10 Representative Jdramas of the 2010s (so far)

This post is inspired by, or rather, is a reply to this excellent question posted by an anon to @jdramaconfessions. I first posted this on my tumblr but I thought I would post it here too.

Of course, the best answer to that question of what are the representative dramas of this current decade can only be written in about 2025, when there is enough time to look back and take stock of what dramas actually stood the test of time. As it is, there are still 3.5 years left to the decade – and if 2013 and 2016 was any indication, one fairly good year could give us a couple of hits. That being said, I’m going to try.

I think the best place to start, when trying to curate a list of representative dramas is first to ask – how exactly does one define representative and what are these dramas supposed to be representative of?

The word ‘representative’ is tricky to me because it implies something different than ‘favourite’. When asked for a list of ‘favourite’ dramas, it’s definitely personal, and there’s no need to try to choose something objectively. But the word ‘representative’ implies that there has to be some sense of objectivity to one’s choice, even though I agree with the admin of jdramaconfessions that at the end of the day, personal preference still comes into play.

I define representative in three ways.

Firstly, by memorability. We are still living this decade out, so it’s hard to say which dramas will stand the test of time in the next decade or so. Still, I’m sure that there are a number of dramas from the early 2010s that cling on to our minds and are still referred to often.

Secondly, by popularity. I don’t mean to say that every popular show that has come out in the past decade is automatically memorable or representative drama. In fact, quite the contrary. Every season will inevitably have its own popular drama. But there are a number of dramas that have exploded in popularity and I feel that it is then valid to give them a spot on the list. After all, to an extent, popularity indicates a show’s ability to resonate with a wide audience. I will also try to choose dramas that are popular both domestically and internationally. Making popularity a criteria is also why I sadly exclude excellent dramas like the Oguri-led BORDER and gothic drama Karamazov no Kyodai – both were insanely memorable and unique to me, but perhaps not commercially popular enough to make them ‘representative’.

Thirdly, by innovation. This is also a way to address the question of ‘What exactly are these choices supposed to be representative of’? Jdrama is a big umbrella of many sub-genres. A representative drama of one sub-genre (say romance) may not always be representative of the entire group. Though to be sure, there are times when they overlap. So what I mean by ‘innovation’ is any given drama’s ability to give fresh life to their genres, and bring something new to the table. It’s a drama’s ability to be either be excellent within the constraints of its genre, or conversely, its ability to push the boundaries of the genre.

With that being said, I’ve got chosen a couple of dramas I think fit the bill – In no particular order!


1)     Hanzawa Naoki

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I’m putting this one first because @midnightrain910 brought it up. Yes. Personally I didn’t think Hanzawa Naoki was THAT great, but boy was it adored by repressed salarymen all over Japan. I literally had 2 of my (Japanese) managers come up to me to ask me if I’d watched it – on separate occasions! I mean shame on any 2013 Japan enthusiast who didn’t know the “bai-gaeshi” catchphrase. It also cemented Masato Sakai’s reputation as a credible and commercially viable actor.

2)     JIN 2

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I thought JIN 2 was inferior to the first season, but I included it anyway because I wanted to somehow squeeze JIN into this list. JIN is the historical, time-travel, medical drama OF DREAMS. It was so well-acted and so unexpectedly good. Just last year my Turkish colleague was raving about it to me. In that sense, I think it is an internationally accessible jidaigeki with a lot of heart.

3)     Strawberry Night

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Ok so, if you were to compare Strawberry Night with the MANY other Japanese crime/detective dramas, you wouldn’t find it definitive or groundbreaking. But still, it was GOOD. Sure I may be biased, but look, it lasted 2 SPs, 1 full season and 1 movie. If that’s not a testament of its popularity I don’t know what is. It managed to weave a bit of romance into it too. Also I think this is the series that threw Nishijima Hidetoshi into the limelight. He’s been around for ages, but I don’t think he had done anything since Asunaro Hakusho that was really popular until Strawberry Night.

4)     Juhan Shuttai!

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Juhan Shuttai! never set out to be critically acclaimed or sold itself like it was a precious gem filled with top actors. Nah, it set out to be a feel-good show but boy was it that and MORE. It just goes to show that great characterisation and a solid plot will bring a show far. That’s not to say that the actors weren’t good. A few of them were excellent, some of them were serviceable. I just wanted to point out that unlike some shows (cough Triangle, cough Rich Man Poor Woman, cough MOZU), they didn’t overpromise and underdeliver. Also, oftentimes well-written dramas happen to be so serious. I would really love to see more in the vein of Juhan Shuttai! (And Legal High, if I might add).

5)     Quartet (2017) – Not to be confused with the other jdrama of the same name

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Putting this in despite not having watched it because all the reviewers that I trust to give an honest opinion found that it lived up to its hype. THANK GOOD HEAVENS. After giving the couple of examples above of how a good cast doth not a good drama make, I’m glad that Quartet can now live on as the drama which BROUGHT IT. Also I wasn’t about to make this list without Mitsushima Hikari (If Quartet hadn’t made it I would have put in Woman). She’s one of most excellent actresses to have surfaced this decade. It’s so odd because I remember her from Folder5 days – and who would’ve known she’d be here today.

6)     Marks no Yama

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To me this must have been the drama that put WOWOW on the map. It was that drama that made everyone sit up and realise that WOWOW wasn’t just a second-rate channel airing foreign shows. It had a good strategy going – a very strong understanding of its niche, and the willingness to ignore popular models and idols and go for gritty, well-written fare instead. Because I’m ultimately quite a frivolous drama fan, I must have to say most of WOWOW posters (and shows) don’t really attract me, but the couple that I have watched have wow-ed me (pardon the pun).

7)     Itazura na Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo

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Ok it was a toss up between Good Morning Call and this one, neither of which I watched by the way. Well I did attempt one episode of GMC but I just….couldn’t. The truth is, now that I teach Japanese high-schoolers, it’s very hard for me to watch dramas with them in it. Though in a sense I’ve outgrown the genre, it’s more of a ‘this hits too close to home’ thing. That being said, high school dramas are a staple of drama world and it’d be weird not to include at least one. So I just went with which one I heard about the most.

Admittedly, the early to mid 2000s were a heyday for high school dramas to me. I’m hard-pressed to find a Stand Up! or Nobuta wo Produce among the current lot of dramas. They just don’t make them like they did anymore. That’s not to say it has been bad. I thoroughly enjoyed Narimiya Hiroki and Niigaki Risa trying their darndest to act like teens in Yankee Kun to Megane Chan. I was impressed that Piece managed to build itself into a dark mystery cum social commentary despite having pretty weak actors. I heard Sprout was cute. THAT SAID, none of them could be considered representative in my book.

As such, Itazura na Kiss stands out for being one rare remake that actually became as popular as its predecessor – and which was one teen drama to capture the hearts of international tumblrites.

8)     Saikou no Rikon

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Not only was this the show that introduced me to the genius that is Ono Machiko, it was the drama that turned the romance drama genre on its head. Its dialogue was witty, it was unapologetically real. And I think it made more writers sit up and realise that it’s the 2010s and they should really be challenging romcom stereotypes, not mindlessly rehashing them again and again.

9)     We Got Married as a Job

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@repinipi brought this up and yes, HOLY SMOKES this was THE romcom of 2016. It took Japan by storm. Till now theme song Koi is still on the top 10 of karaoke charts. My kids went wild when we teachers danced it at grad party. People still talk about the drama and Hoshino Gen is capitalising on it. Solidly written, it managed to be realistic, though the circumstances were obviously way to fictional to happen in real life. In 2020, I think this drama will still be looked upon fondly.

10) HiGH & LOW

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I thought about this. I thought about this long and hard because, should H&L even be considered on the same plane as other dramas? At its core, it’s more of a promotional vehicle. But it just threw the delinquent/gang genre and shook it up into it’s own visually brilliant spectacle. It will probably never find its place among mainstream audiences in Japan. But it has grown its own dedicated fan base. If anything I’d compare it to Tokusatsu and Takarazuka fandoms. They are niche, but there are there, they are proud, and they are ready to throw some bills. LDH took J&A’s ambition and promotional ideas, then stepped it up a couple of notches. If anything, the business savvy of this company puts the entire series on this list.

Final Thoughts

I am just one person who simply hasn’t had much time to watch as much jdrama as I’d like. So its inevitable that I would have missed some out. Also, to make the arbitrary number of 10, I was unable to put some other picks on (trust me I would put either SPEC, Yae no Sakura, or Sanada Maru in in a heartbeat). Well, it wouldn’t be representative if too many made the list eh? Lastly, please remember, objective as I try to be, feel free to agree or disagree. Let me know your picks! 🙂

10 Representative Jdramas of the 2010s (so far)

[eng subs] Fukuyado Honpo ~ Kyoto Love Story Ep 5

Well this certainly took awhile, but I’m glad to be back with a new episode to share. Thank you for your patience 🙂 This one is one of my favourite of the series because it features a lot of cute banter.

I have timed the softsubs to MQ raws I found. I will hardsub them once I get my hands on HQ raws, so in the meantime please do not take these to modify as captions/hardsubs/streams.

If anyone can supply HQ (720p/1080p) raws, please hit up my askbox, I’d be really grateful.  

Rules:

– Please do not steal these files and claim them as your own.

– Please do not repost. Reblog / Link people to this blog or to this masterpost.

Thanks y’all 🙂

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subs | raw (credit) | masterpost

As a recap, here are some terms explained in the previous episodes that I don’t translate:

ojousan – young miss/miss

onechan – big sister (usually how Hina is referred to)

okami – lady boss

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T/N: There’s a part in this episode where Iori is invited to a tea ceremony. Hana is not pleased with her mum for inviting him, because she thinks it’s her mum of trying to make Iori look bad. This is because tea ceremonies involve complex steps, including what you say before drinking the tea, how you hold the cup, how you put it down and what you say after. Not knowing all that may make the person look uncouth. But Iori still does well because he tries his best, remains calm and speaks as politely as he can.

[eng subs] Fukuyado Honpo ~ Kyoto Love Story Ep 5

WOWOW Cold Case: Towards Better Race Representation in Jdrama

While it’s fairly easy to keep up the myth of Japanese racial homogeneity in more rural areas, any trip to big cities like Tokyo and Osaka will assure you that Japan is not as homogenous as it seems. Immigrants (both legal and illegal), long-term and short-term workers, tourists, children of inter-marriages – all these make up a diverse population. And for a long time, even when people of other races were portrayed on Japanese TV, it has been at best embarrassing, at worst incredibly racist.

Then Cold Case comes along, and makes me sit up because of its willingness to bring up race without it being the MAIN POINT of the show. Different races exist within the Cold Case universe, as it should, given that the show’s set around Tokyo, Kanagawa and Yokohama. So I decided to explore how this show deals with race, and what I like about its attempt to do so.

Three things to note: For convenience I’m just going to lump all these people into one broad category of ‘foreigners’, but it is too simplistic to name describe them all that way. Also, even though I think Cold Case is a sign of dramas moving in the right direction, it does not mean that I think their race representations are perfect. Thirdly, my posts are extremely spoiler-y.

Here goes.

1)      Foreigners exist as people and not as caricatures

What immediately sets Cold Case apart is how many foreigners are presented to us, and how varied their backgrounds are. We have the illegal Filipino immigrant, the Spanish-speaking bi-racial janitor, the bright Brazilian art student who dropped out to vandalise on the streets, the proud and beautiful Korean post-WWII prostitute. Sure, not one of these are portrayals of upper class (or even middle class) foreigners, which is a shame, but we do get a greater range of people. We also get a greater range of personalities, which is important because foreigners are so often stereotyped as either evil thugs or naïve, always happy child-adults. Too simplistic.

Take for example the Filipino lady who was afraid to come out and confess what she witnessed. Essentially, she is a person who wants to do the right thing, which is why she confesses even years after the incident. She didn’t just let it be. Yet on the other hand, one could argue that she shouldn’t have withheld such important information for so long. It’s a grey area, and within the context of the show, this is presented without moral judgement.

Detective Yuri’s reaction to the situation is basically this: You withheld information because you didn’t want to be caught for illegally entering Japan? Ok, makes sense, now tell us what you know.

Then there’s the Brazilian artist. He’s compassionate and kind, but he’s also a small-time criminal, what with all his vandalism. He has valid complaints that he gets treated more harshly by police than Japanese people who break the law. However he still has to admit that just because the police aren’t fair doesn’t mean he’s in the right.

2)      Foreigners are the victims of crime perpetuated by locals

Episode 6 was both difficult to watch but also praise-worthy precisely it portrayed violence in such a realistic manner, making sure that there was no doubt as to how horrific it was. But it’s also incredible in that it’s not just any violent crime – rape and murder were the subject matters. As you know, rape is a really touchy issue in East Asia, mostly due to Japan’s refusal to admit to using Korean and Chinese women as comfort women during WWII. While this episode is set post-war and not during the war, it essentially admits that there are rapists among the Japanese, despicable men who think they are great, men who think they are acting in Japan’s interests but are actually prejudiced jerks. I mean, well done show.

Sujeong as a character is doubly disadvantaged in post-war Japan. She’s Korean and she’s a prostitute – either way despised.

What’s clever about Ep 6 is that we see Suzaki Kiyoshi, a Japanese man, slowly fall in love with her and accept her despite her being a prostitute. He tries to save her against the vigilantes, but here’s the catch – the moment she confesses to being Korean he’s at a lost. In a way I feel like the narrative makes some excuses for him like – Oh, he was in shock. His life had been a lie and it was just a lot to take in. He saved her from being raped by more men…

But then in the rape scene we see Sujeong plead continuously to him and bites him when he tries to keep her quiet. Even as she’s gagged she keeps looking up at him.

Again, this isn’t a simplistic angry kid or naïve happy-go-lucky adult-child. Here I am comparing Sujeong with other portrayals of foreigners. Yokokuhan (the 2015 movie) for example, featured a young Filipino boy, but I felt like he was way to naive and forgiving to be believable. It actually felt a bit condescending.

Meanwhile this is a Korean woman – fiercely nationalistic, loving and motherly, proud and resourceful, but ultimately cruelly overwhelmed by the Japanese.

He killed her – and there’s no excuse. Suzaki acknowledges that. Acknowledges that his prejudices were wrong, and he did something horrible, both in his actions and by his initial inaction. He experiences genuine regret. When discussing race, it’s refreshing to see a character realise his wrongdoings and repent. Not forgetting that he spells out that discrimination still exists in Japan. I mean, really, well done show.

With this development, I feel mildly optimistic. Here’s to no more brown faces, black people = hip hop mentality, and embarrassing ads featuring ‘white’ men with long noses

WOWOW Cold Case: Towards Better Race Representation in Jdrama

[eng subs] Fukuyado Honpo ~ Kyoto Love Story Ep 4

I think it’s perfectly fine for women to be portrayed as being supportive of the men they love. I think it’s fair to say that if you love someone you would want them to succeed and do whatever you can to see that they do. But I love it even more when it is a man who willingly supports a woman in fulfilling her dream or doing what she loves. That’s my favourite thing about this episode.

I have timed the softsubs to MQ raws I found. I will hardsub them once I get my hands on HQ raws, so in the meantime please do not take these to modify as captions/hardsubs/streams.

If anyone can supply HQ (720p/1080p) raws, please hit up my askbox, I’d be really grateful.  

Rules:

– Please do not steal these files and claim them as your own.

– Please do not repost. Reblog / Link people to this blog or to this masterpost.

Thanks y’all 🙂

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(Oh yass, azuki!)

 subs | raw (credit) | recap | masterpost

*P.S. My family’s coming over for a holiday, and I haven’t seen them since I’ve moved to Japan so, I’ll be taking a couple of weeks break from subbing to spend proper time with them. I’ll continue midway in Jan. 

[eng subs] Fukuyado Honpo ~ Kyoto Love Story Ep 4

20 Narimiya Hiroki facts you may or may not know

So Narimiya’s retirement announcement hit me a little harder than I expected. I’d never thought of myself as a big fan, but as I said, I’ve been watching a number of his interviews this year. And of course, the year I start to really be interested is the year he decides to leave. For me, I feel that it’s wise of him to take care of himself first, but there’s also a part of me that is sad about it.

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But anyway, I digress. There’s been a lot of information and probably misinformation floating around about Narimiya. He is a generally private person and does fewer appearances, and very few of these appearances are subbed, the English speaking fandom may not know that much about him.

So for people who are interested, I’m going to pull out facts from interviews and appearances that I’ve watched. Please note that these are not exhaustive and also most of these facts are from recent appearances. He really is an interesting person.

Continue reading “20 Narimiya Hiroki facts you may or may not know”

20 Narimiya Hiroki facts you may or may not know

‘Dear Sister’ Reinvents the Wheel: Misaki’s Pregnancy

I previously wrote about Dear Sister being one female-centric show in recent years that has really risen above the rest in terms of careful storytelling and well-written characters. It’s not that it’s incredibly groundbreaking, but it makes small changes to make characters more believable, and dare I say, more relatable.

So for a while I’ve been thinking of writing a more in-depth series where I write about what I most love about the show.

First let’s start with how the show handled Misaki’s pregnancy.  How can you encourage people to value human life and hopefully prevent a greying population? It has nothing to do with shaming people for their lifestyle choices (women being the main victims of such arguments) or awkwardly slotting in research data in the drama. It has everything to do with showing that human life is to be celebrated, a burden that can also bring happiness.

In light of this, these are four ways in which I think Dear Sister dealt with unwed pregnancy well.

1)     Misaki was not slut-shamed

One of the most amazing things about this show, to me, was how Misaki’s family reacted her being pregnant. Sure, Hazuki couldn’t stand the way Misaki would get with countless men and not get her life together in the way she herself (supposedly) had. But this was only early in the show. She didn’t nag or say anything demeaning to Misaki when she found out that Misaki was pregnant. She was mostly hurt that she didn’t hear it from her sister herself. Other than that, she was elated to find out that she was going to get a niece or nephew.

There was no huge tirade that I so often see on Asian dramas along the lines of “You’re such a disgrace to the family!” or, “How could you be so careless and irresponsible and get yourself pregnant!”

I couldn’t help thinking that this is the family support system that would be good for unwed/single mothers to have.

Also, while it was just a tad unrealistic, Misaki’s enemies in the hostess bar also congratulate her when they see her visibly pregnant. They acknowledge the fact that she doesn’t have to be alone, and that was a nice moment where life is not only seen as precious, but was great because it didn’t lead to more gossip and bad mouthing – another drama staple. You know – “Oh my god have you heard, that slut’s pregnant!”, “Whose child is it?” or, “I don’t know but…” – that sort of thing.

2)     Misaki was determined to keep the baby

Throughout the show we start to see how creative Misaki is in terms of making and saving money. I know this is a rather controversial subject and people have differing opinions, but personally I thought that Misaki not resorting to abortion because she wasn’t financially stable, or married, or had a roof over her head, sent an empowering message. Her child was the catalyst for her to start making more responsible decisions.

This by no means meant that Misaki became a model citizen. However, it showed how bearing a child informs the woman as a person in ways that can be positive. It also showed that women are strong even when they make decisions that might not be considered ‘world-changing’. By deciding to keep the baby, by quitting alcohol in a pressurising environment…Misaki showed her strength and determination as a person.

3)     Misaki didn’t feel the need to marry to raise her child

Sure Misaki does end up marrying Eito at the end of the series, but the series makes it very clear that it wasn’t because she needed him in order to bring up the baby. In fact, Eito was just one person in her support system that she could reach out to if she needed it. I think this is important because this  show’s stand is clear. You don’t end up in a marriage that is linked together only by guilt or duty (though duty is a part of marriage).  That is not a healthy response to the situation. Instead, having a child and marriage as an entity are both respected for their own worth.

Marriage between two loving persons is a good thing. But marriage simply because you can’t bring up a child otherwise is not a very empowering message. If anyone has watched Shitsuren Chocolatier you would know that this was the kind of unhealthy message that was sent out when Saeko went back to her abusive husband after finding out she was pregnant. Though it was made to seem like he repented of his ways, I find it highly disturbing that they would show a female character making such a dangerous decision. I’m glad Dear Sisterdidn’t go down that road, even though I have to say, Misaki’s baby daddy Soichiro isn’t nearly as bad as that abusive husband in Shitsuren Chocolatier.

4)     Misaki had a support system to rely on

It takes a village to raise a child, and Dear Sister is a show which shows Misaki being surrounded by a village. Her mum, her sister, Yohei, Yohei’s sister…All these are people who take care of Misaki and who Misaki can turn to.

Without shoving it down my throat the show sent an important message. Women can help women. Men can help women, without needing a romantic or sexual relationship in return.

With empathy and kindness one can have the strength and opportunity to follow through with life decisions.

‘Dear Sister’ Reinvents the Wheel: Misaki’s Pregnancy

[Eng Subs] Fukuyado Honpo ~ Kyoto Love Story Ep 3

I loved many many things about this episode. Hana and Kenji cute big bro-little sis relationship, the beauty of Kyoto (and the Fukuyoshi sisters!), Kenji’s face when he looks at Arare…Enjoy! 🙂

I have timed the softsubs to MQ raws I found. I will hardsub them once I get my hands on HQ raws, so in the meantime please do not take these to modify as captions/hardsubs/streams.

If anyone can supply HQ (720p/1080p) raws, please hit up my askbox, I’d be really grateful.  

Rules:

– Please do not steal these files and claim them as your own.

– Please do not repost. Reblog / Link people to this blog or to this masterpost.

Thanks y’all 🙂

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subs | raw (credit) | recap | masterpost

Note: Due to some video compatibility issues with aegisub, around 12mins on the subs appear a split second faster than they should. This should not affect your viewing in any way, unless you are a perfectionist like me. But I just wanted to let y’all know in advance.

[Eng Subs] Fukuyado Honpo ~ Kyoto Love Story Ep 3