a world where there is no more TMDW to watch.. OK: I'll make a deal with LMH. Play a bad guy believably, and still be hot*ahem*a convincing actor, and I'll totally change my opinion of him.

      Off to The Beautiful You.

  2. Okay, so this goes on my ridiculously long watch list... Pretty much anything called a "coming of age" story with the information that someone cried a lot watching it will go on my watch list. I'm a total sucker for bittersweet growing up tales.

    *Funnily enough I just started reading Notes from Underground last night (it's been sitting on my bookshelf for 2 years, but that's another story), I'm wondering if I should be concerned... is 60% Notes from Underground a good thing???

    1. I love those moody Russian authors, so in my book—if you'll pardon the pun—Notes from Underground isn't a bad thing to emulate. The characters in the few Japanese dramas I've watched have all had this intense sensitivity to everything around them that reminds me of the uptight woundedness of the Underground Man. It's hard to image that anyone could go through life taking every little slight and trauma so seriously. It sure makes for great angst, though ;)

  3. I am almost finished watching it!! I am part of the way through episode 10. I made the comment to Forrest that the Japanese always seem to put an artistic flare into everything and make the strangest things suddenly become so profound. I love the odd charm of this show and the depth it holds about the difficulty of being a teenager and how your friends can make or break you.

    I am going to try to finish Nobuta Wo Produce and start Arang and To the Beautiful You today. My week has been insanely busy, so sadly I have not had much time for kdramas/jdramas or blogging :( Darn real world... On the other hand, I officially start my new job on September 4th!! My new boss was willing to wait 2 weeks to appease my current boss and keep me out of any legal trouble she might want to cause with my teaching certificate by me leaving before she has "released" me. *mumbles under breath* passive aggressive !%#!!

    1. For some reason, I expected the difference between dramas of Asian nations to be like the difference between American and Canadian television—beyond some slight accent differences, it's barely possible to tell them apart. But that's not the case at all, is it? In tone, they're totally different: Japanese dramas are profound, Korean dramas as utterly innocent, and Taiwanese dramas are violent. (Okay. So I've watched all of one episode of one Taiwanese drama at this point, but this show at least certainly fits the bill.)

      I hope you like To the Beautiful You...I sense an obsession coming on =X

      Also, congratulations on your new job! It's great that everything worked out in the end...and that new place sounds like a fabulous opportunity. I hope the transition is a smooth one :)

    2. AHHHHH!!! I am so cracked out on TTBY and Arang!!! They both are so good so far!! I can't wait for more episodes!! I am so scared I am going to get my expectations up and they are going to bomb like Big... I don't know if I can handle the heartbreak again...

    3. I love them so far, too. To borrow from the Olympic coverage of gymnastics, they both have a lower degree of difficultly than Big did. To abuse the metaphor, that show was so high concept it was like walking a balance beam, while TTBY and Arang are more like walking down a nice, flat road. So here's hoping that they won't totally blow it and lead us destroyed, like last time :b

  4. Saw earlier comments how you dropped History of Salaryman...and as a fellow American gone nuts over Kdrama, I think you're missing out. I LOVE THAT SHOW!! Though the last two episodes made me let go of ALL of my logic, what the hey...let's just enjoy the ride! (Like we often have to when we watch doesn't make sense, but hey! it's soooo gooodddd....)

    1. I've actually vowed to give History of a Salaryman a second chance... I was lukewarm about first episodes of shows I ended up really loving, so I'm not going to hold my initial "meh" against this one ;)

  5. This was the first Jdrama that I watched, wonderful show was wonderful :) I wouldn't mind to recommend you another awesome Jdramas if you want to :)

    Love your blog btw!!

  6. Just finished watching this based on your excellent recommendation. As I reread your blog, your entry about episode 10 pretty much was my same reaction... there was indeed A lot of weeping and I hardly ever cry at Kdrama (except for Coffee Prince where I openly bawled ~unabashed I was. Your writing is awesome as always.

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