That was such an enjoyable drama! On more levels than you’d expect. It was light and refreshing but also quiet and warm. It wasn’t quite slice-of-life in that both Kotoko and Naoki are larger than life characters — almost (but not quite) caricatures. And they experience unrealistic, plot-twisty adventures. (How many teenagers wind up living with their high school crush? How many college students wind up running a large company?)
Spoilers for everything below…
But the story is told with such a light touch — breezing over the dramatic stuff to focus on the more relatable issues — that it ends up feeling like a slice-of-life drama. (No — you don’t generally end up sharing a roof with your impossible crush. But the confusing dance of “he loves me; he loves me not” is pretty universal.)
A place where my secretly makjang heart expected an explosion of dramatics was Naoki’s marriage talks with Sahoko. I kept expecting Sahoko to be revealed as a villainous schemer — a selfish woman who’d fallen for Naoki at first sight (as everyone does — no, seriously — they do) who’d cajoled her grandfather to pair them. And that, as soon as she and Kotoko were alone, she’d drop the mask and be cruel and threatening and… Yeah, I was totally wrong.
Sahoko was just as demure and sweet as she appeared. And her grandfather really did just want Naoki as part of their family. (Because seriously — everyone does.) Which, once my expectations were thwarted, made me really happy. Partly because it was unexpected (the undramatic choice creating a dramatic surprise: irony). But also because I think it was important that Sahoko be a perfect partner choice on paper.
Naoki is all about what is logical and reasonable. Where he fell down was in emotional truth. So he had to experience having the paper-perfect choice in front of him (a beautiful woman who was his intellectual equal, a marriage that appeared mutually beneficial on various levels) to realize that paper-perfect wasn’t actually truth.
I loved that Sahoko saw this before he did. She was his intellectual equal but she was smarter than him emotionally. (Which, pretty much the whole world is smarter than Naoki emotionally.) He had the perfect romantic lines (that felt like he’d literally culled them from a book) and treated her very well — but it put her at a distance. She realized that the moment he began mocking Kotoko — showing real emotion and engagement.
It’s interesting that Kotoko had the same struggle — choosing between Naoki (an irrational but emotionally true choice) and Kin-chan (rational, but — poor Kin-chan — not emotionally true). Of course, Kotoko is so emotionally wise she finds it impossible to lie to herself. She can’t force herself to love Kin-chan back, or fool herself into thinking she does.
It’s definitely an old school way of thinking: boys are cold intellect, girls are warm emotion. But I think by making it such an extreme (Naoki goes far, far beyond the usual clueless-boy routine) it turns into something fun.
I must admit though — the last two episodes perfectly illustrate why I’m not a fan of love triangles. Not true ones, anyway — where two people really and honestly love a third and therefore two people’s happiness come at someone else’s pain. Kin-chan honestly loved Kotoko. He saw her for who she was and supported her in being herself — his love was emotionally true. So it was painful to see his sweet and earnest heart get broken. I really wish he could have been her brother. Someone who loved her platonically and could therefore have that love returned. Though, that would have failed in triggering Naoki’s sexual jealousy and alerting him to his own emotional truth. So… *sigh* …I guess I’ll have to live with it.
(I didn’t feel that way about either Yuko or Sahoko. Sahoko because she never really knew Naoki. Which she realized and was unhappy about and beginning to move away from him because he kept her at such arms length. Yuko because she seemed to use Naoki as a measuring stick. Not in a malicious way, but there was air of competition to their relationship where she tried to match his cold perfection rather than looking for his heart. So neither woman offered emotional truth for one reason or another.)
Random list of other things I loved:
I was so, so happy that Kotoko’s speech about her future goals (“I just want to be with him: if he’s a scientist I want to be his assistant, a pilot I want to be his flight attendant”) was delivered to Kin-chan and not Naoki (unlike the k-drama version). And I loved that she saw it as childish and incomplete and that she wanted something more. It turned the speech around from a declaration of love and devotion that, frankly, bordered on dysfunctional, into a declaration of growth and self-awareness. (“I love Naoki, but that isn’t enough to define me,” rather than, “I love you and want to shape my life to yours.”)
I loved that Naoki’s dad ran a toy company. It was a little thing but it just struck me as the perfect business for Naoki’s dad to devote himself to and exactly the kind of thing Naoki himself would have little interest in. And I loved that his dad figured out Naoki wanted to be a doctor even though Naoki was trying to keep that on the down-low. I just liked that his parents really did get him.
I loved how flirty Naoki got once he’d finally realized his feelings for Kotoko. (His response to her worrying it’ll all go away in the morning: “Should you sleep with me, then?” Naughty!) And I adored that the romantic moment was broken up by stalker mom’s camera. I totally laughed out loud. And then replayed it.
Oh! And Kotoko crowing over her new knowledge that Naoki had loved her since forever and pulling him in for a big kiss in front of the whole church. (Bonus: the hilarious clergyman’s, “I’ve never seen a Japanese woman do this!”) So affirming and awesome! I will forever love little brother Yuki for spilling those beans.
I’ll definitely be watching this one again (and again) and dreaming of a second season.