It’s back to regular programming on this blog with two feel-good dramas. While there’s always a fear that sequels are unnecessary and don’t live up to successful earlier seasons, fortunately both Neko Zamurai 2 and Shinya Shokudo 3 still know how to keep a good thing going. The magic is knowing when to stop. For this round, kitty edges it, which makes me think a certain poet turned policeman needs to feature in a cat-related drama soon. Besides, how apt is that tagline on the poster of Neko Zamurai 2? It’s totally my motto in life!
I: Neko Zamurai 2
Watching Neko Zamurai 2 brought back all the feels, with an extra serving of meow~. The first season was all about Madarame Kyutaro (Kitamura Kazuki) getting used to having a cat around and coming to terms with his love for Tamanojo. This time round, Madarame has embraced his cat slave status, and his love for Tama-chan is in full swing – the ditty he sings even gets interrupted with meows. He continues to encounter obstacles in finding a job, and the drama hilariously incorporated a bunch of modern-day stuff into an Edo setting – a job agency whose boss has a cat called Nezumi (rat, haha) and keeps recommending Madarame jobs that are “just perfect” for him; cosmetic makeovers that literally turned an old man from season 1 into a young kabuki actor; cat massages, and so on and so forth. I salute the drama’s creativity and was tickled to learn that Kitamura had a hand in the story draft. I like it when actors are proactive about giving input on the dramas they star in.
Season 2 focused on Madarame dealing with a host of issues that come with having a cat. Strays, for example, flooded his backyard one day and bless his heart, he took them all in and started feeding them even though he was still poor. Later on, goaded by a former rival, Madarame made Tama-chan join a cat beauty contest and kitty protested by running away from home, earning Madarame an earful from Oshichi (Takahashi Kaori). There was also a running joke in both seasons about how Madarame was constantly horrified that Oshichi kept increasing the prices in her shop, but yay for a business-savvy lady who also loves cats. I do like how Oshichi was always willing to help Madarame take care of Tama-chan, and even trusted him to watch her store for a while when she had to run errands – it was so fun watching him teach a customer how to care for his cat, which had fleas. Through it all, it was heartening to see Madarame being so attached to Tama-chan and caring for kitty the best he could, even when he was chased out of his dwelling for violating the no-cats rule. I probably love season 2 a little more because it was a lot of non-stop laughing, many many feels and that I could relate better overall to the issues brought up in the episodes.
The new characters fitted in well and I particularly liked the soba seller Kosuke (Sano Yasuomi) and the job agency owner (Moto Fuyuki) – you really can’t go wrong with cat lovers, and there are plenty in this drama. The theme song got a poppy upgrade and I took a while getting used to it. I liked it okay, but definitely prefer the original swashbuckling version, which had that desired oomph. But I’m glad they kept the ending theme, which is still all kinds of awesome. And I totally laughed out loud at the final scene – props to Madarame! I know there are two films on Madarame’s adventures with Tama-chan, but I’d prefer a season 3 since I feel this works better in bite-sized portions and helps to keep the storytelling crisp.
II: Shinya Shokudo 3
I took it to be a good sign when the first couple of episodes of Shinya Shokudo 3 gave me similar feels as the earlier seasons. It was always good to see the return of season 1 regulars – this time round, it seemed more of the regulars returned, and some even got an extension or closure to their own stories. Marilyn (Ando Tamae), the stripper from season 1, got an episode to herself about her mommy issues and even managed to snag a nice bloke for a happy ending. Generally, I liked most of the stories even if I didn’t feel particularly attached to them, but thought the last episode was a complete waste of time. I was expecting a final heartwarming story, but instead the second half of the episode filled out with snapshots of the various preceding stories, which was just bleh. I felt like I got cheated of an episode, especially since Shinya Shokudo is one of the last dramas I’d expect to resort to time-fillers like this.
Master was his usual lovely, subdued self, though it was fun seeing him getting just a tiny bit peeved that customers kept asking him to cook the soba they’d brought instead of Master’s own homemade soba. I giggled when a customer finally asked for his soba and he was so surprised he had to let that sink in for a bit, then went, “You want my soba?” Since the series was still rather fresh in my mind, the food introduced this season left a better impression this time round – or maybe because in contrast the stories didn’t quite hit that right note. I distinctly remember really wanting to try the tomatoes wrapped with pork belly because they looked delicious, grimacing when an episode featured liver and chives (liver yum, chives just wrong), and was all giggly happy when soba finally got on the menu (I’m a soba fan).
Odagiri Joe returned for the final two episodes, and left me wanting more because his screentime was so short. I’d wondered if he’d return as Katagiri, but he took on a new character called Kogure, a kōban policeman with a quirky sense of humour. I’d thought he would have a bigger role to play, since he does light up these little moments so well. Apparently there’s a season 4 in the works and he’s slated to feature, so hopefully his role there will be meatier. It’d be nice too if more regional dishes get featured – season 3 had Osaka’s beniten (red pickled ginger tempura), with one of the characters speaking in Osaka-ben.
The ending theme song was Yakimochi by Takahashi Yu, a wonderful melancholic addition. A note on the opening narration – most times, Master skips introducing his menu because we’re all familiar with his business mode by now, but I find it a pity because that’s the most distinct trait of his diner. In that vein, I also feel that as more seasons get tacked on, the intimate, cosy feel of the diner of season 1 somehow seems a little diluted by season 3 – not too much as to lose its unique flavour, but enough that something has changed. Sometimes, it’s the small, intangible things that matter most, long after they have faded silently into the night.