Okay, let me just admit it right from the start – I was remiss in not reviewing Kasuka na Kanojo (幽かな彼女) during the Spring season. I was just too busy, and it really wasn’t until this past weekend that I really got a chance to sit down with it properly. As it turned out, I ended up marathoning the series in two days – it was that good. Since I’ve watched the whole thing, it doesn’t seem legit to do episode-by-episode reviews, so let me do something a bit different. Let me just go through and explain why I think it’s the best classroom drama I’ve reviewed (beating out Great Teacher Onizuka), and why you should watch it if you haven’t already.
As usual, though, I’m not going to include any spoilers (except for the fact that the characters survive . . . well, except for Akane, who’s already dead) and you’ll have to watch for yourself to see how the various conflicts get resolved. Oh, I guess I will be revealing that the conflicts do get resolved, but I’d hardly be enthusiastic about a drama otherwise.
We meet a lot of characters very quickly at the start of the series – really all of the main cast within the first four minutes – but the first one I think we get a proper sense of is Kawai-sensei, played by Maeda Atsuko-san. Kawai is totally uninterested in being a teacher, putting on a fake smile, and the students sense that and despise her. One of the highlights of the show is the smooth development of her character from this state into someone who actually cares about the students. It doesn’t happen in a sudden u-turn, but takes easy stages episode-by-episode.
It’s a tricky role for Maeda-san, because for much of the series her character is not likeable at all, but becomes likeable by the end. She manages to pull it off. By the way, the first thing you’ll note about the character is that she wears shorts – totally not what you’d expect a teacher to wear. Don’t worry – the writers have our back on this one, and they use her regular costume to set up one of the best sequences in the series. You’ll have to watch to the end to see it, though.
Our main character is a bit late to the start of school, but we meet another character properly in the meantime – Vice Principal Kirisawa Izumi (Maya Miki). She starts to give a speech, but interrupts herself to deal with a student who is texting – trying to confiscate the phone. Kirisawa is a stickler for the rules and isn’t afraid of the parents. It would have been easy for the writers to make this character extreme in one way or another, but she’s very subtle, and comes off as trying to do her best at her job. Along with Kawai, she’s an important counterbalance to our main character . . .
. . . Kamiyama Akira (Katori Shingo). Kamiyama used to be a passionate teacher, but after failing to help a student he had promised to help, he’s become disillusioned. He still teaches, but can’t really say why. Unlike Kawai, he doesn’t put on a false face when dealing with the students, and nor does he hate them, but he also doesn’t want to go out of his way to deal with their particular problems. This, of course, is going to change very quickly. Basically, Kamiyama is on the fast-track on character development, while Kawai is on a slower track.
At the same time, there are tons of students around, and they all have problems. For the most part, we go through all the major students one-by-one in the usual pattern. I would have been unenthusiastic about the series if this is all we got, but the development in the teachers is what really pulls everything together, creating a unified story.
And the reason Kamiyama is on the fast track for development is because he sees ghosts, and happens to be sharing an apartment with one – former teacher Akane (Anne). While Kamiyama tolerates students, he’s really annoyed with ghosts, who make his life complicated because they constantly hover around him, knowing he can see them. To students, he even denies believing in ghosts, but he sure knows how to ward them off when he needs to.
Akane provides a ton of additional subplots to the series – how Kamiyama eventually grows to like her (and it really runs the full spectrum by the end), how they discover what happened to her, and how she eventually resolves the issues that have tormented her soul and kept her a ghost. That adds a whole other dimension to the school drama.
The thing that happens pretty much right away, though, is that Akane pesters Kamiyama to get more concerned about his students again. Anne-san is amusing in the role, and her interactions with Katori-san always come off perfectly.
While Kamiyama uses his ability to communicate with ghosts to solve the situation in the first episode, he usually doesn’t rely on them in other situations, and I thought that was a fortunate way to play things. It would be irritating if every situation was solved with ghost-support.
So, to briefly recap, a normal school drama might have an idealistic teacher helping students solve their problems. A superior drama has the gradual development of the teacher/teachers as they tackle the problems of the students. This drama has all that plus a ghost subplot that sometimes has to do with what is going on at the school, but other times goes off on its own tangents – it has an afterlife of its own, if you will.
Okay, like I said, every episode focuses on one or a couple of students, so let me tell you which episodes focused on who, and how the actors did. The first one was on Jinguji Yuta-kun’s character Aida Takuto. This was a pretty basic story about a kid not going to school and hanging out with some delinquent high schoolers. Jinguji-kun’s performance added to my estimation of him in that I hadn’t seen him play a serious role – you know, one where he doesn’t constantly have a smile on his face – but I also have to say that the performance came off flat. His character was only involved sporadically throughout the rest of the series.
The second episode focused on Okamoto Kana (Miki Honoka), who wants to fit in with the popular group she hangs out with, but doesn’t really have the money to match their propensity to buy whatever they want.
Okamoto has a huge continuing presence in the series, and is one of the best characters among the students. She’s full of rumors, and you know how handy that can be to a teacher who needs to solve problems. Miki-chan is charming in the role.
It’s not all about the students, though, so let me mention that there are a lot of great scenes like this one, where Kamiyama unintentionally ends up having a get-together at his place, and has to deal with the fact that he’s the only one who can see Akane. It can’t be said enough – Anne-san was brilliant as Akane, and the chemistry between her and Katori-san was excellent.
Kitayama-kun’s character, Hayashi Kunihiko, mainly serves as minor comic relief except for in one episode, which I’ll get to.
Some of the best scenes are where Kirisawa deals with parents, but this one in episode two was particularly special, as the parent was the PTA president, and she brought a lawyer with her!
Kamiyama is still reluctant to get involved in this case, but once he decides to do something about Okamoto’s trouble, he is tenacious . . .
. . . and comes up with an interesting tactic . . .
. . . that ends up having the rest of the class hating him. Literally everyone except Aida Takuto and Okamoto Kana.
We move on to episode three, where a student who sees ghosts, Morino Saya (Morisako Ei), has revealed that she can see Akane. She actually becomes Akane’s sidekick, helping Akane to get around instead of being trapped in Kamiyama’s room.
Episode three is not about Morino (though she eventually gets an episode of her own), but rather a girl named Yuzuki Asuka (Hirose Suzu) who wants to become a model a bit too desperately.
This is the first episode where Iwahashi Genki-kun’s character, Teshima Kentaro, plays a significant role. He’s interested in Yuzuki, but she spurns him every time. He was sort of adorable in this one, but there was nothing difficult about the acting.
Amidst interesting developments in ghost world . . .
. . . Kamiyama finds out from Okamoto about Yuzuki’s troubles.
In playing Yuzuki, Hirose Suzu-chan spent most of the episode nervous and distressed. She might be good in a horror flick, but we don’t see enough of her in the rest of the series for me to make any comments beyond that.
Akane continues to be magnificent.
Episode four is the one where we get some participation from Kitayama-kun’s character, and it’s because he’s in charge of the dance club and is particularly supportive of the student who has the most trouble with dancing – Fujita Tomomi (Kamishiraishi Moka).
Fujita sees dancing as a way to break out of her normal character – to change herself for the better. But that also means that she’s behind compared to the students who take to it naturally, and she gets made fun of because of that. This was an interesting episode, because it’s not some epic issue – it’s a very down-to-earth day-to-day kind of story. Happens all the time.
Meanwhile, Kamiyama is trying to interview the students about their future plans, but discovers that everyone is getting advice from their cram school teachers, making his guidance seem useless.
Well, there’s one student he might be able to help:
Or will it be Kitayama-kun’s character who does it?
Episode five was a much more serious and extraordinary situation – a student (Fujie Shunsuke played by Hagiwara Riku-kun) accuses a teacher (Iwana Seiji played by old favorite Takashima Masahiro) of hitting him enough to draw blood.
This is as much a detective story as anything else, with Iwana unwilling to say what really happened. He claims his innocence, but is clearly protecting someone. Throughout the series, Iwana has been a positive character – a disciplinarian like the Vice Principal, but not unfair.
There’s concern all around about the case . . .
. . . but Kamiyama is directly involved already, because he’s Fujie’s homeroom teacher.
A major part of the trouble seems to stem from Fujie’s father, who’s a nasty piece of work.
Hagiwara-kun did an okay job in this role, but we didn’t really see as much of him as you might think – Iwana was really the center of the story. We also didn’t see much of Hagiwara-kun’s character in the rest of the series.
Another student – Hayama Kaze (Shibata Kyoka) actually had more of a part in this than Fujie, and this is as much about her as him. Shibata-chan was solid in this role, and it was reasonably difficult to pull of the particular tone of contempt she had, not to mention some of the developments in her character later in the series.
The sixth episode featured young love. Ishida Wataru (Matsui Kenta) and Nomoto Kaori (Arakawa Chika) have been in a relationship for months, but Nomoto for some reason seems like she’s in a rush to . . . well, consummate the relationship. Ishida’s mother doesn’t approve of Nomoto, largely because Nomoto’s family is dysfunctional (and it really, really is).
In the midst of all this is a serious Akane subplot. You see, she’s anchored to a certain piece of wood in the apartment, so Morino pried that piece loose and takes her out for strolls. Unfortunately, Morino’s bag gets switched with Nomoto’s, and Akane ends up accompanying the young lovers as they skip school. The problem is that Akane has a time limit on how long she can be out of the apartment before she starts to lose energy, even though she’s in close proximity to that piece of wood. If she fades away, it could be the end of her existence – not even a transfer to heaven.
There are really two serious problem students in Kamiyama’s class – daughter of the PTA president Kyozuka Risa (played by Yamamoto Maika-chan, who was absolutely spectacular in this as the lead bad-girl) . . .
. . . and Nezu Ryosuke (Morimoto Shintaro), who just skips class. Both have been shown contempt for Kamiyama from the start, though Kyozuka is much more overt about it than Ryosuke.
In episode seven, Kamiyama tries to deal with Ryosuke, who mainly acts the way he does because his dreams have been crushed by reality.
Morimoto-kun . . . played a very familiar role. Frankly, his efforts in both Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou and Great Teacher Onizuka were far more substantial than what he did here, and his character in both of those was similar to Ryosuke here, except that they had more dimension to them.
Still, he sure does this sort of part well.
Iwahashi Genki-kun’s character also has a big part in this one – probably the biggest part he has in the series. The series begins with Ryosuke attacking him, but despite that, he still behaves like Ryosuke’s friend and defends Ryosuke when others insult the troubled boy.
More so than Shintaro-kun, I enjoyed watching Iwahashi-kun in action for the first time.
Kamiyama also has his own problems . . .
. . . and ultimately decides to approach one of his personal demons – the reason why he stopped trying to help students.
Finally, in episode 8, we get to the episode focused on Morino Saya. So far, she’s just been Akane’s helper, but now she’s getting bullied by Kyozuka’s crew because of how close she is to Kamiyama.
The particular way they’re bullying her makes it difficult for Kamiyama to deal with it – they’re actually pretending to be nice to her. Constantly. At the same time, what’s really going on is so blatant that it sours the atmosphere in the classroom.
So, Akane gets Kamiyama to let her come to class, so that she can try to help.
By episode nine, the focus is totally on Kyozuka – the toughest nut to crack, if you will.
At the same time, Kawai is also in need of some change.
This is going to be the toughest battle for Kamiyama yet, and as is fitting, he has to deal with the consequences for the remainder of the series. The Kyozuka story and its ramifications stretch from episode nine through episode eleven.
At the same time, all the other characters have to reach the culmination of their development, too – even the stalwart Vice Principal:
And there you have it – a total synopsis with minimal spoilage.
An absolutely key aspect of this series is that Kamiyama isn’t put in charge of a class of delinquents or a class that is portrayed as particularly difficult to handle. It’s just a regular class. It has a handful of students who are overtly disrespectful, but for the most part the students show reasonable deference to Kamiyama (though not to Kawai, who has earned their disdain).
All the students featured have thorough backstories and motivations. Even though there are so many other subplots going on, the writers never skimped on fleshing out the students and didn’t give Kamiyama any easy-outs. A number of the young actors including Yamamoto Maika-chan, Miki Honoka-chan, Iwahashi Genki-kun, and Shibata Kyoka-chan in particular had very memorable performances.
The school staff also had strong performances and varied personalities. The office scenes were always very rich because we got a clear sense of who all the teachers were as individuals. None of the characters were two-dimensional, and they all had their key moments. I didn’t get to highlight some of them in the review, but the actors were all wonderful.
Katori-san was so solid. I have to admit that I was a bit down on him after MONSTERS, but that was clearly the fault of the writers. He pulled this character off so smoothly, I was very impressed. I really haven’t seen him play as serious a part before.
Anne-san largely provided comic relief as Akane, but she did so consistently. At the same time, she not only helped Kamiyama develop as a teacher – helping him to rediscovered his need to connect to the students – but she also developed herself. We watched her gain more and more freedom throughout the episode, and also saw her learn steadily more about how she came to be a ghost.
It’s already remarkable how many subplots the writers managed to juggle, keeping the pace of every episode fast and making full use of every minute. As if that wasn’t enough, it really felt like they brought every single thread to a satisfying conclusion by the last episode, and not before the last episode. I totally appreciate how they never wasted my time and never had the characters tread water just to fill the hour.
So yeah, it’s a great drama. I’ll probably end up using it as the paragon, pointing out where other dramas fall short in comparison. If any drama matches or surpasses it, I’ll probably have a glowing review of that one, too, but it won’t make me have any less of a regard for this one.