Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Switch Girl!!: Review
In just a few words, Switch Girl!! was what I have been looking for in J-doramas since I watched my first one last year. It's the right mix of hilarious, heartwarming, and romantic, which is a feat in itself for any drama, let alone a rom com from Japan.
Overview and Personal Thoughts
Switch Girl!! got me from the first episode, and I feel like I should preface this review by mentioning that I have NOT read the source material (the show is based on a manga). Nonetheless, I loved nearly everything about it, and what got me right in the heart was the OTP.
It's rare that you find a J-dorama almost solely devoted to romance--something that is notoriously lacking in the Japanese television industry. But SG turned that notion on its head and gave us proper OTP interactions chock full of flirty moments and kisses up the wazoo. The lead couple were not afraid of skinship, nor did they look stiff and uncomfortable in each other's presence despite their eight-year age gap in real life. Everything about their interactions was cavalier and natural, in the way I always describe the Coffee Prince OTP to have been. And the best part? Their relationship was entirely relatable and felt real.
It was really one of those shows that left you with a full heart at the end, instead of a deep-seeded consternation or want of something more. I was perfectly happy with the end and where the OTP was left off, and any problems I had with the plot were unrelated to the relationship between Nika and Arata themselves, which is rarely the case with J-doramas for me.
Tamiya Nika (Nishiuchi Mariya) has the appearance of a perfect high school student. She prides herself on looking her best and has a great sense of loyalty to her friends. The only problem is, Nika has a debilitating secret: when she goes home, she switches her school uniform for sweatshirts, her contacts for glasses, and her curls for awkward buns, and spends most of her time reading manga in her "safety" underwear (read: granny panties)--what she considers her "off" mode. No one at school knows her secret except her best friend Nino, until one day, when Nika meets Kamiyama Arata (Kiriyama Renn), a new transfer student who learns her secret right away.
Completely opposite from Nika in every way, Arata also has his own switch mode. Except, his "on" mode is the reverse of Nika's "on" mode. Arata, normally handsome and attractive, chooses to wear thick glasses around his peers so they won't know what he really looks like. At home, he takes off his glasses and becomes good-looking again.
Nika doesn't understand Arata's switch modes. Why does he hide himself from his peers? But the more pressing question remains: Will he keep her true identity a secret or will this be the end of her perfect school reputation?
Tamiya Nika: Nika is outgoing, popular, and pure-hearted. She is the perfect role model for her friends who all look up to her, which is one of her reasons for keeping her true, sloppy personality a secret. I think Nika's character makes the show what it is--which, it should, considering she's the protagonist. She's well-rounded insofar as the story goes, with only so much personality as is required by the context of the show. As a viewer, you know what her home life is like, you know what she's like as a person, but not really anything beyond that. There's no change from episode 1 to episode 8 for Nika, and that's where I think the show failed at showing some development. I think she's a well-developed TWO-DIMENSIONAL character and that for being such a young actress, Nishiuchi did a fantastic job with what she was given. I also let the lack of character development slide for one major reason: time constraints. The show was eight, 20-min episodes, so they didn't have much time to explore character traits beyond what was needed to move the story forward.
Kamiyama Arata: Arata, I hate to say it even though it's true, was so terribly cliche in the beginning. HOWEVER, the one major reason why I fell in love with him was because he wasn't an asshole. He started off being a jerk, but that's explained by his background and there's actual motivation behind it. Even so, he sheds that prickliness pretty quickly in favor of other emotions as he gets closer to Nika, and I learned to love him by the end of the first episode. You know from the second he runs off after Nika's underpants-photo-stealer, that he's not a bad guy at all. He's just a wounded kid with a rough background who doesn't want to be hurt again by another woman, so he comes off a bit standoffish. That doesn't necessarily translate to "prick," in this case, because Arata warms up to Nika almost immediately, which I loved. As far as acting, Kiriyama Renn played the subtleties of Arata's character with brilliant finesse. Where Nishiuchi might have been a little heavy-handed as was required by Nika's personality, Kiriyama was softer and fit right into Arata's shoes. I was also impressed by how well the production pulled off turning a 27-year-old into a 18- or 19-year-old high schooler.
Plot and Pacing
Plot and pacing was something that was never a problem for this drama because of its length. At only eight episodes and around 20-ish minutes per episode, the production had very little time to communicate the ideas they needed to. Because I've never read the manga, my thoughts on the plot come solely from the content of the drama and nothing else.
Despite its length, one thing SG did quite well was communicate the relationships between the characters, particularly Nika and Arata. If you take a moment to think about it, there was really no other plot to the show other than their budding romance and the various episode-by-episode conflicts that they had to overcome. J-doramas are infamous for that episodic format which tends to be lacking in K-dramas and TW-dramas, but usually even Japanese series have an overarching problem the characters need to solve by the last episode. That wasn't the case with SG, and the show stayed in that episodic format until the very end. The big ending conflict only arose in episode 7 with the introduction of Someya. Even so, I'm going to argue that the entire plot of SG was the relationship between Nika and Arata. Most of the conflicts they dealt with throughout the course of the series pushed the two of them closer together in some way or another. This culminated with the introduction of Someya, who was the final hurdle for Nika and Arata before they could be completely happy together.
Personally, I'm satisfied with this argument. The show didn't leave me wanting some other conflict, and had they chosen to focus even more on Nika's switch mode, I probably would have felt jipped by the romance aspect. For a drama of this length, I think the production did well by leaving us with more OTP time and less of the other stuff. The show became about them, and I was perfectly content with that.
The soundtrack for Switch Girl!! was definitely nothing to write home about. Certainly not in the realm of, say, Hana Yori Dango's Planetarium or anything at all. If I can't remember a song from the show off the top of my head, then there was nothing memorable for me in the OST.
The wardrobe for Switch Girl!! was also nothing to write home about. Kiriyama Renn looked shmexy no matter was he was wearing, and Nishuichi Mariya (when she was in her "on" mode) was gorgeous as all get out. Super cute hair and makeup, and even her "off" mode appearance was entirely believable. The wardrobe department definitely communicated chic and sexy schoolgirl/boy when they were at school, and proficient fashionista when Nika was walking around town.
Cinematography/Sets and Scenery
J-doramas are not exactly known for brilliant cinematography or sets in the way that Korean dramas are. Mostly because their production values tend to be lower. Still, the hillside next to the path that Nika and Arata took on the way home was pretty to look at, and all the sets were appropriate for the ideas they were trying to communicate. Nothing super outstanding.
I really consider SG to be a dark horse drama this year, along with Kingyo Club. It seems like, these days, if a school dorama doesn't have a bunch of JE idol boys running around in it, it flies entirely under the radar. Which is a shame, because out of the three school doramas I've seen this year, the two not full of idols made my all-time favorites list, while the one with all the Johnnys I found only passable. That's a major reason why I decided to write this post. This drama is such a gem, but not nearly enough people know about it to watch it, and I want to do my small part to change that. GO, go RIGHT NOW, and watch SG if you haven't already. It'll be the best four hours you've spent watching a Jdorama in a long while, I promise.
Fervent promoting aside, one of the most intriguing and subtle things this drama does incredibly well is role reversal. By its very premise, the gender roles of Nika and Arata are counter-intuitive. Nika is a pretty girl who's a slob at home, Arata's a handsome boy who's a nerd in public--Nika saves Arata from the Monkey Boss in the first episode, rather than the other way around--Nika falls for Arata first--Nika's the one constantly hitting on Arata--Nika's a slob, while Arata's a clean freak. Almost everything you'd associate with being masculine in this show is attributed to Nika, which basically turns typical gender roles on their heads. I absolutely love that. A girl that can kick ass and take care of herself? YES. Please. I'm tired of the drama leading ladies who meekly bow their heads and let themselves be walked all over.
Another thing that pulled me in personally, was SG's relatability. Who out there doesn't have secrets that they want to hide from the world? Guilty pleasures or strange interests that they don't want anyone to find out about? But not even just that--Nika's relationship with Arata was founded in reality as well, despite the show's manga-like quality and wacky execution of the premise. Their story was incredibly organic for a series that was based on a manga, and it might have had to do with the acting as much as the plot. It encapsulates many of the problems that high school teenagers go through: budding romances, breakups, guilty pleasures that you don't want your friends to know about, being there for your friends when they need you, etc. It's a short, wacky drama that has a hell of a lot of heart.
Watch it for...
Lots and lots of the funny -- I burst out laughing on more than one occasion; the SUPER adorable OTP; Kiriyama Renn's adorable face. The story is almost as frothy as it gets, but it's based in truth and comes off incredibly relatable.
Out of 10...
8/10. My go-to J-dorama of 2011. Definitely an easy watch and not one to miss.