Enough of summer season initial impressions for now! Amidst all the new anime, I stumbled across a 2011 spring J-drama titled Asuko March! This live action is a bit of a cross between the J-dramas Hanazakari no Kimitachi e and Gokusen, and certainly stands its ground as one of my more recently enjoyed school dramas. Though I’ve been wading through a pool of angsty K-drama romances, I went back to my Japanese live action foundation to try a newer series. My stint away from that particular circle was immediately evident, as the only actors I recognized were the two adult teachers. Upon looking up the acting backgrounds of the student characters, I also saw that they were all younger than me by at least a few years. Despite having finished high school many years ago, I still enjoy school dramas, albeit from what I like to consider a wiser standpoint.
Like in HanaKimi, our female protagonist finds herself attending an almost all-boy’s school, though unlike Mizuki, her attendance is due to one devastating error on her high school entrance exam. The only schools that will now accept her are technical schools, and she enrolls into Asuka Technical School, otherwise known as “Asuko.” Its poor reputation and education standards are well known, and Yoshino Nao is embarrassed not only by her own mistake, but also of her school and peers. The future college acceptance rates are abysmal, though the post-high school job hire rate pushes above 90%. Career paths include electrical, mechanical, auto, and general public work. In desperation, Yoshino begins studying immediately to receive high marks and prove her eligibility for transfer. However, through various encounters with her classmates, she learns that they are far from what she assumed, and begins to respect them and their career paths. Her hard work in the classroom also reveals a liking for hands-on labor. Like in Gokusen, the “hoodlums” instead are revealed as people with dreams and needs. As her kindness and willingness to help others touches each of her peers in turn, Yoshino discovers a place where she not only fits in, but where she truly wants to be.
Technical work has always been intimidating to me, as I have almost no understanding for anything remotely mechanical. What little I know about my own vehicle stems from required instruction from my father, information meant “in case of an emergency.” As such, I highly respect anyone who wields a wrench with authority. The presentation of the setting and characters are fairly typical of a live action school drama, with boys who over-act their toughness and those in love incapable of voicing their affections. A large number of the confrontations could easily have been avoided through sensible communication, but of course, that would make for a very short series. Despite this formulaic set up, the feelings are universal and the biases of the intellectual on the working class are, regrettably, common even today. As such, it’s easy to relate to the characters and their frustrations. This is basically a feel-good show, meant to teach viewers appreciation for all paths of life, the importance of finding your own role, and the necessity of finishing through on commitments, no matter how difficult or seemingly trivial.
Cast and Characters
Though Yoshino Nao is the show’s protagonist, Asuko March! features two more notable characters who form a love triangle with Nao. No school drama is complete without a bit of romance and conflict! As only one of two females at the school, Nao receives an understandable amount of attention from her male classmates, as well as resentment from her female peer. Acted out by Takei Emi, the character is wholesome and always well-meaning, though the results of her intentions are not always favorable. Emi succeeds in pulling off the wide-eyed, innocent look of Nao, though I did find at times that her emotion was laid on too thick. I don’t know too much about Japanese school regulations, but I believe that modesty is usually required in appearance. I love that Nao wears little to no makeup, and that she pulls her hair back into a sensible ponytail. The clean look works nicely for Emi. This is my first encounter of her in an acting role, so I look forward to seeing many more presentations from her.
The two male love interests are Yokoyama Aruto and Tamaki Makoto, who are played by Matsuzaka Tori and Kaku Kento, respectively. They, too, are new actors for me, and I find them delightful eye candy. Aruto enters as a seemingly playboy-type character. Tori pulls this off extremely well, with his confidence and charismatic presence. I wasn’t completely convinced, however, of his compatibility with Emi as Nao since I thought their interactions short of material required for the formulation of affections. Her relationship with Tamaki, though, makes sense (and is my personal favorite). He is her first friendship at Asuko, and the first to teach her appreciation for the school, its students, and the students’ line of work. Although she fancies Aruto from the beginning of the series, I thought her interactions with Kento’s character much more understandable and believable, since their care for one another comes from a founding friendship. I also thought Tamaki worked better with his facial expressions and reactions; since Aruto is classically pretty, I thought a majority of his pensive and caring expressions forced. Kento may not be as good looking, but he wins out in the personality department.
In terms of enjoyment and laughs, this show actually rates higher than my overall score. I also like that the love side of the story remains second fiddle to the main story and Nao’s personal growth in that school. What brings Asuko March! down is its lack of originality. The one area of the setting that fought the standard school environment were its technical aspects. Though the characters begin to move in separate directions at the end of the show and the main conflicts have been largely solved, I sense that a second season is possibly in the works. Here’s to hoping!