Category Archives: tv & film

The Imminent Future: 2016 Fall Doramas

Okay, that’s a lie by probably 25% since five or six of these are already airing, but don’t quote me on that; I’m no good at math. What I am good at is hiding from the Internet for a year and a half and drowning in dramas, so that’s what I’m going to talk about: more dramas to get lost in.

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Discussion: Death Parade, Episode Six

I admit: March left me satisfied—though not without puzzlement—because it was the episode I’d been waiting for. Information dumps put me in a week-long mindspin, and yet I relish them all the same. It’s because Death Parade’s various parts all pose questions—from plot and character development to a greater scale of theme and symbolism. Rolling Ballade and Arcade, although worthwhile, offer little insight into the show’s larger concepts—and the newest episode seems to follow suit. Even so, Cross Heart Attack is everything I expected it to be. It’s not the info drop episodes two and five are—but that much I predicted, considering the show’s pattern thus far. It doesn’t look like much at a glance, and in contrast to an episode like Reverse, it really isn’t. But does that mean it’s empty? Surely not.

CHA wrenches away from Quindecim’s soothing atmosphere and replaces it with Viginti’s stiff setting. The switch feels jarring, which speaks for my comfort level and familiarity with Quindecim more than anything else. (Read: strong preference.) Juxtapose to Decim’s bar, Viginti is brighter, less ‘open’ or spacious, and emanates what I can only describe as feeling hollow. It’s too quiet for comfort, and radiates a lonesome quality. But Quindecim, too, can be described as such. Its expansive arrangement—bathed in those deep, dark hues—calls for a hushed but lively mood, yet it must be eerily quiet. (This goes to show the importance of music tracks, because I’ve sure been fooled into thinking otherwise.) Then again, it’s that ambiance of Quindecim that I find mollifying, but Viginti  feels uncomfortably rigid—no doubt due to its wooden composition, which seems well-suited for Ginti’s kokeshi collection.


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Discussion: Death Parade, Episode Five

(Hey, I know this is way-late. If only my weekends weren’t busier than my weekdays this could have posted on time, but later beats never, right?)

After two weeks of falling into certain rhythm, I almost worried that Death Parade would snub opportunities for more information bombs. As much as I live to see the dead in psychological disarray, I’d hate to leave this show knowing little more than what I entered with. I’m not without criticism, and Rolling Ballade—a surprisingly sweet episode, though melancholic—doesn’t provide much to analyze in comparison to previously aired material (episodes and OVA alike). Arcade, too, gives less to celebrate than the episode it follows—at least in terms of Rolling Ballade’s preferable outcome—but it dishes up a larger serving. I’m content at a basic standard with what these last two weeks have fed me, but I’m a little deprived and a lot hungry. I appreciate that episode four establishes two players who, like in Death Billiards, bear no connection other than their time of death, but I’ve learned little else since episode two. Give me Onna’s backstory! Give me new side characters! Give me the Death Parade universe! Give me everything.


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Discussion: Death Parade, Episode Two

Death Parade took me on a surprise trip last week. Rather than plunge forward in its obscurity it took a step back. Perhaps I should apologize: I underestimated Death Parade’s willingness to share. I thoroughly thought this show would leave viewers to grapple with its ambiguity. Keeping to its pattern of straight-forward headings, last week’s episode embodied its title, Death: Reverse. The show revisits Takashi’s and Machiko’s dart match, but from the new perspective of Onna. Her job is not to judge—for she is merely an assistant—but to guide the inexperienced Decim with intuitive perception. Of course, none of this explains who Onna is or how she ended up in this mysterious place caught between life and—as Death Parade calls it—the void.


The episode opens to Onna asleep on a bed of plants supported by a tree trunk. Nona enters the scene, providing her name, and prompts Onna to respond in kind. But Onna can’t answer, to which Nona replies, “It’s all right. You don’t have a name.” My suspicions are now confirmed: Onna holds no memories of who she is, or that she was ever alive. Some have hypothesized that Nona created Onna specifically to assist Decim, but I don’t feel this is the case—although I’ll get into why later on. For now, I think it’s worth mentioning that humans, or as human as one can get in Death Parade—like Onna—exist. (But they all sport similar Decim get-up… Huh.) This is proven during the train ride. We only see one person’s eyes, but they bear human origin as opposed to an arbiter’s strange yet decorative iris. More than anything, this makes me wonder if they, too, possess blank memories.

And further yet: If a newly deceased refuses to play their “randomly” assigned game, is their memory swiped clean before they begin work on an appointed floor? Because now that Quindecim’s mannequin display is clarified not only to be an empty threat, but Decim’s ‘grotesque’ hobby (which I find darkly humorous), my ideas regarding what happens to a soul if they refuse have adjusted. Rather than anything sinister, I believe that refusal simply means that the soul cannot be judged. Hence, the person cannot move on, and—for the time being, at least—remains stuck in a stagnant in-between hereafter. Continue reading

Discussion: Death Parade, Episode One

This post contains spoilers for Death Billiards and the first episode of Death Parade. I suggest watching both before reading any further.

Hellooo, Hot Stuff. I would pocket this gem into my favorites if it weren’t too early to do so, but whether Death Parade concludes in disappointing fashion or not, one thing is for sure: it kicked off to a smashing start. The anime’s origin, Death Billiards—a 25 minute short produced by Madhouse for the 2013 Young Animator Training Project—makes for tough analysis. It poses more questions than it provides answers, encapsulated in an air of mind-boggling mystery. Having watched it twice, trying to decipher answers or its intent feels like chasing my own tail. Billiards leads my thoughts toward dead ends, and I’m left to go on personal interpretation and to consider the OVA’s social critique. But now that we have an anime (and with Yuzuru Tachikawa’s name still attached!), you can bet I expect to solve some queries. With one episode down, Parade follows Billiards’ suit in that it blitzes the audience and walks away, smug at our simultaneous confusion and intrigue. The key difference is that Parade sprinkles information and offers future promise whereas Billiards intentionally leaves us to think.

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Parade starts similarly to Billiards in that we meet our two players—both equally confused as to where they are and how they got here—taking leave from their respective elevators. It doesn’t take long before they find Decim, the stoic bartender, who welcomes them to Quindecim (Latin for “fifteen”)—an interesting difference from Billiard’s spelling of “Queen Decim.” It could easily be a simple variation depending upon the translation or wordplay, or maybe someone more informed would like to clarify (please do), but I can’t help but want to connect this to mannequins. Of course, “quin” here is still pronounced like “queen,” and I may be reaching in desperation. However, Decim’s mannequin display is curious, which brings me to Quindecim’s purpose: to judge who will go to heaven and hell.

Decim informs his guests—newlywed couple Takashi and Machiko—that they are to play a game with their lives as wager. He reviews the usual rules:

  1. He cannot say where Quindecim is located
  2. The couple must play a game
  3. This game will be decided by roulette
  4. They will risk their lives by playing
  5. Neither one can leave until the game ends

Of course these rules ignite the same series of questions I had in Death Billiards. I roll with the obvious answer that Quindecim resides outside the earthly realm, but for the game itself, those who’ve seen the OVA know that the game of pool was pre-determined. Decim admitted that if the younger man had not changed the fate of the game, the old man would have won. Likewise, I assume Takashi’s and Machiko’s game of darts is set from the get-go. So who does the game favor? If the game is pre-determined with a predicted winner, does the outcome finalize who is reincarnated or not? Continue reading

Recommending: must-watch 2014 anime

I promised two recommendation posts during the last week of December, and while I altered my original schedule by bumping one post up by a week, this one is a couple days late. In my defense, I spent last week sick and sleep deprived, staying home to “rest up,” which resorted in a gross display of even more willful sleep deprivation. In fewer words: I was cranky and lazy. Okay, so this post is in the wrong year but it’s still in the right week. As my favorite Cheon Song-yi would say: SAWRY, not SAWRY.

Before I dive into my 2014 favorites, I’ll say that my love of good anime is an old interest revived. Code Geass wasn’t my last watched anime pre-2013, but it’s one of my more memorable and beloved shows before I “lost interest”—Last Exile, which I marathoned in 2011, is an exception. So, just when I thought anime was a thing of my past, the Shingeki no Kyojin wave buried my Tumblr dashboard. From its diverse and complex characters to its storyline and high-quality animation, SnK reminded me not only how addicting anime can be, but what anime can accomplish that live-action can’t. That’s not to say live-actions are incapable, but in similar fashion to books, anime presents fewer restrictions. They can prove much more imaginative and captivating. Many on this list could do well if acted through real people, but a universe like Akatsuki no Yona are better left as they are.


Zankyou no Terror / Terror in Resonance
Episode Count: 11

>>Watch: FUNimation, Hulu

In present-day Japan, Tokyo is struck by terrorist attack when bombs explode in one of the city’s skyscrapers. Although the bombing leaves parts of Tokyo in a short-lived power outage, the attack takes zero fatalities. A video uploaded to the Internet prior to the incident reveals a masked duo—referred to as “Sphinx”—as the culprits. “Nine” and “Twelve,” together with the voluntary “aid” of Lisa Mishima, work to carry out an intricate scheme to ‘wake up’ the world. As they plant bombs throughout the city, ace detective Shibazaki scrambles to decode Sphinx’s riddled videos in time before detonation.

The perspective of ZnT is one namely of sympathy as viewers watch through the eyes of our protagonists, Nine and Twelve. What Sphinx initiates are, by definition, acts of terrorism—but a key point is that Sphinx doesn’t kill people, nor is it their goal. Sphinx’s plans are so thought-out and sophisticated in their execution that no one dies, which eases the audience into sympathizing with their motives. Or does it? I wasn’t sold but I couldn’t stop myself from simultaneously rooting for them either. However, ZnT goes wrong in its construction. It’s in thinking that everything presented can be patched up in eleven episodes, yet it would have faired better at 20+ episodes instead.

Even so. ZnT is one of those shows that dangle a hook at the very start, opening with one of the best heist and high-speed chase scenes. From that moment, I was a caught fish—and surely, I thought, a dead one once episode eleven comes to crush my soul. It’s a show I walked into not knowing what to expect, but between the mysteries and suspense lies a foreboding, melancholic touch that makes the heart ache. I left ZnT wounded and crying—confused, even—and throwing my hands up in ire, but damn, what a good anime. And well-made, too. Although I can pick out flaws in the writing of ZnT, the production and animation are five-star quality:



Episode Count: 25

>>Watch: Crunchyroll, Hulu

Middle school student Shouyou Hinata has a passion for volleyball, for despite what he lacks in height, he is determined to make up through agility and speed. With no on else interested in forming a team, Hinata practices on his own—even stealing the gym when the girls’ team steps out. But during his last year, Hinata accomplishes what he always dreamed about: participation in an official school match. His team, having little practice under their belt, prove second-rate. Their first match pits them against “King of the Court” whiz Tobio Kageyama, who swiftly trounces Team Hinata. Crushed and playtime-hungry, Hinata vows to exact revenge. Now in high school, Hinata applies to the Karasuno High School Volleyball Club, but he’s left in shock when he unexpectedly discovers that his rival, Kageyama, is also applying.

Well… I’m sorry for judging you, Sports Anime Genre. And I’m sorry that I still look down on you, even after latching on to Haikyuu!! with all my heart. But to be fair, I did watch Free! after binging on what had been the currently available Haikyuu!! episodes, and that show is nothing in comparison. (If you’ve seen Rei in his butterfly swimsuit, that’s a pretty good description of the show itself. And, also to be fair, Free! probably isn’t a good display of what the genre offers.) My disinterest in the genre derives from my disinterest in sports, but also from its tendency to lean on fanservice—no matter how small. (Because fanservice is everywhere and certainly not limited to sports.) Haikyuu!! is my exception, and I suppose what drew me to the show is my personal history with volleyball.

My love for the game doesn’t emulate Hinata’s, but his devotion became part of my weeks’ highlights. Even the show, with A grade animation and clean art, made my Sundays something to look forward to—a detail that I partly attribute to pace. Matches don’t drag out, and they succeeded in holding my interest. Because Karasuno’s volleyball club isn’t filled with prodigy players, or athletes with outstanding abilities (minus Kageyama), the show focuses more on their faults AND strengths, improving both through teamwork. Consequently, whether Karasuno’s matches become their victories are 50/50. When I expected Hinata’s weak point—his height—to make a 180 and become his strength by miracle of some crazy level up, I was left surprised. Karasuno turns Hinata’s “weakness” into an effective weapon rather than the show implementing a random power flux. Haikyuu!! had me glued to the screen, sometimes biting my nails in tension, rooting for our fallen underdogs. The game doesn’t always sway in their favor, but Haikyuu!! wouldn’t be as watch-worthy if it did.


Episode Count: 12

>>Watch: Crunchyroll, FUNimation, Hulu

One might call Handa Seishuu a talented calligrapher, but a certain gallery owner disagrees. “Textbook-like,” he says, in reference to Handa’s works. “[It’s] written for the sake of winning.” But his words don’t stop there. “Did you try to overcome the wall of mediocrity?” he asks. “What an uninteresting piece.” With a burn-free history of winning, the critique is too much for the twenty-three year old to take in stride. Instead, Handa shows his wounded ego by punching the poor elderly man who uses a cane in the face. In order to reflect on his actions, Handa is sent to an isolated village on Goto Island by his father. It’s here he meets boisterous six year old Naru. The two form an unlikely friendship as Handa learns to overcome his artistic slump and, in the process, mature into a better human being.

If there’s one show on this list that I want everyone to watch, it’s Barakamon. Equally hilarious as it is heartwarming, what makes Barakamon worth watching are the characters who generate the story: Handa, childish and quick to anger; mouthy and aggressive Naru with a passion for bug catching; Hina, a shy girl who finds a reason to cry about everything; aspiring mangaka Tamako, infatuated with BL (but will profusely deny it); tomboy Miwa, always teaching Naru the things she shouldn’t; and Hiroshi, whose lifestyle in itself screams mediocrity. For a show largely about Handa’s arc of personal growth and self-discovery, he doesn’t undergo a complete transformation, but he’s well on his way—something that he can attribute to his newly formed friendships, and most of all Naru’s.

Barakamon is a real treat for all that it puts out, but Naru steals every scene with ease. No matter what anyone says, Barakamon‘s central storyline belongs to Handa, but the the true star is Naru. As a child, Naru lacks life experience, but nonetheless proves surprisingly insightful in her childhood acuity, and the manner in which she plays off Handa is a wonderful mix of hilarity and heartfelt moments.


Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun / Girls’ Monthly Nozaki-Kun
Episode Count: 12

>>Watch: Crunchyroll, Hulu

When highschooler Chiyo Sakura confesses to her crush, fellow student Umetarou Nozaki, she doesn’t expect a signed autograph in response—and yet that’s exactly what she gets. Nozaki, a shoujo mangaka that goes by the penname “Sakiko Yumeno,” mistakes Sakura as a fan rather than a girl in love (and he being the object of her affection). If only his ignorance stopped there, but it doesn’t. When Sakura further clarifies that she wants to be with him, he invites her over to his house… as his assistant.

GSNK, by synopsis alone, doesn’t sound like a winner, but it’s a mistake to brush it off as another common rom-com. What makes GSNK stand out among the stinking heaps of cliche rom-coms, or romance in general, is that GSNK is in fact a shounen satire of shoujo. That said, there is an entry bar one should meet in order to fully appreciate GNSK, which is to say that experience with shoujo tropes is beneficial for the viewer.

You don’t need to suffer through a swamp of generic romance to enjoy GSNK, but those who have will revel in it and take more from the humor. (And if you need a starting point, I will gladly direct you to at least twenty different shoujo. All different stories, of course, but how can you tell when they all fall victim to the same dull tropes, drama, and “twists”?) I’m not one for re-watches, but GSNK is a show I can watch repeatedly and still laugh through the same parts. I dare you to see why. *aggressive nudge*


Akatsuki no Yona / Yona of the Dawn
Episode Count: 24 (Ongoing)

>>Watch: FUNimationCrunchyrollHulu

There are a couple reasons AnY may repel you, one being the art. It sidles into generic form, and for someone who banks on great art and quality animation, I took a gamble. That leads me to the second reason: our pampered protagonist, Princess Yona. She is whiny and spoiled to the core, but what else can anyone expect from a coddled princess? Uh, a lot, apparently.

I made the mistake in backing out of the manga early on, repulsed by the unworldly and self-absorbed Yona, but this is what makes her character growth satisfying. Yona thankfully doesn’t sprout from the mean brand of spoiled brats, but a life lived in luxury exempted her from hardship—that is, until her cherished Soo-won murders her father. As Soo-won performs a successful coup, Yona flees with her loyal bodyguard Son-hak. The journey she takes hereon leads down a bumpy road, and she takes a beating in more ways than one, but it’s this path that builds her into a better person. Here I’ve only glimpsed at her developed future self, and seeing Yona transform from babied royalty to compassionate but cut-throat bad-ass is worth the watch—and that’s not the half of it.

AnY offers a flavorful dish of girl power for viewers to chew on, and it never runs short—but this is just an appetizer. The true selling point rests in the narrative’s rich context and overlaying conflict amidst action, adventure, and romance. It’s everything I’d hope Akagami no Shirayuki-hime would be but wasn’t, for whatever AnY lacks in art and animation is made up through fleshed-out characters and story. Of course, it’s not a show for everyone, and don’t forget that teenage girls own the target audience. It’s not as heavy or bleak as I’d prefer, meaning that subject matter isn’t presented in a more gritty, emotional way where I truly feel for Yona. Instead, comedic moments often (but briefly) overshadow the serious tone, but for all this show offers, I have little to complain about.


Shigatsu wa Kimi ni Uso / Your Lie in April
Episode Count: 22 (Ongoing)
>>Watch: Crunchyroll, Hulu

Called the “Human Metronome,” piano prodigy Kousei Arima once dominated the world of classical music competitions. Upon the death of his mentor—his mother—an eleven year old Kousei suffers from a mental breakdown mid-performance and vanishes from the music scene. For two years, he avoids the piano and insists that he can no longer hear the sound of his music, joylessly meandering through life. He gets up, goes to school, and comes home to an empty house and dusty, untouched piano. His mother’s death doesn’t manifest as mere shock, sadness, or even depression, but perhaps a blend of all that and then some. He is haunted by the memory of her: those overbearing expectations and his inability to meet them. He’s angry, sad,  afraid, and he’s disappointed in himself. He’s lost, but an encounter with carefree violinist Kaori Miyazono lights a new path. It’s one of healing, and it leads straight back into world of music.

What I both love and fear about Your Lie in April is its theme of love and loss. As emotionally invested as I am, nothing but horrified dread fills me at the prospect of what I may find at the end. At the same time, it’s what continually draws me back. No matter how small, there is a piece of everyone to be found in Kousei. You may not know a thing about classical music, but we all reach a point of feeling astray—and maybe even becoming used to that feeling. Even more relatable is the struggle to re-discover that one thing you pour your heart into. Only for Kousei, it’s learning that he never did, and now that he does, how can he implement these emotions into his performance?

Where this show turns ominous is through worrisome foreshadowing. (And excuse me if I’m getting ahead, as I am ahead in the manga.) Kousie’s top-notch talent grows through his experience of loss, so what will continue to push his ability forward? More loss. We can pray for a happy end, but I feel this is much more likely to conclude in I’M-REALLY-SAD-BUT-I-WILL-SURVIVE! tears. (Because the anime will adapt the manga in full!) I’ll be sad, super sad, but thrilled I came across such a touching story. And you should be, too.

Recommending: must-watch 2014 Korean dramas

In the ceaseless stream that is Asian dramas, there is a stockpile to sort through from 2014. (But isn’t there every year? Yeah.) Between finding time to dedicate to my binge-a-thons and getting so far as to even choose which drama to watch, I feel like I missed out on too many: Bad Guys (on episode two!), Witch’s Romance, It’s Okay, That’s Love, and N no Tame Ni—to drop some names. From what I did manage to get through, not all were great *cough*trotlovers*cough* but several managed to meet my entertainment needs, if not wiggle into my heart completely.

pnbPlus Nine Boys
Episode count: 14
>>Watch: SoompiTV, Viki

Plus Nine Boys comes from the fictitious superstition that anything “plus nine,” or ending in nine, brings misfortune. How unlucky for the Kang brothers and their uncle, Kwang-soo, whose ages all currently end in nine. Popular child actor Dong-goo, age nine, suffers when his acting becomes strained and robotic. He’s accused of undergoing a Macaulay Culkin, as in, he just isn’t cute anymore. But the final blow comes when girlfriend Baek-ji dumps him for the boy now outshining Dong-goo in the acting world. Meanwhile, Min-goo—nineteen—struggles to live down an embarrassing incident during his judo match while chasing after his dream girl. At twenty-nine, however, eldest brother Jin-goo seems to have his life in perfect order. Upon further inspection, we find he’s harboring a secret love for co-worker and friend Se-young. The two have an emotionally complex history, and should he confess, it could mean losing Se-young. And being with her—even if he’s not “with” her—is more bearable than not having her at all. But the brothers aren’t the only ones with love problems. Thirty-nine year old Kwang-soo hasn’t dated since his college sweetheart dumped him out of the blue and vanished. Since then, his primary motivation and focus has been his work as a PD, and even that disappears when a live show goes awry, and Kwang-soo is demoted.

As my favorite underrated gem, PNB keeps pace—never dragging or jumping, backed by solid acting and writing. When looking at the premise alone, it’s easy to see how the show could spin out of control. Add the superstition factor, I pegged this as silly-cute, but would it be believable? This is Dramaland, after all. The first episode proved itself to be much more than anything I’d imagined. It maintains appropriate balance between humor and drama, and it’s never short on wit. Despite the show’s basis of a “plus nine curse,” it blends into everyday occurrences that happen to very relatable characters. And, really, these are things that happen to us all. I walked in expecting a perky rom-com and couldn’t have been happier to find a sweet, introspective show about relationships instead. It’s rare—super rare (can I stress this enough?)—for me to feel wholly gratified by a show, least of all a rom-com. If I’m honest, I haven’t felt this satisfied with a rom-com since My Name is Kim Sam-soon: my Queen of Romantic Comedies, because for what others do wrong, Sam-soon does right. The writing is bullet-proof. (Never mind that it’s been years since I’ve seen it, but shh.) PNB marks the first time I’ve seen an equally sturdy and genuinely satisfying rom-com as Sam-soon, and for that alone I recommend checking this out.

Episode count: 20
>>Watch: SoompiTV, Viki

Misaeng is a show I have unwittingly placed on an unreachable gold throne packaged in a state of perfection. I dare you to find something better! If given well-layered characters livened by good acting, it’s difficult for me not to invest—even when the script is duller than a butter knife. Once caught, I’m stuck until the end. (More often than not.) For better or worse, I form emotional ties with these characters that prove strong enough to make me cry even in in the silliest of rom-coms. Yet Misaeng is the sharpest show around, and it’s far from silly. Never have I bawled so much through a show as I have with Misaeng, and how could I not? This show earned it—deserved it—because every episode threw a direct punch at my chest. No way did I think I’d ever find a drama so meticulously put that it’d win every ounce of my love. Hardly, if at all, can I criticize this show. From the script, casting, acting, directing, editing… There remain a number of aspects that allow Misaeng to shine, and I only hope that others will see what makes it remarkably brilliant.

A former Baduk player, 26 year old Jang Geu-rae finds himself wandering without aim. After a period of part-time jobs, it is by luck (and through connections) that he finds himself as an intern at One International. With nothing more than his GED, Geu-rae is left to fend for himself in a pack of vicious trainees and survive office politics—a journey more difficult than he could have imagined. The webcomic by Yoon Tae-ho, which the show is based on, maintains a cult following, and its popularity stems from its ability to identify with its audience. The same can be said for the drama, only with a larger, vaster, assembly of die-hard fans. There is a reason this show speaks to such a variety of people, and that’s because Misaeng isn’t just about finding your footing—or even about the anguish of office politics and surviving it. At it’s core, Misaeng is about Jang Geu-rae hanging on the edge by a finger and desperately wishing to be part of society. More than anything else, he wants to belong. And if that doesn’t choke you up, I don’t know what will.

There are a couple reasons Misaeng can appear off-putting. Its first episode clocks in at an hour and a half, and you’ll scarcely find clips that offer settings outside of One International’s cubicles. Not to mention that most episodes run extra, ending between an hour and five minutes to an hour and twenty minutes. But if you think these are reasons to back away, I promise: those cubicles offer much more than typical mundaneness of office culture. Refreshingly, the show lacks elements that remind you this is Dramaland and kicks aside cliche tropes and plot twists. It gives a flavor so addicting that you’ll be thankful for those extra minutes, and when it’s over? You will miss it like crazy. (If you’d like to see more of my foaming-at-the-mouth praise, my thoughts on the first four episodes can be found here.)

liar game Liar Game
Episode count: 10
>>Watch: SoompiTV, Viki

Welcome to Liar Game: a reality show where contestants are expected (and encouraged) to lie and cheat their way toward the grand prize—a massive sum of money, which only grows as a narrowing batch of participants move on to new rounds. Based on the manga of the same name, Liar Game questions to what lengths people stoop when large sums of money are not only offered, but are at stake. The answer: pretty damn low. A few honest faces struggle to survive the high-stakes game, but how can they fare in a cesspool of two-faced cheats? Willing participant Nam Da-jung—naïve but honest and sympathetic—works with former psych prof and acquitted ex-con Ha Woo-jin, as the duo aim to come out victors.

The show struck me as mediocre at best when I handed my two cents on the first four episodes. The Korean adaption presents extreme changes to its central setting in comparison to the original, yet—at the time—still followed the manga’s timeline of events. (Or, it did to the best of my knowledge.) Granted, this offers up its own twists and tricks, and while Matsuda owns it in the J-drama adaptation, I find there’s much to like about the K-version’s cast. That said, Shin Sung-rok’s villainous Kang Do-young adds new dimensions. The questions is: will fans buy it? Speaking for myself, it took a while to warm up to, but I grew to accept it as an equally enjoyable but separate entity from the J-drama. It is by no means a personal favorite, but the show earns its worth in entertainment value.

my love from another starMy Love from the Stars / My Love from Another Star
Episode count: 21
>>Watch: DramaFever, SoompiTV, Viki

It’s easy to mistake Do Min-joon as human, for he looks no different. But his keen senses and special abilities to defy gravity and stop time are proof of his alien nature. Most of all are his longevity and youthful appearance, outlasting the average human by centuries. Arriving during the Joseon Dynasty, Min-joon becomes stranded, although he’s not alone. His first true human interaction is through a young girl named Yi-hwa, but her fate seems destined for tragedy. The event deeply affects Min-joon, as does her companionship, but with a long life of solitude ahead, he grows into a cynical being with no interest in forming relationships. Now in the present day, his life of quiet seclusion is flipped when the arrogant next door neighbor—favored actress Cheon Young-si—makes her intrusion.

You can consider this a 2013 drama, as it started in mid-December of last year, but the bulk finished during 2014. If you’re at all familiar with the drama scene, there’s no doubt that My Love from the Stars crossed your radar. The show shot to insane popularity levels where not only does every drama fan know about it, non-drama fans know as well. With six episodes under my belt, my current opinion might be insignificant yet it’d feel absurd not to name-drop this.

As a loving Kim Soo-hyun fan, he did serve as the hook (as did the AMAZING shots seen in episode one), but Jun Ji-hyun has me stunned—and I mean that in the best way possible. Although the script deserves credit, as it’s what leads every episode’s direction and shows us character depths, but what good is the writing if the actor doesn’t add dimension? Ji-hyun’s done well in capturing not just my sympathy, but my love, and the banter Young-si and Min-joon share easily become some of my favorite scenes in the show. That said, my belief that this was K-drama royalty crumbled upon watching it. Shin Sung-rok, my Villain King, you know I love him in Liar Game… but as much as I love this man, his role here disappoints me. It’s a reminder of both outrageous and typical ploys that dramas incorporate. If you want to impress me, stay fresh. Be like Misaeng.

ftlyFated to Love You
Episode count: 20
>>Watch: DramaFever, SoompiTV, Viki

Although his elders fuss about marriage and producing a new heir to the family-run company, president Lee Gun is in no rush. He’s in a committed relationship with long-time girlfriend Se-ra, and now that she’s returned from an overseas life as a ballerina, he believes now is the perfect opportunity to propose. Meanwhile, the humble Kim Mi-young goes about her days as a secretary for a law firm. Known as “Post-It” among her co-workers, Mi-young claims it’s no bother, although the nick-name is an insult labeling her a pushover—and her colleagues are glad to take advantage without apology. But for ordinary Mi-young, the extraordinary happens when she wins a resort vacation through her work. As it happens, it’s the same location Gun intends to make Se-ra his fiance. When their special days don’t go as planned, the two cross paths in the most unexpected of ways. After having a one-night stand, Gun and Mi-young part on cordial terms, but their lives entwine once more as Mi-young’s pregnancy steers them down an unforeseen path.

FTLY fans spread faster than wildfire, but perhaps not in the same way My Love from the Stars did. I hesitated in starting this one, but even so, I was quick to jump in. The high ratings and gushing weren’t for nothing—FTLY kicks off with a lot of laughs and a great serving of tender moments. I laughed—I laughed a lot—but I cried even harder, and it’s largely due to the actors. If it hadn’t been Jang Hyuk and Jang Na-ra or their chemistry, this show wouldn’t have pulled on my heartstrings the way it did. It’s too bad that even the leads couldn’t keep me past episode 15, which is where I chose to drop FTLY. I wouldn’t say that my dropping of the show implies anything terribly wrong, but rather: my patience ran dry. It’s a drama worth checking out, and it did well in pacifying my needs as a viewer and exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately for the show (or for me), Gun’s and Mi-young’s relationship was weighed down with SO MUCH DRAMA and dragged out BECAUSE OF SO MUCH DRAMA that I called it quits.

old goodbyeOld Goodbye
Episode count: 1
>>Watch: SoompiTV

Do yourself a favor and keep tissues on standby, because this one’s a tear-jerker ready to punch you in the chest every ten minutes. Ah, no. More like every five minutes. Or am I the only one with a mountain of Kleenex at her side? For just one episode, it’s an emotional overload but so good. (I promise.) Old Goodbye tells the fated love story of boxer Soo-hyuk and Chae-hee with a time-travelling twist. It’s present day, and when Soo-hyuk discovers that ex-wife Chae-hee is dying from a terminal illness, he struggles in grief to save her. Just as Soo-hyuk submissively resigns to his and Chae-hee’s misfortune, he discovers a way to travel back in time… Can he save Chae-hee, or is fate set in stone?

Part of MBC’s drama festival, Old Goodbye reunites Fated to Love You leading costars Jang Na-ra and Jang Hyuk—so if the premise sounds stale, you can can count on their chemistry to charm your pants off. I’m a huge Jang Na-ra fan, as I find that I can enjoy her in almost anything, but after seeing her share screen time with Jang Hyuk twice, I’m convinced they can make anything sell with their pizzazz. This isn’t a display for fresh storylines or unique plot twists, but it shouldn’t be dismissed for those reasons. The general layout is an antique, but the script moves the story forward by relying on the characters’ pure emotions, and—ultimately—allowing that to resonate with the audience.