Pin to Kona (ぴんとこな) is a drama about kabuki and the rivalries and romances that can develop in its very particular, very traditional world. That alone was enough to get me excited, since it’s not every season that we get a drama about kabuki (as opposed to, say, school delinquents) and it’s bound to add another dimension to what would otherwise be a standard storyline. Better than that, though, is the list of actors in it that I’ve already covered in other dramas: Tamamori Yuta from Nobunaga no ChefNakayama Yuma from Piece, Kawashima Umika from Papadol!, Matsumura Hokuto and Jesse both from Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou and two other dramas each, Yoshikura Aoi from Shinryochu, Yamamoto Koji from Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan, and Takashima Masahiro from Last Hope. So yeah, it’s sort of a “gang’s all here” kind of thing – I’ve never covered a drama in which I’m familiar with so many of the actors involved – and my anticipation level is high.

Naturally, we begin in a kabuki performance where Kawamura Kyonosuke (Tamamori Yuta) is performing and Chiba Ayame (Kawashima Umika) watches the show with disdain on her face. The ladies nearby gush over Kyonosuke, but Chiba shushes them.

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In the back, you just know Sawayama Ichiya (Nakayama Yuma) is going to be Kyonosuke’s rival by the way he’s standing with arms crossed: (Note: Sawayama is the stage name adopted by all those who are part of that kabuki school – as opposed to part of a noble kabuki family – so there’ll be plenty of Sawayamas in this, and they’re not related).

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After the show, Kyonosuke tries his best to avoid his father, perhaps sensing that there’s going to be some displeasure about his performance. You see, Kyonosuke is part of a kabuki family, and simply carrying on the tradition. In most arts, talented people are adopted into the family, but there seems to be an unusual amount of emphasis on biology in this view of kabuki. I’m not sure if it is really like this, or if the writers did it this way for dramatic purposes. Surely, there’s bound to be a kabuki master who does pressure his biological son to take up the art.

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Ichiya was not born into such a family, and one component of the rivalry is a class rivalry between those who were fortunate by birth to have a primrose path onto the kabuki stage and those who are kept from leading roles despite working hard for them.

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Kyonosuke has a flock of adoring fans, but this is more due to his natural charisma than his performance, since none of them seemed aware that his work on stage was lacking.

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Except that Chiba knows, and when Kyonosuke mistakes her for just one of the fans, she corrects that by . . . is that throw aikido or judo?

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Yup, she’s definitely unimpressed.

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Ichiya takes the opportunity to introduce himself to his future rival, but Kyonosuke thinks nothing of it yet.

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Instead, he heads for a pool party with his buddy Sakamoto Haruhiko (Jesse) where he can put that charisma to good use.

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The fact that Kyonosuke chose to have fun instead of practice leads to an argument between him and his father when he gets back home (and what a home! Noble families do get their perks!).

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It’s an argument that clearly happens frequently.

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The next day, Kyonosuke and Haruhiko bump into Chiba, who turns out to be a poor student (I guess, scholarship student?) at their school. She’s tending to a little garden when Kyonosuke barks at her for soiling his shoes. Here again, there’s a strong sense of division by economic class.

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I think it’s pretty obvious that Kyonosuke will fall for Chiba Ayame, but will the feeling be mutual.

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A glimpse into the kabuki practice hall reinforces what we already know: that Ichiya is ambitious, but other kabuki students despair of ever getting a significant role because they’re not of one of the traditional houses . . .

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. . . and Kyonosuke’s slacking off is costing him what skills he might have possessed.

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Ichiya expresses contempt for Kyonosuke to his face. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

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Ichiya is making all sorts of maneuvers to ensure that he’ll get a leading role, including dating the daughter of the head of the school, Sawayama Yuna (Yoshikura Aoi).

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We find out that Ayame has been interested in kabuki practically since infancy, and she ultimately got a boy named Hiro hooked on it, too.

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Hiro is, of course, Ichiya (remember, Ichiya is his stage name). Ayame says that she’s not going to approach him until he’s fulfilled his dream according to the promise he made all those years ago and assumes he thinks the same way and wants to return to her as an accomplished kabuki actor.

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But does Ichiya really think like that, or about her at all? Or is he so consumed by the need to reach his goal that he’s forgotten all other loves? Certainly, his relationship for professional purposes with Yuna doesn’t suggest that he’s reserving his heart for anyone.

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Then this happens:

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It’s a fairly normal scene. The brakes to Ayame’s bicycle fail, Kyonosuke happens to be walking along, tries to save her, succeeds, but is injured himself.

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At first, he thinks she’s left him there in pain on his own, and reflects that he’s always been alone. When she returns, he deliriously asks her not to leave his side before collapsing again.

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Yeah, he’s totally fallen for her. It’s the cutest thing, too, because she looks at him as a simple/naïve sort of fellow.

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Not only has he fallen for her – it turns out he’s obsessed, delusional, and keeps repeating her name . . .

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. . . so much so that others in the household notice. His father’s reaction was great – a father’s reaction to his son being in love isn’t the most predictable of things, and this scene gave us some insight into the elder Kawamura’s character.

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Unfortunately for Kyonosuke, Ayame still seems devoted to Hiro/Ichiya.

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Kyonosuke explains his next kabuki role to Haruhiko with the intention of taking his practice seriously (to impress Ayame). Is it weird that, even though he’s just a sidekick with a bit part, I like Jesse-kun’s performance in this more than in anything else he’s done so far? I think he’s been playing quiet, brooding types too often, and this is a nice change of pace for him.

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We see some steel from Ayame as she saves Yuna from bullies. You know, it seems like connections are quickly being built between all our characters, and here we have two people who like Ichiya becoming friends. Of course, this just heightens the love triangle (or love square) complication.

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Kyonosuke offers to get Ayame tickets to his next performance in the hopes of impressing her, but she only jumps on the chance because she sees Ichiya’s name in the cast list. Did I mention that she was the one who gave Hiro the name Ichiya in the first place?

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Kyonosuke wonders why Ayame is into kabuki, and it’s because of her mother who used to go with her to watch it.

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Kyonosuke convinces her to come with him to see practice at his house, but is that really all right?

Meanwhile, Ichiya has pulled strings with Yuna’s father, and now has a private meeting with Kyonosuke’s father. I’ll leave out what they talked about – we’re getting into serious spoiler territory here as all the introductions are out of the way and we’ve got a basic outline of the plot threads in play.

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I was surprised by how much they got through in this episode, incidentally. Of course, it was an hour and forty-five minutes in program time – practically a movie – but it still covered quite a lot of ground (I still remember Sprout taking more than half a season to deal with the same preliminaries as this drama did in the first forty minutes).

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With half of the episode remaining, let me cut off the summary but offer some screenshot teasers:

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And surely I should add some of the kabuki performance that closes the episode:

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To recap, we’ve got the following threads to watch for: the development of Kyonosuke from slacker to real kabuki master, the rivalry between Kyonosuke and Ichiya, the triangle between Ichiya, Yuna, and Ayame, the relationship between Kyonosuke and Ayame, and finally the relationship between Kyonosuke and his father. Oh, and there’s the whole struggle between classes thing. With the need to get all those subplots started, it’s no wonder this had to be a two-hour episode!

And it got all of them started thoroughly. It wasn’t just that we got a taste of each plot – instead, each was fleshed out as if it was the main point of the drama. There was no soft point in the crafting of the story, and no attempt by the writers to stall because they were afraid they would run out of ideas to make episodes out of. The pacing was smooth and appropriate for the genre.

I was delighted by the well-blended mix of humor and seriousness. We already knew that Tamamori-kun could pull that off in theory because of Nobunaga no Chef, but the writing in that series quickly got sloppy and repetitive, so we didn’t get to see him do it properly. I hope he’ll get a chance to show his true talents here.

I saw Nakayama-kun play a serious role in Piece as well, so his effort here came as no surprise. The only aspect of this character that is likely to present a new challenge to him is the kabuki, and from the looks of things he’s remarkably graceful at that. We saw some good texture to his character added near the end of the episode.

Kawashima Umika-san was wonderful as Chiba Ayame so far, but I wonder if the character will retain some of the spark she showed earlier in this episode, or whether her focus on Ichiya will hamper her character. I like the character’s energetic personality so far.

I already mentioned that this might be Jesse-kun’s best role so far because his previous opportunities haven’t been particularly dynamic. Kishitani Goro-san is also deserving of special note as Kyonosuke’s father, playing that role with careful subtlety. Otherwise, the cast was uniformly good in their roles so far.

The kabuki practice and performance scenes were the best, though. It was nice to see that this wasn’t just a kabuki drama in name, but that they actually went to the trouble of doing it right. If they continue to do kabuki scenes in full make-up in each episode, I’d be willing to give extra points just for that.

So all is well so far – excellent, even. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.