Manga, Anime, live-action movies, sushi, chopsticks and some neatly folded paperwork, which I later on figured to be called Origami – those were basically the only things that would come to my mind if someone ever asked me about Japan. Yet, just like any other country, after a fairly good acquaintance with Japanese culture and lifestyle, it turned out to be much richer than what I had imagined it to be. So, my preference list got messed up pretty quick. I love Manga and I love live-action movies, but my favorite is currently none of both. Instead, it’s what even some hardcore fans of Japanese pop culture know little about: Japanese TV series – in Asian fandom terminology: J-Dramas.
Unlike US-American TV series, J-Dramas usually don’t come in seasons. A drama has 9 – 11 episodes of around 45 minutes each, which are usually enough to tell the whole story. J-Dramas which come in seasons are usually based on manga, for example Liar Game, which has two seasons and one ending movie. The acting also differs from the US style most of us are used to. For instance, Japanese characters always think out loud and talk to themselves while making all kinds of facial expressions and gestures to clearly reveal what they’re thinking about. It’s like reading out loud the speech bubbles of manga with all the expressions that come with them like „kyaaa“ and „eeehhh“, so overacting is a natural given in J-Drama culture.
Original sound tracks are always created exclusively for each J-Drama, which makes them fit perfectly into the storyline and specific scenes. As they are usually sung by well-known Japanese artists, J-Drama provides a good access to J-Pop and the Japanese entertainment industry. Moreover, if you are a fan of Japanese culture, you definitely can’t miss out on J-Dramas. Since the storyline takes place in Japan, you get to know tiny details about Japanese lifestyle and customs. You learn more about Japanese schools, restaurants, companies, street food, drinking habits etc. Those are things you don’t get to know that easily by reading articles or manga.
Living outside of Japan, you have online access to lots of J-Dramas. There are many websites that upload episodes right after they air in Japan. About one or two days later, the episodes can be found online with subtitles, mostly in English. The best legal website for Asian dramas is DramaFever, even though most of them are unavailable in Germany. Viki, however, offers a much wider collection of J-Dramas available in Germany and, unlike DramaFever, doesn’t require any subscription fees. So, Viki gets the thumbs up from German fans; not only because of the availability of many J-Dramas, but also because some of them are even translated into German.
Finding the right drama to watch can be a little difficult, since there aren’t any ads on TV or billboards in town. Yet, there are several sites where you can get information about the ratings of many dramas or read viewer reviews. The best website to browse Asian drama is MyDramaList. Here, you can also create your own list of watched, ongoing and planned-to-watch shows. Another website that offers a lot of information is D-addicts. For beginners, J-Dramas based on shoujo manga are highly recommended, for instance Hana yori Dango and Hana Kimi.
Hana yori Dango is about a poor girl named Makino Tsukushi, who attends an elite high school ruled by the F4, a group of four handsome guys who always get busy bullying students and forcing them to drop out. Hana Kimi is about Ashiya Mizuki, a girl who moves back from the USA to Japan to meet her athlete crush, Sano Izumi, in order to convince him to go back to high jumping. She decides to dress up as a boy and attend his all-boys boarding school. The drama Kurosagi, which is based on the seinen manga series of the same name, is a good step forward for young men into the world of J-Dramas. It deals with a swindler named Kurosaki, who wants to take revenge for his destroyed family. Some J-Dramas rely on investigational plots like Mr. Brain, which presents a different case in every episode, or medical genres like 1 Litre of tears about a 15-year-old girl named Ikeuchi Aya, who is diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease, which gradually disables her of controlling her body.
All these dramas are different in so many ways, yet they have one thing in common: they proved themselves to be extremely addicting!
Title Image: Mr. Brain, Episode 1: Tsukumo Ryusuke gets mistaken for the criminal while trying to figure out how the bomb was set.