Posted in Drama Series, Review

Juhan Shuttai!: feel-good slice-of-life at its finest

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“If luck can be accumulated, I want to win at work.”

I started this dorama after it finished airing that i could marathon all 10 episodes in a few days if i wanted to. But after the first two episodes, which were incredibly compelling, i forced myself to space the viewing so the goodness would last longer… that i was undeniably sad to see the word “owari!!” (the end) on the screen, though i was glad to have stumbled upon this gem of a drama that’s worth every single second of my time.

The major factor attracting me to this dorama was the slight disappointment i had with the scope presented in Bakuman. That movie put a heavy focus on the struggles of aspiring mangakas that the other aspects of manga-making/publishing were barely covered. It was especially baffling how inconsequential an editor was that i supposed Juhan Shuttai! would provide a more thorough look given its length and format as a renzoku drama. In the end, i got a lot more than what i bargained for.

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Not only does it give a comparably equal weight on mangakas and their assigned editors — the scale possibly leans toward the latter more since the lead character is a novice editor — but also brief yet insightful peeks into other parts of the industry from beginning to end, from recruiting potential newcomers all the way to recycling unsold copies. Furthermore, it goes on to cover the challenges faced by publishing companies in this digital era, and the strategies they implement to stay relevant. Some came from sections i didn’t expect, which only affirms how much time, collective effort and energy are poured into assembling, printing, and distributing those anthologies. And while inner-workings is at the forefront of each episode, the deeper theme is about the power/influence of (comic) books to those who get a chance to read it. That a book can not only make a difference but also save someone — at times literally — and eventually give hope.

“To keep living, books may not always be necessary. We may be able to go on living even if we don’t read it. But just one copy of a book can change a life too. It may help save someone. That’s why… I want even one more copy to reach the readers.”

Kurosawa Kokoro (Kuroki Haru) is one of them. Once a judo athlete before an injury forced her to quit and change her dream, Kokoro aka Koguma (nickname given by her peers, meaning bear cub) shifts her bubbly energy and unrelenting determination to manga, which inspired her to become a judoka in the first place. But she isn’t the only one revived by it; other characters in the show, from artists to assistants to editors to salespersons to the company’s president have their own poignant stories around bird-shaped publications.

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Juhan Shuttai! follows Koguma’s day-to-day journey as editorial department’s newest hire, and we come across the other departments, processes, and personnel as she is briefed, brought along, or cross-trained on that matter. It’s as if we learn the ropes alongside her, which is fun and informative. And although she technically is the lead, the plot isn’t (always) centered around her. There are a lot of characters but each of them has their own role, purpose, and significance to the business and story that they are more than just side characters to fill in screentime or serve as comic relief. Even when they don’t appear much. All of the cast carry this show together, just like how every individual plays a part in making certain serial a success and reaching the coveted “juhan shuttai” (second printing) status.

This drama feels episodic in nature, meaning that each episode has its own arc and focuses on different characters and/or themes. However, unlike the usual episodic Japanese doramas, they are more than guest roles appearing in one or two episodes only. Most of them are around semi-regularly (that i truly wanted to include everybody in the cast list below). The regulars are those in the editorial team headed by madcap Editor-in-Chief Wada (Matsushige Yutaka), supported by cool-as-a-cucumber softspoken deputy Iokibe (Odagiri Joe) and four editors: snarky striped-lover Yasui (Yasuda Ken), timid Mibu (Arakawa Yoshiyoshi), freelancer Kikuchi (Nagaoka Tasuku), and eager passionate newbie Koguma.

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Given its extensive ensemble, i believe Show includes every type of person there is: from the brightest to the sulkiest, from the calmest to the moodiest… you name it. Koguma’s loudness and chirpiness are borderline annoying, not gonna lie, but it helps that nobody else is as animated as her — other than the bespectacled bookshop assistant Kawa-san (Hamada Mari), that is. Despite the mix of traits and personalities, it’s nice to see that there is no antagonist here, just flawed individuals making bad or unwise decisions, which is totally human. There are still clashes and whatnots, yet not to the point of making us hate them. Yasui-san for example. He seems to have undesirable work style — evasive, apathetic, the notorious crusher for rookie mangakas — but he too has a backstory leading up to his current couldn’t-care-less disposition. We may or may not agree with his approach, but he’s the bottom-line-oriented person every company needs to ensure longevity and profitability.

Albeit the format, some subplots are stretched over a few episodes or throughout the series. [Spoilers ahead] Numata (Muro Tsuyoshi), for instance, is the most prominent assistant of Mikurayama-sensei (Kohinata Fumiyo) unable to come up with decent names (draft storyboard) for his debut work despite winning the newcomer award 20 years prior. He may take it lightly and continue to have positive outlook and attitude but we could sense something stirring inside him when two newcomers are debuting quickly and easily…until he loses it in episode 7. I thought Juhan Shuttai! has stopped tugging at my heartstrings after the second episode, it moved me to tears with Numata’s closure. When you think it took Show long enough to give him the spotlight, Iokibe got his only in the penultimate episode. It is something to witness him breaking out of his calm shell after being the philosophical mentor and rational editor all series long.

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The one with the longest trajectory is Nakata Haku (Nagayama Kento), aspiring mangaka with unique ideas yet poor drawing. Unlike Bakuman‘s Shujin, he is determined to draw his own manga. First appearing in episode 4, his subplot lasted till the end. If you are not invested in him, you may find his extended arc boring. I personally found him more interesting than Agarie Kinu (Takatsuki Sara) who’s more talented yet duller since he has a higher wall to climb and overcome. If anything, i was looking forward to him making peace with his trauma — something like the enlightenment experienced by ghost salesperson Koizumi Jun (Sakaguchi Kentaro), my favorite episode — which sadly never happened. But that’s a minor quibble.

“We all have wings that can’t be seen. If you want to nurture splendid wings, read plenty of books. The shape of a book is the shape of a bird. Just by reading, you will have strong, flexible wings. If you do that, you can fly anywhere.”

Likewise, i couldn’t recall many things to fault this drama with, other than a couple of characters would have been more appealing in the hands of stronger actors. That said, it is one of a few titles i liked from start to finish, and i was perfectly satisfied with the ending. It is also one of a few projects which felt so real they gave you the impression that you’re really only seeing a short period of their lives, because you can definitely picture their stories, battles, and journeys continue past the ending credits.

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It is not always a sunny day at Koutokan or the Vibes department. It has its fair share of ups and downs, of wins and losses, of smiles and tears, but manages to leave me invariably energized by the end of each episode. Instead of being plagued by office drama and politics, Juhan Shuttai! is a workplace drama that’s brimming with positivity and hope. That’s the best takeaway from this drama, besides the life lessons and work tips. Or from any drama, really.

“Working for someone else’s sake. Working for your own sake. It doesn’t matter what it’s for. If someone moves, the world will change. That one step can change a person.

Every day keeps going. We go on living today too!”

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[Because Juhan Shuttai! isn’t complete without Kokoro sniffing the papers ^^]

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Rating: 4.5/5
Director: Doi Nobuhiro
Production: TBS, 2016
Cast: Kuroki Haru, Odagiri Joe, Sakaguchi Kentaro, Kohinata Fumiyo, Takito Kenichi, Nagayama Kento, Muro Tsuyoshi, Matsushige Yutaka, Yasuda Ken, Arakawa Yoshiyoshi, Nagaoka Tasuku, Namase Katsuhisa, Hamada Mari, Takada Junji
Genre: Slice of life, Workplace, J-dorama (10 Episodes)

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