First impressions: Cantabile Tomorrow, Misaeng, Akatsuki no Yona, & Selfie

cantabile tomorrow

Cantabile Tomorrow (Episodes 1 – 4)
>>Watch: Dramafever

Synopsis: From Tomoko Ninomiya’s hit manga, Nodame Cantabile, came the widely popular anime and Japanese drama adaptations—now the Korean version has arrived. Arrogant perfectionist Yoo-Jin and eccentric Nae-Il take center stage as Chiaki’s and Nodame’s Korean counterparts. Although exceptionally talented in piano and violin, Yoo-Jin harbors a secret wish to become a conductor. Debilitated by his childhood fear of flying, dreams to study abroad seem out of Yoo-Jin’s grasp. When he encounters Nae-Il—a talented but “sloppy” pianist—his world slowly starts to expand.

Thoughts: Needless to say, Nodame Cantabile is HUGE. Scrutiny and mixed feelings are bound to hit any adaptation with a large fanbase. Those who worked on creating the Korean drama made sure to point out that Cantabile Tomorrow is not an adaptation of the J-drama, but of the manga. So… having not read the manga, I feel unsure if any of my frustrations have footing. Granted, I feel that adaptations can and should make a story their own. I don’t enjoy watching carbon-copies, but enough of the original content should be left intact that it’s not entirely lost or forgotten. And yet it’s strange. It doesn’t feel like Cantabile Tomorrow has changed content or plot, but characters themselves tell a different story.

Although I like the J-drama, I did rely on the K-drama to tone down its slapstick humor and alter scenes that—I can tell—are ripped straight from of the manga and anime. And the K-drama does just that—and more. Unfortunately, it’s done alongside the cost of character representation. Juri Ueno is, admittedly, a great Nodame, but I wasn’t concerned for who’d play her Korean counterpart. Now, after watching four episodes of Shim Eun-Kyung portray Nae-Il, I find that I have greater appreciation for Juri and the J-drama in general. While Eun-Kyung does bring out the softer aspects to Nae-Il, her acting is much too exaggerated to the point where I question Nae-Il’s intelligence.

Even others, such as Streseman and Do Gang-Jae, I worry about. Where as Kozo Eto was a strict teacher with a mean streak, his heart was in the right place. Do Gang-Jae, on the other hand, seems trapped inside a typical villain’s role. Sigh. This makes me wonder what will become of the Korean Saiko… I can only hope.

But not all is a disaster! I am a fan of the original live-action Chiaki—uhm, to a limited extent—but Joo Won is doing a splendid job as Yoo-Jin. He adds layers to his character, and I love watching them slowly peel away as the relationship with Nae-Il warms his heart. I felt immensely critical about Yoo-Jin: would they choose a competent actor, or not? And I’m surprised that while my non-worries regarding Nae-Il turned problematic, Yoo-Jin quickly won my support. If not for Joo Won, I don’t think I could last the show’s duration. In essence, I simply can’t look at Cantabile Tomorrow by itself. I see it and always make comparisons, and my disappointment only seems to grow—even if Joo Won’s Yoo-Jin is my small sliver of hope.


Misaeng (Episodes 1 – 4)
>>Watch: SoompiTV

Synopsis: Since an early age, Baduk had been at the center of Jang Geu-Rae’s life. His dreams to go pro, however, flop. As life throws its punches, he leaves the Baduk world and enters a stint of part-time jobs. Now at age 26 with nothing but his GED, it is by good fortune that he lands the position as an intern at One International. To survive office culture—something he knows nothing about—proves much more difficult than he could have expected.

Thoughts: Misaeng blows me away. I’m amazed and excited for much of what this show offers, and the fact that it stays consistent with each episode, but I’m most intrigued by its pure realness. Within every K-drama I’ve seen, there lie elements that remind me this is Dramaland and not the Real World. Misaeng lacks this component. It pulls strength from drawing up complexities that come with everyday settings and the most mundane tasks, giving it a nice touch of reality. Of course, the directorial style, editing, writing, and cast help make this drama everything that is: tangible, relatable, and so captivating that I felt emotionally invested within the first half hour.

Most of all, I think Im Siwan deserves a round of applause for the subtlety of Geu-Rae. He possesses a timidity that makes it seem as though he’s delicate enough to shatter, and I want to sweep him into a big bear hug. I feel his pain, and I want to make it better—which is a testament to just how quickly (and deeply) I’ve grown attached. But then Geu-Rae has this other side to him, and I realize he’s not spineless. Gue-Rae’s quiet front, and his ignorance about office life, almost give him the appeal of someone with no drive. He looks and feels beaten-down, dispassionate with his neutrality. But underneath all that exists a tenacious, resolute spirit, and somehow, I know he’s okay.

Siwan aside, the entire cast is pretty amazing, namely Kang So-Ra and Lee Sung-Min. Honestly, I could burst open from all the praise I have for Misaeng. Not to say that Misaeng is for everyone. The drama is quite bloated on time—did the the first episode really need to clock in at an hour and half? I don’t think so (and thankfully it cuts down to and hour after that). But then I’m so mesmerized by the performances and how every scene becomes visually engaging that I have little to complain about.


Akatsuki no Yona / Yona of the Dawn (Episodes 1 – 3)

Synopsis: Having been doted on her entire life, Princess Yona has never known pain or hardship. This quickly changes when, upon her sixteenth birthday, she witnesses her beloved Soo-Won murder her father.  Grief-stricken and in shock, Yona flees the castle with her faithful servant Son Hak. As she grapples to deal with her heartbreak and Soo-Won’s betrayal, she and Hak set out on a journey to reclaim the throne and gain allies along the way.

Thoughts: I owe a big apology to the manga. When I’d heard of the anime, I recalled having (literally) just seen a manga of the same name. I had high hopes: it came across with depth and promise of plot and characters that are both equally fleshed-out and layered. But then I smacked straight into Yona, pre-development. If there’s anything I loathe almost as much as a character who doesn’t grow, it’s waiting on that growth to happen—especially when the character presented has one too many unlikable traits. And Yona has much to dislike: she whines, she’s selfish, and she’s ignorant. She’s everything you’d expect a pampered princess to be, but now that I’ve caught a glimpse of her future self… wow. Just wow. She’s bad-ass. Son Hak is already super bad-ass. And Soo-Won… makes me curious. Something in him allows me to doubt his claims that time spent with Yona (and Hak) were lies. That through all these years, he was bidding time, hiding his true self and motives.

I’m not completely in love with the art, but Akatsuki no Yona is a case where the story wins me over. With a season that offers few good anime (I’m sorry to say), it’s quickly become a favorite that I look forward to watching each week. If only I could binge, I would.


Selfie (Episodes 1 – 4)
Hulu, ABC

Synopsis: The “instafamous” Eliza Dooley might have 263,000 followers in the world of social media, but after experiencing a particularly lonesome day, she realizes that being friended online isn’t the same as being friended offline. Upon seeing Henry Higgs for the marketing guru that he is, an epiphany strikes! If his marketing skills live up to everyone’s praise, surely he can reinvent her, too… From Eliza’s vapid, shallow notoriety, she aims to market her new and improved self as Henry struggles to teach her how to live in the real world.

Thoughts: Did anyone else follow Karen Gillan from Doctor Who to Selfie? I was devastated to see Amy and Rory leave the Doctor. For three seasons, I’d grown to love them. Not just as characters, but for the chemistry they all shared, and I’m not sure the show can ever recapture that feeling. But now that it’s over and done with, we move on. For Karen, that’s Selfie (but not to forget she’s played in multiple movies since).

The adaptation of Pygmalion demonstrates a modernized concept—one that we’ve all encountered (and may be sick of). The jokes and criticism surrounding people, technology, and society’s growing vanity have grown old—especially for younger generations who receive the brunt of it. That said, for a sitcom about Eliza’s impairing addiction to social media, I didn’t walk into Selfie expecting much. But… in a pool of negative commentary, I feel like I’m in the minority when I say I like it. I genuinely like it. I wasn’t sure if I could see Karen as anyone other than Amy, or if the chemistry between her and John Cho would work. And the fact that I can watch Selfie and not only see Karen and John as Eliza and Henry—this seemingly unlikely couple—but that Eliza and Henry can’t be anyone else BUT Karen and John.  It’s a job well done for casting, and as far as humor goes, it’s doing well—aside from a few jabs at things I believed to be long dead. And if they’re not dead, they need to be. (Did Eliza really talk about her “feels”? Ugh, she did.) Creatively, it’s not spectacular but I do find it engaging, and I can only hope that ratings won’t become its downfall.


One thought on “First impressions: Cantabile Tomorrow, Misaeng, Akatsuki no Yona, & Selfie

  1. Pingback: Recommending: must-watch 2014 Korean dramas | [vagenda implied]

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