[Isn't this poster gorgeous? It reminds me of Amelie. I think it's the colors.]
Genre: Romcom, Office Romance
Starring: Shinohara Ryoko, Tomosaka Rie, Akanishi Jin, Toda Naho
Written by: Nakazono Miho
Synopsis: A slice-of-life romance–Noda Naoko is still single, has had the same job for 10 years, and is totally not ready to fall for the young new employee at her office. She oldest person in her office, she helps her younger colleagues through professional and personal problems while handling the vicissitudes of her own life.
What It’s Really About: I’m not sure…? Anego may be the Japanese counterpart to What’s Up Fox? and Kim Sam Soon: exploring coming to terms with your age and the decisions you’ve made that have made your life what it is, accepting a love that is different from how you’d imagined it, and navigating through the difficulties of your career, with a focus on women and their interpersonal relationships in the workplace and our heroine’s struggles with her own morals about whether or not it’s ok to have an affair with a married man. Then again it may also be a psychological horror about a modern day woman who gets caught up in the harrowing marriage of a frighteningly manipulative, mentally ill woman who is determined to hold on to her possibly abusive husband, so proceed at your own risk.
Episode 1: The Transgression of the Meeting
Noda Naoko, the oldest woman at her job, is in the disconcerting position of being neither a new, young employee, nor an oba-san. On the way home one night she’s saved by a stranger who seems to fulfill all her romantic fantasies–but is married. Meanwhile a new employee joins the office, an old acquaintance wants to become friends, and Naoko helps a junior with some man troubles.
I’ve fallen in love. Her name is Noda Naoko. She’s thirty-two years old, lives alone in Tokyo, and is the heroine of Anego. You can tell she’s just taking things day by day, unsure of herself and her future, but comfortable in her life, despite it being different from the expectations others had for her at that age, that she had had for herself at that age. My favorite moment is when she walks into the men’s room after hearing that douchebag ask their boss to fire the contract employee who sent the mass email. It is such a perfect example of the bureaucracy of sexism at work. (All the highest positions at her workplace are held by men.) She defends that young, silly, scared, heartbroken girl, and continues to do so, even when the douche extraordinaire insults her and her age and her desires. I like that you can see her working to try and make the best of things, not in an exuberance-filled Candy way, but in a subdued way, in a ‘I have to do this to survive’ kind of way.
I love that the moment we see Kurosawa take real notice of her is when she’s at her strongest and best, defending and protecting a hapless colleague and just generally being a badass. The way he pretends not to be watching her but his eyes follow her around the room, and she barely knows he exists? And how he picks up on her kindness, her generosity, the effort she puts into making sure the office is a nurturing place for all employees? PRECIOUS.
Episode 2: Anego’s Righteousness
Naoko gets a new nickname and helps a woman who is being blackmailed by a powerful former lover; Sawaki Eriko gets her husband to help Anego, which serves as fuel for Nadoa’s romatic fantasies, but leads to disaster. Naoko’s mom arranges a wedding meeting for her.
Oh, it’s you again?
Yes, me, Anego. Is that not ok?
Oh, oh, their ridiculous, flailing flirting in the grocery shop; it’s too cute! It’s too soon for either Naoko or Kurosawa to know what they really want, or if they even want anything from one another, but they like eachother: he knows she’s kind, she tries not to think he’s cute, and they are adorable. Kurosawa’s always so amazed by Naoko, and she’s always so dedicated to ethical introspection and making sure she acts in a way that is in accordance with her morals. I like how he recognizes her tendency toward nurturing and appreciates it, how the show celebrates it. Oh Kurosawa! He is one of my favorite kinds of romantic leads, and he reminds me so much of Park Chul Soo from What’s Up Fox? He’s openly and unselfconsciously interested in Naoko, and he’s earnest and naive and eager to please her. So sweet, so precious; I feel like I’m being spoiled. One of my favorite parts is when Naoko sits on him, totally casually, totally platonically, and everything goes quiet around him and his face is just like “Her butt is in my lap oh nooooooo.” I actually clapped in glee. But then he goes and smacks a kiss on her without her consent. >:[
I love that the non-romance part of the show is about how our heroine goes around helping other women with their problems. It's a nod to sisterhood that's refreshing to see, and I'm glad that space is made for that alongside her romance. If they somehow manage to make it an integral part of her romance, I'll be overjoyed.
Episode 3: A Younger Man
But regardless, I can't hide my happiness.
After a misunderstanding, Naoko grows closer to a difficult female employee; Naoko tells a
creepy clingy Eriko off; Kurosawa wants to go on a date, but Naoko is given pause when she realizes that they are in much different stages in life and want different things.
Episode 4: The Terms of Marriage
Naoko goes on a blind date in preparation for marriage and gets conflicting advice from her friends, Sawaki, and Eriko; Eriko invites Naoko over to thank her for rescuing her; Kurosawa attends a company training where he gets into some trouble and Naoko has to come to his aid; a major event between Naoko and Kurosawa occurs.
It's a joy to watch Shinohara Ryoko in this because she has such wonderful comedic timing and plays Naoko with a natural charm and grace that adds to her endearing qualities. When Kurosawa tells Naoko that his nickname is Akiga, she looks him up and down with this disgusted look on her face and it's so funny. There's an unaffected camaraderie between these two that's delightful to watch: Kurosawa teases Naoko while still respecting her and Naoko scolds and calls him names while still guiding and caring for him. There's a reciprocity to them too--last episode Naoko saved him from the reporters and then he did the same for her, and this episode she goes to get him after a fight and then he goes to get her fater she's drunk. You can see the longing Kurosawa has for Naoko, but also the distance he maintains from her because he knows there are things he doesn't want that she very much does; and you can see the fantasy that Naoko, romantic that she is, wants to be a reality and thinks she can find in Kurosawa, but which she's scared to make a reality because it would be so complicated and would be another way in which she doesn't fit into the world.
I loved seeing Kurosawa running around having fun with his friends. One of my favorite things about romances with age differences in them is being shown how two people leading differing lives with different things that are important to them, and how they work together and compromise so that they can be with one another. It's the same conceit that's behind romances that have class differences as the central conflict, but I find that oftentimes those are simply modernized (and bowdlerized) Cinderella stories that shove the heroine up the class ladder and declare her triumphant without really delving into the realities of class segregation. Age differences are so much gentler than class issues that it's possible to explore them without being very political.
Episode 5: Propose
Naoko handles sleeping with Kurosawa by resolving to forget all about it; Naoko receives threatening phone calls and discovers an affair in her office; new information crops up about Saito-san, her prospective husband-to-be, that could change Naoko's future.
Lessons Learned From Noona Dramas:
1) Never get drunk around a cute younger man who just happens to have a raging crush on you. It will always end in sex, the details of which you will forget, but will have the shame and the guilt nonetheless.
2) Being single in your early thirties is very much like a chronic illness. Only known cure is cute younger man you accidentally slept with.
3) Be aware of Time: one day you'll wake up sandwiched between your twenties and the gaping maw of middle age, and you'll be scared shitless. Drinking helps.
Episode 6: Sweet Lifestyle
It's her life, and I think it'll be good for Naoko-san. And if she's in a higher position, wouldn't it be better for women?
There are many female employees who drew courage after receiving similar help from you Naoko.
Naoko has to deal with the fall-out of calling off her marriage; Eriko suspects her husband is cheating on her and has difficulties working with women at her daughter's school; Naoko's boss gives her an opportunity to move up in the company, which Kurosawa helps her prepare for; cohabitation shenanigans ensue when Kurosawa has roommate issues. [Tw: transphobia]
Sometimes I resent how Eriko keeps on barging in on Naoko’s life at the most inopportune moments. I can’t decide if she’s deliberately trying to sabotage her, if she’s just really that lonely and self absorbed, or if she has mental illness issues that neither she nor her husband have been treating properly. And then other times I appreciate how we’re being shown a woman who needs help and reaches out to someone she wants as a friend, and that person helps her.
You know what I really love about What’s Up Fox? and this drama? They both tell the stories of women who don’t have very big dreams or ambitions. They both explore how their heroines find value in the work that they do, how the people around them depend on them, and they both reassure that it’s ok to want the life you have.
Episode 7: Absent Minded
It’s nice to see a young male junior. But it’s not good for my heart. In one week I’ll be 33. – Naoko after being greeted by a shirtless Kurosawa
Cohabitation shenanigans; Naoko celebrates her birthday (and frets about being 11 years older than Kurosawa for half the year, ha!); Naoko suffers angst and starts questioning her own personality after a junior tells her that all she does is take on others’ responsibilities; Naoko’s friendship with Sawaki grows and Eriko suspects foul play; Naoko takes a leap with Kurosawa, but it’s Sawaki who seems to be there to catch her.
WHAT????? I did not see that coming. Oh, my poor baby Naoko, I just want her to be happy.
Episode 8: Destined Soulmate
Sawaki and Naoko grow even closer as they spend a day in Kyoto; Sawaki confesses something to Naoko as his marriage teeters on divorce; a moody Kurosawa is confused by and disappointed in Naoko and he tells her so; one of Naoko’s juniors lets her in on a secret.
…What a…strange…development…Didn’t Naoko ask Kurosawa to get married just last episode? I’m confused by what is happening in this story. What I thought was a cute (though chaste) show has rapidly become a quagmire of wtf-age.
Hmm…I’m at an impasse. I want Naoko and Kurosawa to get together (it’s almost on principle; I mean c’mon it’s a noona romance!), but I see the chemistry between Sawaki and Naoko and am more convinced of their feelings for each other–and of the probability of the survival of their romance. As much as I love Naoko and Kurosawa, I ultimately feel that their romance would be loving and fun, but temporary. I can’t really see them getting married. Naoko’s proposal was abrupt, but I can accept it in the light of her fear of her aging and her future. The problem is that Kurosawa’s aversion to being tied down–essentially his reason for turning Naoko down–hasn’t been sufficiently explored. Instead of remaining with this couple after such a damaging and course-altering moment between them, the show has veered off to a relationship that has been kept at bay, for the most part. It’s totally disorienting. I think the problem here is that the show is trying to be two things at once and is failing: a noona romance and an adultery drama. I thought it has chosen to be a noona romance that mused over the possibilities of adultery, but now Naoko and Kurosawa are no longer being cute and all logic seems to have been thrown out the window. If the drama had really wanted to commit to a love triangle it should have made Sawaki a viable choice from the beginning, as oppsed to making him catnip for Naoko’s fantasies.
For all this perverse turn in narrative, I am still moved by Naoko’s motivations and desires, and I want Eriko to burn:
I’m tired of being a good person. I don’t care if people think I’m the worst kind of woman. I’ve been forcing myself my whole life. Now, for the first time, I realized I want something with all my heart. Even if it makes others unhappy, I want to be happy.
Episode 9: NA
Naoko’s friends come to her aid when Eriko outs her affair to the company and her family; Kurosawa asks Naoko an important question; Eriko continues to be manipulative, clueless, and wholly self-absorbed; Sawaki is a gaping asshole.
What a terrible, terrible development. I didn’t come here to watch The Scarlet Letter. >:[ Why did we waste 2 episodes with yucky Sawaki when we could have spent the entire time with Naoko and Kurosawa tip toeing around each other, teasing themselves and one another with the possibility of what they could be? I mean that’s where we ended up anyway! Grrr. Watching this is actually making me nauseous now.
Episode 10: NA
Eriko and Naoko are Rose and Jack from Titanic??? Kurosawa goes to Mongolia??? He and Naoko don’t??? end up?? together?? Naoko’s parents are super cute??? Naoko quits her job??? Naoko and Kurosawa maintain a cute correspondence that makes me wish there were a Shop Around the Corner/You’ve Got Mail drama??? Idek, I think I may have gotten food poisoning and hallucinated my way through this episode.
It’s so terribly disappointing when you’re enjoying something, only to have it self destruct in it’s last stages. I don’t think I find anything in dramas more infuriating than this compulsion to keep the OTP apart for as long as possible and delay their (and my) happiness. Anego manages to delay so much that they never actually get together. I’m fine with Naoko punishing herself and choosing to start all over again from the bottom up, but why can’t she do that with a hot, supportive boyfriend? I will be forever baffled by this.
Mini-Review: Here is how to watch this show. Watch episodes 1-6 fully. Then watch about 3/4 of the way through episode 7. Skip episode 8, and watch only the last 7 minutes of episode 9. Skip 10. The end.
Overall the show isn’t particularly riveting or moving, nor does it stay with you very long afterwards, but it’s fun for the first few episodes. The highlights are the focus on women and their friendships, how awesome a heroine Naoko is, and a slice-of-life sensibility that jdramas do so well. I found Eriko’s cryptic creepiness to be entirely unnecessary, and, of course, was very disappointed in the ridiculous ending. Malta always tells me to watch the drama that’s in front of me instead of wishing for the one I want, but I wish there were a little more focus on romance, less of the mess with Eriko, and a smart lack of commitment to the love triangle. Sigh. I’m afraid the only time jdramas do the noona romance justice is when Matsujun is involved.
If this drama lasted only up to episode 7, I would christen Naoko and Kurosawa the Ultimate Flirters: he says something complimentary, the slightest bit inappropriate because of their age difference and their unfamiliarity, she says something flippant back, and he just smiles at her; they say things when they’re thinking something entirely different; and Naoko keeps thinking “Cute, cute. Wait, no don’t think he’s cute! That’s a sure sign of aging.” By the way, folks, this is Akanishi Jin now. Anego would approve.
I know I do.
A Note: 2013′s Last Cinderella is really just another version of this. It’s good points are Shinohara Ryoka, who is impossibly cute, charming, and winning as a 39-year-old righteous fuddy-duddy, and the friendship she shares with her two best friends. Miura Haruma is very good looking but his acting is awkward, and the barbs Shinohara’s Toyoma Sakura and Fujiki Naohito’s Rintaro exchange would be delightful, if close to everything out of Rintaro’s mouth wasn’t some sexist crap. I don’t understand why so many romcoms seem to think that sexist beliefs = cold and clever. It’s the Pride and Prejudice trope, where the heroine and hero trade in cutting, witty remarks which are supposed to serve to show their attraction to one another, and after getting to know each other better they realize they have to rid themselves of their personal prejudices so that they may fall in love openly. Only being sexist isn’t something that idealized romantic love can cure, and it’s infuriating to see shows mistake it for interesting social commentary on the sexes.
One thing I appreciated about the romance in Last Cinderella (besides that it was way more present than in Anego) was that Saeki fell for Sakura not because she was kind and honest and caring (though she was all those things), but because he had fun with her. I don’t know why that was so gratifying; I guess it was just refreshing to see a romance that blossomed because of the quality of the time spent with a person, as opposed to the characteristics of that person. I watched it over a lazy weekend by fast forwarding to the parts with Shinohara in them. I would recommend skipping both these dramas, but if you are like me and are incapable of passing up a noona drama, this is would probably be the best way to watch them.