Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo (2013)

It's been a long while since I posted a drama review on this blog. To be honest, I haven't done much k-drama watching these days. If I do, I never finish, or if I finish, the impression isn't strong enough to propel me to sit up and type away. Between this on-off interest in k-drama, I actually managed to finish two Taiwanese series both starring Aaron Yan (Just You and Fall in Love with Me). He was so riveting as an actor I just couldn't stopped watching. And because I thought maybe Taiwanese series weren't so bad these days, I kept looking at the streaming site for any TW-series that hopefully would be as engaging, if not story-wise then acting-wise but none really sticked out. 

I tried Fabulous Boys which turned out to be a remake of K-drama You're Beautiful. The start was decent, but because I watched You're Beautiful quite faithfully, and nothing in this remake seemed to deviate from the original series, everything soon became boring so I stopped. Despite that, it actually triggered my curiosity in all things REMAKE, which also includes ADAPTATION. It reminded me of Meteor Garden vs Hana Yori Dango vs Boys Over Flowers, all three of which I actually enjoyed watching despite them covering the exact same story. 

Then I came across the webpage of Season 2 Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo. Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo is an adaptation of the manga Itazura na Kiss. In a nutshell, イタズラなKiss was a story about a cheerful average teenage girl who fell in love at first sight with a cold-but-good-looking-all-around-super-genius boy at school. Girl confessed, Boy rejected, Boy was mean and haughty, Girl persevered, Boy was won over. Tadaaa~ Sounds typical of your classic high school rom-com, yeah? Well, because it is. But this typical framework can work like a charm every time if done right.

I thought the first season must have received a good response for it to actually have a second season. Previously, I had put this one under "DON'T BOTHER" box of my drama watching list. I was quite fond of the manga series (the original source material) but was disheartened by the memories of its past adaptations It Started with a Kiss aka ISWAK (TW-series) and Playful Kiss (K-series) that I felt I should spare myself any disappointment. ISWAK was long-winded, the female character too dumb (no offense, its the character, not the actress Ariel Lin) and I didn't find the male lead (Joe Cheng) all that appealing because Jiro Wang as the third wheeler was better-looking in my opinion when I wasn't even Jiro Wang's fan. That makes the whole thing unbelievable to me. Why bother with rude male lead when you got a cuter die-hard fan at your beck and call and loves you so much??? But I still think the main reason I stayed away was because of the long-windedness of the series. It was so popular though, which prompted a sequel, They Kiss Again

Playful Kiss… sigh.What can I say? I actually adored this one and managed to finish it, even the special edition series on youtube. The casts were visually easy on the eyes. I was a fan of Jung So Min, and I could believe her character and her fixation on the male lead because like it or not, Kim Hyun Joong is a good looking man (not a fan, but I can't possibly say he's so-so in the look department). The drama has a korean flavor, I guess, that wasn't so bad. Nevertheless, I thought of it as something like Boys over Flowers, a successful koreanized version of a japanese manga adaptation.

Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo however, gave off a different level of entertainment and satisfaction for me. When I watched the series, the thought that came to mind was "Yappari! A Japanese manga should be adapted into a Japanese TV!". Watching the series was like watching a beloved manga came to life. The tone, the nuances, the comic sense, they were all what make me read a manga in the first place. Exaggerated expressions or circumstances, may be a turn off, but because it's a manga adaptation and it's a Japanese TV, the series become so lively and not at all annoying. In fact, it was what I would expect from a Japanese series of manga origin.

The female protagonist was Kotoko Aihara (played by Miki Honoka) who ranked among the bottom of the class since she was in Class F, while the subject of her one-sided love was Class A boy Naoki Irie (Furukawa Yuki) with IQ of 200! Based on my years of drama watching and comic reading, I've heard of something called photographic memory, which allows you to recall things and understand them even if you see/read them only once. So I suppose this Naoki genius has some sort of that ability (now this reminds me of Mike Ross from Suits) though I never remember if it was explicitly mentioned in the manga (the original source material) because sadly, I don't have photographic memory myself. It was, however, blurted out by Naoki in one of the episodes in Itakiss: Love In Tokyo. Apparently he never did extra revision after school (admitted by the mother) though he always seemed to have a book in hand (just read and store the info in his memory bank I suppose), and managed to come out on top in every exam even when in cases where he was sick or late to exam hall and has limited time remaining to answer all questions. Can you imagine the level of genius-ness there??? haha. He was also very good at tennis even though he rarely practiced and played only during tournaments.

Their lives intertwined the moment Kotoko decided to confess her 2-year-old one-sided love to Naoki during her final year at high school by giving a love letter. She was coldly rejected and dismissed by Naoki. She thought it was the end of her first love, but circumstances upon circumstances pushed them in each other's direction and made Kotoko realized that she truly loved Naoki, while Naoki himself was slowly drawn to her.

Naoki was initially annoyed by Kotoko. Everything came pretty easy to him to the point that he was bored and highly unmotivated. Kotoko on the other hand was not very intelligent, but she approached things with such gusto despite not achieving much, which perplexed him. He didn't want to be bothered by her, but at the same time, he couldn't help but be intrigued. Thus came our hot-and-cold, push-and-pull behavior from Naoki towards Kotoko. It made Kotoko's heart go yo-yo.

What I love about this version is how spot-on the cast is (at least, in my opinion). Miki Honoka was perfect as Kotoko - not a standout beauty, but an average small girl made beautiful by her sunny disposition and smiling face and a sincere heart. She has this great made-for-manga-style comic sense that I love. Furukawa Yuki gave off the perfect vibe of a bored genius Naoki Irie. Often times I'm amazed by how eerily similar he seemed like to the one in the manga, as if Naoki Irie has decided to jump out of the pages and played the role itself. His poker face did not seem like he did out of bad acting, but truly personified unreadable expression. The subtle smile, smirk, and occasional laughter excited viewers because they gave a glimpse into what he was thinking, at the same time letting us know that he was responding to Kotoko, in his own way. He was especially amusing to watch when he's jealous because he started to act out of character and did things only to spite her (instead of the usual nonchalant behavior). It was getting pretty obvious that he cared about her relationship with other guys that he retaliated by being mean. What's funny was that, I didn't think he knew he's jealous. And the poor thing was that, Kotoko thought he's mean because he hated her.

What I also appreciate from the series is the quiet moments between the leads, or more like the rare moments when Naoki readily spilled his thoughts (and heart, I gathered) to Kotoko. The scenes were usually poignant, with pretty backdrops or meaningful settings. I appreciated the impression of I'm-spilling-my-thoughts-to-you-and-no-one-else. Because the character Naoki didn't do much emotional sharing that even his parents didn't know what he's feeling or thinking. So when he had those moments with Kotoko, it was pretty heart-warming.  

If you have watched previous versions, you probably know already how the story goes (else SPOILER AHEAD). This one is no different. Except maybe they cut out a few scenes from the manga. Even so, it's already has more episodes at 16 than the normal 11-13 episodes of typical j-drama. And this season 1 covered only until the end of their singlehood. They got married by the end of the season. And we came full circle when it comes to surprise kiss attack. Haha.

Nevertheless, when it came down to it, I think major prop to the director for superb directing that unleashed the potentials and created all the cute, funny, hilarious, heartbreaking, and romantic moments. And LOVELY wedding (albeit a surprise one)!

Before I end this post, I would like to direct you guys to the Opening Montage. I love the soundtrack throughout this whole series. The ending song was lovely too.

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