Banjou no Alpha

Greetings after a long silence! Real life got in the way, so I’ve been swamped with work, deadlines, and more work, and there just didn’t seem enough hours of the day for drama-watching and writing. So here’s a short post to make up for it.

Reporter Akiba Shunsuke (Tamaki Hiroshi) is transferred to the cultural desk and put in charge of shogi. He meets Sanada Nobushige at a small diner one day and finds out that Sanada is aiming to become a professional shogi player and pick up from where he left off. Despite himself, Akiba becomes invested in Sanada’s quest for redemption…

It’s been a while since I watched a Tamaki Hiroshi drama (rewatches of Nodame Cantabile don’t quite count, lol) and this one was short at four episodes and probably flew under the radar of most people. I was also a little surprised that Tamaki would do a drama about shogi. That said, I did end up taking my time because it wasn’t the kind of drama that required urgency of any sort. Besides, I am unfamiliar with shogi and thought it would be difficult to get into the drama. However, I was pleasantly surprised. A special shoutout to the subber for the excellent subs provided!

One doesn’t need to know shogi to enjoy the drama, for it is easy to get invested in Sanada’s quest to become a professional shogi player. He is a former prodigy now fallen on hard times, and must take the transfer exam to reach the rank of 3-dan in order to advance in the professional shogi world. Akiba is initially disinterested, even disgruntled, at having to cover a game he knows nothing about and at the slow-paced cultural desk that is so different from the cut-throat environment of the news desk, but his interest is gradually captivated and he helps Sanada despite himself, even allowing the latter to camp out at his apartment while preparing for the transfer exam. Akiba even learns how to play shogi and I enjoyed his interactions with Sanada’s former teachers Senda Shozo (Kondo Masaomi ) and Hayashi Eisei (Ishibashi Renji) as he seeks to learn more about Sanada and his approach to life and shogi. There were also side plots involving the shogi players, chief among them the rising star Date Kazuhisa (Horii Arata), who like Sanada turns out to also be a pupil of Senda-sensei.

As Sanada fights for his career, we also see the change in Akiba. He becomes more intrigued by shogi and starts showing more interest and passion in his job overall, to the extent that his boss at the cultural desk says he is glad he requested for Akiba in the transfer. Akiba also realises he’d neglected his girlfriend Keiko (Higa Manami) and had forgotten his love for writing. I enjoyed how all that was shown, in four tight episodes, and the final scene was understated yet warm and brought a smile to my face. Tamaki Hiroshi and Higa Manami had some nice, understated chemistry, even if they spent the bulk of the drama bickering (cutely, in my opinion). I also enjoyed the mini Asa ga Kita reunion between Tamaki, Kondo Masaomi and Nono Sumika (she was Miwa in the asadora, but played Sanada’s ex-wife Shizuka in the drama). I have not seen Horii Arata anywhere previously, but thought he had a decent turn as Date, who acted as the foil to Sanada – Date was more “proper” and took all the right paths to success, while Sanada had fallen by the wayside and was struggling to get back up, but the segment where Date ends up coaching Sanada in a last-minute attempt to improve Sanada’s strategy game was really neat and I liked how Date eventually learns again how to have fun in shogi. I enjoyed the friendship between Sanada and Akiba, their ribbing and encouragement of each other, and thought the actors did well there. At the story’s close Sanada himself seems to have found his feet again, and with the help of Akiba, Shizuka and Senda-sensei, he has found his self-confidence and looks to be able to go far.

I still don’t know much about shogi, as it seems to be a complex game that requires much brain cells, but that didn’t deter me from enjoying the drama as a whole. There is no tragic sob story involved, just the determination of a man wanting to set his life right again, and the people involved who end up offering him support and guidance unreservedly. For a redemption and growth story, it was tight, well-paced, and well-acted, and the various relationships were warm, supportive and engaging. Recommended if you are looking for something slightly different.



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