With a pile of bills to pay and loads of responsibilities to shoulder, being in your 20s is hard enough as it is. Add to that the societal pressure of being engaged in a romantic relationship or having a prospective marriage partner, and you will end up with an even more taxing life. While I do believe that romantic relationships and marriage are things that people, regardless of age and gender, should not feel compelled to be in, taking a step back to muse about them in your late 20s is natural. And to avoid raising stress levels through innocent musings, what perfect way to think about them through the third-person perspective?
The usual romcom recommendations such as the widely popular Hana Yori Dango (花より男子) or the fun-filled Hana Kimi (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e – 花ざかりの君たちへ) – with their carefree characters brimming with youthful vigor – may not be the best stimuli for this, but dramas that are more targeted to your age group definitely can. So sit back, relax, and let yourself be lost in the stories of these three wonderful Japanese dramas!
Glow of Fireflies or Hotaru no Hikari(ホタルノヒカリ) is a live-action adaptation of a josei manga of the same title, featuring the adorable Amemiya Hotaru played by Ayase Haruka (綾瀬はるか) and the dashing Takano Seiichi played by Fujiki Naohito (藤木直人).
The story centers on the lives of Hotaru (also known as “himono onna”) who works for an interior design company and her chief at work, Takano-buchou. Spending her night alone in her littered place, sporting her infamous jersey and a top knot, while gulping a beer and biting on a dried fish, is the ideal lifestyle for Hotaru. Rather than busying herself with group dates after work, she prefers to spend her time alone lazing around her home, chugging on several bottles of beers, and having one-sided conversations with cats. Due to such an incurably sloppy lifestyle, Hotaru falls under the category of “himono onna,” (which literally means “dried fish woman”) a failure of a woman that is said to be as dry as dried fish.
But Hotaru’s merry lifestyle was interrupted when Seiichi was set to move back to his parents’ house after he and his wife decided they needed to keep some distance from each other. Unbeknownst to him, Hotaru is currently residing there after she and Seiichi’s father had a “formal agreement” – to which they have written on a chopstick’s cover – that Hotaru can have the house for herself. Needing a place to live in, Seiichi’s cohabitation life with Hotaru began.
The adaptation was composed of two seasons and a movie. The first season focused on Hotaru’s attempt to overcome the hurdle of her being himono onna and become feminine enough to achieve progress in her relationship with her co-worker, Makoto Teshima. The second season and the movie focused on how Hotaru and Seiichi’s relationship progressed, encountering conflicts and potential love rivals along the way.
Hotaru no Hikari is certainly one of the most entertaining dramas I have ever watched. With the interesting plot line and exceptional acting, peppered with comedic banters of Hotaru and Seiichi, this drama easily made its way to my must-watch dramas list. One cannot simply get tired of watching our dearest himono onna flailing while squealing “Buchou~!” and Seiichi’s hilarious comebacks. But beyond comedic relief, what makes Hotaru no Hikari shine more than the others is its more realistic take on romance.
As much as people enjoy heart-thumping declarations of love and seeing guys and girls get all worked up for a date, I think people in their late 20s can better relate to the much-needed comfort that freedom to be yourself entails. Being appreciated for wearing cute tops and miniskirts, especially when you did your best to doll up, may be a good thing, but receiving affection for simply being yourself is far better. Having dates in a romantic restaurant with a great view can probably make your heart skip a beat, but I think having someone to sit beside the porch at night while enjoying a can of beer and chatting about mundane things is pure bliss. And the characters of this drama, with Seiichi truly loving Hotaru despite all her quirks and antics, greatly portrayed the value of finding such partner.
Please Love Me or Dame na Watashi ni Koishite Kudasai (ダメな私に恋してください), otherwise known as Dame Koi, is also a live-action adaptation of the josei manga that goes by the same name. This 10-episode series is starred by Shibata Michiko played by Fukuda Kyoko (深田恭子) and Kurosawa Ayumu played by Dean Fujioka (ディーン・フジオカ).
With the company she’s working in shutting down, and her money going down the drain after recklessly buying expensive things for a younger guy she is not even dating, single, jobless, and penniless Michiko had to resort to eating cabbage with mayonnaise for meals. Nearing her 30s and without much skills to offer, finding a new job had been no easy feat.
One fateful day, when out of extreme hunger she attempted to rob a stray cat of its canned cat food, Michiko stumbled upon her former boss who she used to hate – Kurosawa Ayumu. Taking pity out of the desperate girl, Ayumu brought Michiko over to his cafe called “Himawari” and fed her. After listening to Michiko’s woes about her lack of job and money, Ayumu offered her a part-time job in his cafe, promising to provide her meals and even feed her her beloved meat. Gratefully accepting the offer, Michiko decided to work at the cafe while trying to land a permanent job. The story progresses as Michiko got to know different sides of Ayumu and see him in a different light – as someone beyond the overly strict shunin (person in charge).
Aside from being a manga adaptation, Dame Koi actually shares a few similarities with Hotaru no Hikari. For one, there is the blossoming of a romantic relationship between a boss and a junior. Both female leads are also inexperienced when it comes to love and were somehow given support by the male leads as they try to keep a normal relationship with a boyfriend they got involved with after a long period of romantic drought. Add to that the somewhat childish nature of Hotaru and Michiko who yell for “Buchou~” or “Shunin~” while hugging a huge dolphin stuffed animal or a gigantic stuffed toy of a slab of meat, and the sternness of Seiichi and Ayumu who somehow managed to keep up with the female leads’ craziness.
But above all else, I think the best common denominator of these two awesome dramas is how both male and female leads grew as individuals as they find love in unexpected circumstances. Hotaru may have been perfectly comfortable with her independent himono onna life, but if it weren’t for Seiichi, she wouldn’t be able to forge deep human connections and meet someone who can accept her for who she is. Likewise, Seiichi may have been satisfied with his prim and proper lifestyle, but without Hotaru, he wouldn’t be able to loosen up and his life remaining grayscale.
Despite retaining some of her no-good characteristics that seem to be inherent, Michiko made remarkable progress as a person after she got more involved with Ayumu, with her supporting tendencies now much controlled and with things in her life finally falling into place. It may look as if she is the only one who benefited from her and Ayumu’s relationship, but I think Ayumu also achieved significant growth upon their new encounter. Not only was he able to let go of a long fruitless one-sided love and make amends with the ghost of his past, he also got to expand his horizons and be more open about his feelings.
Grabbing one of the highly coveted Getsuku (Monday, 9 PM) time slot – a time slot believed to air the dramas that are predicted to gain the highest ratings – for 2015’s winter season, Dating: What’s It Like To Be In Love? or Date – Koi to wa Donna Mono Kashira (デート 〜恋とはどんなものかしら〜) ran from mid-January to late March 2015 and made a comeback for a special episode during summer of the same year. The drama featured Yabushita Yuriko played by Watanabe Anne (渡辺杏) and Taniguchi Takumi played by Hasegawa Hiroki (長谷川博己).
Yuriko is an extremely brilliant woman who took up her undergrad and graduate studies in Mathematics at the highly acclaimed University of Tokyo and is working for the government, applying mathematical models to solve pressing problems of the country. On top of being extremely upfront and lacking in social skills, her obsessive-compulsiveness and strong stances relating to Math kept her from having a successful omiai (marriage interviews). However, to ease her father’s worry that she won’t ever be able to find a marriage partner, the 29-year-old math whiz and straight-laced Yuriko is set to get married before she turns 30 by registering at an online marriage matchmaking site.
On the other hand, Takumi is a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who calls himself a “koutou yuumin (intellectual idler),” spending his days absorbed in literature and arts as he reads manga and novels and watches movies. Feeling sorry for his mother who has gone sick after overworking herself to earn money to support them, Takumi decided to take up the offer of his friend to go on a date with one of his best matches in the matchmaking site that his friend registered him in so that he can find another person he can leech off from.
Yuriko and Takumi happened to choose each other for a date, both with marriage in mind but without any plans to fall in love. After finding out that they share the same idea that an ideal marriage is an agreement between two people who do not have the slightest affection for each other, the two decided to work on an arrangement for a successful marriage.
From its bizarre premise to its peculiar characters, Date is one of the most unconventional dramas you will ever encounter. With the vocal airing of sentiments of both leads about the triviality of love and its disastrous effects in marriage, the drama easily provides the viewers with many things to ponder about.
Although Yuriko and Takumi’s sentiments may come off as a little too intense and provoking, one cannot help but contemplate about the series of persuasive arguments they put forward, with some of them unwelcome but surprisingly sensible. The drama may not be able to change your stance about the importance of love, but it will surely give you a totally new perspective not only in love but also in people’s lifestyle choices.
Personally, I find it amazing how the stories unfold in such a way that the viewers can empathize with Takumi who is shamelessly proud to tell everyone that he wants to spend his life leeching off from someone. The life of a koutou yuumin may be hard to stomach, but the turn of events allows the audience to at least consider the idea that people have freedom to lead their lives the way they want to. To top it off, it’s charming to watch characters develop from staunch critics of love to characters that are able to see beyond their prejudices and acknowledge that they, too, can see the beauty of marriage built on love.
In the period when you are surrounded by internal and external conflicts and when you are at the prime of your quarter-life crisis, I think finding solitude by watching films or reading novels that you can relate to is one of the things that adults yearn for. In your late 20s, watching teenage couples worry about where their relationships will go once they go their separate ways after graduating from high school, eventually figuring out that their love is strong enough to withstand any distance may be adorable, but deep inside, you know that there are far more serious problems in life that people have to face. Carefree and fun-filled romance may always have a special place in our hearts no matter how old we get, but watching dramas about couples of your own age, with problems you can relate to, and who have happy endings in their own ways, is a breath of fresh air.