Hana Kimi ~ Hotties Paradise (Japan)
((summary taken from dramawiki, edited by me))
Hanazakari no Kimi Tachi E / ikimen paradise
Based on the popular manga of the same name by Nakajo Hisaya, Horikita plays the protagonist Ashiya Mizuki, a Japanese American living in the U.S. who one day sees the young athlete Sano Izumi (Oguri) compete in the high jump on television. She begins to idolize him, and after learning of his desire to give up the high jump, decides to move to Japan and attend the same school.
However, Izumi goes to an all-boys school, so Mizuki disguises herself as a boy to achieve her dream of being with her idol. But can she convince Sano to return to the track team? And how long can she possibly keep her gender a secret? And then, there's Nakatsu: the hot-blooded soccer player who finds himself strangely drawn to Mizuki, despite his penchant for liking women... what's a straight guy to do when he starts fearing he's falling for a man?
(This is the second adaptation of Hana Kimi: In 2007, Taiwan did their own version)
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I'll admit: I was very bias before starting this drama. As a HUGE fan of the manga as well as the Taiwanese version, I was reluctant to give it a fair shot, since the beginning was so comical, exaggerated, and ridiculous. Not to mention that Sano comes off as one huge emo-whiner. And the fact that they used the sub text, "Hotties Paradise" makes me want to gag.
However, I finally decided to give it a shot after seeing a music video for Nakatsu, played by Ikuta Toma (WATCH IT HERE). Honestly, he's the main reason I stuck with this till the end, despite some of its more cringe-worthy moments. And it's saving grace was that its ending (episode 12--not the special).
But in all honesty, it wasn't that bad. Despite my love for Hana Yori Dango, I've never been a huge Oguri Shun fan (or Horikita Maki, for that matter), but their acting did grow on me after awhile; and they filled their roles as well as can be expected. But what I really ended up loving was the actors behind the second-stringers: Nakatsu, Nanba Minami, Oscar, Tennoji, Nakao, Kayashima, etc... there is such an eccentric cast of characters, that it's hard not to be drawn in by all of them. And if nothing else, you can tell they had a lot of fun filming this. ^_^
Overall, I still feel that Taiwan's version did a better job of capturing the "heart" of the manga. It almost felt that the Japanese producers were afraid to really embrace the concept, so had to continuously put up disclaimers of how insanely unreal this scenario is . . . when they should have just accepted it, and stopped whining.
A prime example is Makino's motivations for entering the school. In the manga, she didn't HAVE a great reason (which for me, was always part of her zaniness and charm): she saw her idol had quit jumping, and joined his school in order to find out why. And yet here, they make her reasons seem almost *too* selfless and self-sacrificing: like she's a martyr, who has taken on the burden of her idol's accident squarely on her two shoulders *gag*. And I wouldn't have a problem with that . . . if they hadn't tried so blatantly to overcompensate. I mean, why even bother giving her a reason for such a crazy stunt, if you're just going to undermine it right away by saying "this is too extreme; it'll never happen"??
The beginning starts off as almost a straight-on joke: everything is nonsensical, and not meant to be taken seriously . . . but then, at certain parts, it'll change directions, and try to be dramatic and touching. And really, it was the dramatic and touching moments that really worked for me (despite my love for the insanity that was Oscar, lol). Episode 12 was really well done, and made me feel for all the characters . . . but then, you place that besides scenes from earlier episodes (the treasure hunt) and it's like two different shows mashed together. I'm still not sure what the point of the special episode was . . . other than to rework episode 7 and 12 in a slightly different ways, while showcasing Nakatsu's popularity.
I REALLY wish they had stuck with the manga ending for the special: have Sano move to America to be with Mizuki (something he hinted at in Episode 12, but went nowhere). And then have them return to Japan together to attend their friend's marriage.
I guess my main gripe, is that I wish this had been a bit more like Nodame Cantabile: In that drama, they KNEW their story was insane, and their characters unhinged... but you could feel the care that went into them, and that, beneath it all, they were still humans with flaws and fears. (Plus, it didn't hurt that all of the actors were top-notch performers). In Hana Kimi (Japan) it just felt like something was missing. Like everything was a bit half-assed in the beginning, and at the end, they *finally* decided to get serious. When all was said and done, all I could think was:
This drama was good . . . but it wasn't *that* good.
The acting was decent . . . but it could have been better.
The story was funny . . . but some plot-lines were stupid and redundant.
The romance was sweet . . . but slow . . . and ultimately, I found myself rooting for the doomed pair.
I can understand the appeal of this drama (it's one of my favorite mangas, after all). But I admit to being a bit dumbfounded by its popularity: I can't see it even comparing to Hana Yori Dango, or Nodame. And as an adaptation, it falls very short of its Taiwanese counterpart . . . especially in regards to the romance and love triangle.
For me, Toma's version of Nakatsu is what drew me to this series . . . so I'll definitely be checking out more of his dramas in the future.
And I know I might have been a bit harsh with this drama... but I really did enjoy it. It was a nice distraction while I waited for Liar Game 2 to begin, and for new episodes of You're Beautiful and Iris to air. I actually do think a lot of people will like it . . . however, try and look past its source-material, and enjoy it for what it is: a nonsensical bit of fun, that doesn't bother to take itself too seriously. ^_^
In its defense, I would have given it 4 stars, if I hadn't had the manga and the Taiwanese drama to compare it against. So, if you're going to read the manga, read it after watching the drama . . . it'll make the changes less difficult to bear.