This past week has been good for Tokyo pop culture. With the TV fall schedule being well under way, there’s finally something interesting happening in one of the biggest, most vibrant cities on the planet, namely:
Kimiko Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneware
It would have been so easy for NHK’s new show Scarlet to be a run-of-the-mill period piece. The story, which premiered on September 30, starts off in 1947 when 9-year-old Kimiko Kawahara and her family move from Osaka to Shigaraki in Shiga Prefecture to escape debt collectors after Kimiko’s father lost his business. It’s a nice enough mix of nostalgia and some admittedly potent human drama but nothing we haven’t seen before. But then the show does something different. It takes us through Kimiko’s life as she grows up and becomes the most positive and upbeat person in the world.
The show is seemingly about Shigaraki stoneware pottery, with the title of the show even referencing the red color of a pottery kiln fire. Indeed, on the show, Kimiko does enter the world of Shigaraki ware but it is her passion and cheery personality that keep you watching. The show throws A LOT at this character, from her family’s financial troubles to her trying to make it in a very male-dominated field.
But whatever the obstacle, Kimiko, played masterfully by Erika Toda, meets it head-on with a huge, contagious smile. It’s only thanks to her that we care about what happens to the Kawahara family and want to learn more about Shigaraki pottery etc. A recommended watch if there ever was one.
Cheaters Never Prosper
While Scarlet felt genuine at every step, the new Nippon TV show Cheat feels like it’s just trying out stuff and seeing what sticks.
Its story centers around scammers and conmen who target other scammers and conmen, very much in line with other “anti-scammer” Japanese shows that came out recently like Sagideka. Only this one throws an extra twist at you: Saki (Tsubasa Honda), a member of the Cheat team, is also part of a hilariously bad, failed idol group. Why? Nobody knows.
Both plotlines would make fine shows on their own but mixing them together seems like an executive decision to cover as many bases as possible in order to get more people to watch the show. As a result, though, the final product feels ingenuine and manufactured, cheating us out of a potentially awesome failed idol comedy that we’ll never get now.
A Good Week for Anime Fans
Part of why Cheat doesn’t work is because it didn’t go far enough with its genre-mixing, unlike the new Kemono Michi: Rise Up anime (start date October 2), a story of a masked pro-wrestler being transported to a fantasy world. There, he’s tasked by the princess of the land with elbow-dropping monsters right in the solar plexus but here’s the rub. The wrestler, Genzo Shibata, is a huge animal lover and becomes so pissed off about being told to kill “innocent” creatures that he German suplexes the princess and goes off to befriend all sorts of fantasy creatures. Now that is an example of a show going all out with its weirdness, and one that I’ll continue to come back to.
Still staying within the realm of fantasy, October 2 was also when the Ascendance of a Bookworm anime premiered. Based on a popular light novel (which sold over 1 million copies), the anime takes place in a world where books are a rare luxury reserved only for elites. Myne, a recently reincarnated aspiring librarian from our world, tries to change that by leading a sort of cultural revolution of introducing books to the masses (which she makes herself from scratch). Similarly to Scarlet, the main draw of this story is the main character and her passionate, contagious zeal for something that she truly believes in.
In this regard, she shares some similarities with the main character of the Ahiru no Sora anime, which tells the story of a zealous basketball player trying to turn his school’s neglected basketball club around. Too bad that it premiered on October 2, though, because no amount of passion from the main character will make Tokyoites interested in any sport other than rugby at this point. Let’s hope that the show hangs on long enough to find its audience after the World Cup has ended.
On home turf, Japan have achieved an incredible win over Ireland! Shizuoka is rocking!
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 28, 2019