It’s taken me forever, but I finally got round to starting Hanbun, Aoi. I had wanted to wait until the subs were done, but couldn’t resist Sato Takeru’s first asadora, so before I knew it, I had devoured six weeks’ worth of episodes. So much for slowing down!
In a small town in Gifu prefecture, two babies were born on the same day. Nireno Suzume (Nagano Mei) and Hagio Ritsu (Sato Takeru) are best friends who know each other inside out. Suzume is deaf in one ear due to a childhood illness, but that has not put a dent on her sunny personality. As Suzume works towards her dream of becoming a mangaka, Ritsu protects his friend quietly from the sidelines…
Hanbun, Aoi is very watchable, made easier by the fact that it is set in the modern era, and is relatable on many levels. The story begins a year after the World Exposition held in Osaka in 1970, and tracks the growth of Suzume and Ritsu as they try to make lemonade from the lemons life throws them. It is always nice to get a setting outside of Tokyo, and Gifu is lovely any time of the year (Gifu-ben is also rather nice on the ear).
The first three weeks set the backdrop, introducing the various families populating the small town of Fukuro in Gifu prefecture. Even though I am not a fan of childhood portions of a drama, the child actors were very charming, especially the young actress who played child Suzume. The next three weeks show Suzume and Ritsu in high school, along with their two other close friends Kidahara Nao (Nao) and Saionji Ryunnosuke (Yamato Yuma), affectionately called Butcher for his boorish ways. The stress of university entrance exams, job hunting and graduation are ever present but cannot beat the close-knit friendships Suzume, Ritsu, Nao and Butcher have forged. When Suzume finally lands an apprenticeship in Tokyo, she must now learn to stand on her own two feet and it is interesting to see how she manages to fight for herself while still maintaining her trusting, open nature. I have enjoyed watching Suzume’s growth so far and look forward to more of what she can do.
Suzume and Ritsu are like two halves of a complementary whole, typifying the “opposites attract” theory, albeit with characteristics drawn in rather broad strokes at this point in time. She is rather slow on the uptake and talks a bit too much for her own good, but is always inclined to the more positive side of things. He, on the other hand, is intelligent, sensitive and quiet, keeps things to himself and tries not to make others worry about him. Ritsu knows Suzume all too well, but she is only now beginning to realise there is much more to him than what she has been privy to. I love how even as Suzume realises she can’t always be reliant on Ritsu, she goes to him without a second thought when she needs him and he offers support unreservedly. There was perhaps the faintest stirring of their feelings for each other but neither was ready for it and it is now on the backburner as they try to figure things out in Tokyo. It is interesting that Suzume rationalises it as something that wouldn’t suit their friendship and that Ritsu wouldn’t like it, because Ritsu has not given any indication that he would not welcome it. I also thought the explanation of Ritsu’s failure to get into the top universities (Todai and Kyodai) was quite well done and fitting for his character.
It takes a village to raise a child, and this is rather true of the families in the small town of Fukuro. There are few secrets among them and people look out for Suzume especially after knowing of her hearing problem. The Nireno and Hagio families are especially close and confide in each other their own problems and realisations about raising their children. I especially like their conversations about letting go and managing expectations, and how feuds never last very long within the family. Each set of parents has been nicely characterised, and you can see how they balance each other out. For example, Suzume’s mother Haru (Matsuyuki Yasuko) is a bit of a worrywart, but has her daughter’s best interests at heart, while Suzume’s father Utaro (Takito Kenichi) is more happy go lucky, a trait Suzume has obviously inherited. Ritsu’s mother Wako (Harada Tomoyo) is a refined lady who is apt to be a little unrealistic at times, but her husband Yaichi (Tanihara Shosuke) keeps her grounded and seems to understand Ritsu better than his wife.
It is a little hard to swallow that Sato Takeru is playing a character who is the same age as Nagano Mei, given that he is 11 years older than her. That said, once you get past that, their chemistry is lovely to watch and they are very adorable together. I always enjoy their scenes together, especially their quiet moments by the river when they confide in each other, and their get-togethers with the other two “Fukuro-kai” members, Nao and Butcher. The actors for the parents are excellent as always (and finally Tanihara Shosuke is in another role that I can like and get behind). Toyokawa Etsushi is hilariously eccentric as Akikaze Haori, Suzume’s manga sensei, and Shison Jun and Seino Nana are so far decent as Suzume’s colleagues. I do like that there isn’t much fuss (or at all) about Shison Jun’s character Bokute being gay, since Akikaze-sensei only cares about his apprentices’ ability to draw manga. The surprise find was Igawa Haruka, whom I last saw in Sora Kara Furu Ichioku no Hoshi where her acting was the pits – she has clearly improved over the years and is now quite serviceable as Akikaze’s manager.
A special shoutout here to the translators of Hanbun, Aoi, who have gone out of their way to include the many retro references in the asadora, especially songs and TV programmes famous during the ’70s and ’80s, and the various cultural and food tidbits such as goheimochi, for a richer viewing experience. I am always grateful when translators add extra information that may escape those of us not fluent in Japanese, it makes the drama world much more lived in and helps me appreciate it so much more.
Looking forward to powering through the rest of the episodes!