Sometimes it happens: a drama you expected to go this way ended up going that way, to your pleasant surprise. 3-nen A-gumi is officially one of them.
It started off like any other school drama, presenting trite characters and issues — a star athlete, a handful students, doormat teachers, possible bullying — only with darker turns such as barricading, violence, and manic teacher. The beginning was rather slow with tonal whiplash, yet it began to get interesting by episode 3 once the first sign of twists was dropped. But that’s as far as my correct speculation went. Thereafter, the story unfolded to unpredictable territories that i had no idea where it would go.
Like, the title — you are hostages from now on — stays true only until episode 5 because by then, most of the students agreed to stay behind and essentially became Bukki’s accomplices. And then the plot seems to have concluded with the arrest of the teacher behind the fake video three whole episodes before the finale. At that time, i totally had no idea what’s more there was to the story. But of course there are still more twists and turns in store, because apprehending the unworthy teacher isn’t Bukki’s ultimate purpose/target.
When the school’s teacher was revealed as the culprit, i was honestly thinking it would be somewhat related to harassment. Which thankfully isn’t case. Still, i expected this to be a cat-and-mouse game dragged for 4 or 5 episodes and was thus surprised that Bukki openly drops the name in episode 6 and the case is pretty much resolved in 7, quite easily at that since he has CCTV footage of that fateful day. Which only made me wonder why Bukki opted to create a big hoo-ha when he has such incriminating evidence to nab the perp with. He mentioned not trusting the police so i guessed he aimed for social or public prosecution.
However, potential problem arises following the name-dropping since the instigator — the ‘celebrity’ teacher Takechi-sensei (Tanabe Seiichi) — shows signs of hallucination and possible split personality. There’s also brief allusion to the more prominent man behind him, which could be Bukki’s elusive target.
The real reason why he’s creating a scene and drawing attention from a certain social media platform’s users is because THEY are the ultimate killer of Kageyama Reina. Yes, it is the cyber bullying bombarded at her once her doping video went viral. And Bukki’s final lesson is delivered to all SNS users behind the screen, the powerful 14-minute lecture that begins as a full-on rebuke and ends as a desperate plea.
In the end, 3A offers a social commentary on the evil side of social media as well as a relevant and timely message on responsible and wise use of the internet. The essence may be the same as episode 6’s, but while that harangue is targeted at one reckless student, this one is filmed in a way that addresses everyone watching the episode, somewhat breaking the fourth wall.
“You guys are not at the age where you can make mistakes based on your emotions anymore. Think! Think! Think! Be more responsible for your own words and actions!”
“By relying on unreliable information, how many cruel statements you have made to insult others on the internet?! Don’t attack strangers with the words you can never say directly to your parents and friends.”
“Let’s be more kind to people!
Let’s take care of ourselves more!
Only then did we realize that the twists and turns in this drama are necessary to drive home the point Bukki’s trying to make: that what we see on the internet and what is reported on the media aren’t 100% truth; that critical thinking, empathy, and second thoughts are must-haves when it comes to navigating the internet and digesting the news; that words can kill — literally.
Still, i feel that justice isn’t served. By throwing the ball at SNS users, it seems to absolve 3A’s students of their involvement in the bullying and Takechi-sensei for starting it all in the first place. He isn’t even punished for his crime, isn’t stripped of his teaching license, and is easily forgiven by Fumika-chan (Bukki’s ex-girlfriend who also fell victim to his fake video orders). He shows no sign of remorse prior to apologizing to Fumika-chan and i don’t think he knows how rotten he is. He has been unperturbed by the whole barricading thing; he’s still appearing on his cooking shows, attending his book signings, and speaking to the press with all smiles throughout the ordeal. So, while it’s nice to see him get a taste of his own medicine, it isn’t exactly satisfying given the non-comeuppance.
The truth behind Reina’s death is also underwhelming. I first suspected suicide due to bullying, but Bukki hinted at it being a masked-suicide… only to turn out as suspected. The more since Sakura was there, because 1) it looks totally preventable, 2) it is a fact* deliberately left out from her tearful confession in episode 1, and 3) her cheering up a lot in the ensuing episodes and going along with Bukki’s plan to identify Reina’s murderer don’t add up if she still believes she killed her till the very end. Also because it was uncharacteristic of Reina, who remained strong in the midst of doping accusation and was brave and determined enough to confront Takechi-sensei on her own. It’s probably a directional choice to portray her as such but it’s definitely an acting flaw to not have those mixed emotions conveyed. Reina showed the same expressions whether happy, crying for help, or hanging on for dear life.
(*This is probably the biggest question i had regarding Bukki’s omniscience because there’s no way he knew about Reina’s hallucination down to her last words, or that Sakura was there with her? Sakura only told him about it after he chose her to be the first answerer yet he had told Aizawa (his accomplice, the guy who records everything) that Sakura was one of his reasons for planning the barricade.)
Weak acting is probably the show’s biggest catch. Again, Suda is impressive in portraying the many personas of Hiiragi-sensei and most of the cast are actually decent, but the performances of the more prominent characters are subpar. Which was frustrating because i wanted to feel for them and their limited emoting wasn’t doing it for me. Thankfully, the screentime of the students (30 of them including Reina) is pretty comparable that this issue didn’t really stick out unless the said character was in the spotlight or acting opposite Suda.
To be fair, however, they undergo tremendous character developments and we can see how far they’ve come from the mean, rude, apathetic, and ignorant students they were at the outset in this scene:
I teared up even at my third rewatch.
That scene could very well be the thing i’ll remember from this drama down the road. And maybe the lessons too, which matched my sentiments on so many levels.
A sensei facing his students head-on and giving them point-blank lectures without sugarcoating things reminds me of Saki ni Umareta Dake no Boku. Difference is in SakiBoku, they share practical advices/heads-up about school life and real life, those you wished you had known before entering college/uni, things you wished your teachers had told/taught/prepared you in school; here, it’s about basic human decencies and becoming a better, wiser, and more responsible person/adult.
At the end, i still feel uncomfortable about the violence inflicted by Bukki to his students; think Nagano Mei is underused; find the pace is rather slow at times, the plot drags with complicated detours, and the scoring is quite off at times; and deem the other teachers a joke. But still, 3-nen A-gumi is a high school drama with far more weight and depth than what it appeared to be. It is definitely a drama everyone, who ever uses social media and passes judgment on or posts ill-intentioned comments about others on the internet, should watch.
Director: Komuro Naoko, Suzuki Yuma, Mizuno Kaku
Screenwriter: Muto Shogo
Production: NTV, 2019
Cast: Suda Masaki, Nagano Mei, Shiina Kippei, Kawaei Rina, Imada Mio, Hagiwara Riku, Kamishiraishi Moka, Suzuki Jin, Katayose Ryota, Kamio Fuju, Hotta Mayu, Mifune Kaito, Fukuhara Haruka, Mochizuki Ayumu, Tomita Miu
Genre: School, Mystery, J-dorama (10 Episodes)