聲の形 (Koe no Katachi/A Silent Voice)

Last weekend, a friend and I spent an entire day playing “otaku” as we watched the theatrical release of Koe no Kotachi, enjoyed a steaming bowl of ramen, attended a cosplay event, and purchased a few anime merchandise.

The success of Makoto Shinkai’s Kimi no Na Wa paved the way for more anime movies to gain some mainstream attention and this adaptation of Yoshitoki Ōima’s award-winning 2013 slice of life manga is the current recipient of the hype. Who wouldn’t be excited after seeing this heart-tugging trailer.

Koe no Katachi is seen through the point of view of its main character and narrator, Ishida Shoya, a student who is hurt and isolated for bullying their hearing-impaired classmate back in grade school. As he decides to rid himself of the guilt from being a bully and the loneliness from being shunned by his former friends, he gives up on his future and he ticks the days off the calendar until his premeditated suicide. To his mother’s relief, Ishida’s plan is unsuccessful and she asks him to promise to never think about taking his own life again.

Ishida goes to high school and crossed paths with Nishimiya Shoko, the shy girl he once bullied relentlessly. Filled with remorse, he takes the opportunity to walk towards the path of redemption by learning sign language to be able to effectively communicate with her. In spite of Yuzuru’s initial disapproval, Ishida manages to talk to Nishimiya Shoko and eventually, he is able to show his sincerity and gain the trust of Shoko’s boyish younger sister.

Nishimiya Shoko didn’t have the chance to befriend anyone from their previous class since Ishida’s constant bullying pushed her parents to withdraw her school admission. So, Ishida decides to reconnect Nishimiya with their old classmates: the kind girl Naoko Sahara, the vain class president Miki Kawai, and even Naoka Ueno who outright expresses her dislike for Nishimiya.

Ishida thinks that he can’t make new friends anymore as part of his karma but meets the funny Tomohiro Nagatsuka who quickly becomes his new bff as well as Satoshi Mashiba who later on joins the group.

“Me, You, Friends.” Nishimiya used to try to convey this message by sign language but to no avail since the immature Ishida back then didn’t even want to take time to understand her. Now it’s his turn to ask her the same thing.

The movie opens with The Who’s “My Generation”. The beats of this classic youth anthem is the total opposite of the film’s mostly tranquil atmosphere. The visuals are not as exquisite as Makoto Shinkai’s creations but Koe no Katachi‘s roughness has its own charms. Female director Yamada Naoko also intentionally includes some off-center shots and blurred gazes to represent Ishida’s vision and his inability to face the world head on. The lack of background music and the use of soft piano accompaniment instead of blaring pop songs give it some indie-ish vibes. Luckily, I opted to watch while eating quesadillas instead of chips at that time. It would’ve been awkward for me to munch on Doritos inside the quiet theater.

Koe no Katachi certainly have strong melancholic moments but there are some unexpectedly laugh-out-loud-worthy scenes to balance the tone so it doesn’t end up being as somber as 5 Centimeters Per Second. More than the edgy visuals, I also appreciate the film’s narrative. We’ve seen a lot of stories about handicapped characters which evoke both sympathy and inspiration, but it presents a different point of view coming from the bully as he grows and struggle emotionally in his attempts to atone for his past mistakes. This successfully strikes a chord with the viewers since at some point in our lives, in one way or another, we may have contributed to bullying someone who seemed “different” from us.

I, too, find myself being able to relate to the characters’ plight. Due to my strong facade, I don’t think I was ever bullied in the past but I realize that I may have lived with a personality that has a bit of Ueno (someone who joins the bully), a bit of Kawai (someone who laughs and talks from behind and a class president at that), and a bit of Sahara (someone who tries to be nice and too scared to be ostracized) combined.

Now that I have learned a thing or two about myself and have finally embraced my introverted side, I think I also ended up walking around while putting imaginary crosses on people’s faces sometimes. That moment when Ishida finally learned to look, listen, and let go – along with the movie’s super lit soundtrack *pun intended*-  was such an uplifting moment.

The movie’s weakness, however, is just the same as any other adaptations ever created. Two hours may seem too long but considering that the original source material has 62 chapters, this running time is definitely not enough to develop each character’s arc. Despite the flaws, Koe no Katachi is a thought-provoking and relatable film that pushes me to the verge of the tears.

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ボク、運命の人です。(Boku, Unmei no Hito Desu Ep.1-3)

Boku Unmei no Hito desu is the highly anticipated reunion of two popular Johnnys, Kamenashi Kazuya and Yamashita Tomohisa. The drama also stars Kimura Fumino and Nanao. I’ve already written this article, Kamenashi Kazuya and Yamashita Tomohisa’s Tandem Is Back for a New Song and Drama!, where I introduced the drama’s main plot as well as its theme song.

While I am happy that I get to reminisce about Nobuta wo Produce, I feel like Boku Unmei no Hito desu is still quite tonally flat for a romcom for now. I am not buying the whole romance yet. At first, Masaki Makoto barely noticed Kogetsu Haruko. When the mysterious man who claims to be “God” appears and shows him a picture of her, it’s only then that he realizes that she’s totally his type. And after a few more photographs that prove their previous coincidental encounters, he’s just suddenly convinced that they are destined for each other after all. The foundation of the relationship that Masaki is trying to establish is quite questionable since it seems like, “Oh hey we’ve played together at the beach when we were kids. Now, will you marry me?” kind of fast.

Luckily, the show gives us a natural and realistic reaction from the female lead. Unlike stereotypical shoujo heroines who abruptly fall in love with the cute guy who confesses to them, Haruko also thinks that Masaki’s straightforward declaration of “I’m Your Destiny.” is stalker-like. It seems that her past failed relationships damaged her emotionally and now she is hesitant to get romantically attached to someone again. This reluctance is the driving force of the story. It gives her the time not only to recall her memories with Masaki but to get to know the kind of person that he has become now.

Back when I first watched Nobuta wo Produce, I wondered why Kame was the lead when his androgynous features will be great for second lead while Yamapi’s manly face is actually more suited for the main character. Over time, I begin to understand that even though he has those perfectly arched brows that make him look feminine, Kame has a way of delivering even the cheesiest lines and make me believe it. Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge’s live-action is a tad cringe-worthy but Kame’s confession scene there is one of the most memorable Jdorama moments for me. In Boku Unmei no Hito desu, the phone call they had while Haruko was standing in a field full of yellow flowers with Debussy’s Clair de Lune playing in the background as they both looked up to the sky was a turning point for their relationship.

It was a well-made and moving scene. So yeah Kame once again shows that he is certainly a leading man material. He’s nailing the whole romantic aspect of this genre so I hope Yamapi will cover the comedy department just as well.

Despite his infamous dead fish eyes, Yamapi made Nobuta wo Produce’s Kusano Akira quite an iconic character. However, I’m yet to be impressed with the way he portrays the eccentric God. His acting has improved but there are still moments when I feel like a scene is too cued and scripted. I hope he can do it more naturally. The character also doesn’t do much except appear and disappear like a ghost in Masaki’s apartment. It’s Kame’s reactions that make his appearances funny. Moreover, Kame’s last project was with Narimiya Hiroki who has really great comic timing so it’s hard not to compare the dynamics between these two bromances.

I’ve only watched three episodes so far, hence the lackluster feels, but I think the show is cute and entertaining. Boku Unmei no Hito desu is worth checking out especially if you’re a fan of Kame and Yamapi. Fumino Kimura and Nanao also delivers a cute friendship which is more enjoyable if you’ve seen their previous characters in Siren.

아는 형님 (Knowing Bros Ep.71)

Knowing Bros (A Hyung I Know) is a JTBC entertainment show that had some rough beginnings and several time slot changes until they finally settled on an effective and totally hilarious format. From the 17th episode onward, it follows the ‘Brother School’ concept where the members act as students while their guests arrive as aspiring transfer students. The guests submit their “application forms” which include their profile, aspirations, and their preferred member to sit beside with. It is usually followed by a series of questions the guests have prepared. There are several segments that come after the guessing game and they all vary depending on the guests. It could be a game or activity, a hilarious ad-libbed skit, or a musical guessing game called Songstagram.

Knowing Bros is one of my favorite variety programs these days and the best thing about it is their use of banmal (informal language). In South Korea, using banmal to someone older, someone who debuted before you, or just someone who isn’t close to you, is a definite no-no. The show disregards this strict seniority and everyone gets treated as equals. This results to some cute awkwardness and good rollicking fun of conversing while teasing and challenging each other.

The original cast members are Kang Ho Dong, Lee Soo Geun, Seo Jang Hoon, Kim Youngchul, Kim Heechul, Hwang Chi Yeul and Kim Se Hwang along with Min Kyung Hoon who joined during the the second episode. Hwang Chi Yeul and Kim Se Hwang left the show and Lee Sang-min was added months after their departure.

The current members have really good chemistry. They often tease each other about some dark and serious issues about their lives but the jokes are delivered in an inoffensive manner the same way close friends talk to each other in reality.

Former ssireum (traditional Korean wrestling) athlete Kang Ho Dong leads the pack with his old-fashioned comedy. I can tolerate his outdated comic sense but I find his voice slightly annoying at times. He’s often compared to Nation’s MC, Yoo Jae Suk, but we all know no one can top Yoo Jae Suk’s popularity in Korea.

Kang Ho Dong’s right-hand man, Lee Soo Geun, is aptly called the Ace. He is the one who usually accepts and reads the guests’ application forms in a creative way. He went on a short hiatus after his gambling scandal a few years ago. Through this show, he was able to resurrect his career and show off his great comic timing and ad-libs.

My favorite Kim Heechul is a member of the renowned idol group, Super Junior. He’s an all-around entertainer who’s been giving funny, witty, and sarcastic remarks since X-Man. He is known for his attractive androgynous features, his almost photographic memory when it comes to entertainment trivia, voice imitations, and girl group choreography memorization. He regards himself as the Star of the Universe, and rightly so. I can’t even measure how much I love this psycho.

Seo Jang Hoon, the best basketball center in Korean Basketball League history, is a gentle giant who stands 2 meters tall. He’s often teased for getting a divorce and for the immense wealth he accumulated throughout his successful career.

Lee Sang Min is a singer and producer for the ’90s group Roo’ra, one of South Korea’s most popular and best-selling artists in the dance and hip-hop genre during their prime. Things didn’t seem to go well for Lee Sang Min after this success since the boys often joke about his anxiety attacks, divorce, and financial debt.

Nicknamed Ssamja, the fearless maknae Min Kyung Hoon, is the vocalist of rock ballad band BUZZ. Despite being the youngest, he is very vocal and straightforward when it comes to showing his rebellious side towards Kang Ho Dong. He is known for his signature head tone singing habit that Heechul constantly and playfully imitates.

Kim Youngchul is a comedian by profession but is considered the least funny member of the gang. He often shows off his English abilities but they’re not really that impressive, too. He has less screen time compared to the other members due to his lack of presence but at least, he is not an irksome member. I think he actually gives the group the perfect balance. Not everyone should come off strong all the time. He once pledged to step down from the show if they ever reach 5% ratings which is high for cable network programs.

Knowing Bros finally reached the coveted 5% ratings and it’s quite an issue as to whether Young chul should really quit or not. South Korean viewers are known for criticizing television personalities who show misbehavior and broken promises on screen. To avoid the backlash, Youngchul skipped one episode and came back as a transferee while humbly asking the viewers’ understanding for his return. Of course, he gets accepted at the Brother School again.

However, Youngchul is not the only one who pledged to do something once the show reaches 5%. All of the members did and Episode 71 is especially dedicated to witness how each of them will accomplish their ludicrous promises. And so they gather on the filming day. While one member goes, the others stay in a van where they get to watch the action unfold. Lee Sang-min, on the other hand, is away for a while to work on the show’s new theme song.

The morning starts with Kang Ho Dong in his three-hour hair color procedure at a salon. Instead of using hair spray, he undergoes the whole uncomfortable bleaching and dyeing process for a silly but actually quite cool half blue and half red hair color. He gets another extra mission later on, proving his popularity among elementary school kids.

He, then, passes the baton to Seo Jang Hoon who needs to revive her Seo Jang Mi character and observe a Physical Education class at a women’s university. In dress and leggings, complete with hair and makeup, the towering member enters the room to the surprise of the female students. He impressively participates in class and is getting a lot of attention until…

..his extremely charismatic boyfriend arrives and steals the spotlight! kyaa~

Min Kyung Hoon meets one of Knowing Bros‘ original fans – a high school student who dressed up as him for graduation long before the show became this popular. Wearing Ssamja’s infamous embarrassing outfit, they meet at an intersection near a women’s university. After a quick chat at a nearby cafe, the student gets his wish to sing with his favorite singer performing Kyung Hoon’s duet with Kim Heechul. Jealous Heechul is the cutest!

Lee Soo Geun gives Knowing Bros some strong 1박 2일 vibes as he takes the cast and crew off road for his physically draining survival challenge. Going through pit stops and a series of bokbulbok, he pulls a heavy cart all the way to the top. This is the meatiest part of the episode as it not only shows how Lee Soo Geun literally tries hard to get his career back but it also shows how the boys care about each other genuinely.

Online game addict and anime fanatic Kim Heechul needs to go to Japan to say “Nico Nico Nii”, Yazawa Nico’s catchphrase from Love Live! with 50 people. For someone as popular as Heechul, he can even pledge a hundred or a thousand people and still be able to do this. The problem is finding the time to film overseas. The PD appreciates his professionalism and for accomplishing his mission despite his busy schedule. Together with his close friend Gunhee, his manager, and another friend, Heechul flies all the way to Tokyo and fulfills his promise even without the show’s official camera crew following him.

Knowing Bros wraps up the episode with their recently completed theme song. Super Junior’s talented member Henry Lau already made the song back when he appeared as a guest in the show. To accomplish his pledge, Lee Sang Min rearranged it and turned it into a full three minute track.

While South Korea is recognized worldwide for its Hallyu wave, the country’s cable networks are recently on a roll not only when it comes to their high quality dramas but with variety programs as well. If you’ve only been watching Running Man to this day, it’s time to explore Korea’s massive selection of other entertainment shows and put Knowing Bros on top of your list of must-watch.