Took me a while to figure out where the subtitles for SHARK 2 were hiding, but they’re available, and that means it’s time to review the sequel to the recently concluded winter drama. Are you excited? I am!

Why am I excited? Well, this season basically has twice the cast, making for a much more complicated web of interactions. The old characters will play minor roles, while there’s an influx of new characters played by juniors whose acting skills I’m eager to gauge. Oh, and I think there’s a bit more of a budget than with SHARK . . .

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. . . though you wouldn’t think it looking at these two:

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Somehow, Kai (Hamada Takahiro) and Teppei (Kamiyama Tomohiro) are still wearing what they wore in the previous season. Anyway, they’re contemplating the possible fate of SHARK. The group got rave reviews for their performance (the one that concluded the previous season), but it was at the price of exacerbating Mizuki (Hirano Sho)’s vocal problems. With the band unable to perform in this critical period, the members seem to all be doing their own thing.

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Will SHARK still be a thing if/when Mizuki recovers his voice?

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Meanwhile, Wonder Records’ Komatsu Ichika (Yamashita Rio) has a new group under her wing – a group that has already released a single, gained substantial fame, and is looking to release a second one. Its name is Cloud 5.

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My first impression at seeing them was: wow, does Abe Aran-kun do a great job playing the popular lead singer of the group, Sato Aruto. While the story will primarily revolve around Irie Saku (Shigeoka Daiki), I tend to be drawn to charismatic, eccentric characters, so Abe-kun’s acting got me into this immediately.

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Inside the van, the group talks about the new song Saku wrote – a ballad. Shindo Kota (Yasui Kentaro) is much more enthusiastic about it than Saku himself.

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The group meets their new manager – Ichika – who is much more business-like with them than she was with SHARK. There’s more of a mature sense about here this time.

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No problem – Aruto takes care of injecting some crazy into things as he instantly asks if she has a boyfriend, and climbs on top of the table to do it.

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The group finds out that Saku has agreed to let a famous producer, Matsuyuki (Toyohara Kosuke), rearrange his song – the one that was meant to be their second single. Kota is instantly unhappy with this – Matsuyuki knows how to churn out popular stuff, but Kota feels it’s not authentic – not really the Cloud 5 sound.

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Aruto doesn’t mind – he just wants to be popular, and Matsuyuki definitely turned the song into something that would sell.

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But Kota is livid, and he knows Saku can’t seriously like the new version of the song.

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He storms out, saying that he’ll quit the group, but apparently this is too normal a move for him. Perhaps the fact that he does it so often is the symptom of a bigger problem?

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Saku is clearly a conflicted and lukewarm character. He feels a lot like Kai.

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Ichika is pondering Cloud 5 as her boss passes by. She asks him whether something happened to Cloud 5 in their debut – something that caused the friction that she saw. He tells her that Saku’s songs were rejected by the company, which required Cloud 5 to release a professionally written and produced song as their single. Basically, it was the same thing they tried to pull on SHARK, except Kazuki rejected it and came up with a better song.

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Saku, however, didn’t. It was a blow to his self-confidence and now that Cloud 5 has become popular with the sort of music he used to disdain – meaningless mass market stuff – he doesn’t believe he can reassert himself.

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He walks by a group of girls talking about Cloud 5. One of them says they were better when they were independent – before they debuted under a major label. In other words, she said that they were better when singing Saku’s songs. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to give Saku any encouragement at all.

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Saku lives with Kota and Yonezawa Makoto (Kaede) – both friends from his school days. Makoto tries to figure out what’s up with the two bandmates, but they’re very reserved.

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Saku does let her listen to the re-produced version of his song, and tries to get her to convince him that the reworked version is better. She detects the problem he’s having, and just says what he already knows – it’ll sell, but it’s not Cloud 5.

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We get a scene with Kai agitated by the thought of what might happen to SHARK . . .

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. . . and then see Cloud 5 trying to practice the new version of the song, except that Saku and Kota are still arguing.

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Ichika tries to help smooth things over . . .

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. . . and has an earnest talk with Kota.

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So, what’s going to happen? I doubt any of these questions are going to be resolved in this episode, but will Kota find a way to help Saku regain some self-confidence?

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But if Kota succeeds, won’t that mean Cloud 5 will lose popularity and perhaps even the support of the record company?

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And if they decide to take a less popular road, how will Aruto feel about that, considering how much he likes the limelight?

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What’s producer Matsuyuki’s game? Why does it seem like he enjoys interfering with Cloud 5?

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And what part will Kai play in the story of Cloud 5?

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Wow, that’s quite a lot of plot threads, isn’t it? And they’re mostly multi-episode plots. That’s partly a benefit of having a lot of characters to work with, and partly thanks to having an audience that already watched a full season and has some background knowledge.

First of all, I was pleasantly surprised by Shigeoka Daiki-kun’s acting. He’s obviously playing a character that is much more broody than his regular persona. Saku is the type of character who can easily get tedious (he’s so moody!), but Shigeoka-kun manages to keep that from happening by giving the character just enough nuance. Still, I hope Saku will be more dynamic in future episodes.

Yasui-kun did a great job of Kota – certainly the pivotal character of this episode, and one which is also quite different from the other roles he’s played. Kota is a lion-like character – fierce and protective.

The character that will really keep me watching, though, is Aruto. I’m not saying he’s a good guy, but he’s the type that adds some spice to things and grabs my attention. I didn’t have much of an impression of Abe-kun before, but I think this series is going to change that.

We didn’t get much at all from Haruya (Hagiya Keigo). Hopefully he’ll get more of a part next ime.

I’ll withhold impressions about characters outside of the band for now – plenty of time to form those.

So far, so good. As long as we get some movement on the plot questions I mentioned in episode two, I think I can already see a lot of juicy conflicts for the writers to work with – something the first season of SHARK largely lacked.