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.

Monday, 7 November 2016

The Curse of Kabachitare!

Do you know what a ghost ship is? Not a spooky spectre of an ocean going vessel, but a real ghost ship. It’s a ship that’s been abandoned but, for whatever reasons, doesn’t sink and just floats around the oceans unmanned and alone. The best example I know of is the SS Baychimo that was sighted several times over the space of thirty years without ever being salvaged.

Which brings us to Kabachitare! This series (broadcast in 2001) was one of the first J-dramas I ever watched. Except I didn’t see more than the first two episodes, subbed in 2006 by YamaQ-T fansubs. Then nothing.

Suddenly, in 2010, BON Fansubs said they were going to sub it. They didn’t get too far either (episode one hardsubbed), and once again Kabachitare! vanished into the mist.

Then in June of this year, quite out of nowhere, a d-addicts user Virgule said that the translation was done, and all that was needed was QA. He didn’t say which episode, but it was encouraging.

But since then, it’s been radio silence again.

I wonder how many more fansubbers will become stuck on Eri Fukatsu’s lightning delivery, or be bemused by out-of-date references to things that everyone knew fifteen years ago but are now forgotten.

I don’t envy them. It seems like a hell of a job to take on. I certainly couldn’t do it, especially with no Japanese subs to work from.

All that’s left is to keep an eye on the horizon and hope it comes into view.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Currently watching: IQ246

Well, hello there. Hisashiburu desu ne.

Much as I’d like to say this is a return to regular service, it’s more likely to be a blip. Having said that, there are a few things I want to write about regarding J-dramas, so who knows: I might be back soon. I’m making no promises, though. I doubt that anyone’s too concerned.

But why, then, write about this series? On the face of it, this is another semi-comedy cop show with unlikely storylines and everyone has an adorable quirk. However, when I read the synopsis I saw shades of Sherlock Holmes, and I’m a bit of a Holmes fan, so I gave it a chance.

And to my surprise this has, for some reason, dragged me back into watching J-dramas. First, I like the leading actor, Oda Yuji. His character is pompous and arrogant, just like Sherlock, but is also slightly off-kilter in a way that reminds me of the Japanese Poirot in Orient Kyuukou Satsujin. That performance by Nomura Mansai was perfectly pitched between refined tastes and oddball eccentricity, and I see a lot of that in the lead role in IQ246.

The Sherlock Holmes references – or to be more exact BBC Sherlock references – keep cropping up. Episode two has, as it’s central premise, the same as Sherlock’s opening episode “A Study In Pink” (give the victim a choice between two pills) albeit with a different ending.

Alongside this off-centre genius are some pretty typical J-drama staples. The rookie detective given a job just to keep her out of the way. A Japanese guy who keeps using English when he speaks. And a geeky love-struck pathologist who has the hots for the lead role (also taken from the recent BBC version of Sherlock, maybe?).

This last one, played by Nakatani Miki, reminds me of her work in the first Keizoku and makes me wonder if there might be a way she can do a proper sequel...

I can but dream.

Oh, and excellent subs from candylemon.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Best Running Man shows part four

Another year and a bit has gone by since my last list and a comment in a previous post made me think it was about time to do another list of the best episodes to date.

Running Man’s days of being a rating’s winner are long since gone, and it usually finishes third in its time slot. It’s probably true that Running Man keeps going largely due to overseas sales, but with ratings now firmly stuck below 10% I do find myself wondering how much longer RM can continue. On the other hand, as you'll notice when you read my choices, there was a sudden patch of very original and interesting episodes between 270 and 280. I was impressed how a show could seem so new after five years. Mind you, this period coincided with some of the lowest ratings of the year so I may be in a minority in that opinion.

But enough pessimism, let’s celebrate the best with a top ten! And this has been a year (to be exact eps 233 to 283) without any really poor episodes at all. There were plenty of very good episodes which didn’t make the list by very fine margins, such as eps 241 (Time Capsule mystery) 250 (Big Bang and water basketball) and 283 (Smile Cup). But these, in order of transmission, are my favourite ten.

(The previous part to be Best Running Man series of posts can be found here (EDIT July 2016, this link is currently down due to a DCMA request through Blogger. They haven't actually specified what copyright I've infringed, but I've replied with a counter claim and we'll see what happens next EDIT, nine days later, the link is back and I've no idea why someone brought a DCMA claim against me. Oh well.) and links to parts one and two are also on that page)

Episode 253

There were lots of couple races in 2015, based around various themes. This episode had a summer camp vibe to it, and had plenty of amusing summery games. The winning couple was given the opportunity to melt a large block of ice, inside which was a key to a box. Open the box to win.

Episode 258

The detectives with amnesia episode. The cast wake up in a warehouse, with their memories wiped (and their acting ability missing too).

This is the cue for a number of detective-themed games, including getting through laser-beam security (actually yellow elastic) and a Metal Gear Solid-type section where the detectives have to buy groceries without being photographed.

Episode 259

The theme linking this episode's games is that there are three lead roles in a drama up for grabs. These theme, though, is pretty tenuous and while some games have some feel of a dramatic scene, others are less so.

Still, that doesn't mean it isn't fun, and I especially enjoyed the Blindfold Race in which two men with blindfolds on have to negotiate an obstacle course, using only the instructions from the female member of the team.

Episode 267

Can Running Man stop squabbling and become a team? That's the question posed by this particular episode.

The seven regulars are locked in a large room and have to entertain themselves until they are given a mission. This mission has to be completed unanimously: either with each member succeeding or giving the same answer.

The main fun is watching how the seven interact given so much time together. They inevitably make their own entertainment, and by now they're so used to each other, it's almost as if you just have to point a camera at them, and you have a show.

The ending is rather touching, too.

Episodes 271-272

An epic battle: one hundred trained fighters (wrestlers, martial artists) against the Running Man team of seven plus as many famous people as they can invite (up to 100) in the six hours before battle begins.

During this six hours, the Running Man team can reduce the opposing team's numbers by winning three mini games.

These two episodes are perhaps the least typical Running Man episodes in that most of the comedy comes from the wide diversity of celebrities that the seven members can convince to arrive and the looks of confusion on their faces when they find out what's going on.

Episode 274

After a slightly over-long section where the guests are introduced in pairs, the unique point of this episode is revealed: the couples will be chained together for the duration of the filming.

Gary and Ha Ha steal the show, though. Their recently rekindled rivalry has become a regular part of  this show, and Gary takes a lot of pleasure in being as lazy or as inconvenient as he can.

Episode 275

In this episode, the theme is “rivals”. There are two teams, and each member has a rival in the opposing team. For example Song Ji Hyo and Hani are rivals in their ability to fall asleep on air.

At first, the teams have to play games to get the status of being “elders” meaning the other team have to speak to them formally, no matter what the real age difference may be. This lead to a lot of humorous tension as the “elders” gleefully demanded respect from the other team.

All of this lead up to a cage match at the end of the episode. And only Running Man could come up with a battle in which the two contestants have to fall asleep the quickest.

Episode 276

Gary is trapped in a box in Seoul, and the other six have to find him, using only whatever clues he can give them in a sixty second phone call. The twist was that in the box with Gary, hidden under the bed, was a box of diamonds. The six other members have to find Gary before he found the box.

An intriguing episode, and one that gave us the running joke of 7012 (the password to escape from the box), a number which has popped up a few times since this episode.

Episode 277

Zombie outbreak in a disused building. The seven RM regulars have to save as many survivors from a building full of zombies without getting bitten themselves. At first the zombies are slow and only react to sound, but as the game goes on, they evolve into faster, smarter enemies.

A very atmospheric episode with some excellent examples of betrayal among the RM members in the face of a zombie horde.

Episode 280

A social media battle. Each of the Running Man team get social media accounts and have to compete in various games according to instructions from their followers online.

It's a clever idea, and one that really works in the final name-tag chase as each member is told secretly by SMS which other member they have to eliminate.