“Maybe the air is not something you read. It’s something we breathe in and out.”
Watching enough Japanese (variety) shows will surely expose you to “KY”, the abbreviation for “kuuki yomenai” which literally means “can’t read the air/atmosphere”. The opposite of which is the theme of Nagi no Oitoma: about people who read the atmosphere too much.
Case in point: Oshima Nagi (Kuroki Haru), a 28-year-old diligent yet reticent office lady who is so conscious and mindful of the mood around her that she constantly walks on eggshells and readily takes the blame for her colleagues’ mistakes to avoid prolonged awkward air. She’s doing so for two reasons: to fit it and because she has trouble saying ‘no’. This kindness however only gets her to be exploited by her colleagues who still take jabs at her appearance and whatnots. Despite her invisible nature, she actually secret-dates the social butterfly of the company, Gamon Shinji (Takahashi Issei). He barely greets her at work but is super sweet at home, though he’ll turn his domineering switch when it comes to ‘it’, which she puts up with as she waits for his proposal. On top it all, she has a passive aggressive mother who also sort of leeches off her.
It’s suffocating, but she believes everything will get better once she marries Shinji. Until one day she sees a group chat of her colleagues dissing her by accident then overhears her man telling his workmates that he’s dating her only for sex. The double blow hits her hard, causing her to hyperventilate and collapse while he merely looks on. To add insult to injury, she wakes up to no message or call from anybody. Which then prompts her to drop everything and move to a new place to reassess and reset her life.
There, she meets quirky people: curt girl neighbor Urara-chan (Shiratori Tamaki), tattooed DJ-next-door Gon-san (Nakamura Tomoya), coins digger old lady Midori-san (
it’s Baaba! Mita Yoshiko), fellow timid jobseeker Sakamoto-san (Ichikawa Mikako) who approaches her to sell stone bracelets, eccentric bar owner Mama (Takeda Shinji), and other residents who seem problematic at first but turn out the nicest and most caring folks she’s ever encountered.
They also help her transitioning period become an easier yet memorable one. Urara-chan is feisty and precocious; her mom Shiraishi-san (Yoshida Yo) is busy with work yet isn’t an absent mother, and ends up Nagi’s best drinking buddy. Sakamoto becomes a friend of similar wavelength whom she navigates jobless period with. Midori-san is a movie lover who is as wise as Baaba. Gon is a chill guy with interesting and positive perspectives on life, who opens her eyes to new things as well as prods her have more confidence in herself and to move forward fearlessly.
On the other hand, Shinji is not letting go of Nagi easily. He feigns knowledge of her existence or disappearance at the office but goes to visit her new home to trample on her feelings and circumstances mercilessly. But when i thought i couldn’t despise him any further, Drama introduces twists to his character, showing him weeping on the street after confronting her and having him divulge his real feelings to Mama. It was unexpected, but i thought it was to show how men took longer to get over a breakup, even if it was due to his fault.
I mean, why was he such a jerk to her and talking sh*t about her if he wanted to protect her for life? Why didn’t he tell her he knew about her real hair and the efforts and hours it took her to make it look smooth and straight if he actually found it admirable? Why didn’t he look out for her, or at least contact her, after her breakdown? Why did he harangue and say hurtful things when he owed her an apology? To be fair, we get the answers to these from the man himself, but they are said to Mama instead of Nagi, that i don’t care if he truly loves her, i want Nagi to move on!
She seems over him fast and for good upon realizing she was never in love with him, which i approve. What i don’t is how readily and easily she falls into the arms of another guy in the next scene. Yes, Gon has a sweet silver tongue, and even Shinji later on admits to his charms, but something about him feels off. He comes off as flat and inscrutable, which probably has more to do with the writing than acting since he’s soon revealed to be a lady-killer. Bad news is, Nagi is too infatuated with him to acknowledge the truth and eventually get sidetracked from her life-resetting goals.
Ironically, the first one who knocks some sense into her and points out her turning into a zombie because of Gon is Shinji. He’s cynical and blunt, but there’s a degree of harsh truth in his diatribe.
Well, i didn’t expect the love triangle angle to take such center stage in a drama that’s supposedly about self-discovery. To be fair, it is done in a lowkey way, but i was getting quite worked up at Nagi’s downward spiral over her new fling and couldn’t help comparing the two suitors. One interesting point i find regarding the male leads here is how one starts from minus and slowly raking in points while the other starts from a pedestal and constantly knocked down a peg as the story progresses. That maybe for the first time in my drama-watching history i was quite unsure as to whom the heroine would end up with.
Heart-wise, she may lean toward Gon more, but once she snaps out of her infatuation, she breaks off the relationship cleanly and maintains the status quo. Character-wise, however, she is more compatible with Shinji, who turns out the male version of Nagi. He too reads the atmosphere too much, has comparable circumstances with his family as Nagi does with her mother, and puts on the upbeat mask to cover his real self. And despite his nasty beginning, he’s actually the one providing humor in the drama, and i’m admittedly amused by his quirks.
That’s not to say i no longer had reservations about his character. He has several chances to set things right yet keeps botching them by saying things he doesn’t mean; he could’ve showed his true feelings in the first half of the drama, but denied them (while Nagi was also too dense to see through it), that when it finally happens, it feels like a closure instead of a
second third chance. He also makes the same mistakes twice, like not introducing Ichikawa (Karata Erika) as his new girlfriend or ghosting on her AFTER saying he’ll talk it out and take their relationship more seriously. I truly feel bad for her. But his true color without the facade is so endearing that i wonder if i’m holding his condescending past self against him.
Gon is undergoing changes too, though much subtler than Shinji, upon realizing that he’s fallen in love with Nagi. It’s odd to see a free spirit like him become tight-lipped in front of his first love. He also acts on his feelings quite late in the game but is clear in his intention and confession. In the end, it’s a showdown between the ex-jerk whom she discovers having a lot in common with and the ex-playboy who gives her comfort and support.
[It’s the same gesture but gives off a totally different vibe from the second picture, doesn’t it?]
(Ending spoilers ahead)
And Nagi can choose either or neither. Because she’s a transformed person too. Her development is as subtle as Gon’s, but she has also grown so much from the smooth-haired, announcer-like Nagi who let people walk over her. She’s getting better at speaking her mind, setting her mind on her goals, and resisting the advances of her past lovers.
There’s no concrete resolution to her predicaments, and neither does she have her future mapped out and figured out, but i was actually okay with it. If anything, this long vacation teaches her a lot of things — especially about appreciating the little things and savoring the moments –; gains her real friends, sincere drinking buddies, doting (grand)mother figure, nice coworkers, and decent love prospects; pushes her to be herself and stop reading the atmosphere (i.e. worrying about others’ opinions), and shows her that there are still things that excite her or to look forward to. Therefore, even if the ending is predictable, i’m happy that she takes that road. It’s the decision i would’ve preferred for Kakafukaka, but it works great here too.
The last twist of Sakamoto is random and somewhat out of character, but the character developments in this series are one of the best in dramaland. For a jerky male lead at that. And Takahashi Issei delivers an impressive performance. Shinji looks so fake in the beginning, but that’s because he’s doing exactly that: faking his cheerful exterior; he also successfully made me curse at him, then laughed at his comic timing, and eventually rooted for his happiness. Kuroki Haru is quite natural. The rest are pleasant to watch. They all have interesting backstories too, even for minor role like Ichikawa. Props to the screenwriter for incorporating their narratives seamlessly into the episodes that it never felt that we’re gonna focus on certain characters until we’re in the middle of their stories. They didn’t feel as subplots or fillers either but rather part of Nagi’s self-discovery journey. Also props to the music director for inserting Miwa’s Reboot at the perfect timing every single time.
Most importantly, this slice of life is pretty relatable and hardly boring despite its fair share of frustrating moments. But again, the ending is fitting and rewarding. Ahh, it’s nice to finish a drama with this satisfying of an ending after a long while. Nagi no Oitoma is not perfect, but it could be my favorite j-dorama of the year.
Comes to think of it, this drama had neither opening nor ending credits…
Director: Tsuboi Toshio, Yamamoto Takeyoshi, Doi Nobuhiro
Screenwriter: Oshima Satomi
Production: TBS, 2019
Cast: Kuroki Haru, Takahashi Issei, Nakamura Tomoya, Ichikawa Mikako, Mita Yoshiko, Shiratori Tamaki, Yoshida Yo, Takeda Shinji, Karata Erika
Genre: Self-discovery, Slice of Life, Romance, J-dorama (10 Episodes)