Thursday, October 4, 2012

Switch Girl!!: Episode 1 Recap

I went back and forth about doing recaps for this show since it aired last year, but with To the Beautiful You having finished, I'm quickly running out of things to watch and write about. Hence, here we are. This was the J-dorama of 2011/12 for me, even though I watched it this summer. It's got the right amount of hilarity coupled with romance and was a great watch.

I'll treat the recaps as if this is my first time watching the show. They'll be fairly short, I'm sure, since the episodes are only ~30 minutes long. I'll probably post them once a week, the way the show aired, but not necessarily on Saturdays. I had this one written for a while and figured I should post it, so here it is!

Episode 1 Recap
We open with a montage of questions to acquaint ourselves with the basic premise behind Switch Girl!!. Are you the type of girl who likes the smell of your socks after a hard day's work? When you run out of toothpaste, do you cut open the tube and scrape the inside with your toothbrush? If you answered yes to these questions, then you're a certified Switch Girl!

Meet TAMIYA NIKA (Nishiuchi Mariya), the epitome of a perfect schoolgirl in every way: she's beautiful, graceful, and friendly. Only... all of that is just a facade she puts on when she's around her classmates at school. In reality, Nika is a Switch Girl, and a pretty afflicted one at that.

When she comes home from school, she switches her uniform for sweats, her contacts for glasses, and her curly hair for awkward buns. She spends her time playing video games until dawn on the weekends, and reading manga in her "safety underwear"--the kind that's loose with strings coming out of it that no one will ever see.

On this particular morning, Nika arrives at school and is greeted by an onslaught of praises from her classmates for her latest magazine shoot. As they talk, one of the girls notices a funky smell, and Nika freezes. The girls blame it on the boys (of which there are only three or four in the whole class--and not very attractive ones, either), but they're not the culprits.

As the students argue, Nika sneaks out with her bag and races to the roof. She pulls out her bento to find it leaking through her bag. That's what had been causing the smell, but she wasn't about to let her friends find out she's the kind of girl who eats salted mackerel in her spare time. As she laments over the mess, someone places a hand on her shoulder.

Nika freezes and then slowly turns around, only to find NINO, her best friend, standing behind her. Nino complains to Nika about the smell of the bento, and then scolds her for farting out in the open right next to her as they get to eating their lunches. She warns Nika to make sure no one finds out about her OFF Mode (the way she is at home) and Nika noncommittally nods as she works through her bento.

By the end of the lunch hour, Nika's out cold, taking a nap on Nino's lap. She wakes up with a start and begins to fix her makeup, only then noticing that the pair of them are not alone on the roof anymore. On the far end of the rooftop stands a boy--a handsome one, and Nika asks Nino whether there are any boys like that at their school. Nino says she's never seen him before, which is even more odd.

This is KAMIYAMA ARATA (Kiriyama Renn). When Nika approaches him to introduce herself, however, he calls her annoying and completely blows her off, walking back into the school like no big deal. Never one to be rejected, Nika frets about the rude boy's identity, lamenting that such a hot guy could be so arrogant.

When she gets home that night, she complains to her older sister (also a Switch Girl) about the boy with the ugly personality. Onee-chan explains that arrogant guys like that usually only date shrewd girls. Soon after, Mom comes home bearing a gift of stamina booster free samples for Dad, haha.

Belatedly, she realizes she forgot to go to the market for cucumber. This is a problem, since today is "all-you-can-fit-into-a-bag" day. She sends Nika out on the errand.

"All-you-can-fit-into-a-bag" specials are treated like an Olympic sport, and Nika gets to filling when she arrives at the market. Beside her, a fellow shopper drops a couple of cucumbers in his bag and walks away to check out. This is taboo in Nika's book--who would someone waste money buying only a couple of cucumbers when they could have a bag of thirty for the same price?

She drags the guy back over and teaches him the art of cucumber-filling (stuff them in, one beside the other the long way after stretching the bag open). Unbeknownst to her, this is the same guy she met on the rooftop earlier that day--Arata. Neither of them recognizes each other since Arata is wearing thick specks and Nika's still dressed in her OFF Mode.

They walk out of the market together, and Nika tells the boy not to look so grumpy--after all, he's got a bag full cucumbers in his arms, doesn't he? She butt bumps him to try to cheer him up, letting out a fart in the process. HAHA. Arata looks at her like she's crazy, but Nika laughs it off as usual.

They arrive at her apartment building, and Arata begins to follow her up. She stops him, at this point a little freaked out, and wonders whether he's some kind of stalker. He calmly explains that, no, he's not a stalker--he lives in this building too, on the second floor. He just moved in yesterday. Nika cheerfully accepts this explanation and heads in, telling him to ask her if he needs help with anything.

The following day at school, the news has gotten around that Nika's class is supposed to get a new transfer student. The girls wonder whether he'll be good looking, and then figure that even if he is, he'll probably start swooning after Nika in no time. Meanwhile, the boys grumble that he hasn't even shown up, so they can't just assume he'll be handsome.

Either way, the speculation is interrupted when a girl rushes into the classroom and announces that the new kid is being harassed in the girls' bathroom by the Monkey Boss and her gang. Nika takes it upon herself to save the poor shmuck from some sure-to-be-humiliating prank and runs out to stop the Monkey Boss.

In fact, the Monkey Boss and Co. are a group of girls from the class over who fashion themselves the presiding rulers of the school, taking it as their job to make sure things run smoothly. The Monkey Boss herself considers Nika her number one rival and spends most of her time trying to one-up her.

So, Nika dashes off to the bathroom and finds Monkey Boss and Co. circling the poor new transfer student in the girls' bathroom, on a mission to drop his trousers to see what kind of underwear he's wearing. Only... when Nika gets a peek at the guy, she realizes it's the same bespectacled dude from the market the night before.

She freaks out, wondering what to do--if the guy realizes it's her, he could very well spill her secret to the rest of the class. She imagines what would happen if they knew the truth--they'd run her out of school and she'd cry in a gutter. Then, a stray dog would find her and just as she'd pick it up, thinking it was cute, it would bite her in the face and she'd have to be rushed to the hospital. HAHA. Even so, Nika knows it's too late to back out now--she's already promised everyone she'd save the guy.

But it seems the transfer student (A.K.A. Arata) has things handled, because as Nika readies herself to barge in, he pulls some quick moves and down go the girls' skirts, revealing their underwear, before they have a chance to pants him.

Nika takes the opportunity, while they're distracted trying to pull up their skirts, to dowse some kind of powder all over them. She grabs Arata's hand and they make a break for it before Monkey Boss and Co. can piece together what just happened.

Nika and Arata end up on the roof, still holding hands, and Nika drops his quickly. It's not long before he realizes it's her and calls her out on being the girl from the supermarket. They head back to class, where the teacher introduces the new guy to everyone. In the back, Nika frets over the fact that he now knows and could spill her secret at any moment.

She explains what happened to Nino, about Arata living in her apartment building and all, and Nino suggests that since Nika saved him from the Monkey Boss, Arata owes her and she should ask him to keep her secret. Nika figures that won't work, but that's not all... while they'd been on the roof, she's taken a good look at him and realized he was the arrogant guy from the day before. Indeed, when she'd pulled off his glasses, she'd verified that he was one and the same.

As she was freaking out about him being the same guy, she'd realized that his glasses were non-prescription. Meaning, he doesn't need them to see. She'd questioned him about that--why does he wear glasses if he doesn't have a vision problem? He'd refused to answer, telling her to give his glasses back.

That's when Nika'd had her brilliant idea--using his glasses as the bait, she'd asked him to keep her secret and not tell anyone about her Switch Girl personality. Arata had deduced that that must mean no one in the school knows what she's really like, and Nika had denied it, spilling that Nino knows. At this, she'd realized she'd by now told him every aspect of her secret and had started conjuring up another scenario of what would happen now that he knew.

Arata had cut her off before her thoughts got too out of hand, promising to keep her secret as long as she promised to keep his. She'd agreed immediately, but still couldn't shake her curiosity as to why he'd need to hide behind his glasses in the first place. He'd be popular if he didn't wear them. Arata had succinctly explained that he hates women, and had warned her not to get involved in his business anymore.

Back in class, Nino dryly teases Nika that this arrangement isn't going to work--Nika promised Arata she wouldn't tell anyone about his glasses, but here she is, spilling the secret to Nino. Nika frets some more, worried that Arata's secret is a blip on the radar, a sparkler in comparison to her huge one, like a tomahawk. If his secret comes out, it's no big deal, whereas hers is life-alteringly huge.

Nino cuts into her thoughts, telling Nika they've got bigger things to worry about. She points outside to the building over, where Monkey Boss is standing, watching them through binoculars. Nika stares out at her, wide-eyed, but promises that she'll take care of it.

Even so, Nino leans over to warn Arata--if the Monkey Boss sees him without his glasses on, he'll be harassed even more. Nika shushes her, groaning that Nino's just revealed the fact that she told her about Arata's secret. Arata sighs, "You already told someone?" Nika grimaces, apologizing.

She follows him home that evening, tracing his steps meekly and then pretending to look the other way every time he turns around. Eventually, Arata gets sick of this and tells her to stop following him. She catches up, explaining that she feels it necessary to apologize for telling Nino his secret. Without replying, he continues to walk on, and she runs after him, offended at being ignored.

Arata explains that he doesn't want to talk to a woman, and continues walking, but Nika cuts him off, "You talk to your mother, though, don't you?" He looks at her with a blank expression on his face and replies, "I don't have a mother," before walking off. Nika's smile falls and she realizes that that was probably something she shouldn't have asked.

As she's fretting over this, a guy runs up behind her and lifts up her skirt, snapping a picture with his digital camera. He runs off before Nika can stop him, but she calls him out on being a pervert, and Arata turns around at her cry. She yells for him to stop the guy, "He took a picture of my underwear! And it's my safety underwear, too!" Confused, Arata looks at her, "Safety underwear?"

Nika realizes the pervert's not wearing their school uniform, so she takes off after him. Still befuddled at the chaos, Arata has no choice but to follow. As she runs, Nika imagines what might happen if the pictures of her safety underwear are revealed at school: she's sure that once people found out, she'd lose the trust of her classmates and the necessary qualifications to be popular. In contrast, the Monkey Boss's popularity would rise, leading the whole school to turn into her minions, holding festivals in her honor and putting up posters of her around the school.

The pervert runs to a warehouse and calls his employer on the way--in fact, it's the Monkey Boss herself who hired him to take the picture. She tells him she'll be right over to collect it from him. At this point, we get the back story of why Monkey Boss (whose real name we find out is Reika) hates Nika so much.

Ever since she was little, Reika had been number one in everything--academics, sports, even beauty. But then, in high school, Nika had come along and stolen all that popularity. She'd had more friends, more beauty, and more boys running after her than Reika. Jealous of Nika stealing her Number 1 position, Reika had vowed revenge, which is how they got to where they are today.

Pervert Boy heads into the warehouse to wait for Monkey Boss (to whom I'll refer to as Reika from now on). He can't help but wonder what Nika's underwear looks like and turns on the camera to take a peek. Unfortunately for him, Arata finds him before he can, asking whether he's seen the picture yet, and then throws a swift punch right into Pervert Boy's kisser.

But today seems to be Pervert Boy's lucky day, because Nika finds them soon after and flies toward him for a kick, giving him a bird's eye view of the very underwear that got him into trouble in the first place. He goes down, and then Nika grabs him by the neck, declaring that perverts can only be dealt with in one way: she gives him a swift stomp to the family jewels.

Behind her, Arata cringes, telling her that no matter how hard she stomps on him there, it's going to hurt. She stops at this and turns to him, wondering, "Are you really gay?" Arata assures her he's not, but she steps into his bubble, teasing him anyway. He looks at her for a long moment before admitting, "How should I put it? You're... You're quite interesting."

He grins at her, and then starts to laugh, and Nika watches him, mesmerized. She thinks to herself that it's the first time she's seen him smile, and that it's a great one at that.

After a moment, Arata wanders over to unconscious Pervert Boy and retrieves his camera to take a look at the picture that caused all the trouble. "So, this is your safety underwear? This is a little extreme." He holds up the camera for her to see, and Nika freaks out, yelling at him not to look. She dives for the camera, but he holds it out of her reach, and they run around as he teases her about it.

A solid first episode to explain the setup and get us right into the character dynamics. Because this is such a short drama, we don't spend much time on the, "Where are we? What are our characters' lives like? Who are they?" questions that so many other shows may take the first couple of episodes to do. We delve straight into the heart of the matter so that we can spend the next seven episodes unraveling the story itself.

The first time I saw this drama, I didn't like Arata's character in the first half of this episode, if only because he like... doesn't say anything. He has barely two or three lines and they all make him seem like a complete prick. It wasn't until the second half, when Nika saves him from Reika's gang that I started warming up to him and also to Kiriyama Renn. By the last scene, I was practically drooling. For a guy who claims to hate women, he sure did give Pervert Boy a pretty solid punch to the jaw for trying to mess with Nika's virtue, lol.

Overall, I think it might take some time for new watchers of Japanese drama to get into the feel of this show. It's based on a manga and treated as such, even in the live format here. So, the over-the-top antics and crazy facial expressions by Nishiuchi Mariya may catch you off guard, but if you stick through it and wait a couple of episodes, the romance will start pulling you in more.

By the way, sorry if the screencaps look a bit grainy. I'm not sure what happened, because I have the video in 1080p. It might be my video player. I'll try to figure it out.


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