Grumpy Bird Reviews: Hotaru no Hikari (ホタルノヒカリ)

I’ve been making my way through the 2007 Japanese Drama Hotaru no Hikari. It has been pretty slow going, because there really isn’t much to enjoy. From the plot to the characters to the acting to the little messages it pretty much sucks. I have only finished the first five episodes and am considering finishing the series just to see how awful it gets.


Here’s the plot in a nutshell: An office worker lady is renting a house. Her manager, after separating from his wife for a reason that hasn’t been explained yet, has to move in to his family home. It turns out that its the same house! Hijinks! She’s a slob outside of work and he’s an uptight prick! More hijinks! Plus it turns out she has a crush on another worker and he has to coach her on how to get a man. But maybe, just maybe, that odd couple will fall in love.


Actually, as far as sitcom plots go, it isn’t so bad. That her rental contract was written on a bar napkin was even cute. So it really isn’t the setup, its just the how all the developments are handled that are awful. Everything is predictable. A missed first date. Confusion over whether or not the other person has a relationship. The rival who turns into a friend. Each episode is practically dedicated to some cliche.


The characters deserve even less praise. The main three are:


Naohito Fujiki as The Boss. (the character names aren’t important. They are paper thin anyway): The up tight boss is a jerk, who of course no one reacts to as a jerk. In between being a jerk (yelling for no reason, being violent (in a way that is supposed to be comical to an audience), complaining about his new housemate’s life style, etc.) little moments where he is nice shine through so that they can build a relationship that will obviously turn to love. Also, don’t forget he’s in the process of getting a divorce. I can only guess this is to explain why he has to find a new place to live. He is never really upset about it. I’ve been more emotionally devastated by sporting events that he is by the ending of his marriage. Fifth episode gives us the agreement, over the phone, to sign divorce papers. Still don’t know why the divorce is happening. Not even a token “we grew apart” has been offered.


Fujiki is an actor who lives by his face. His very pretty and probably makes the ladies swoon.He can do jerky and pouty half convincingly. Anything else is out of his range. Still, he is a god of acting when compared to:


Kazuki Kato as the Boy. He has all the personalty of a wet paper bag. They might as well of used a cardboard cutout. He is only there to be pretty. I have no idea if I am talking about the character or the actor. He is essentially a human MacGuffin.


Haruka Ayase is the Girl. She is supposed to be the zany, eccentric character we all get charmed by. She can be described as a take on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Her big character trait is that she is said to have no interest in forming a love life and just wants to chill at home drinking beer and being a slob, something we are promptly informed in the first episode is no way for a girl to live. And in case we forget the Boss is constantly there to tell us and the Girl that her lifestyle is bad. Plus, as a girl uninterested in seeking out love, attempting getting a date with the Boy is really the only activity she takes.


Much like Fujike, Ayase excels at being attractive. She rolls around, acts odd, and says weird made-up phrases all while coming across as cute with the level of realism that is expected from a junior high school musical. While she might be charming, it is impossible not to be aware that she is acting.


So the plot is cliched, the scenarios are obvious, the characters are one dimensional and the acting is substandard. What more needs to be said?


Well, there is the fact that if you think about almost any aspect for more than a second it gets somewhat offensive. The messages given are:


1) Women can only act in a certain way to be a true woman. The girl, who is professional and efficient at work, likes to hang around in old t-shirts and track pants outside of work. In the world of this show that makes her a bad woman, She is to be ashamed of what she likes and how she is. In order to get a man, she must drastically change. Now, I’m only half way through so we could get a drastic reversal. The boss could say that he fell in love with her casual manner and doesn’t want her to change a thing. Thus prompting their love. That would be trite and predictable, but it easily could happen. It would ring a little false especially since, as the only character who knows about her secret world. he is the main source of criticism in the show. Why?

2) Because men are superior. The moment he enters her house he starts forcing change. He is always right. She is always he. In an early episode he basically ordered her to cook dinner for him. That she told him if he wanted dinner he should cook it and while he was at it he should cook for her is presented as another way she is odd.


The next one is a particular peeve of mine in Japanese media and while it is not consistently present I think it deserves mention.


3) Foreigners are weird. So far foreigners have only been in the show twice. Once, in the first episode to set up confusion over the appropriateness of a kiss. To explain, the Girl was sleeping  in a chair. The Boy kissed her. Rather than thinking he was a perve she thinks maybe that is just what people do. She asks a friend about that over the phone just as said friend is being kissed hello by a foreigner. There is confusion over what kiss is being asked about. Basically the foreigner was being used as a set piece to prompt confusion. His face was never shown. The next time was in episode five. We get angry, threatening foreign (possible) boyfriend. The same advising friend is at two different places where a white guy is also there saying they need to talk. The second time the Friend is annoyed Whitey is there and won’t talk to him except to tell him to leave. All of this is in English. Whitey grabs Friend and tries to pull her away to talk. The Girl and the Boy are immediately concerned. Boy grabs Whitey. Girl covers Friend and repeats “Stop. Stop. Stop.” So, the only real foreign presence is an unexplained guy who is shown to be aggressive and dangerous. Also, Whitey only speaks English and no one talks to him in Japanese.


Sure, this representation is not exactly a hate crime or anything. It is basically mild. Also, I have no problem believing that there are white guys just like that here in Japan. But when that is the only representation of foreigners it packs more punch. Especially, since that scene is never addressed and plays no bearing on anything that happens before or after. It basically serves as a reminder not to forget that foreigners are dangerous and can’t speak the language.


All in all this has been a pretty bad show. IMDB ranks it at 7.3. I guess that means other people like it. I just can’t understand why.


Wait. Nevermind. I think I understand the popularity.

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