Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou (Bakaleya Private High School) Drama

My guilty pleasure is cheering on Johnny’s Jr. I have a deep respect and admiration for them that others might think of as a bit crazy, but trust me on this. Bakaleya is the epitome of what I love about juniors. They surprise me with their growth, as well as make me smile-cringe-cheer when I note their stumbles. This drama is the pet project of JE and AKB mastermind Akimoto Yasushi.

What makes this project come together so well is that a dream team has been assembled to produce what could have otherwise been Gokusen 4. I’ve only watched 6 7 episodes so far.

Directors:

Moriya Kentaro
Notable for movie Seaside Hotel

Kubota Takashi
Notable for movie Kimi to Boku

Kiki Masahiko
Notable for movie Wangan Midnight

What I did not add was that Moriya and Kubota are also notable music video directors and that Wangan Midnight was a street racing action film. Keep that in mind.

Writers:

Matsuda Yuko
Notable for Gokusen 1, 2, 3, Movie

Yamaura Masahiro
Notable for Yukan Club, Yasuko to Kenji, Rescue, Ikemen desu ne

The writers have a history of taking on Johnny’s dramas. Matsuda Yuko has the better resume, but Yamaura Masahiro channeled his Yankee writing prowess fromYasuko to Kenji, so all is well. ( Though if I had to guess, he also channeled parts of the epic fail of Yukan Club into the bland ridiculousness that is the “leya” part of Bakaleya.) Both of them are not exactly the best, or most sensible writers, but for this genre, they do the job.

Action Director:

Ohara Go
Notable for Holy Land

I squealed when I saw this. Holy Land was so dark and gritty, even if a bit melodramatic. But truth be told, it was the perfect live action of the quintessential shonen manga. There was a lot of angst, love and fighting. Hands down the best action directing I’ve seen in a J-drama. Ohara Go is great in being able to show the highs and lows in a fight. He creates a script with each fight that not only shows the messy punches thrown, but the mentality of the fighters as the battle progresses.

Cast:

JE

Morimoto Shintaro as Sakuragi Tatsuya
Matsumoto Hokuto as Asada Tetsuya
Kyomoto Taiga as Terakawa Maya
Tanaka Juri as Noguchi Satoshi
Jesse Lewis as Satonaka Yuki
Kochi Yugo as Shinbo Makoto
Takaki Yuya as Tachinami Shohei
Miyata Toshiya as the teacher

AKB

Shimazaki Haruka as Shingyoji Fumie
Oba Mina as Atomiya(?) Saya
Mitsumune Kaoru as Tokimune Sayuri

Summary:

Bakada High School, an all-boys school infamous for its yankee students, is suddenly merged with Cattleya Academy, a Catholic haven full of perfectly assembled girls. One plate of Chaos vs. Order coming right up. Can you stomach this?

When the girls invade Bakada High, they brace themselves against the seemingly backwards ways of the native inhabitants. They must save the savages from their own ignorance.

All the boys see are aliens who want to conform them into robots. That’s no fun. But being a high school boy? So much better.

Bakaleya, so far, is shaping up to be a story of compromise and understanding. The idea that friendship will keep you afloat, even when you feel like you are sinking, is a rough and tumble interpretation of not just something applicable to high school. It’s a life lesson that is retaught after you forget it.

Also, with the war of the sexes, both sides are becoming more accepting of the other. Slowly. One philosophy does not mean it is the only one. In order to meet in the middle, both sides have to compromise.

Drama Type: coming of age, high school, action

The Good and the Bad: Almost everything was great but the girls? It may sound biased, but the girls, excluding Mitsumune Kaoru’s Sayuri, grates my every nerve. It’s both the characterization and the acting that makes me want to slap people around. The leader of the girls, Fumie, is actually decently developed. In the hands of a stronger actress, I would embrace her I’m-not-a-bitch-bitchiness. I understand that she is a rookie, but her delivery is one damn expression. The reason why the audience is unsure of who she likes is simply because the girl cannot emote. Slight smile, dimples, same not-intense stare/glare. I want to hate the character in order to celebrate her change in character but she’s so blah that I feel like I’m watching Shintaro act with a wall (thoughTHATwould be amusing). The other AKB girls have one-liners that are more expository than showing their personality. That’s why I don’t care about them.

Oba Mina playing Saya, the number 2 Cattleya girl, is sadly a worse actress than Shimazaki Haruka. How is this possible??? I really want to punch her, just to see if she has an expression other than constipation. The blooming crush she has for Tetsuya made me laugh. Her expression was like watching someone who had too much Botox done. I mean, of course she stares at him to clue us in on her feelings, but in episode 7, I felt horrible for rooting for the psycho stalker. He had much more charisma than Fumie, Saya and Tetsuya combined.

Mitsumune Kaoru as Sayuri is a good fit. She’s definitely the strongest actress in the drama. She’s not a great actress, per se, but she has charisma. There’s also something grounded in her interpretation of Sayuri. I don’t feel like I’m watching a punchable Cattleya drone when she appears, so she must be going something right. And she doesn’t appear unnecessarily often like Fumie and Saya, so I feel like she’s lucky in that she does get lines but not completely stupid ones.

The main gripe I have with the girls, as a story arc, is that they’re useless. They don’t DO anything. When they are involved, I cringe.

From their script to their delivery, the girls are bad filler. The writers don’t know what to do with the girls, and it shows. They try to incorporate the girls into potential lovelines, but it’s so pointless. I don’t feel the tension, heartbreak or anticipation towards the budding romance at all.

Sayuri felt like the exception due to the actress. If the writers wanted to ship Sayuri with Maya, I could at least buy it. The two are similar enough in nature that at the very least, they could be friends. They have a quiet chemistry. If the writers took it a step further, just a smile from the characters could have cemented the beginning of a real connection between the boys’ side and the girls’ side.

The boys, on the other hand, are dynamic. Shintaro has always been charismatic and he has an innate reciprocated love with the camera. I always felt that he had screen potential, and apparently Johnny thinks so too. He’s young still, but he has a bright future in acting. One issue I have with him is that I’m aware that he’s aware of the camera. It’s the difference between being the character and acting the character. He has fluid expressions and a smooth delivery but he also has this mouth habit that really bothers me. It’s like he expresses/over-emotes so much with his face that he feels uncomfortable when his lines stop. But really, other than that, Shintaro is surprisingly well-cast.

The second lead, Hokuto, does a barely passable job with the role of Tetsuya. I feel like Hokuto is playing Tetsuya as the cold, stoic type even though it’s clear that Tetsuya is not that at all. He has trouble expressing himself, but he’s been the most proactive character thus far. He’s introverted and smart, but also kind and loyal. I like Tetsuya as a character, and Hokuto is adorable, but he doesn’t have the gravitas of a lady killer. Tetsuya is such a subtle character but he’s not one-dimensional. I want to like Hokuto’s Tetsuya but I just don’t buy it. Hate me for saying it but he’s pretty–just can’t act. I hope he improves.

Kyomoto Taiga as Maya was such a simple setup, but well delivered. I liked that his character was conveyed with silent actions. If this is any indicator of Taiga’s ability to grasp roles, I’m looking forward to his future career. He was able to transform lines like, “I’m not a girl. I’m not a girl. I’m not a girl,” into something more. It has the feeling of a mantra meant to rein in his violent reaction to being provoked. But those same words, the way he delivers it, speak of his relationship with his mom. There’s a detached sense of unresolved sadness, more than anger, towards his mother for rejecting him. I think that Maya is buoyed by friendship, but a part of him will always be unfulfilled.

The other boys have less screen time with one-liners. Even so, the one-liners are usually scene-stealers. I can grasp their basic personality and I love that their presence reinforces the bromance.

I think that the combination of directors used to shorter mediums like movies and music videos is apparent in Bakaleya. The drama itself is 30 minutes an episode, meaning that every scene counts. There is no time for filler, allowing for sharp edits, beautifully coordinated cinematography and lots of close-ups of the fresh actors and actresses.

The writing team is tried and true. What makes them more bearable is that they are forced to cut down the garbage and find the heart of each episode. I dislike that Tetsuya magically knows all, that each episode is running out of the classroom to find someone, and that there appears to be no semblance of authority. Really. The script is horrendous, but still better than Gokusen. But the editing and camera-work makes up for it. Or so I tell myself.

The action scenes are fabulous. Well-orchestrated, not clean and there’s a great combination of camera-work, editing and music that maximizes the effect of each simple brawl. Much better than the laughable Gokusen fights.

Review: There’s something about Bakaleya. I don’t like everything about it but the scale is definitely tipped in favor of love over hate. I love the bromance, the comradery from the Bakada boys and that the girls are coming to appreciate the unconventional wisdom of high school boys. I love that I can see promising acting, and that the team working behind the scenes is not slacking at all despite the late night slot and the no-name cast. It’s an underdog drama not because of the story, but because it’s shaping up to be one of the best executed dramas this season that no one will see. It’s rough around the edges, but that’s also part of it’s appeal.

Final Verdict:Three parts campy, other parts wtf just happened, but surprisingly vehement in its message about friendship. Even if you can’t stand the pure camp and the endless plot holes with subpar acting, watch for the snazzy cinematography, the fun action scenes and Shintaro’s mouth thing.

When the girls appear, 2.5/10. When I feel the bromance, 7/10

2: Yawn. I want to laugh but it’s so bad, it’s not even funny. It just slightly pisses me off.

(2.5)

3: I wanted to like you. I really did. But you don’t make any sense and I want my ticket out of here.

PLUS

7: I love it enough to watch it to the end. Whatever you’re selling, I’m buying three dozen. Maybe I won’t remember you next year, but it was fun while it lasted.

DIVIDED BY 2=

4: If I’m bored out of my mind and feel generous, I might think you’re trying so hard that it’s cute. Horrendous, but saved by the it’s-so-bad-that-it’s-good appeal. Free laughs, even if not intentional.

(somewhere right here)

5: I’m on the fence. Half of the time, I loved you. The other half? Shoot me now. If you don’t, hand me the gun.

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