Saturday, July 14, 2012

Love Shuffle: Episode 1 Recap

Love Shuffle was one of those dramas that I avoided for a long time because everyone raved about it. I didn't want to get my expectations up and then be utterly disappointed when I watched the show for myself. In the end, I ran out of dramas I was willing to watch, so it jumped to the top of my list, and here I am. I'm mainly watching it now because of an embarrassing fascination with Matsuda Shota and his wiry, attractive self. Tamaki Hiroshi is another favorite of mine, after Nodame Cantabile, so I decided to just bite the bullet and watch this sucker. The premise is part of the pull, and also part of the reason I was initially put off--swingers are so not my thing. It's about four adults, each of them dealing with love problems in their own right, who decide to play a game that involves "shuffling" their partners. Kind of like… speed dating, without the speed part.

Episode 1 Recap

We open in the heart of Tokyo, as a cute little red VW Beetle clanks down the road, a slew of empty cans trailing along behind the car as people watch on curiously. Inside, a cell phone rings and we see on the screen that the number is "WITHHELD." The driver of the car is AIZAWA AIRU (
Karina), and she looks out of the front windshield at the darkening Tokyo sky.

A drop of rain falls and we cut to a restaurant, where a couple sits across from each other near the windows. Paralleling the first raindrop, a tear  slips out of KAGAWA MEI'S (
Kanjiya Shihori) eye and she quickly brushes it away. She's just explained to her fiance, USAMI KEI (Tamaki Hiroshi), that she may no longer want to get married. He asks her if she's joking, and pulls out her engagement ring, which has just been finished. Mei simply apologizes over and over, head bowed, and Kei falters.

But she was so happy when they went out for karaoke the other night, he protests, and even picks up his spoon to use as a microphone as he sings the song they sang that night. He holds it out to Mei, who finishes the song half-heartedly, but it's no use. She's made up her mind and continues to apologize.

Cut back to Airu. By now, it's pouring rain and she stops under a bridge to pick up her phone. Speaking to the person on the other end of the line, she berates him for having delusions of going on a honeymoon with her. Is that why he tied all those cans to the back of her car? She tells him there are laws against stalking, but the person on the other end of the line hangs up on her, and she's left in the rain, frustrated.

Up next in the introductions is SERA OJIRO (Matsuda Shota), a photographer. He sits in his car in the parking garage of his apartment building, speaking to someone on the phone. He tells the woman that he won't be going out for yakiniku with her tonight since he's so tired and he has work early the next morning. The woman tells him to gather up all his energy, but Ojiro tells her he won't do it, because she'll just end up sucking him dry of all that energy in the end anyway. The woman hangs up on him, and Ojiro mumbles, "I told you I'm tired," sighing, and gets out of his car to go upstairs.

By happenstance, our first three leads end up getting on the elevator together, with a fourth person. This is KIKUTA MASATO (Tanihara Shosuke), a psychiatrist. It's only when this man asks them which floor they need that they realize all four of them live on the same floor. As the elevator starts to ascend, Kei looks forlornly out the glass on the far side, mumbling, "It has to be a lie."

Cue lightning strike, and the elevator screeches to a halt, halfway up the building. The doctor suggests it's probably a power failure, but Airu argues that it can't be--they're in the middle of metropolitan Tokyo, after all. Even as she says this, however, lights begin to blink out in the buildings outside and their entire section of the city is left in darkness. The elevator is also plunged into the dark, and Kei cries out, "Say it ain't so, Joe!" which seems to be his catchphrase.

The doctor attempts to get a signal on his cellphone to call someone for help as he explains the story behind that strange exclamation. Apparently, the catchphrase, "Say it ain't so, Joe!" came about from a guy named "Shoeless Joe," who was a major league baseball player. Eventually, he was accused of fixing a game and banned from baseball for the rest of his life. When the story became public, a little boy, a fan of Shoeless Joe, had cried out, "Say it ain't so, Joe!" making the phrase famous.

Masato and Airu stare outside at the dark city, and Masato assures her the problem will be fixed soon. Kei adds that even if the problem isn't fixed, a rescue will come soon enough to bail them out. Behind them, Ojiro disagrees. He tells them about a theory that claims that it's when the city is in an emergency that Tokyo stops functioning properly. Airu berates him for scaring them at a time like this. The pair begins to bicker, and Airu makes a jab about Ojiro's photography, scoffing that his pictures are probably as heartless as he is. Ojiro argues that his photos aren't heartless, but rather erotic.

"Here. I've even got some gravure shots. Wanna see?" he says, and pulls out a magazine of bikini models and hands it over to Kei.

Kei takes the magazine and lewdly flips through for a moment before sensing Airu's scathing glare on him. He hands the magazine back to Ojiro, embarrassed, "No, thanks."

Trying to break the tension, the Doc steps in and suggests that they make the formal introductions. It's rare that tenants from the same floor meet like this and they've got nothing better to do, stuck in an elevator for the time being, so everyone else nods in agreement (Airu sticking in a barb at Kei that it's probably a good idea since there was that case about a woman getting murdered by a pervert, to which Kei balks, replying, "I'm not a pervert!") and pulls out their business cards.

Kei is an IT businessman. A manager, no less, at which Masato's fairly impressed. He grins and asks, "Is it okay if I call you Usa-tan?" Kei balks, asking him why, and the Doc responds that it's a good nickname.

Next up is our resident tight ass, Airu, whom they find out is an interpreter. She speaks English, Spanish, and French in addition to Japanese. She explains that it's only because she moved around to various countries with her father growing up, that's all. Doc asks her if it's alright to call her "Ahiru-chan," ahiru meaning "duck" and Airu gives him a withering glance: "I'm AIRU. AI-ZA-WA AI-RU." The Doc's unperturbed, explaining that giving each other nicknames will make things more informal, but Airu doesn't want to be friendly with any one of them. Cutting in, Ojiro sticks out his hand to the Doc since he ran out of business cards.

Ojiro: I specialize in taking photos of women. Idols, mature women, transsexuals…
Airu: Can you actually be proud saying that?
Ojiro: Yes, I can. Women are peace to me. You know? Love and peace.

Doc laughs at the explanation and tells Ojiro that he'll have to be "Bakeratta." The reference comes from an anime called Obake no Q-taro, in which the character of "Ojiro" only has one line: "Bakeratta!" Either way, Ojiro's a bit offended by the comparison, and points at the Doc, "I don't care about all that, but who are you, anyway?" Kei chimes in, agreeing. He's a little put-off by the Doc's unnecessary need for nicknames. Airu adds that he's actually the weirdest of the bunch and Ojiro nods: "Maybe he's the pervert."

The Doc quickly assures them he's not anything of the sort, and hands them each a business card, introducing himself. He's a therapist and explains he can help them with any sort of problems they have, and that they may give him any kind of nickname they like. Straight-laced Kei replies that "Kikuta-san" will be just fine for him.

A clap of thunder breaks up their little meeting, and Airu lets out a shriek, shoving Kei to the ground instinctively. She apologizes, explaining that she's extremely frightened of thunder and lightning. Kei argues feebly from the ground: "Aren't you normally supposed to hold on to me, rather than push me away?"

The Doc bends down next to Kei, noticing a box on the ground, and picks it up. It's Mei's engagement ring, and Kei snatches it away quickly. He opens it up to replace the ring, and the others congratulate him on his impending marriage. Airu gets excited and asks him what kind of a woman his girlfriend is and how they met. She figures that a happy story would be a good idea right about now. But Kei explains that it's not as simple as all that and it's not a very happy story. Airu insists, telling him not to be so modest, but Kei maintains that it's really not a pleasant story.

Standing behind them, Ojiro adds his two cents: "Somehow, I understand your feelings. After all, they do say that marriage is the grave of life."

Kei mumbles that actually, until that morning, his story was a happy one. Grinning, the Doc asks him, "No way. Did she break off the engagement?" Kei tells him not to be so blunt about it. All three of them bend down next to him to hear the story, and Kei explains that she (as in Mei) just kept apologizing over and over. Doc says it's probably just marriage blues, and Ojiro tells him it's likely she found another man to love.

Kei argues that Mei isn't that kind of person--she's actually very serious. Airu tells him that if she's such a serious person, she probably thought through her decision carefully. Kei laments, wondering what part of him Mei doesn't like anymore. The Doc goes through Kei's credentials: he's good-looking, good at his job, and certainly makes good money if he lives on the top floor of their building like the others. Naturally, the conclusion must be that he's some kind of pervert then.

Kei stands up to defend himself, exclaiming, "I'm so normal, it's almost embarrassing!"

Airu: Then it must be a lack of personality. Good looks alone aren't enough in marriage.

Kei tells them to stop making fun of him, so Airu bites back that they're just looking out for his best interests. She folds her arms over her chest and mutters, "Maybe she doesn't like your distrustful personality." Kei gets in her face, ready to tell her off for being rude, when Doc jumps in to placate them. But he says the wrong thing by calling them by their nicknames again, and Kei turns on him instead.

Ojiro asks the Doc if he's married, and Masato reveals that he's still single. Airu flatters him, telling him that she's surprised he's not married. Being a doctor and all, she figured he'd be pretty popular with the ladies. The question is turned around on her, and Airu shies away, not wanting to talk about it. The Doc returns her compliments, saying she's beautiful, stylish, and smart, so he'd assumed she'd be popular as well. Airu mumbles that all that doesn't really work out in her favor, which is when Kei slyly puts in: "Maybe it's because you lack personality?" They bicker again, and Airu mentions that when she realizes a relationship isn't going to work out, she simply says "good-bye" and ends it.

Kei: "I would do the same if we weren't engaged. Now it concerns my parents and her parents. And the ceremony hall..." --He looks down at the engagement ring box with an almost horrified expression on his face-- "... and this ring."

Masato tries to reassure him by saying that at least now Kei knows he's not the only one in the elevator with love troubles. But Kei, the one-man pity party, won't have any of it and tells the Doc that it's not like he's sick or anything.

Sick of the complaining, Ojiro tells Kei to stop complaining: "Her feelings went away from you, that's it."

But lovelorn Kei replies that it's easy for Ojiro to blow it off because it doesn't concern him. They start to discuss the idea of love, and Ojiro comes out as the most jaded, saying that he doesn't really believe in the whole idea. Humans are fickle--they get together for a bit and then they get sick of each other and split. Doc Masato and Kei disagree, with Kei saying that he knows of couples who are happy for life and Doc saying that maybe it's a matter of chemistry, rather than love.

That seems to be a novel concept for all of them, and the Doc explains further: "Love changes easily. To prevent this process, good chemistry between the partners is necessary. Not just things like 'similarity in values' and things we normally decide with our brains..."

Ojiro catches on and adds, "You also need a good physical chemistry between the partners."

This is about the time when Airu doubles over in the corner of the elevator. Kei asks her what's wrong, but she brushes it off, saying it's nothing.

The guys run through the various possibilities of what might be wrong (Kei: "Are you... perhaps... pregnant?" Airu: "Idiot!" Kei: "I'm just worried!"), with Ojiro figuring she's just freaked out at being alone in an elevator with three strange men, and the Doc asking her if her stomach hurts or she's cold. But of course it's Kei who hits the nail on the head: "You have to pee!" Offended, Airu threatens him with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Kei tells her that actually, he's gotta go too.

Masato starts reasoning through the situation, explaining that women have a shorter urethra, but Airu cuts him off, embarrassed, saying she's fine.

Ojiro suddenly remembers something and rifles through his camera bag, pulling out... paper cups. HAHA. "Airu-chan... I have paper cups." Hahahahaha, I'm dying here.

Airu's horrified at just the prospect and tells him off. Ojiro mumbles that he was just joking, but Airu's clearly considering the idea.

After a few moments, Kei asks for a paper cup from Ojiro: "I can't hold it anymore. I'll do it here." HAHAHAHA.

It'll be okay if everyone faces a corner, he says. And they should sing a song while he does it so he won't be heard. Ojiro says he's in and takes a paper cup for himself. Oh, this is hilarious.

Meanwhile, Airu is freaking out in the corner, asking them if they're crazy. Ojiro turns to the Doc, and Masato holds up his hands: "Could you please leave me of out this? Compared to the way I look, I get embarrassed very easily."

Ojiro shoves a cup into his hands and then hands one to Airu, as well. Kei tells them he's going to sing to distract himself and starts to belt out...
Dancing Queen by ABBA. Bahahahaha.

Left with no other choice, they each take a corner, Airu looking heavenward to apologize to her mother... which is when the power comes back on.

I guess if you resort to nearly peeing in an elevator together, you're bound in friendship for life... Bahahaha. The four of them "Kanpai!" with their empty cups and then toss them in the air.

Cut to morning, a few days later. The director at Kei's IT company asks to speak with him. Elsewhere, Mei walks down the street, stopping in front of a wedding dress store to gaze up dreamily at a wedding gown in the window.

Turns out, the director is Mei's older brother, and wants to find out what happened to make Mei call off the engagement. Did Kei cheat on her? 
Big bro explains that Mei oftentimes does things out of the blue. Their father, the president of the IT company, goes easy on Mei and literally has no expectations of Kei, who barely graduated from a second-rate university. Ah, so that's why he's manager, then. Onii-chan explains that the president was going to make Kei the Chief of Systems Development after the wedding, but if the wedding is off, Kei will be fired on the spot.

Kei begs onii-chan for help, but Mei's brother says that their father runs the company on his own. He doesn't take advice from anyone, even his own son, and focuses on skill over anything else. Kei is an exception within an exception. He goes on to insult Kei, saying it's a pitiful sight, to watch a man who's lost out on a marriage to a wealthy woman. He says he cares about his sister and was angry when he first met Kei, thinking Mei had been conned by a cheap womanizer.

In a hilariously pitiful moment, Kei steps out into the hall for a cup of coffee after being reamed out, only the coffee machine won't work. He picks up his empty cup, threatening to pee in it if it doesn't fill with coffee.

Also at work, Airu translates American weather reports for South Dakota. Why? I'm not sure. A coworker brings her a cup of coffee and she stares at the cup, remembering the elevator incident, now with a smile on her face. She gets a call, again from a "WITHHELD" number. She asks the person on the other end of the line if he'd like to meet that night.

Next up, Ojiro, who gets scolded by his boss for making another model cry. Ojiro explains that he becomes a different person when he's looking through the lens, and that everything (his photos) always turns out for the best. His boss admits he's got talent, but Ojiro says that talent has nothing to do with anything in this business. Boss tells him it's true, he makes all the models cry, and yet they still come back, asking for him. This time is different, however. Mari-chan won't be coming back. Her pictures are selling and she's famous in the industry for her pride.

Ojiro, like the others, pours himself a cup of coffee, and stares at the familiar cup in his hands, just as Mari-chan's assistant enters the room, dressed and ready to be photographed.

Lastly, we meet up with Masato, who's in session with one of his patients. This is HAYAKAWA KAIRI (
Yoshitaka Yuriko), who makes up 1/4 of the second half of the shuffle group. There's clearly something wrong with her, though we don't know what, as Masato asks her a series of questions about a recurring hallucination she has. Apparently, she's promised this person from her hallucinations she will die before her 20th birthday, and believes him to be angry at her for not following through. There are only three months until the deadline, and she's still very much alive.

Out in the hall, Masato's assistant drops his coffee mug, which shatters. Masato tells her just to use a paper cup instead.

Later that night, the elevator gang meets up for champagne and "Kanpai"s together. Kei asks what they're toasting for (new beginnings, according to Ojiro) and Airu tells him this meeting is for him. Apparently, Doc's the one who called the meeting, and tells Kei that he doesn't have many chances left. Kei admits that Mei probably wouldn't meet with him on his own. Airu agrees--it's awkward being alone with her boyfriend, too. Ojiro's no exception either, and tells them he's in a bind, as well.

Masato: Whatever the case may be, none of us are happy with our partners. It would be easier just to break up...
Airu: But we'll just fall in love again and separate again.
Masato: That's right. We just keep on repeating our mistakes.
Kei: So, we are going to stop for a second. I understand it in my head, but...
Ojiro: It's true. You go to a new place, and then find that the woman before was better.
Airu: It's the same for women.
Masato: By the time you regret it, it's already too late. Even if you want to retry, you don't even know where to start. And there's a good chance that the other person has found a better partner.
Airu: Many people give up and marry someone random. I hear awful stories during reunions.
Ojiro: That's why, while there's still some hope...
Masato: ... you should switch your lovers. We call it..
Masato, Ojiro, Airu: Love Shuffle!

But Kei's not convinced just yet. Doc assures him that if Mei still thinks he's the one after this, everything will be fine. But what if she doesn't? Kei asks. Ojiro tells him that's a risk he'll just have to take. Unless... he isn't confident that Mei will come back to him at the end? Kei assures him he's plenty confident. He knows Mei's heart won't waver for Ojiro or the doctor. This makes Ojiro and Masato more determined, and Kei withers in worry at their determination.

Either way, though, he's confident Mei won't partake in the love shuffle, anyway. She's serious, good, and has high morals. Offended, Airu asks him if that means he thinks she's an evil slut with bad manners. He doesn't deny it at all, and throws back: "Normally, wouldn't you hate it if your boyfriend went out with another girl?" Airu agrees--of course she would, but she'd still want to know whether his heart would waver for someone else. If it doesn't, she can live well without worrying about him cheating on her. Kei: "But what if it does?" Airu: "Then I can say goodbye without any regrets."

Doc tells Kei to give it up and open Pandora's box. After all, he might find hope waiting for him inside. This breaks down the last of Kei's protests, and he folds, mumbling, "Fine. Either way I'm fired." Doc assures them he'll convince Mei--he's a therapist, after all... which is when Ojiro spots the woman in question standing at the door.

Kei runs to her pitifully, "Mei!" while the others watch on, but stumbles in the introductions when they come back to the table. "This is my... Ah, no. This is Kagawa Mei-san."

Doc explains to Mei how the four of them know each other, and Ojiro throws in that they're "bathroom friends." Bahahahaha!

There's a funny moment here, where Mei seems to recognize Airu, calling her "Ai-Ai." The boys mistake this for a nursery rhyme and start to sing. Mei actually remembers Airu, because they went to the same middle school. It's clear that Airu has no recollection, but she plays it up and greets her warmly. Ojiro catches her in the lie, claiming she's blinking too much, and Mei's expression falls.

Kei asks them if they really went to the same middle school together and Mei nods excitedly: "Ai-Ai was a star! She was really popular."

Kei, slyly: Ehhhhh?
Airu: It was an all-girls school.
Kei: I knew it.
Airu: You annoy me.

They sit down for a drink, and Ojiro pulls Kei over to the side. Kei's lucky that Airu and Mei turned out to be friends. Maybe Airu can put in a good word for him with Mei. Kei agrees, and sits down in front of Airu, getting all chummy and calling her Ai-Ai. Airu sees through his act and tells him flatly that she won't be saying a word in his favor. Haha.

Just then, their second guest walks in. She's a cougar for sure, decked out in furs and a blood-colored red dress. This is KAMIJYO REIKO (Kojima Hijiri), Ojiro's lady friend.

It's worth noting that Kei, of all people, seems to be the one taken in by her. Interesting. I thought it would be the doctor for sure. He's so taken in, in fact, that I'm surprised he didn't get a nosebleed from staring at her plunging neckline for so long. Thinking along my lines, Airu cuts into his daydreaming: "You have a nosebleed."

Ojiro pulls her forward for introductions, but Reiko says she's capable of that herself. Her eyes catch on the boys without preamble and she walks up to them in turn, wanton desire in her eyes. Ojiro has already filled her in on the details, but Reiko admits that her participation in the love shuffle really depended on the other members of the group. Ojiro translates: "She likes hot guys." Haha.

It's clear from the get-go that the girls won't be getting along as swimmingly as the boys as Airu scoffs at Reiko's notion that looks are the most important aspect when looking for the perfect mate.

Reiko: It might be different if you're only thinking of your own happiness... But your children will have a much better chance in the world if they look beautiful. Good (capable) women look to the future.

Cue faceplant. I hope this woman gets minimal airtime.

Both Mei and Kei are taken in by Reiko's philosophy, and Mei looks at Reiko with clear awe. Ojiro asks Kei if Mei is a bit of an airhead, haha.

Reiko asks if this is the whole group, but Airu's boyfriend is still nowhere to be found. She gets up to look for him, finding it odd that he's not there yet, since he's never been late before. Which... is when a hand shoots up into the air from the other side of the bar. It's Airu's man friend, OISHI YUKICHI (Daigo), who's been there the whole time, listening in. I can tell already that this one is a few crayons short of a full box...

Introductions are made. Apparently, Yukichi is filthy rich and carries a suitcase full of money around with him. That's all I have to say about that.

Ojiro and Kei, who seem to be hitting it off well, have a guy-to-guy conversation in the bathroom, and Kei admits his shortcomings. Bahahaha. Sorry, bad joke. Anyway, he admits to Ojiro about how Mei's father owns the company he works at, and even pays the rent on his apartment. Ojiro understands now about why Kei is so desperate to win back Mei.

Kei: All this probably makes you wonder if I even really like her, huh? Well, I do. I like her. I've never said embarrassing words like, "I love you," but she's so pure, compared to other girls these days. I feel so happy when I'm with her... I didn't even know she was that wealthy until I was introduced to her family.

Meanwhile, Mei and Airu are having their own conversation about Kei in the ladies' room. Airu wants to know why Mei dumped him.

Mei recalls the story of how she met Kei: on a high school ski trip. She'd been skiing alone one night,, when she'd fallen and hurt her leg. Kei, who'd been working part time at the ski resort, had been the one to save her. Never mind the squick factor of him falling for a high schooler, but that's pretty cute. Mei tells Airu that she fell for him because he shone so brightly to her back then. Meaning, he glows when does things he's good at or that he likes. The implication here is that Kei has lost that "shininess" or that "glow" after getting together with her.

Everyone reconvenes in the bar/restaurant. By this time, Doc's explained the rules of Love Shuffle and asks if everyone agrees to the terms. Yukichi's the only one who voices any protest, but agrees to participate if it's the only way to get Airu back. The last one left to agree is Mei, and Kei answers for her saying he knew she'd never agree. He tells her they'll just leave and go talk out their issues somewhere else, but Mei's not budging. She raises her hand and says she's in, forcing Kei to participate as well.

The group decides to enjoy the rest of the evening, which is when Doc gets a call. Apparently, Kairi's been missing from the Shuffle meeting because she's in the hospital for attempted suicide.

Later that evening, we meet up with Kei and Mei back at Kei's apartment as they try to suss out--or at least, as KEI tries to suss out--the problems between them. She cleans up the mess in his apartment and tells him he needs stop making such a mess (it's mostly empty beer cans that she's cleaning up).

He replies that he can't sleep without drinking anymore, she must understand how he feels. She tells him she doesn't, but then corrects herself: "That's a lie. I'm the same. I can't get a good night's sleep... Most likely, much earlier than you started [having sleepless nights], Kei. Ever since we got engaged."

She explains she'd been considering breaking up with him for all that time. Her decision for them to split hadn't just been on a whim. He goes through a laundry list of protests again, finally admitting what's really bothering him: "I don't understand [what's wrong] if you don't tell me. I'm a dumb, second-rate guy."

Eventually, he resorts to the only thing left for him to do. Hugging her from behind, he tells her likes her and then, gathering up the courage, says "I love you" and kisses her. But as he kisses her, a tear falls from Mei's eye, and Kei pulls back, somewhat horrified.

Meanwhile, Airu and Yukichi are dealing with their own breakup. Airu no longer wants to see him, telling him frankly that she doesn't think she's good enough for him--she's prone to giving mixed signals and stringing people along and he deserves someone better than that. He should make a concentrated effort to find a new partner from within the group of girls in the Shuffle.

We learn from their conversation that Yukichi's come by his riches from investing in the stock market. He met Airu at some rich-people party where she'd mistaken him for a waiter. Without protesting, he'd served her and had fallen for her immediately. It hadn't been Airu to be the one going after him; instead, Yukichi had been the one to follow her around until she agreed to date him.

After some back and forth, Yukichi finally agrees to forget her and do his best in Love Shuffle to find himself a new girlfriend, even asking Airu to give him advice should someone catch his attention. He hopes to be able to give her some advice as well, but Airu admits that maybe she's just not meant to be in a relationship. Yukichi disagrees--she just has a clear idea in her mind of what kind of man she's looking for, and it's likely to be someone who's the complete opposite of him.

He sighs, wishing he could just buy her with money. Airu agrees--if she could just buy someone with money--if she could make him stay with her and shine brightly... She gets up to leave, and Yukichi ends up alone, crying.

Next up, we reconvene with Ojiro and Madame Cougar at some hotel somewhere in the city. He pulls on his clothes as she steps out of the shower, telling her he's leaving. She asks him if he came up with Love Shuffle because he doesn't want to get too deeply involved with her.

From the conversation, we learn that Reiko is married, but that her husband is on an extended business trip elsewhere. He won't be back for another three months, so there's no reason for her to break up with Ojiro yet. She's simply a woman whose husband is no longer the man she married and fell in love with. He no longer thinks of her as a woman, and because of this, she feels suffocated.

Ojiro assures her it's not because he feels their time is over that he suggested taking part in Love Shuffle. He simply felt that he should share her beauty with others. He tells her that he has a lot of respect for her as a woman who wants to remain a woman until the day she dies. As in, someone who wants to remain beautiful. He says he appreciates her directness--that no random, fussy girl could emulate Reiko's maturity.

She disrobes as he takes a picture and then leans in for a noisy kiss, asking him if he can't stay for the night. He repeats his earlier protest, saying he has work early in the morning. Pecking her on the lips again, he leaves, making the walk of shame down the dark Tokyo roads. As he's walking, a black cat crosses his path and he stops, wondering at the bad omen.

Meanwhile, as the others deal with breakups and illicit sex lives, poor Doc sits beside the bed of the suicidal Kairi, who apparently took all of her medications at the same time and ended up nearly killing herself. He asks her why she did it--her birthday's still three months away.

She recalls a story about how her father wanted her to draw a picture. When she'd refused, he'd hit her, saying Masato had told him about her hallucinations. Kairi gets angry at the Doc for not believing in her visions, and shoots up in a bout of hysteria, exclaiming that she still sees the man, he's even in the room with them.

Doc calms her down and explains that he wants her to participate in a game with him. He wants to see if she can find happiness in her life, and wanted to test that theory tonight at the Shuffle meeting. She interprets this as Doc wanting her to fall in love. Masato affirms that, yes, he'd like her to find someone she might be attracted to. Kairi assures him she has no interest in things like that. She'll never know until she tries, says Masato.

But that's not the heart of Kairi's argument. She goes on to explain that even if she were to fall in love, she's sure she'd end up hurting the man she falls for. Doc agrees, but tells her she doesn't need to worry about that. It's not a problem at all. Creepy, much?

Back at Kei's apartment, he sits trying his luck with Q-tip talisman things, and gets one that says, "really bad luck," haha. Mei gets ready to leave and refuses him when he offers to take her home. He chases after her anyway, catching her in the hall before she gets on the elevator.

Mei tells him that it may sound lewd, but she wants to get the chance to experience other men. He's the only man she's ever known since they've been dating since her second year of high school. She doesn't want to regret missing the chance to meet others later on in life. She wants to expand her view of the world now, by playing Love Shuffle. When asked if that means there's still a chance for them to be together, she tells him she doesn't know. She can't promise anything right now.

In that case, Kei begs her not to give her family the news of their breakup just yet. He wants to go through Love Shuffle and see if they can't suss out their issues first. He tells her not to tell them until the day of the wedding, and doesn't care if that means  he'll be the poor bastard stuck waiting for her at the altar on the day of.

All the while, as they argue back and forth, Airu eavesdrops down the hall.

Downstairs, Doc and Ojiro meet each other outside the apartment complex and walk in together, noting each other's tired expressions. They run into Mei as she gets off the elevator, and stop her to ask what's wrong when they find her crying.

Being a shrink, Masato goes up touches her all friendly and she shies away, weirded out. He apologizes, telling her it's his professional habit. In the same vein, Ojiro pulls out a camera and snaps a shot of Mei. He apologizes cheekily as well, telling her that"s his professional habit. She brushes them both off and runs out. The boys turn to each other, skeptical, and mutter simultaneously, "What kind of profession...?"

Kei heads to their apartment building's indoor pool to sulk over Mei's engagement ring, which is where Airu finds him a few moments later. He asks her if Mei said anything to her about him, but Airu denies it, saying Mei isn't the type to go around spilling her guts to just anyone.

Kei agrees with that assessment. Still, Airu believes the reason to be that Kei keeps focusing on insignificant things. She snatches the engagement ring out of his hands and stares at it.

Most women like things that shine brightly... But if they realize they caught a fake, anyone would want to get rid of it.

Ouch. He no longer has passion for anything and has thus stopped "glowing" the way he used to. Mei had said he'd shone brightly when they first met; whether it was at work or at play, whenever he was devoted, Kei had been all a'glow. Airu goes on to tell him that since he got a nice job and a nice place to live, he'd become a boring man.

She pretends to chuck the ring over her shoulder. Only... it slips out of her hand and really falls into the pool. Kei freaks out, and gets on all fours to peer into the water, which is how Masato and Ojiro find him a few moments later.

Kei, leaning over the pool, tells them Airu lost his ring.

Ojiro: Maybe you were fated to lose it.
Kei: Damn it. How could you all make fun of me like that? You are all truly rich, so you think you'd just be able to get a new one. But normal people can't do that!
Masato: That's not what we intended.
Kei: Then, what did you mean? Talented photographer, wealthy doctor, interpreter whose father is a diplomat. You've got to be kidding me. I'm sure you haven't had a tough life.
Ojiro: Hey, that's not nice.
Kei: "Bright and shiny?" Of course I was devoted to playing when I was young. But who can stay stupidly ignorant like that without a plan, forever? What's wrong with clinging to work and a nice life? This is normal when you go into the real world. Women too. They married rich IT CEOs or stock brokers before the economic bubble burst. All they want in the end is money!

Airu tells him not to worry because those women have all become depressed and sad by now (because of the economic downturn). Masato agrees, explaining that he treats a lot of women who are under marital stress.

Airu: What about you? You were a grasshopper, right? One that would sing all day and have fun. Now that you've suddenly become an ant, you look miserable.
Kei: You'll die starving if you lead a stupid life like that.

But the other two agree with Airu. Leaving that sort of carefree life is much better. Kei tells them they just wouldn't understand the feelings of a "second-rate poor person." If he got fired from his current job, he'd instantly become poor. Ojiro, Masato, and Airu, who live comfortably and without any thoughts of financial worry, wouldn't understand the fear that the possibility of becoming poor brings with it.

Entirely stressed out by the thought of his lost ring, Kei rolls up his pants and climbs into the pool to search. As he looks, Ojiro and Airu get ready to help. It's not long, however, before Kei finds it himself. He holds it up in relief and swims around, laughing like a loony as the other three watch him, slightly worried.

Then, as if empowered by the new discovery, Kei looks to the others and declares: "I'll do it. I'll take it on seriously--" (looking at each of them in turn) "--your cougar--Doc, your girlfriend--and even you. I will take all of you on seriously. I'll make all of you fall in love with me. I'll kick ass."

Masato and Ojiro, clearly not taking him seriously, peace out and leave to go up to their apartments. Left alone with Kei is Airu, who assures him she's listening. Kei responds that he can't be held responsible for what he might do to her. Unconvinced, Airu tells him it's impossible, but if she were really to fall in love with him, she'd give him a whole 10 yen. Kei looks at her, stunned for second, but then says, "50 yen."

They haggle over his prize reward--ending up at a whopping 35 yen (equal to approximately $0.44), which is better than nothing, I guess, as it seems Kei doesn't have half a cent to his name other than what Mei's family has given him.

 Kei holds out his hand to get shake on their deal, but ends up yanking Airu into the pool with him.

Finally, it's time for the first shuffle. The eight participants meet in the hallway of the Elevator Gang's apartment building, and the last to show up is Doc, with his elusive, suicidal Little Miss Sunshine herself.

Doc introduces her to the others; she's young, still an art student at university, which takes everyone by surprise. Still, no one offers any protest, so Doc hands her a card and explains the rules.

Men are Jacks and women are Queens. They flip their cards in turn, and pair up with their match. These are the pairs that will make up the first week's shuffle and they'll switch partners every week like a merry-go-round, until everyone is satisfied with their match.

Everyone takes turns flipping their cards, until Kei, the last one, declares: "Love Shuffle."


So, there you have it. Our first pairs for the next episode. Personally, I think Matsuda Shota's got crazy chemistry with almost everyone, so I'm not too worried about who he'll end up with. Giving Airu and Ojiro a go at each other first is good. I'm waiting to see whether they'll fizzle or float, because they've bickered on an off throughout this first episode. To be honest, I'm more worried about Tamaki Hiroshi and how Kei will be able to handle Madame Cougar as his first swap. I'm not too concerned with the Doc being paired with Mei. They both seem utterly calm, so they'll be okay. And I don't know what to think of Yukichi or Kairi yet, which means pairing them together first is the perfect way of getting to know them a bit more.

It's obvious from the get-go that none of these initial pairings match (with the exception of maybe Ojiro and Reiko), and that none of them will be together come the final episode, but it's interesting to see the dynamics between the different couples and how they're completely mismatched.

The one thing I'm not sure about is the morality of all this. With a doctor placing his mentally ill patient into a game like Love Shuffle... I'm still trying not to squirm from that. And then there's Ojiro, who's dropping a married woman into the pot with everyone else. I guess this makes everything more interesting. I'm just trying to become more comfortable with the ethics, of lack thereof, involved.

As far as characters, I actually don't like Tamaki Hiroshi very much in this. It may be that I'm just irritated with his bumbling character, drawn more to the confident and sexy Ojiro and calm and collected Masato, but he irritates me a bit. He's prone to eccentricity, especially in regards to Mei, which is something that I hope gets toned down as we go on. Everyone else seems to be doing just swimmingly, though Daigo's going to have to work on his acting chops a bit. This is one of the only dramas he's ever done, so I'll give him a pass for now since he's not terrible.

I think of the biggest things Love Shuffle has going for it is the writing. The one-liners are part of what make the show so hard to recap. I want to include every clever jab or comeback, which makes it difficult to filter my recaps and only include the important stuff. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it means there's almost too much good stuff.

But I think the one thing I completely, and without reservations, love about this show is the dialogue. The premise is what got me interested. The sharp one-liners and witty conversations are what got me invested. And the characters are what will keep me invested. I also think part of the strength of the series lies in the interactions between the four main leads: Kei, Masato, Ojiro, and Airu. As the group of eight, the characters aren't as much fun. When it's just the Elevator Gang, the conversations have a different tone and the interactions are so much funnier. The four of them are the core of the show, and they're what make it worth watching.


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