Thursday, July 31, 2008


31st July 2008, Thursday

Stayed up wee bit too late for several nights this past fortnight to catch a high-rating teen dorama from TBS which had just ended their run (abit strange for the airing period which begins in April and conclude in late July when the new season had just began), Rookies.

Based on a Shounen Jump manga series (can never be wrong with that) by Morita Masanori, this high angst tale chronicled the trials and tribulations of a group of aspiring baseball players to fulfill their dream to make it into the famed Koshien Stadium for the well-elusive summer high school baseball tournament.
A year back during qualification from the Kanto region, everything went wry wrong when one of the student swung the bat during the final round when their school, Niko Tamagawa Gakuen was trailing by a few points, to the opposition's pitcher.
This resulted in a mass brawl between opposing side and created a stain to the school's pristine records in the competition including a famous victory years back.

The baseball club was disbanded with the seniors quitting, the violent batter expelled and the remaining sophomores (now in Year 2) became much feared hooligans whom the school had very much given hope for.

The story began with a rookie teacher, Kawato Kouichi was assigned to take over as the form teacher of that 2nd year class which harbored the problem lot.
Kawato himself had a tainted background. When he was been assaulted by a violent student in his previous stint, he accidentally punched the delinquent, resulting in the latter from falling off a glass window.
The principal, himself the captain of the baseball team that won the baseball competition many years ago had the devious ploy to use Kawato as a pawn to force the ex basball players to incur some violent affair which will bestow the school the right to expel them.

Little did he knew, Kawato was such a passionate teacher who was affixed to fulfill dreams of his students, regardless of their status.
When he talked to one of the ex baseball team member, Mikoshiba who had delivered a letter to quit school; he realized that Mikoshiba was still sore from that mass brawl, prematurely ending his dream to play baseball in high school.
From then on, Kawato was on a one-man mission to regroup the team and resurrect the baseball club.
It was quite an ordeal as seen in the 1st half as many of the players including star player Aniya had lost faith in the school and baseball altogether. But the relentless Kawato was not to back down so easily and eventually won everyone over including the most stubborn of the lot, a brute by the name of Shinjo to reform the team.

The 2nd half of the series gave an insight on how the team struggled to become a decent squad with intense training while trying their best not to get into trouble as their previous incarnation of hooligan surely drew many enemies of the past.
One of them was the violent batter who was expelled, Enatsu returned to haunt then which led to Kawato challenging his present school, Megurokawa which boasts several well-known players in the junior high scene.
En route to the qualifiers, the team faced a lot of skepticism and taunts from the media and even the organization and took pain to win everyone over.

The story really works on a few well-tested themes which the Japanese audience love.
Firstly passionate teacher... Much like the popular "Gokusen" and previously "GTO" and "Kinpachi Sensei", the teacher seems to pit against problematic students who everyone felt was too out of hand.
Secondly the nakama spirit... Baseball is a team sport and no way to excel if you do not trust your team mates. The Niko Gaku team was a band of brothers to begin with and through their ordeals their bonds fully galvanizes. I really like that... reminded me a bit of "One Piece".

With the recent spell of Japanese shows like "Crows Zero", "Gokusen" and now "Rookies" (all based on manga by the way), I really pondered if the Japanese youth are facing violences and hooliganism everyday.
However with the recent spat of public stabbing cases, the Japanese society certainly doesn't look as peaceful as it might had seen.

Some interesting trivia includes the names of the characters are based from real life professional baseball players from the likes of Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants.
Kawato, supposedly a Japanese language/literature teacher love to cite famous quotations from the likes of renowned Japanese scholars, European/American scholars and even Confucius. In the dorama, he just splattered the words...Though the quotations were related to the context of the storyline, usually it was too fast and could not catch it.

The Cast:

Kawato Kouichi: The inspirational dream-maker was portrayed by Sato Ryuta who finally had carved a lead role after always putting in a stellar performance as the best mate/friend of male leads in several dorama. He certainly fit the role of the loud-spoken Kawato and possess a sincere grin and a physique which rightly suit a former karate expert as Kawato.
Aniya Keiichi: Ichihara Hayato was cast as the star player and showed versatile acting as Hayato is always famous for. Really showed the struggle of a player yearning to make it into Koushien and you could felt his agony from the injury inflicted to his rib in the finale. Still think he look alot like Sonim.
Mikoshiba Toru: The crybaby captain who sparked the revival of the club was played by Koide Keisuke last seen in "Gokusen 2" & incredibly the gay Afro drummer in "Nodame Cantabile" as the one with the smallest reputation of now. However Keisuke like Hayato and Ryuta showed good performance with his role and with his latest movie "Cyborg She", surely is meant to be a hot commodity in the entertainment scene in Japan soon.
Shinjo Kei: The brooding brute is portrayed by Shirota Yu we all knew as Tekuza from the "Prince of Tennis movie". This Spanish mix-blood from the D-Boys always seem better without much lines and stand one side acting cool (like his role in "Hanazakari no Kimitachi e"; therefore the role of Shinjo really suits him. More significantly, his acting improved in this dorama series.
Wakana Tomochika: The mood maker/ catcher of the squad is played by Takaoka Sousuke who I last seen as one of the dashing gang leader in "Crows Zero". Sousuke surely made Wakana a character to remember.
Sekikawa Shuta: The speed demon of the team and the first to embraced the revival. Nakao Akiyoshi shrugged off those weakling roles he was more famous for and once again played a yakuu-senshuu as seen in "H2".
Kiyama Kiyooki: One fierce-looking mustached figure who also the most tragic figure since he is a poor batter is played by Kawamura Yosuke who I had not deep impression of.
Okada Yuya: Sato Takeru who we known more as Kamen Rider Den-O played the dreadlocks Okada is surely more serious than his breakthrough Kamen Rider role.
Yufune Tetsuro: The blond-haired Yufune who frequently seen paired with Okada and ending his sentence with "gyaa~ (like a cat) is portrayed by Igarashi Shunji, supposedly pedestrain in both "Hana Yori Dango" and "Hanazakari no Kimitachi e" and like Sato has dabbled in tokusatsu series as cast in "Ultrama Moebius"
Imaoka Shinobu: The back-up catcher and a harmless creature always tagging along his buddy Hiratsuka, affectionately calling him "Hii-chan" is played by a relative unknown Onoue Hiroyuki.
Hiratsuka Taira: A strong name for the comedic element of the group. Another "Crows Zero" alumni Kiritani Kenta was cast as the egocentric bench warmer who enjoys a siesta (even taking futon to class to sleep during lessons) and had a crush on the team manager, Yagi. Always eager to see his performance in this series.

In this testosterone-filled drama, only 2 noticeable female characters to be highlighted.
Yagi Toko (played by Murakawa Eri), a fellow classmates of the team and childhood friend of Aniya had made the latter promised to bring her to Koushien. Surely some sparks going between the two.
Kawato's old colleague, English teacher Mayumi was portrayed by Fukuiishi Kazue last seen as Matsumoto's girlfriend in "Bambino!' and the tomboyish Yagi Hide from "Shinsengumi". Mayumi has always been supporting Kawato and eventually the baseball team when the entire school was against them.
Another source of comedy was presented by the rotund Amano Hiroyuki (the fat guy in Black Biscuit and one half of comedic duo, Kya~in) as a teacher desperate for attention by his female colleagues.
Seasoned actors like Asano Kazuyuki, Ibu Masato and Osugi Ren played the caring headmaster and the 2 generation of principals respectively.

There were several cameos by well-known celebrity in the show.
Ayase Haruka who is starring opposite Koide Keisuke in "Cyborg She" was his sister in episode 1.
Moriyama Mirai (the beany-eyed guy in "Water Boys" dorama and "Sekai no Chusin Ai wo Sakebu" movie) was the violent student Kawato knocked out of the window.
Watabe Atsuro was the wise sports journalist who was rooting for underdog and encouraged Kawato near the end.
Hamada Masatoshi from the famous Down Town was seen as a brief passerby who I missed (should watch again for that nanosecond of appearance).

All in all a great cast... Popular dashing young male actors who aren't the typical Johnny's Jimusho type as this dorama surely aren't meant to be a Johnny's vehicle anyway as they may seem too soft for the harden hooligan baseball player type.
My wife commented that most of the cast seem too old to be casted as 17 year olds though especially for the likes of Hiyama, Hiratsuka and Imaoka.

The theme song is "Kiseki" from the dentistry foursome, GreeeeN which is really catchy and suits the theme of series and with the popularity of this series prompted it to be one of the major hits of this summer and perhaps 2008.

The ending left a cliffhanger which we had to find out in a autumn 2 hours special and a movie in spring 2009...damn can't wait for it.

I think the really like the characters in this series and despite some parts of the story seem way too much for them to take but Japanese audience are just too incline for the underdog, revival from the brink of death type of tale which many sports story was based on.
No fancy effects (i.e. Captain Tsubasa) on the sports itself, and not alot of explanation of the rules as people like us who live in a country where baseball is remotely popular (we only play softball and hantam bola when we were young) can get confused as the match goes on.
The nakama tamashi (brother spirits) really won me over and now I am even thinking of getting the manga series....

Well as usual if I want it bad enough, I will find ways and means to get them...
Seems like I am not alone with such nature at home...
I felt strange when the missus was surfing for information of a digital camera and soon she cracked from my interrogation that she had intention to get one despite my persistent insistence that we already had one at home.
Two days ago, she went ahead to buy a Sony Cybershot...sigh
My old man surely was why I had inherited such a nature as he had signaled the interest of a LCD TV for the living room went ahead to buy one over the weekend.
Now our living room was well adroned with a 37 inch LG Scarlet which comes in a reasonable good price...

Japanese word of the day:野球 ~Ya-kyuu~(Baseball) If we have a sports here in school as passionate as the baseball tournament in Japan

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