I don’t usually do recaps because I am a self-aware person, and as a self-aware person I know that the chances of me recapping every single episode of a 10-11 episode long series is as good as catching a unicorn. Still, I’m doing this because this show seems to have gone suspiciously under the radar, which surprises me because it’s not like it has completely unknown actors. Also, it’s a romance live action drama, so while it’s not been picked up for subbing, I thought it would have at least generated a little buzz. No such luck, this Amazon original remains undetected by most radars.
Then there’s the fact that I’m learning sado (Japanese traditional tea ceremony) right now, and I have a newfound appreciation for wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets).
But mostly I want to do this because this show actually has quite a number of story and character tropes that I am a SUCKER for. Stoic beauty, restrained desire, friends turned lovers, some comedy….In a nutshell, this could end really well or really badly for me. So far, so good, because it’s exceeded my expectations so far in terms of story development. I’ll explain.
It’s usually with trepidation that I start any show which has a narration in the beginning that goes something to the effect of “And it’s here that we fell in love.” My mind immediately drifts to cheesy plotlines, didactic rants on gender, and plain lack of logic. But so far Kyoto Love Story has shown itself to be different in a couple of ways. Mainly, the storylines in KLS seem to start midway. Sparing us lengthy narrations on the past or the conventional buildup, the first episode is instead peppered with timely flashbacks (not needlessly indulgent like say, Ouroboros, but just enough to perk your interest).
We’re plonked right into the conversation between the proprietress of a traditional confectionary and her three daughters, mainly her second one. She insists that Arare marry the confectionary’s young chef Kenji because she intends to hand over the production side to him, but wants to keep the business in the family.
That’s how they’ve kept the shop going for 17 generations, and it would be inappropriate to let it go to someone outside of the family. Arare loses her cool and tries to fight against it. At the end of the episode, she stomps out of the house in anger due to this issue.
But it’s not that simple. This main plotline is the convergence of many subplots that unfold as the episode goes on.
First of all, Kenji and Arare are in no way strangers. Though we don’t know this until midway through the episode, he’s grown up in Fukuyado. Arare and him are close friends, and the show makes it plain that for all her indignance, Arare has a curious sexual attraction to him.
Kenji on the other hand, is honest. He first says that it’s great that marrying her would mean he inherits the business, but not long after he surprises her by saying that it’s not like he hates her either. In a conversation that I found emotionally candid (and rare, given the genre I’m watching her), he asks her if it’s taking over the business that upsets her, or the thought of marrying him.
It’s only after this that we get a flashback to a young Arare crying and asking him not to go. It seems that Kenji might have had feelings for her longer than he lets on. In any case, I’m very interested to know what went down when they were kids that caused her to act that way.
What makes this whole thing more interesting is that Kenji was initially promised to Arare’s elder sister Hina. Hina, the charming and responsible initial heir, manages to get out of the family business by accepting a proposal. It seems like for all her dedication, Hina can’t stand being at the shop.
To complicate things further, it is revealed that Hina and talented kabuki actor Soujuro seem to once have been lovers and still carry a flame for each other, despite her accepting the proposal of another man. Not sure what’s going on there but I’m pretty curious about it.
One episode in and big sis Hina is already shaping up to be one of the most intriguing characters. She’s rather sweet and refined, yet cold, and there seems to be a lot of baggage she’s holding on to. Could she have hated being forced to learn the ropes of the business as an heir from a young age?
Which brings us, by the way, back to Arare, who for all her balking actually wanted to take over the business as a child!
I feel that mum must have realised how much more invested Arare was to making wagashi than her eldest daughter was, but also had to abide by the tradition of letting the eldest inherit the shop. We’ll know in time.
In any case, mum’s doing her a favour by giving her what she’s always wanted, and marrying her to a guy she is at least on some level attracted to (if not romantically so), but STILL she storms out of the house. You know why? Judging by what I see, it’s because she is as stubborn as a mule. And you know what? I actually find that really relatable. She’s not getting a bad deal, but the problem is that she’s given the deal in a forced manner. So she retaliates. Can’t tell you the number of times this has happened in my household *cough*.
There’s also little sister Hana, who is a lovely child, but not old enough to take over the business. So far she’s not done anything except to be coerced to do thing and/or nagged at by her elder sisters, which is also really relatable if you’ve ever had siblings. I’m not really interested in her as a character right now, but we’ll wait and see if her story shapes up differently.
So in conclusion, the acting in this one isn’t the strongest. But so far the story is making up for it. If they keep this up I’ll be satisfied enough with serviceable acting.