Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Itazura Na Kiss (Manga/Anime/Drama) *Spoilers*

I know I am supposed to be busy de-cluttering. Or at the very least continue to blog more about my Japan experiences.

But now, I am stuck in a little bubble which descends over me whenever I chance upon a really good story, whether told in a book, manga, anime, live drama series or film. It is a bit hard to explain. It is almost like being in a limbo, which will see me withdraw into my mind that will think about nothing else for days but that story, pondering over its multiple layers of meaning, its impact on me and the rest of the world, etc. I will research obsessively on everything concerning it (from the background of authors to soundtracks) till I could write a thesis about it; I may pretend I am one of the characters and lose touch with reality for awhile. This limbo state was worse when I was a dreamy teenager - I would be "zombi-fied" for a long time (just ask my best friend). Only until I have explored every angle and relived every emotion to death do I resurface again to the Land of the Living. Adulthood, it seems, did not really rid me of this malaise. I guess, once a dreamer, always a dreamer, no matter how old.

Not surprisingly, it is romantic stories that often send me into a frenzied tizzy (strange, even after marriage), although I can get emotionally involved with fantasical (or even childish) stories like Harry Potter or complicated plot thrillers like Steig Larsson's Millenium series. It has always been my deepest darkest wish to be a storyteller - to affect millions of others the way these stories affect me, and along the way, hopefully earn a billion dollars like J.K. Rowling. But that is another topic for another day.

First "playful kiss" between Irie Naoki and Aihara Kotoko

The culprit for my hibernation this time is "Itazura Na Kiss" or "Playful Kiss", a chick-lit manga written by Kaoru Tada and published almost two decades ago in 1991. I first encountered this story when I watched Taiwan's live drama remake "It Started With a Kiss" and the sequel "They Kiss Again". OMG - I was so totally addicted it was ridiculous. The male lead, Irie Naoki (江直树)as played by Joe Cheng was so HAWT he burned me up (apologies to my Samurai) !! Suffice to say I was in dreamland for quite a long time after completing the series.

Recently, it came to my knowledge the Koreans are also remaking the show, titled "Mischievous Kiss" and at this very moment they are showing it in South Korea every Wednesday and Thursday (and that is when I appreciate the beauty of illegal downloads). As I was trawling the Net for the latest episodes, I came across a 2008 anime of the same name, and started watching  it as well. And what do you know? I became engrossed again hook, line, sinker.

As a fellow fan and netizen of the story remarked, watching the same story for the third time around (albeit in a different medium), one would expect to get sick of it no? But the reverse is true. We get more and more emotionally invested in the characters, and the story appeals like fine wine, which gets better with each retelling. And then it struck me that Kaoru Tada struck gold coming up with a timeless storyline, one that speaks to the little girl with the inferiority complex in us, one that says "Hey, if you try hard enough, you can land the perfect man, the Man of your Dreams. It doesn't matter if you are not pretty enough, if you are not smart enough, if you are not elegant enough. Just stay true to your heart."

At this point some of you will stand up and point out the fact that I am a grown-up, thirty-something married woman, who is way past the age of silly fantasies and a businesswoman with some achievements to boot! I suppose feminists would baulk at this story about a silly klutzy girl (Aihara Kotoko/原湘琴)who chased desperately after the perfect man Irie Naoki for five years before landing him. They (and probably I) should be appalled that Kotoko revolved her entire life around this one man (no matter how GREAT he is) and has no ambition in life other than being his wife and supporting him in everything he does. And that is after Naoki has been so mean and cold to her for so many years.

Indeed, my independent and intelligent side recoiled at her desperate and many times brainless antics to have him notice her and fall in love with her. But another side of me admired her resilience, her persistence and boldness. My intelligence and independence certainly would not allow me to make a fool of myself when I was in a similar situation in the past but I have got to wonder if I had missed out a great payoff when Naoki, against all his common sense, fell head over heels in love with Kotoko.

And Naoki, ass that he is, is as close to my idea of a perfect man. Nothing gets me as hot under the collar as an intelligent man, and he is about as intelligent as they can come, with an IQ of 200 (!!! - is that even possible?!). And he is drop dead gorgeous to boot, athletic and an excellent cook! Like hallo, what more can I ask for???? Yes, he is cold, he is mean to Kotoko, and is unable to express his feelings well, but that makes him all the more human. With an insane and over-exuberant mother who dresses him up as a girl when he was young, and tries to dictate his life according to her ways, I guess we can thank the gods Naoki did not turn out more psychotic than he did. And when the Ice King thaws, he thaws beautifully, in the most romantic of ways. Excuse me while I wipe off my drool.

The unique thing about this manga though is that the story does not end with their happy marriage but stretches way beyond into their marital relationship, their riotous family life and their subsequent careers. Tragically, Kaoru Tada passed away in a freak accident which left the manga unfinished, which also left the Taiwan drama series hanging as well where Kotoko discovered she was pregnant at the same time she developed dire eyesight problems. Based on revelations by Tada's husband, the anime had a proper conclusion with the birth of Naoki's and Kotoko's daughter, Kotomi. And yet, one could not but hope for more, as I still want to know what happens next in their lives, not just the two central characters but the rest of their family and close friends who form so many intriguing sub plots. I sound a bit insane, ne? But I am comforted when I read the fan forums and find many others who are crazier than I am. (Thank God.)

If I were to discuss everything here, this blog will indeed turn into a never-ending thesis, and I have barely started on what this story personally means to me. Nevertheless, if you are an "Itazura Na Kiss" virgin, get to know it in some way or another, whether you read the manga or watch the Taiwan/Korean dramas, or the anime (which is superb). Even if you don't get emotionally affected the way I do, I can guarantee you will have one heck of a good entertainment.

4.5 stars of 5 (Taiwan's "It Started With a Kiss")
4.5 stars of 5 (Taiwan's "They Kissed Again")
4.99 stars of 5 (Anime Version - which carried the story beyond the original manga and it is short and to the point but some storylines are cut. 25 episodes with each episode at 25 minutes long. Can finish in a day!)
4 stars of 5 (Manga - because Naoki is not very good looking here - yes I am very shallow I know! But everything else stemmed from this wonderful story so kudos to the author!)
??? stars of 5 (Japan's "Itazura Na Kiss". The oldest drama from the 1990s, and the leads look terrible and there are only 9 episodes. So not bothering to watch.)
4.25 stars of 5 (Korea's "Mischievious Kiss" - from the episodes shown so far. Rating may change as plot gets juicier.)

Watch the complete anime here. Highly, highly recommended!!!
And the soundtrack, "Jikan yo Tomare" (じかんょとまれ) rocks! Watch the excellent fan-made MV below:

Ok, now that I have gotten it out of my system, back to real life. (Until the next manga.....hmmm Fruit Basket.)

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