It’d be remiss of me to not write anything about Love Shuffle, given that the blog’s name comes from the drama. It’s smartly written, has a refreshing concept and truckloads of eye-candy and chemistry. It can be, however, an acquired taste – I fell in love with the drama only on my second attempt, but I’m intensely glad I gave it another chance, and now I can’t recommend it enough.
Four top-floor apartment dwellers – salaryman Usami Kei (Tamaki Hiroshi), trilingual interpreter Aizawa Airu (Karina), gravure photographer Sera Ojiro (Matsuda Shota) and psychiatrist Kikuta Masato (Tanihara Shosuke) are stranded in the elevator during a power outage and become acquainted with one another. They then decide to shuffle their partners in an attempt to find out whether there is really a soulmate out there for everyone…
The main quartet all have nicknames courtesy of Masato/Kikurin, and in a society where much importance is placed on how one addresses the people around him, it’s very gratifying to have the characters on a first-name/nickname basis pretty soon. This is even more remarkable given that Kei, Airu, Ojiro and Kikurin have barely known each other before they end up agreeing on the shuffle arrangement, but they’re already behaving like old friends. Kei sometimes even speaks in the third person using his nickname, Usa-tan, which is hilariously brilliant.
Initially, I went into this drama purely for Tamaki Hiroshi, and wasn’t overly fond of either Matsuda Shota or Tanihara Shosuke, but a good drama is one where it helps to change your perception of actors you previously did not like so that you end up giving their other works a shot. The main quartet had such chemistry and were so winning with their pyjama parties, catchphrases and numerous panda jokes that it just became impossible not to like and root for them. Their chemistry and camaraderie pretty much carried the drama that I was not as enamoured of the secondary quartet of Mei (Kanjiya Shihori), Yukichi (DAIGO), Kairi (Yoshitaka Yuriko) and Reiko (Kojima Hijiri), though I recognise that they play an important role as well in moving both plot and characterisation forward.
More than a fresh look at modern romances, the drama was about human relationships – the firm friendships formed between the main quartet, understanding and caring for others and oneself, finding not only the one meant for you but also your dreams, hopes and path in life. And because such strong friendship bonds were formed throughout the 10 episodes, it made all the moving scenes even more touching because it was all so real and the cast’s chemistry was so tangible – the way everyone rallied around Ojiro when he lost Kairi; the forgiveness scene with Ojiro and Kikurin; and finally, everyone pitching in to support Kei in the end after he’s helped just about everyone else except himself was a really sweet way to round things off.
The humour was gold, with several hilarious gems coming out of the characters’ mouths, situational comedy and anime-like slapstick. The actors weren’t afraid of going completely nutty for their characters, and the NGs at the end of each episode showed just how much they were enjoying themselves (besides, they obviously knew how ridiculous they were being, which added an extra layer of hilarity). I especially love the panda jokes, and they’re even funnier if you understand at least a little Japanese. A good one was in episode 5, when Ojiro, Airu and Kikurin played a trick on Kei after he got scolded by Mei. They tried cheering him up with a string of panda jokes, saying an unhappy Usa-tan was like Ueno Zoo without its panda (haha, I love the drama equating Kei with both a rabbit and panda). It’s bloody hilarious even if it was supposed to be a sad thing for Kei that he was being driven nuts by Mei. The “yay, panda” catchphrase and jokes cropped up just about everywhere, it cracked me up every time a character said it and the rest chimed in to continue the panda goodness.
Pacing was very good and even though the drama had eight characters, everyone got his or her fair share of screentime and development, so things progressed smoothly and never really felt awkward or out of place. Music-wise, I really liked the use of Fantasy by Earth, Wind & Fire, and Eternal Flame by The Bangles. Also, I particularly loved that almost every episode there was usually someone who’d get wet or semi-naked, or a combination thereof, not to mention some unexpected kisses. It was, to say the least, very enlightening, haha.
Tamaki Hiroshi gave a standout performance as Kei, who was the driving force of the drama and the bulk of the situations either originated with him or involved him. I thought Tamaki’s comic timing was fantastic, whether he was being deadpan while delivering a (lame) joke, or in chorus with DAIGO doing their silly Tara-chans act. I especially loved Kei’s pool scene where, in order to help Reiko, he pretty much kicked ass in true Chiaki style. Tamaki was just so cool, potting the balls with ease (even the NGs didn’t diminish that coolness, haha). In his sensitive moments, I felt for Kei and rooted for him to get out of his rut, which was why his development felt the most logical and organic to me. Initially, Kei was pretty annoying with his clingy ways, and I couldn’t understand just what he saw in spoilt brat Mei. But as he gradually snapped out of it, I love that the real Kei is such a sweet, kind and wonderful person. And the ending was pretty much perfect for Kei because I could see that it was so natural for him to choose that path (and the early signs were already there during the pool scene). I’ve always felt that Mei held Kei back all this while, only that stupid girl didn’t realise it and was so self-absorbed about it. She was all “I’ve always been Kei’s fan” and claiming she knew Kei so well, but that’s probably why it was wrong – she worshipped an idealised form of Kei and to be with her, he struggled to keep up an image and a lifestyle that didn’t suit him.
With Airu, he was able to be himself – they bickered back and forth and were so comfortable with each other that they were able to be both friends and lovers. I really liked how kickass and forthright Airu was, telling it like it is and not afraid to give Kei or anyone else a piece of her mind. I love that when Kei was in trouble, the first person he called was Airu, even if it was to ask her to lend him cash so he could help get Kairi a stuffed panda from an arcade game. When Kei ran into problems job-hunting, it was Airu who lent a hand unreservedly. When Airu had a new love interest, Kei didn’t even realise he was jealous even as it was obvious to the audience that he was. It was adorable to watch him be affronted that she was using their RabuSha time to date someone else, hahaha. Kei and Airu were able to confide in and be honest with each other, which is so important for any relationship to progress. It’s also telling that Airu picked Kei to be the one she wants to be friends with, given her own relationship issues. I love how clever the drama was, with the little clues sprinkled here and there. I think of all the relationships, Kei and Airu’s was the most well-developed and I’m really glad for that because they were pretty much the heart and soul of the drama. Tamaki and Karina had wonderful chemistry and totally sold the friends turned lovers romance.
Most of the reviews I’ve read really shipped the Ojiro-Kairi pairing, and while I like them as well, there is one fundamental problem. I didn’t like that Kikurin made use of Ojiro’s feelings to make Kairi want to live again, it seemed pretty unethical to me. It might just be that Kairi was such a unusual case (along with Kikurin’s own past issues) that Kikurin felt he had to resort to unorthodox methods, but ultimately I did not think the ends justified the means, especially as something could easily have happened to Ojiro when he was at his most vulnerable. Also, while I find the Thanatos premise pretty intriguing in itself, I don’t feel it was as well executed in the drama – half the reason was that Yoshitaka Yuriko was pretty stiff and didn’t come off as particularly convincing in the first half of the drama where she was supposed to be consumed by this whole Thanatos thing. She did make an adorable couple with Matsuda Shota though, and I thought they had decent chemistry in the latter half once Kairi started behaving more like a human being. I also quite liked Matsuda as the photographer, the insistent way in which he drew out responses from his models in order to capture their reactions for the kind of photos he was seeking was in your face, but not too offensive. He had that sort of cocky arrogance and confidence that was a perfect fit for Ojiro, and the hairstyle was just right.
The one positive I drew from Kikurin’s unethical methods was that it got the other characters to reflect on the meaning of their own existence and whether it would affect others around them if they disappeared one day. For Kei, it was like another wake-up call after Yukichi dropped the Mei bomb on him, and this time for good. I love that even as he was talking to Mei and Airu to Kame-chan, the back and forth frames were of Kei and Airu, saying things as though they were standing opposite each other. I also love that the drama twisted the hare vs tortoise tale, even if Usa-tan was a dense, adorable rabbit, haha.
I liked Yukichi when he was part of the Tara-chans with Kei, enough that I didn’t think Mei deserved him. She’s so irritating and self-centred that it’s a wonder Thanatos didn’t appear to bump her off. As for Reiko and Kikurin, I thought there wasn’t any overwhelming need for them to be together, so maybe that relatively neutral ending was just as well. I wish they’d given Kikurin a better hairstyle, it made Tanihara Shosuke look positively slimy and creepy, especially during his midnight pool scene with Kairi. But overall, I felt the casting for the main quartet was spot-on – for the guys, it was their second drama together after Top Caster, and it felt like a wonderful reunion. If I had floor-mates like these four, I’d be doing them pyjama parties and having shabu shabu every night too.
To end, I leave you with sassy Ai-ai and her adorable Usa-tan:
God, they’re just made for each other ❤ Yay, panda!