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As Seen on TV: 4 Songs from Summer Dramas
Discussing the season's personal favorites and their music from Chanmina, Ado and more
This feature is part of This Side of Japan issue #72. You can return to the main newsletter here.
While this summer’s dramas for me were mostly fine-but-not-amazing entertainment in comparison to spring, they brought a better hit ratio for music than the previous season. There was at least one satisfying needle-drop, and some pairing of songs and show surprised me as much as the show itself—like who knew I’d be hooked to a mystery series this season! Before the fall season fully arrives1, I’m here to blog about the few shows and their attached songs that I enjoyed this past summer.
“Meinichi” by Chanmina [NO LABEL / Warner Music Japan]
from Hayabusa Shouboudan (Thursdays, 9 p.m., July 13 - Sept. 14; TV Asahi)
I’ve always ignored mystery J-dramas since a whodunit plot doesn’t really excite me, and so I initially approached Hayabusa Shouboudan thinking I’d drop it soon enough. From the first dead body found in the premiere episode, though, I was hooked to find out more of what’s behind the crimes set in the small, fictional countryside town of Hayabusa. As mentioned by the show’s main protagonist, the author and out-of-towner Taro (Tomoya Nakamura), Hayabusa soon becomes a place that attracts curiosity as it becomes the perfect setting in which to expand a lore involving cults and conspiracies.
With “Meinichi,” Chanmina turns in a surprisingly stylish track for a small-town mystery; the music video dresses the song into a theme for a bloodier crime drama. While she appears steely singing over a bluesy guitar riff, the lyrics reveal an emotionally lost figure, searching for motivation to choose life over death when the former seems so pointless: “Got no birthdays or death anniversaries to celebrate,” she shouts in the titular hook. If Chanmina being at a crossroads resonates to anyone in the show, it might be the mysterious, aspiring director Aya (Haruna Kawaguchi), who has to choose her own idea of justice to save Hayabusa as she fights an influence much greater than her.
“Monster” by LIL LEAGUE from EXILE TRIBE [Avex Trax]
from Tenshoku No Mao-sama (Mondays, 10 p.m., July 17 - Sept. 25; Fuji TV)
LIL LEAGUE’s bombastic track plays behind the intro of an earnest drama centered on a recruiting agency, and the dramatic montage synced with the song presents the two main recruiters, Chiharu (Fuuka Koshiba) and Kurusu (Ryo Narita), like they’re heroes fighting evil—it’s quite an unintentionally funny juxtaposition. It’s also hard not to let the show’s theme color the lyrics in the chorus of “Monster”: “Lay down all the choices / the future you decide / even if it’s scary / if you enjoy the thrill, it’ll be paradise.” Are these lyrics just typical boy-group sentiments about harnessing one’s potential, or are they about the anxiety in having to pick out your next career out of the many offered by the show’s Shepherd’s Careers?
More than a few other outside parts can frame Tenshoku No Mao-sama as an odd job-recruiter advertorial. Not only are commercials for actual recruiting agencies airing in between the show, the series put together their own infomercial for OpenWork’s job-search app with its side characters as the spokespeople. But I’m not gonna lie: the show actually got me to seek out resources so I can get away from my own unfulfilling day job. Maybe my own dissatisfaction with my workplace lent some of the episodes to hit me on a more personal spot. How could it not when its clients voice wants that aligns with mine like a fairer share of workload or a higher-up who cares? Only if there really were recruiters like Chiharu out there who sincerely cares about your well-being during the job search.
“Himawari” by Ado [Universal]
…from 18/40 ~Futari Nara Yume Mo Koi Mo~ (Tuesdays, 10 p.m., July 11 - Sept. 12; TBS)
18/40 ~Futari Nara Yume Mo Koi Mo~ had one of the most satisfying needle-drops during this drama season with Ado’s “Himawari.” The song’s J-pop schmaltz might be a full 180 from the singer’s previous J-drama contribution, where her expression of emotional anguish gave the track an alternative edge. Coming after One Piece Film Red with singles like “I’m Invincible,” though, a deep admiration for a significant other makes for a more-than-suiting sentiment to drive an Ado song. “Even though I’m timid and insecure / let me stretch a little / and walk towards where the light shines,” she sings in the chorus, and the song’s tenderness wrapped up the show’s ending moments like a big, warm blanket.
The comfort of “Himawari” came as a relief particularly after the more intense moments in an otherwise warm-hearted show. Life begins to suddenly change for college freshman Arisu (Haruka Fukuhara) as she decides to carry her unexpected pregnancy to term, and her choice to become a single mother complicates the relationships around her. A memorable early scene sees Arisu caught in a heated argument with her father (Ken Yasuda) whose shock from finding out about her pregnancy ultimately leads him to tell her to abort her child. As they eventually make amends, “Himawari” slides in like a cloud to soften the blow.
“LOOK AT ME” by NiziU [JYP / Sony]
…from Kocchi Muiteyo Mukai-kun (Wednesdays, 10 p.m., July 12 - Sept. 13; Nippon TV)
Kocchi Muiteyo Mukai-kun got all the hallmarks of an arasaa rom-com. Dealing with a 10-year blank, the 33-year-old Mukai (Eiji Akaso) decides to get back into the dating game, and he starts to re-evaluate love, relationships and marriage as he realizes it’s nothing like how it was during his 20s. That said, the content were better suited for people in their early 20s who are just beginning to be exposed to more complex perspectives on romance. Or, it would’ve been more impressionable for me when I was in my 20s when I welcomed these chatty dramas where characters openly discussed questions like “what do women want?”
While Mukai-kun can get think-y, it’s still the kind of rom-com that closes out with a bubbly NiziU song. The drama knows its place as a piece of pop and refrains from getting too stuck inside its own head. You just wish a character like Mukai would also do the same and reflect on points of view outside of his own. NiziU even does the favor of singing the show’s key message as legibly as one can to sincerely consider the wants and needs of the other partner. The fact that seeing things in their eyes is easier said than done, though, is probably why shows like Mukai-kun keeps getting made.
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And fall already is at a good start. I’m currently enjoying the Paripi Koumei live-action adaptation, starring Osamu Mukai (yeah, he’s Koumei) and Moka Kamishiraishi as. And I’m so excited for the second season of Kinou Nani Tabeta?