When it comes to love stories, the Japanese enjoy telling them just as much as we do. But this fangirl thinks that when it comes to great romance and unforgettable couples, Japanese drama wins.
While most Japanese romance dramas feature different types of characters such as the determined tomboy, the goofy nerd and the snow queen, the underlying combination of romance fantasy fulfillment and comedic elements seem to create winning relationships.
As fans, we fall in love with these characters because of their relatable quirks (such as being a genius pianist who can't manage to clean her house), then stay to watch the way those quirks interact with the quirks of other characters. The more unlikely the romance, the more it seems to appeal - a continuous theme in all forms of love stories.
"People usually start their descent into the rabbit hole of Japanese pop culture with anime," said Eric Allerton, J-drama fan and founder of the Japanese pop culture network Gaijin Kanpai. "Anime can be very over-the-top, but at the same time it can appeal to a lot of different people. "
"The characters have a lot to do with it," he said. "You see a lot of the same archetype, but they have their own distinct personalities." Both anime and J-drama feature common and beloved character types like the "tough weed" girl who can survive anything life throws at her.
J-drama shows are most often adaptations of popular anime series. "Anime in the real world," Allerton said.
The same over-the-top personas found in anime are found in J-dramas, he said, but the J-drama actors are able to make endearing characters leap from animation to live action. Frequently, Allerton said, J-drama actors specialize in a specific archetypal character, appearing in many different shows in similar roles.
"Despite that fact, or maybe even because of it, viewers are consistently drawn to dramas," he said.
One of the most memorable J-drama couples comes out of a story that may or may not have happened in real life. "Densha Otoko," which translates as "Train Man," tells the story of an otaku who bravely comes out of his shell to help a woman who has been threatened on the train.
The tale was born out of a thread on Japan's 2channel message board, in which Train Man (Yamada) was advised by many Internet friends on how to proceed with the relationship. As a thank you after the incident, the woman sends Yamada an expensive Hermes tea set, which earns her the nickname "Hermes".
There's something about Yamada and Hermes that is ultimately appealing to any nerd who has lived in a room full of Gundam and anime posters, wondering if anyone would accept them as they were. Hermes is a fantasy woman, but eventually she sees Yamada for what he is - and falls for him anyway.
The support that Yamada's 2channel friends show him is also heartwarming, funny and another form of dream fulfillment - even for the socially awkward, knowing there is a support network out there is priceless. You can't help but love every minute of watching this couple discover one another.
When it comes to unusual love stories, there are many in the J-drama world. One of my personal favorites is "Zettai Kareshi,"another one of those manga that got so popular it spawned its own drama series (U.S. fans can't find shows like this on Crunchyroll, but otaku who have studied their Japanese can enjoy the show in its native language from amazon.jp.)
Riiko Izawa, the story's heroine, is a young professional who has no luck with dating. A fortuitous meeting with the owner of a company called Kronos Heaven teases Riiko to create her own "dream boyfriend" in the form of a humanoid robot, and soon enough, he arrives on her doorstep! Called Night, he does everything a woman would want a man to do - except be human!
Night and Riiko bump heads quite a bit at first, but as the story progresses, she finds that Night is evolving into something much more than a robot. Like most romantic dramas, the charm here is the element of fantasy and the dynamic between actors Aibu Saki and Hayami Mokomichi, and they hit the tone just right. It makes you wish your own robot boyfriend would arrive on your front porch (and if it was a good looking as Mokomichi, that would help quite a bit!)
It seems just as popular in Japanese culture as in American culture to portray couples that argue playfully. One beloved example is "Nodame Cantabile's" Shinichi Chiaki and Megumi Noda (nicknamed "Nodame").
Both are students at Momogaoka music college, and while Chiaki is an uptight perfectionist fixated on his goal to become a conductor, Nodame is a messy, eccentric student with a great talent for the piano. They seem like the most unlikely couple due to these contrasting qualities, but watching Chiaki crack at his seams and eventually succumb to Nodame's silly sweetness is a ride you can't help but enjoy.
One of the best argumentative J-drama couples of them all is Tsukushi Makino and Tsukasa Domyoji (Arashi's Jun Matsumoto) from "Hana Yori Dango." First a manga, then a live action film and finally an anime, this story tells the tale of a poor girl named Makino who attends a high school for the rich and comes face to face with the F4, a group of powerful young men who rule the school with an iron fist.
While at first the group leader, Domyoji, seems like the biggest jerk you'll ever meet, somehow these two very different personalities come together in all sorts of remarkable ways. Another "impossible" love story, this modern take on Romeo and Juliet themes keeps you cheering for Makino and Domyoji all the way to the end.
"In the end, it's the characters, and how they are portrayed, " Allerton said. "Going into a series, you know the male and female lead are going to be together by the end. The writers know you understand that fact as well."
"So instead of taking 20+ episodes and multiple seasons to prove that you're right (like in America), they instead spend 10-12 condensed episodes playing with their characters; making them incredibly appealing and endearing to the viewer. That's something you really only get on British television in the English-speaking world, and viewers are starting to take notice."
Allerton also believes that drama has the same magnetic quality that some of American pop culture's most popular shows possess.
Which drama couples captured your heart, and why?