Saturday, August 6, 2011

thoughts: Hanazakari no Kimitachi e: Ikemen Paradise (Japanese)

Also known as Ikemen Paradise or Ike-para


This article may contain spoilers. For a less detailed summary and thoughts post, please refer to: intro info: Hanazakari no Kimitachi e: Ikemen Paradise


This review had been written nearly two years ago, sometime after I finally gave up interest in manga and anime. I think that the fact that I even started watching live-action drama series played a part in my lost interest in anime and manga.

But here it is, a nice little review, or rather, my subjective opinions about Japan's version of Hana Kimi. Few changes have been made since writing this, and a lot of editing usually happens from the point where I start writing, all the way up to the point that the article finally gets posted (and then after that, out of professionalism, I leave it alone; or at least I try to).

I picked up a live action Japanese drama for the first time and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It's not like I didn't think I'd enjoy it, but I'd always been under the impression that Japanese drama were fairly tragic or always depressing. My parents had watched few in the past and they were always so full of drama that I was hesitant to watch anything of the live action drama from Japan. I don't quite like things that are depressing or tragic and so I avoided...

Then again, now that I think about it, it may have been Korean drama that my parents were watching that ended tragically. I recently picked up Korean drama as well and read somewhere that tragedies used to be the trend in Korean drama series. Only recently have the writers been letting their stories have happy endings -- I'm totally okay with that.

Before I had only been watching Hong Kong's drama series where they always have a happy ending, or at least a justifiable one. But recently, Hong Kong seems to have picked up the tragic ending trend as well as the "make your readers cry their eyes out or scream obscenities at injustices" trend. Unfortunately, they don't do it as tastefully as others do it.

Anyway, of course, I had decided to start with this particular series which is based off of one of my favorite shoujo manga of all time.

To be completely honest, I have always believed that bishounen really only exist in anime or manga. For those of you not familiar with the term, bishounen literally means "beautiful man". It had been a long time coming for me to even encounter a real live male who is so beautiful or so handsome that he makes "roses come up," as the saying goes. This concept seemed to have taken form temporarily in the U.S. a la the Twilight series, wherein the vampire men are described as being able to have a nice rosy background, preferably in a soft light, or such similarities. A nice little teenage-vampire romance genre that I personally cannot make myself look into -- though I'm told I should watch the movies and read the books first before I completely cast it aside.

Anyway, the concept of beautiful men doesn't seem to work very well with American males. I'm not being racist or anything, but truth be told, American men are typically more manly and rough than Asian men. I have read comments about Asian men being small and petite, almost like a girl -- not all of them are like that, but a good majority are so skinny and sometimes have such great skin that they trump a lot of girls. The "pretty boy" concept doesn't quite occur too often in American male celebrities unless they're sixteen and haven't developed muscle or facial hair yet; they probably don't like being referred to as "pretty" anyway. Some Asian celebrities are a little more open to those kinds of descriptions and images: pretty boy, cute, adorable, gorgeous, baby-faced... the like.

Nonetheless, bishounen rarely exist outside of manga or anime. There have always been those guys who are extremely hot, extremely handsome, or even extremely cute. But I'd never come across any who can be defined as bishounen.

Or so I had thought nearly two years ago.

My arena had always been Hong Kong films and drama series. The men in these series or movies can be defined as very handsome or very charming. Some are really cute, but still contain an obvious manly composure. None of them ever seemed like they would fit the description of being so pretty that girls are threatened by his beauty, but still handsome enough to make those same girls swoon. Apparently, if you put them in drag, they're supposed to look exactly like a girl too, sometimes more beautiful.

It's tragic, yea, I know.

I encountered my first bishounen in the Taiwanese Idol arena. At first, he didn't seem like a bishounen; Aaron Yan was more cute and adorable than pretty. But after his first image change from young boy to a more mature look, I could finally see the small face, the lush lips, and the smooth skin and outline of his face that almost made me think, "Oh my god, he would really make a very pretty girl." Because I saw a certain scene in one of his MVs wherein it only shows his neck and chin and lips... and to be totally honest, that picture could totally pass for a girl's neck. He probably wouldn't like that description as most men don't like being compared to a girl, but the truth was there.

After that, I started seeing little bishounen all over the place in the Taiwanese Idol industry. Younger boys, freshly starting their career as entertainers seemed to pop up with the capabilities of being extraordinarily pretty drag queens. And even as young men, one look at them seemed to make you think that they had such pretty facial features and the like.

Though few, I have finally found my proof that bishounen can exist.

Korean drama was where I found my next set of bishounen. The rock band, C.N. Blue are composed of four very good looking young men. At first I just thought they were good looking. But after seeing them in better form, I realized how pretty all four of them were, especially the drummer who oozes of young, pretty cuteness.

But enough about pretty boys.

Now back onto the subject, I had always wondered how certain shoujo manga adaptations into live action could possibly account for the bishounen. Of course, instead of finding guys who could come across as both beautiful and handsome, the series seems to lean more towards handsome.

In this Japanese live action version of Hana Kimi, I found it interesting that they had to leave out the particulars of guys cross-dressing and actually looking beautiful like a girl. Of course, the cross-dressing was incorporated, but being as beautiful as a girl was just out of the question. And so not only did the series go for good looking, but it also went for comical as well. As a side not, while I haven't seen enough Japanese dorama to pass judgment, given this particular series being about a school full of good looking young boys, I can honestly say that, to me, they weren't really all that good looking. And from the posters and pictures of other Japanese dorama series I've browsed, I haven't really seen too many good looking men in the Japanese arena. Then again, maybe I've got my "Nakatsu-only" vision on and everyone else just pales in comparison.

Back to the series itself, it was 12 episodes long and I found that I really enjoyed it a lot. Unfortunately, while the plot devices were the same and the basis and characters were the same, a lot of the storyline was changed immensely. The main plot incorporated different features and a lot of the finer details were altered from the original manga itself. Nonetheless, I found that it was a rather amusing experience and I had a lot of fun watching it.

Call me simple-minded, but some of the comedic antics that others may have found kind of silly... I laughed my head off at. I think that this is the typical Japanese humor that everyone's always talking about -- something that's pretty hard to replicate with other countries. Kind of like British humor that, try as they may, Americans cannot grasp the same concept and so should make do with their own style of trashy humor.

Now, probably no one needs me to say anything about the main plot of Hana Kimi -- it's a very well known manga after all -- but for those who don't know, Hana Kimi is about a girl who, when in America, idolizes a high jumper from Japan and decides to go find him by disguising herself as a boy and enrolling into the all boys academy that he attends. The rest of the story takes off from there, incorporating a lot of things to do with romance, inspirational ideals, teamwork, believing in yourself, and a little bit of homosexuality and questioning of sexual orientation.

Hana Kimi has always been a work of art, in my opinion. As a manga, it's artwork is beautiful and its storyline is wonderful. I agree with others, however, that the original manga itself has parts that could have been left out and ended up dragging as fillers, but even those, I found lovely.

The Japanese live action drama, in comparison, wasn't as good as the manga itself, but it also had its charm. It was hilarious at all the right points, it was a bit of a tear-jerker at times, and I really enjoyed the ensemble of the series' cast members. Of course, there were also a lot of cheesy moments and a lot of dialogue that people in real life wouldn't really say. On a side note, this series leaves out a lot of the romantic and sweet moments between Sano and Mizuki that made Hana Kimi such a lovely story. Of course, they also seemed to change Sano's character a little, making him much more bitter than in the manga, and harder to like in the beginning than in the manga.

The character of Sano Izumi was played by Oguri Shun wherein the majority of his dialect involves grunting. This is a little more superficial than the true character of Sano Izumi that is portrayed in the manga that fangirls fell in love with. But I'm not saying that this is the fault of the actor because he did a very good job of portraying a bitter, introverted, stoic character. He had his silly moments too, but I had to ignore those since it didn't seem to fit Sano's image very well. Sadly, the manga has made me place Sano Izumi on a pedestal and, truth be told, it's hard to turn him into a real person and still see the same guy. Because turned into a real live person, I'm not sure there is anyone who'd be able to convey the charm of a dull and monotonous prince charming that seemed to show very well in the manga.

So I'm kind of glad that the live action drama doesn't completely follow the manga itself, allowing fans to follow it as a separate entity. Of course, maybe a live action version just does a better job of portraying all the emotions that simply reading a manga cannot get across; because then you can hear the anger, frustration and feelings behind words rather than trying to imagine them based on exclamation points and written in sound effects and drawn facial expressions.

To my dismay, I actually didn't really like Sano Izumi in the first half of the live action series; in the manga, he was a rather one-dimensional character in the beginning, but I didn't particularly harbor any hostility towards him. In the live action series, it took me until nearing the middle of the series to finally decide that I liked him; after he got friendlier, he also seemed to get cuter and that was a plus. Before, he was just some bitter, arrogant jerk who didn't really give a damn about anyone or anything and just wanted to be left alone. He seemed irritated with everything, which is NOT the Sano Izumi that we fell in love with in the manga. While in the manga, Sano was rather indifferent about a lot of things, he still showed a level of caring and some forms of interest in his own little way. Oguri Shun's Sano Izumi just seemed to be an emo character with lots of inner turmoil and the penchant for being an asshole.

The character of Ashiya Mizuki, played by Horikita Maki, however, really DID shine in comparison to her romantic counterpart. I really couldn't help but to think that she was extremely cute throughout with her expressions, her exclamations and the way that she spoke. Horikita Maki did an excellent job of portraying the character of Ashiya Mizuki; and then there's a new type of spunk that the manga doesn't give to Mizuki. I liked that spunk, and instead of just being a noisy kid, Mizuki ended up being a very loveable girl instead. The one fault of Horikita Maki is that, no matter how hard she tried, she just seemed extremely too girly for the part of Mizuki. The character calls for a girly personality anyway, but I had my doubts that people actually didn't know she was a girl in disguise instead of just another one of those boys who look pretty enough to be a girl.

Nonetheless, I liked her version of Ashiya Mizuki, but I didn't care for her one-tracked, Sano Izumi-only train of thought. She was too relentlessly in love with Sano and didn't convey the amount of caring towards her other friends that the manga version shows. Granted, with few episodes to go off of, maybe there wasn't time for her to show too much care for other people. But at the least, she could have been friendlier to Nakatsu instead of treating him like a nuisance and an outsider at times.

Speaking of which, kudos goes to Ikuta Toma who played the part of Nakatsu Shuichi.

To be totally honest, the manga version of Nakatsu meant nothing to me except an unfortunate third wheel to an already blossoming love story. His appearance that was supposedly part of a love triangle between Sano and Mizuki was pretty much nonexistent because of all the significant scenes between our two main protagonists. Nakatsu, in the manga version, to me was just there as a means for Mizuki to have a boy who loves her so much that he would do anything for her. He also made a rather good form of comic relief among the seriousness of a romance developing. While I know that Sano's feelings do not lose out to Nakatsu's in the aspect of who loves Mizuki more, Nakatsu's trials and tribulations of overcoming that social barrier in order to admit that he was in love with Mizuki while still a boy was very admirable. After all, Sano found out that Mizuki was a girl well in advance and slowly fell in love with her; Nakatsu only knew Mizuki as a fellow male friend and began to find himself attracted to her despite that fact. Unfortunately, the manga version of Nakatsu, besides serving as comic relief, really didn't leave an impression on me.

Instead, in this live action drama of Hana Kimi, the part of Nakatsu was done so excellently by Ikuta Toma that there is a definite lasting impression. There was a moment in the series where I began to worry, because for once, I wasn't rooting for the main couple. Ikuta Toma-sama's protrayal of conflict, love, and joy and humor really made me feel for him. His way of making Nakatsu an always cheery, self-sacrificing friend made me really reach out to him; for a while, I almost wanted him to be the one that Mizuki chose, not mattering that in both manga and live action, Mizuki's actions never show her heart going anywhere but to Sano.

Of all the boys in the entire series, Nakatsu ended up being my ultimate favorite. And I attribute most of this to how well Ikuta Toma managed to bring a simple side character to life. To his benefit, the series seemed to favor Nakatsu much more than it did Sano. There was more interaction between Nakatsu and Mizuki; even if it was really one-sided on Nakatsu's part. The moments in which Nakatsu is there for Mizuki are more significant in the live action than they are in the manga; in contrast, Sano's significance seemed to have paled and instead had Mizuki jumping through hoops to make sure that Sano was happy while Sano barely had to lift a finger. Nakatsu, on the other hand, continuously thought of Mizuki's happiness and welfare first and foremost, protecting her and loving her despite his confusion of sexual orientation and Mizuki's undying devotion to Sano Izumi. Placing both his best friend and the person he loved before his own feelings, this Nakatsu Shuichi was portrayed to perfection.

Nakatsu Shuichi was center stage for all I could see. This series was made to promote Ikuta Toma, not mattering that Nakatsu is merely a side character.

It almost made me grimace to realize that the way Mizuki treated Nakatsu was not very much like the "best friend" that she claimed him to be, but as someone she would easily take for granted. No matter what he offered to do for her, Mizuki could easily brush it aside and run back to her Sano without even any consideration for what Nakatsu must be feeling. In a sense, this is exactly what the Mizuki in the manga was like from beginning until the very end, except she was a little nicer to Nakatsu, Nakatsu's presence was really just for comedic relief, and Sano was not an asshole. Nonetheless, in the manga, Mizuki at least conveyed a better level of loyalty than she did in this live action series.

Ikuta Toma's portrayal of Nakatsu Shuichi has left such a deep impression with me that I've unhesitatingly become a fan. Whenever I find something new about him on the internet now, I'm "kya-ing!" like a crazy fangirl. As I am drawn to men with exceedingly beautiful smiles, it doesn't surprise me that I would so easily fall into the entrancing presence that is Ikuta Toma-sama. As it is, Ikuta Toma easily steals the spotlight of a storyline wherein others are supposed to be the main characters.

Aside from being part of the comic relief, being a consistent support for Mizuki, Nakatsu also came out as a voice of reason and was also the guy who pointed out details that the viewer is questioning as well, turning the scene into quite the hilarious one. Example in point, whenever multiple people somehow enter a room from nowhere and suddenly the place is filled with rambunctious high school boys, Nakatsu was the one who screamed "What are all of you doing here?" or something of the like. This is probably a form of Japanese humor that doesn't get put into series that often unless the show is strictly comedic with fourth wall conversations. Nakatsu was a strong presence in the series, being able to lead a scattered group of Dorm 2 kids if the lovable flirt, Nanba Minami happened to be absent (as shown in the Hana Kimi special).

Speaking to the forth wall seems to be one of his specialties and I love him very much for that. Especially when he goes into monologue.

In conclusion, of the three main characters of Hana Kimi, for the live action drama, I fell in love with Nakatsu Shuichi. Mizuki can have Sano; I want Nakatsu to myself now. Ikuta Toma's style was excellent with perfect comedic timing and wonderful facial expressions to each scene and moment. To top it off, after the first few episodes, I began to find Ikuta Toma to be an irresistably cute, good looking "ikemen", as the Japanese would say; I enjoyed his presence more so than I did Sano's.

The rest of the cast was a little less than agreeable to me.
My all time favorite Umeda Hokuto sensei, unfortunately, cannot be recreated as a live action portrayal. Only in the manga version is he my glasses wearing, homosexual, hotter than hot Umeda-sama. Sadly, because there are so few true bishounen in the real world, its hard to find a good man suited to completely portray Umeda sensei's ooze of sex appeal merely stepping into a scene. While Kamikawa Takaya is a good looking man, he seriously pales in comparison to the sexy god who is Umeda Hokuto-sama. I'm being unfair and extremely biased about this, I know, but of all the bishounen in the manga world, only Umeda sensei has been able to make me want to jump through the pages and do unspeakables to him.

I'm a sad, disgusting, and lame fangirl, but that's the ultimate truth. I don't care if he's gay. Although I think that the fact that he has such wild and unpredictable actions and ideals is what makes him so hot -- it's not so much just his physical appearance, but his flambuoyant personality. It's like that forbidden fruit you're not supposed to have, because I am personally a very conservative person and will most likely die as a prude -- so his character was a breath of fresh air and a dream come true for me. Something that I cannot be and someone that I cannot have -- it's a rather ideal dream, don't you think?

This series was fun; I repeat myself. And I enjoyed watching certain parts of it. Of course, the ending left me a bit unsatisfied; as I had mentioned before, the few sweet, romantic moments shared between Sano and Mizuki paled in comparison to the ones incorporated from the original manga.

The basis of their relationship, while I hate to admit it, is that Mizuki spends her time thinking of ways to make Sano smile while Sano protects her and takes care of her. In other words, it's a princess and prince relationship where Mizuki is the shining, lovely princess and Sano is her prince, always there to save her and whisk her off of her feet. It's simple, but it's hard to feel from the series that this was what the live action version based the relationship on. It was what made their love so sweet in the original manga. In the live action, our two main characters merely present a struggling relationship between two people connected to each other by one incident in their past leading to a rash decision by Mizuki to find Sano and support his return to the high jump.

Maybe I shouldn't really compare too much. The live action should be a separate entity after all since the storyline isn't even the same. But one always finds it hard not to compare two versions of the same story and decide which was the better of the two.

In my personal opinion, I prefer to keep certain things the way that they are. While there are a lot of aspects I prefer from the original manga, such as the relationship between Sano and Mizuki, and the uber presence of Umeda sensei, and even the more detailed characterizations of some minor people; I think that I do prefer Ikuta Toma's portrayal of Nakatsu much more. He has more depth, he's better looking, and his presence seems much more significant; he oozes of cute cuddliness, sunshine, and I just wanna hug him to death. I also kind of liked Mizuki's more spunky personality; however, the one-tracked mind she had toward Sano seemed two-fold and almost selfish to the point that I didn't like it every time she ignored Nakatsu just to run off to find Sano. It didn't matter that Nakatsu had both of their well-beings in mind, Mizuki acted quite unfair towards Nakatsu even as just friends.

I'm groveling in shame for forgiveness, because while Sano and Mizuki are the main couple I love from the manga, I really, really feel that Nakatsu should have been treated better by Mizuki in the live action drama. I'm not asking for too much, right?

However, if in the original manga, I had felt the same way, then it would have been conflicting for me to fully enjoy watching the destined couple get together without obstacles. Because for the live action, I almost thought that Sano would have equal competition in the form of the Nakatsu Shuichi played by Ikuta Toma.

Live action Hana Kimi... give it a try, I would recommend it very much. The cast is exceptional, the story is good and the comedic antics are worth sitting through. The romance is a little bland, however, but Nakatsu's feelings make up for a lot of the missing sweetness. Ahhh... Nakatsu...

For Ikuta Toma fans all over, watch an excellent performance and Toma-sama at his best. Fall in love with Nakatsu Shuichi like you never would have before and enjoy watching his lovely, extra adorable smile.

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