SHARK is a drama about a five-member band. It’s tough to guess at first glance how they’ll manage to make this interesting, but I do know what I’ll definitely be looking for – at least five well-developed characters.

This drama is in the same time slot as 49 and a continuous string of dramas I’ve reviewed stretching back to Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou. Some of those dramas have been spectacular and others dull, so I’m not coming in with any particular expectations. I do hope for the best, though.

I’ve taken a while to get to this episode both because I’ve been finishing up 49 and also because I was hoping for subtitles. A valiant translator, hakucchan at livejournal, has come to our rescue, so . . . yay! Thank you, hakuchan!

The show opens with a crowd chanting “SHARK! SHARK!” and a guy from Tower Records saying that the amazing thing about SHARK is its vocalist Kitagawa Kazuki (Fujii Ryusei).

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While we might not get much of Fujii-kun in this series for reasons that will soon become apparent, this is already a nice change of speed for him from his part in Miss Pilot last season. There he was the goofy comic relief, but here he’s Mr. Cool.

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This is not the story of how a scrappy band starts out. These guys are already popular and professional, even though they still haven’t signed with a major label. So, on the downside that’s one source of potential struggle removed from the picture. The positive side to that is the issues they face will likely be more subtle and require some good acting from the band members. Of course, just this opening scene does loads for their image.

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Watching in the wings is Komatsu Ichika played by Yamashita Rio-san. Now, though I haven’t reviewed anything with Yamashita-san in it, she’s been quite active. I caught some of her work in LIMIT (though I still haven’t finished watching that), and that was . . . wild.

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Here, she plays the band’s main advocate at a record company. She’s been trying to get her manager (Okada Kohki) to sign them up for a major label début, and here he finally gives her the go-ahead, but only if the début song is one already prepared by studio musicians.

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Kazuki understandably doesn’t like this condition. What self-respecting band would, if they were used to writing their own songs?

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He has an alternative, though – the band has prepared a new song and he asks her to get her company to give it a shot.

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She listens to it, and her physical reaction indicates that she’s stunned by it. She immediately asks her manager to hear it as well, and he decides that it’s good enough.

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Kazuki gets the news, but it doesn’t seem like he passes it on to the other band members – they think he’s just going out on a date with Ichika.

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After a strange pep talk that we viewers understand (because we know about the début), but his band mates don’t quite seem to . . .

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. . . he leaves to meet Ichika . . .

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. . . but instead dies in an accident. Poor Fujii-kun! I mean, Kazuki.

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And with that, the drama begins, and the title song is the one SHARK offered to Ichika as their début song – “Keep Walking”.

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At the record company, Ichika wonders if it’s still possible for SHARK to début – like, at all.

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It’s been a year since Kazuki’s death and since Kazuki’s charisma was the driving force behind the band, the manager says that the band’s fanbase has dwindled.

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Ichika says Kai (Hamada Takahiro) is a good vocalist, but the manager squashes that idea on the basis that Kai lacks the charisma.

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But he’s not entirely cold-hearted. He says that the band’s status may be reconsidered if she can find a way to help them regain their popularity. Basically, that means finding a new lead singer, right?

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Enter Kurata Mizuki (Hirano Sho), who is in the process of getting dumped by his band. It’s no mystery why – Mizuki calls himself a genius, and says that his bandmates are just ordinary. With an attitude like that . . . well, he had better be a genius, right?

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Or at least extremely entertaining.

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It sounds like he’s a very passionate sort – quick to jump in, to judge, and to get angry . . .

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. . . so is he really a good fit for the cool guys in SHARK?

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While it seems like he’s the one who will need the most character development, I’m sort of hoping he won’t. His obnoxious personality is sort of fun to watch.

Back at the office, Ichika has to deal with her coworker gloating about getting her band a début when SHARK is no longer in the water (pardon the pun).

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But actually, that coworker has a surprise request – she wants Kai to perform at her wedding party. The band that was supposed to appear suddenly lost its vocalist (I think you know where this is going . . .) and she wondered if Kai could be the replacement.

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Insufferable as that coworker is, and as much as Ichika objects that she wouldn’t ask Kai to do it . . .

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. . . she does ask Kai, and he accepts. He wants to get as much publicity for SHARK as possible, and the wedding guest list is full of music industry people.

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Meanwhile, I’m really getting to like Mizuki, as he goes 100% delusional – imagining that he’s playing to a huge crowd . . .

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. . . when the amphitheater in front of him looks like this:

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But someone from the industry happens to see him, recognizes him as the vocalist for Black Dog (his former band), and wonders if he’d like to début. Why do I get the feeling that it can’t be that easy? Surely that would require Mizuki to get his band back, right?

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Ichika has been reluctant to talk to the band about getting a new vocalist (an understandably touchy subject), but she spills the beans when she’s alone with Kai.

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He’s outraged, but at the same time doesn’t blame her.

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Mizuki is already boasting about his début, but he only finds out at his favorite burger joint (based on the fact that he’s racked up a 8900+ yen tab there) that the rest of Black Dog is performing at the wedding.

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That sets up a confrontation between Kai and Mizuki. What will happen? Will SHARK get Mizuki as a vocalist, or will it take more effort to convince either Kai or Mizuki that it’s the right way to go? For that matter, is it really the right way to go?

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This looks great so far. Hamada-kun with the guitar near the end was epic. Hirano-kun is doing a great job with his off-the-rails character, which was the highlight of the show for me. Yamashita-san is absolutely charming despite having the most childish character and I foresee a lot of fun from her as she tries to manage these volatile personalities. She’s got a great range of expressions, perfectly contrasting the calm look of SHARK members while mirroring the passion of Hirano-kun’s Mizuki. Okada-san did well as the record company manager, conveying both compassion for Ichika’s plight as well as steel-eyed realism.

We haven’t really come to grips with the other three members of the band yet, but there’s a limit to what you can do in a half-hour episode, and we at least got a firm sense of the plot going forward. There is a clearly defined conflict here, and the pace of the episode was reasonable given the genre.

I like that it’s a serious and grown-up series. I was a bit worried that it would be too Bad Boys J (the two dramas share a producer, director, and screenwriter), but it looks like we’ve mostly dodged that problem as long as Mizuki doesn’t start preaching to everyone like Tsukasa did. I’ll be on the lookout for repetitive storylines, though.

But yeah, this first episode definitely gives a boost to my hopes and expectations, and I’m looking forward to the next one.