Thursday, 29 December 2016

Currently Watching: Yuusha Yoshihiko to Michibikareshi Shichinin

Well, this came as a surprise. Five years after the last Yuusha Yoshihiko series, this new outing for our hopeless J-RPG stereotypes came out this season without me noticing any pre-publicity for it. I don’t know if it was a low-key release or if I’m just clueless. Either way, I was happy to see it back.

The format is the same: our hero Yoshihiko has to cross great distances and battle countless foes. And while they’re doing this, references to pop culture and video games pepper the dialogue.

The whole cast is back, including Yoshihiko’s sister who does very little except secretly follow her brother. Perhaps this time she’ll have more of a role to play.

Despite the long gap between series, it’s kept a lot of the amateurish charm of the original. It’s often hard to tell when the script ends and when improvising begins, and an eagle-eyed viewer should be able to spot various cast members trying not to laugh.

There is a story, but as I sit here and type, I realise I have no idea what it is. And it’s not important. It’s just a lot of very silly fun. Of course, how much you laugh will depend on how much you know about the thing they're making fun of. I especially liked the Final Fantasy episode but was less amused by the TV Tokyo story. I'm wondering if they're going to make fun of the Persona series of RPGs but that might be too niche, even for them.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Running Man: and then there were none!

Well, only days after I write about Gary leaving the show, I found out that the series would finally end in February 2017.

(EDIT 30/01/2017, Well, it seems that it will continue after all.)

This announcement came at the end of a confusing week in which SBS, the channel which makes the show, revealed that Song Ji Hyo and Kim Jong Kook would be leaving the show to make way for new cast members in Running Man 2 in January 2017.

Was this when they got the idea
for Running Man 2? (From ep 305)

Unfortunately, SBS didn’t reveal this to Song Ji Hyo or Kim Jong Kook until the day of the news release, which left them hurt and the fans angry. In the end, plans for Running Man 2 were dropped and the two regulars were reinstated with the announcement that Running Man would end for good in February 2017 with no second series.

My feelings on the series ending are mixed: I was still enjoying it, but at the same time I’m quite relieved. The cast aren’t getting any younger and both of the two mentioned above have had recurring injuries (Song Ji Hyo’s wrist and Kim Jong Kook’s knee). I’d been wondering how long it could go on for.

RM national rating 2010-2016

It seems that the high overseas sales wasn’t enough to save Running Man’s poor run (a ha ha) in the rating’s battle. As I mentioned previously, RM hasn’t been able to shift much from 6%-7%, no matter what it does.

There was a sudden drop in November 2015 when RM got squeezed between two shows: the massively popular new show Real Men 2 and the suddenly revitalized long-running 1 Night 2 Days. Since then, RM has never been able to claw back its share of the viewers.

Former regular Lizzy let's slip that she was sacked.
She's not the only one.

It’s not as if the show suddenly got worse. In fact, I thought that period (272 onwards) saw some very imaginative episodes. But public taste had left it for other shows and eventually SBS thought something had to be done.

It’s just a shame that they did it so badly. Sacking and then un-sacking members of the cast is never a good idea. However, The Korea Times says that the news was leaked and wasn't actually part of an official statement. Even so, it's a grand example of miscommunication. All of this nonsense happened around the 16th of December, so in a couple of weeks I’ll be looking very closely at those episodes that were recorded soon after the scandal broke for any signs of awkwardness. I hope they’ll mention it on air and have a good laugh about it, but I don’t think they will.

Whatever happened to this attitude?

Monday, 19 December 2016

Running Man: And then there were six

Ah, remember when there used to be nine regular members of Running Man? You know, back in the days when water was clean and bread was cheap. Well, those days are long gone and now we have to boil our water, slice our bread really thin and make do with only six regular members in Running Man. Something like that, anyway.

Once we were legion!!

Now... not so much.

Recently one of the regulars, Kang Gary, bid us all goodbye to concentrate on his music career and possibly also try to save his back which had, on and off, given him problems throughout his Running Man career.

While it was sad, it wasn’t a huge surprise. He’d made statements about leaving before and, apparently, he only stayed as long as he did after he was asked to do a few more months before he finally quit.

The finale was very sad and made me shed a tear, but it was slightly spoilt by the very end which suggested that Gary would be in the following episode, too. It kind of ruined the moment. Like winning a heated argument and leaving the room in triumph, only to have to sneak back in again and get your coat.

Mind you, the next episode (with Gary as a guest) was pretty funny and it was entertaining watching people squirm with having to meet him again so soon after a tearful farewell.

Since then, a Gary-less Running Man has carried on much as before, which I'm a bit surprised by. Ratings haven’t changed at all, seemingly stuck on 6-7% no matter what happens. Perhaps the biggest winner in terms of air-time has been Song Ji Hyo who now seems to feature more prominently.

So, no jumping the shark, no sudden drop in quality now that the seven cast members have been reduced to six. The chemistry is still there, which is a big relief.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Currently Watching: Cold Case

This WOWOW drama is something of a rarity: a foreign (in this case American) format adapted for the Japanese market. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another example where that’s happened. There have been occasions where stories have been rewritten for a Japanese audience (Agatha Christie, for example), and Furuhata Ninzaburo clearly borrows in theme and style (but not in content) from Columbo. However, this is the first occasion that I can remember which has been such a strict adaptation.

This is no bad thing, of course, and it’s nice to see a Japanese police drama that's a little more down to earth. The performances, directing and photography are all top notch and I suspect that only WOWOW could make this kind of show in Japan right now.

Having never seen the US version I can't tell how closely the Japanese version sticks to the original. However, the new writers have been clever enough that it's hard to tell where the join is.

Episode six is my favourite to date, but I've always been a sucker for the “first victim of war is innocence” kind of stories. But all episodes have been good, and there's no guarantee of a weekly resolution as you'd expect from most Japanese cop shows and a remarkable lack of moralising.

Overall, this series stands some distance above anything else in this genre I've seen recently.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Still subbing: Furuhata Ninzaburo

Some of you...

Well, a few of you...

Maybe one of you may be wondering why there was a long gap between posts this year. Well, a large part of it was down to work suddenly ramping up but also there was the part played by Furuhata Ninzaburo and my role in subbing it in English.

It is one of my favourites and an absolute joy, but I found that my decision to do the subtitles for season 3 and then the specials has had a knock on effect on my drama watching.

If I sat and watched a J-drama, I would think to myself that I should actually be doing some work on the subtitles. It’s a bit of a burden because I’ve always thought that Furuhata Ninzaburo deserved English subs, so now that it’s me doing them it seems wrong to ignore them. So I stopped enjoying Japanese TV and I pretty much stopped watching.

I still enjoyed Japanese culture, though, and in my time away from blogging I completed a free on-line course on antique Japanese books, which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend. I also planned my next trip to Japan in some detail only to watch as, post-Brexit, the pound went down and the yen went up, adding about £500 to my plans and causing me to postpone it for a year.

But recently I’ve changed my subtitling habits from trying to do a lot of subtitling in one go, and instead chipped away at it, five minutes at a time whenever I can. I doubt this is quicker, but it’s not much slower, either. Also it helps with my guilt because I can sit down to watch TV without the nagging doubt that I haven't done any subbing in a while.

Whenever an episode is complete, I feel very proud of it so I have absolutely no intention of stopping this project and, hopefully, after this special I’m doing at the moment, things will soon be smoother since I’ll actually have two sets of subtitles to work from which should solve any ambiguities in the dialogue.

In the meantime, sorry about the delay but I feel much better now that I’m able to watch and enjoy J-dramas again.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Currently watching: Society Game

This new reality game show, a collaboration between Endemol and TvN, pits two teams against each other for a single cash prize at the end which goes to one person. Each team lives together for twelve days (during which the twelve episodes are recorded, making this a very efficient piece of TV) with one team working as a democracy, while the other is a benign dictatorship. Which will create most harmony?

It’s very addictive, as you might expect from TvN who also gave us The Genius and Crime Scene. Each episode is split between showing us how the players interact in their living quarters and the actual games between the two teams. With moments of levity and a lot of scheming, this part is an essential aspect of the game showing that the power struggles within the team are as important as the struggle between teams.

If a team loses the game, then they have to lose a player and this is decided by the leader at that time.

So we have it all: subterfuge and scheming, games, and all in a reality show setting that is self-contained. No islands or anything messy like that. The cynic in me sees it for what it is: a format designed to make profits in overseas sales. However, I can’t deny it’s my favourite show right now. And that’s down to the contestants.

These have been chosen from a wide range of backgrounds and none of them are particularly famous, which is probably a lesson that TvN learned from The Genius where people of similar professions/level of fame tended to group together.

The “stars” so far have been the comedian Yang Sanggook who’s managed to be the dictator of one team for the first four episodes.

Also there’s MJ Kim, a female MMA fighter who is basically a tiger in a woman’s body. She’s proven herself as a valuable team-member and – at the time of writing – a team leader.

But everyone has something to add. Macho Yoon does not live up to his name of macho, and is fairly ineffectual at everything. Choi Seolhwa is one of Yang Sanggook’s confidants, but she seems a bit paranoid and is constantly wondering if she should start a rebellion against the dictator.

It’s delightful nonsense. In episode one it tries to dress itself up as a sociological experiment, but its true purpose is clear: to entertain. And it does that so well that you can’t help but be carried along in its gossipy back-biting. Enormous fun.

You can keep up to date with English subs here thanks to the wonderful Bumdidlyumptious.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Currently watching: Mamagoto

Considering how long it takes me to do subtitles, it might seem odd that I felt jealous when I saw that someone else was doing the subtitles. I had even subbed the first few minutes until I saw that Earthcolours were doing them. Good job too, because their subs were far better than mine. I’ve been doing police dramas for too long: I struggle with drunken banter.

Which brings us to the premise of this series: a woman who runs a bar suddenly finds she has to look after the five-year-old child of an old friend who turns up one evening and then vanishes. This does not fit well with her nocturnal lifestyle, and it also brings back unwelcome memories that she'd rather forget.

The series is, for me at least, a chance to watch Ando Sakura at work. She moves pretty effortlessly between moods, switching from benevolent mother-figure to loudmouth insolent without it seeming strained. But of course she's excellent. It seems a little redundant to point it out.

Koyama Harutomo, who plays the part of the five-year-old, is pretty good. There are moments when his acting seems to stop and then start again, but nothing major. He's certainly got a good look, with an unruly mop of hair on top of his round expressive face.

I'm quite unconcerned about where the story goes. A debt collector is involved now, so it won't just be about a woman learning to care again after a troubled past, but beyond that I'm not really bothered. I'm just going to enjoy Ando Sakura and hope that everything else is half as good.