I love Japanese dramas and Juhan Shuttai (literally: second printing), with the charming Kuroki Haru and the quirky but reliable Odagiri Joe, is imo a perfect example of what makes doramas click.
Slice of life – Japan specializes in producing dramas about the mundane daily life and making them heartwarming and charming, even in their stark portrayals of the sadder or tragic part of it. Sure, they have their share of the fantasy and historical (taiga), but it’s through their slice of life doramas that one can easily relate to.
Juhan Shuttai depicts the day-to-day struggles of the mangakas and the editors who work with them. If you’re a manga fan, it will make you appreciate the production process. But even if you’re not, the creative process of how a manga comes to life can also be fascinating.
Doesn’t use romance to attract viewers – I hate it when a drama that has such great potential is ruined because the production is too bent on pushing the love angle to attract audience and ratings. I’m not escapist that way and I always prefer a good story to a sappy romance that just gets in the way of plot and character development.
I love how our heroiine in Juhan Shuttai, Kokoro (called by her boss as koguma or bear cub) is not the typical lovelorn lead female character or Cinderella who needs to be saved. She has her share of disappointments (an injury prevented her from making it to the national judo team) but she has not allowed those to get in the way of her dreams.
And even if she is surrounded by men (she’s the lone female in her team), that does not open up opportunities for love angles, tirangles, quadrangles to materialize (thank you, writer-san) though at first, I thought there will be between her and Iokibe-san (Odagiri) or Koizumu Jun (Sagakuchi Kentaro). But that’s the thing about J-dramas. There may be romance or a hint of it but unless it is a romance-drama, then don’t expect hearts to be coming out of the leads’ eyes just because writer-san wants to pander to the audience by throwing them cringe-inducing sappy lines and scenes. In doramas, the characters actually live their lives and do their work the way they’re supposed to and not spend the time dating.
It teaches you lessons – Watching J-dramas can be self-introspective. They compel you to reflect on yourself and even confront certain things — whether fear, existential questions or simple situations.
Every episode would usually have a theme and at the end, the audience walks away with something other than spazzing over how good-looking the leads are or how pretty the clothes were. My favorite episode in Juhan Shuttai is the first episode where Mikurayama sensei, an aging mangaka who has a long-running serial, is told that he is already an oacon (useless, outdated thing), but Kokoro realized what has been the problem with his recent drawings. Mikurayama has developed a hunch back over the years but the angle of his drawing table has remained the same. “You’re just seeing it from a different angle,” Kokoro told him.
That discovery applies to many situations too and you don’t have to be a mangaka or a manga editor to be able to apply that in your own life.
The ensemble cast – Even if a dorama is headed by popular artistes, they will be supported by an able cast that could make a huge difference. Doramas are usually an ensemble work and whose responsibility not only lies on the main cast, but on the side characters. And those side characters are not only quirky, funny, sympathetic or interesting, but they also play important roles and are not relegated to the background most of the time.
That’s true in Juhan Shuttai, and that’s also true in Matsumoto Jun’s 99.9, which also aired in spring. The paralegals in 99.9 had their share of screen time, just like the other editors, mangakas and other people working in the manga magazine in Juhan Shuttai. This also helps spread the work among the cast and not put the pressure on specific characters who need to be in all the scenes, and which probably means being on standby around the clock, making them unproductive.
Short but sweet – On average, a dorama is 10-11 episodes; 12 would be a rarity. If you’re lucky, there could be a second season for successful doramas, or at least, an SP.
Doramas are usually pre-produced, meaning they’re not done in a live shoot system (though 99.9 and Sekamuzu from last spring’s season were semi-live shoot, meaning they were advanced only by a few episodes).
Some people complain it is too short but it really is not. The length of the episodes allows the production to pack everything tightly and do away with unnecessary scenes i.e. long dramatic close-up scenes of a character crying or staring into the distance while the theme song plays repeatedly in the background. Sometimes, the entire theme song would play (three minutes on average) while a montage of prettily-edited scenes play out. In the end, what does it bring the audience, except probably search for the song or give them time to do other things, or abuse the fast forward button, or well, get into the melo and consume a box of tissue, why not.
I did complain that 99.9 with only 10 episodes was very short, but that’s because the production made the entire run worth watching that it felt sad to let it go. And not because there were still some loose ends that needed to be tied up, which can happen even if it’s a 20-episode drama. (But I wouldn’t mind a second season of 99.9.)
Juhan Shuttai’s 10-episode run was just right. It highlighted the mangakas working for the magazine, gave the editors their back stories, even afforded a peek into the work of bookstore and marketing staff, the realities that confront those who work in the printing industry, and came to a satisfying conclusion of Mikurayama sensei winning that year’s major award. The message of age not being a barrier to relevance and one’s dreams felt very fitting for the manga at a time that the publishing industry is struggling against the rise of the digital platform.
And in this day and age, getting a “juhan shuttai” is something to celebrate indeed. Just like how a dorama like Juhan Shuttai, amid rating wars that often make productions succumb to puffed rice dramas, is something to enjoy.
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