It usually takes three episodes max to make me decide whether I’d drop a show or not while the really good ones only take one episode to get me hooked. Well, I enjoyed watching HiGH&LOW so much I finished the entire first season in one sitting.
HiGH&LOW is an entertainment project featuring artists under LDH Inc. management. It is said to be the first of its kind since it will be reaching out to different forms of media: television series, movies, manga, SNS accounts, an original soundtrack, and a live show tour.
HiGH&LOW The Story of S.W.O.R.D. aired from October 22 to December 24, 2015. Written by Team HI-AX, the story is set in a town that was once under the rule of a group called “Mugen” and the drama starts in media res as they go head-to-head against the Amamiya Brothers who defy them. Hence, the eventual downfall of the powerful organization. Since then, the town has been divided into 5 districts called S.W.O.R.D., an acronym based on its 5 lead gangs.
Sannoh Rengokai– The protectors of SWORD led by two original Mugen members: Cobra and Yamato.
Song: Do or Die- Doberman Infinity
White Rascals– The sleek, all-white clad scouts
Song: WHITEOUT- PKCZ feat. EXILE SHOKICHI
Oya KouKou– The Crows-like school yankiis
Song: Jump Around- Doberman Infinity
Rude Boys– The energetic guardians of nameless street
Song: Run this Town- GENERATIONS
Daruma Ikka– The vengeful hooligans in red
Song: Voice of Red- DJ Daruma from PKCZ
The project has “fanservice” written all over it but I was wrong to think that the drama will be as juvenile as Gokusen or too flamboyant with very little substance like Tokyo Tribe. Director Sigeaki Kubo succeeded in something that even a maverick director like Sion Sono failed to do in Tokyo Tribe: to make me care about the characters.
I reckon it won’t be easy to remember the long list of cast members but the show has surprisingly given each group and its characters some distinct features plus short but solid backstories that make them worth the recall. Each gang’s own action style also has a background song as befits their nature. My favorite theme is Daruma Ikka’s ‘Voice of Red’ but as for the action scenes, it’s the Rude Boys with their flawless parkour flips and bboy flares. This gang is the complete package! They have Masataka Kubota’s incredible acting skills, GENERATIONS’ member Reo Sano’s dance agility, real life traceur ZEN’s jaw-dropping stunts, and Tasuku Nagase’s bad boy charms.
The premise of HiGH&LOW might initially seem like the typical “the strongest one shall conquer this town”, but I’m pleasantly surprised with the engaging narrative, its continuity and the way the characters adhere to strong brotherhood.
All the SWORD leaders are equally charismatic that I literally had goosebumps when they finally gathered in the same room and they all possess some kind of noble delinquency, if such a thing exists.
Sandaime J Soul Brothers’ Iwata Takanori as Cobra is perfect as the prototypical bad boy. As a leader, he is a man of few words but he is shrewd and cool-headed. He’s got both potent speech and astonishing strikes that other SWORD leaders can only marvel at. And yes, he’s the same guy who played Satomi Ishihara’s super sweet best friend, Eito (Hachi), in Dear Sister. *mind blown*
Oya Kou’s class rep, Murayama Yoshiki, would fit right in with the cast of Gokusen. This uniform-clad character is perfect for a coming-of-age trope. His one-on-one showdown with Cobra is certainly one of the highlights of the show. Yuki Yamada is known for his role as Kinnosuke Ikezawa in Itazura na Kiss: Love in TOKYO. He is cute and for some reason, some of his mannerisms or facial expressions remind me of Yamapi’s Akira in Nobuta wo Produce.
EXILE The Second’s Kuroki Keiji plays Rocky. I was bracing myself to witness how wacky the White Rascals leader would be since I couldn’t take him and his braces seriously. I thought he might be the goofy and most ruthless one out of the bunch but he turned out to be really cool too. Though he’s running a hip night club, he despises drugs and respects women more than I expected.
I wonder what sort of major trouble, Hyuga Norihisa, would do when he runs amok but in spite of his thirst for revenge, Daruma Ikka’s leader managed to show (though he may not want to admit it) that he empathized with Noboru. Of all people, he understands what it’s like to be away for a while and still have a place to return to. Kento Hayashi is one of the most versatile young actors I’ve seen. I can still remember him in Arakawa Under the Bridge. He looks so much hotter now, with the whole big hair and psycho glare.
Smoky is the reason I started watching this series in the first place and Masataka Kubota delivered another remarkable performance. He’s a fine actor who can switch from adorkable to tough guy roles so effortlessly. He stands out in a room full of fierce fighters, no brightly-colored hair and extravagant styling necessary.
HiGH&LOW’s major draw is definitely the visual and audio elements. The narration is good, the camera angles and the flashback shots vary. I feel like I’m watching a coming-of-age drama/ contemporary action movie/animation/indie/futuristic music video all at the same time, done in smooth transitions that don’t make the show look like a meandering mess of variegated genre.
I can’t stand it when dramas that claim badassery end up being cheesy with excessive sententious rhetoric but most of the show’s episodes are filled with stylish kinetic action that I can actually turn a blind eye on its thin plot. And as expected from a cast comprised of musicians, EXILE TRIBE no less, the soundtrack is superb but the music overlays don’t diminish the impact of its action sequences.
So, On a scale of 1 to Crows Zero, how badass is High & Low?
It’s as badass as Crows Zero 1 and 2 meets Tokyo Tribe meets EXILE music videos!