First Impressions: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop

Girls trying to achieve their dreams

should steer clear of cocky teenagers.

After several full reviews, it’s about time I checked out something new. Thanks to my sister’s insistence (say that three times fast) it turned out to be the first episode of a recent-ish Kdrama. And that Kdrama is called Flower Boy Ramyun Shop.

Eun Bi, trying her best to prove that geeky girls can have it all.

Yang Eun Bi is hard at work studying for final exams with the dream of becoming a high school teacher. She’s twenty-five, a go-getter, and believes she has everything together. She has a boyfriend in the army, and she knows that her life will be perfect once she becomes a respectable teacher like her roommate (who is already quite successful in both dating and employment). However, that boyfriend turns out to be less than faithful. Luckily Eun Bi has a tarot reading in which the fortune teller predicts that she will meet the one she is meant to be with this year, and when she does bells will ring. By sheer coincidence, Eun Bi has a run-in with handsome Cha Chi Soo in a public restroom just as bells ring.

Enter Chi Soo, aka Mr. Cool.

Chi Soo is arrogant and on the run from his rich father and the many guards sent to retrieve him. He’s just returning to Korea from New York, and his main goal is avoiding both his father as well as all responsibility. While trying to escape one day he hides in the ladies’ bathroom and meets Eun Bi. She thinks he’s a pervert until he almost kisses her, then smirks and walks away. After that incident Eun Bi keeps running into Chi Soo, and once she finds out her army boyfriend is worthless, her popular roommate gives her advice on how to date. Eun Bi tries this advice out on Chi Soo, but he laughs at her and joins his friends. At this point Eun Bi spies Chi Soo’s school uniform jacket and realizes that she’s been hitting on a teenager!

Is a pervert still a pervert if he’s kinda dreamy? Probably.

This episode was gosh darn adorable, and brought to mind one of my most addictive shoujo Kdrama favs, Boys Over Flowers. Eun Bi comes off as a slightly dorkier JanDi, which makes her a very likable protagonist. It’s difficult not to feel a kinship with her when she’s wishing she was as popular as her roommate or discovering that the guy she’s been pining over for two years is a complete jerk. Chi Soo has all the good looks and arrogance of the F4 and then some, but you know that a transformation is in the works for this cocky rich boy. Overall I was delighted with the initial episode and greatly look forward to watching even more Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, especially if the rest of the series is as funny and sweet as the first episode turned out to be.

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You Are The Music In Me: Ef, A Tale Of Melodies

Are we alone? Do actions matter?

All will meet in music and love.

Oh Ef, where to begin? If you aren’t familiar with the first season of this visually stunning series, I suggest you take a gander at my review of season one, Ef: A Tale Of Memories. Season two, Ef: A Tale Of Melodies, is every bit as much of an emotional roller coaster/feast for the eyes as its predecessor.

Shadows of Yuko and Yu: their destinies paint each other’s lives, as well as the lives of those around them.

Once again we follow the paths of two sets of couples, only this time we have a frame of reference since all of the main characters in season two were side characters in season one. (For details please see my First Impressions post.) The first pair consists of Yu Himura, a budding artist, and Yuko Amamiya, the strange new girl at school, and their story takes place many years ago when both were in high school. As it turns out, Yu and Yuko knew each other when they were children in the same orphanage, and when they meet again they fall in love. However, all things are not as they seem: Yuko carries a dark secret with her, one that threatens to poison her blossoming relationship with Yu. The second story takes place in the present and concerns Mizuki Hayama, schoolmate to season one’s Kei and recent high school graduate, as well as Kuze Shuichi, an adult violinist who attended school alongside Yu and Yuko. As soon as Mizuki hears Kuze play she falls in love with him, yet Kuze rejects her out of fear (you find out more details very soon into the series). Will Mizuki be able to heal Kuze’s heart enough for him to love her in return? Will Yu and Yuko manage to escape the demons that haunt them? Will love conquer all?

Kuze wears many masks, both literally and figuratively.

I don’t want to divulge more details that what I’ve stated above, as this series takes quite a few drastic twists and turns, and I’d hate to spoil it for any new fans. Sufficed to say you get a lot of the dramatic events unfolding early on, which I was quite pleased with. This show definitely kept me on the edge of my seat because I never knew what fresh hell would be thrown at these characters. As in season one, I didn’t feel particularly connected to any one player in the story, which would usually bug me but oddly doesn’t matter so much in the Ef series. It retained its sense of viewing a dramatic painting rather than being immersed in a novel, but that didn’t make it any less enthralling to watch. I was also happy with how well the second season compliments the first. Both are companion pieces of the same story rather than separate entities. To understand the entire saga you really need to watch both seasons, preferably one right after the other.

Mizuki provides one of the few rainbows in this dark tale.

Like the first season, the artwork is gorgeous and makes interesting use of silhouettes, shadows, and colours. It stands on its own as viscerally enticing, but the epic storyline takes the series even further. Once again I found myself distracted with the incredibly high volume of melodrama, but toward the end of the series I became just as caught up in the setting and characters as I did in season one. There’s a bit more fan service this time, as seems to be par for the course in anime, but it never became distracting as it was mostly relegated to the credits. The music was similar to season one as well: pleasant enough to hear at first, then slowly taking root in your brain so that you find yourself getting swept up by the familiar notes at the close of the final episode.

“Finally, Yuko, after 24 episodes, I realized that you’re…” “Shhh, don’t spoil the surprise!”

A Tale of Melodies might be the most perfect second season of an anime that I’ve seen to date. It neither surpasses nor fails the original, but instead retains an equal level of excellent artwork and storytelling. The feel of the second season is the same as the first, but the development of the story is fresh and new, not just a humdrum continuation. There are definitely adult themes in this series, making it one for more mature anime fans, but as with season one, Ef: A Tale of Melodies is not to be missed. Ef as a whole is both grand and simplistic, dark and light, sad and uplifting. I can see myself rewatching the entire series again when I need a story to take me away from myself for a while, then leave me filled with hope when I return, which is a pretty impressive feat for an anime.

Rating: ★★★★✰ Just as with season one, I knocked off half a star for the melodrama, but this definitely ranks with some of the best emotional anime that I’ve seen.

Foxy Lady: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho

He freed her heart and soul.

Even mythological creatures need love.

I didn’t fly through this week’s romantic Kdrama as fast as I did with previous series such as Boys Over Flowers or Lie To Me. To be honest, I wasn’t drawn in for the first several episodes. However, like the characters in the story, I grew and evolved to the point where this series became very dear to me, and now I might even go so far as to call it my favourite Kdrama yet.

This is Dae-Woong’s “thinking” face.

The story gets set up pretty well in episode one, but the overall gist is this: Cha Dae-Woong is an aspiring actor who is rather selfish and spoiled by his aunt and grandfather. One day he runs away from his family and ends up in a temple outside of Seoul. There he hears a voice command him to draw nine tails on a painting of a fox. He does so out of fear, then runs away. What he doesn’t realize is that he has freed a five-hundred-year-old gumiho, aka a nine-tailed fox spirit. The gumiho follows Dae-Woong and discovers that he’s fallen down a cliff and severely injured. She gives him her energy bead, which will allow him to stay alive and heal without pain. However, because of this she has to stay near him so she won’t lose her bead. When Dae-Woong comes to and hears her story, he assumes that the girl following him around is crazy and tells her so. She becomes angry and warns him that she will find him, make him believe in her, then take back her bead, which will kill him.

Mi-Ho’s cuteness is as infectious as her love of meat. Seriously, I’m a pescetarian, and even I wanted to eat beef after I watched this series.

The strange girl’s words haunt Dae-Woong as he rides the bus back to Seoul. Sure enough, later on that night the gumiho appears, showing her nine glowing tails in the moonlight. She begins to take back her bead, then has a change of heart both because Dae-Woong freed her and because she liked him from the moment she saw him at the temple. Now that Dae-Woong believes her and realizes he needs her bead until he recovers from his fall, he promises to take care of her bead in exchange for housing the gumiho and feeding her. He introduces her to his friends as Gu Mi-Ho, and now has to deal with her constant demands for meat. Enter the antagonist, a super smokin’ hot guy named Park Dong-Joo, who also happens to be some sort of mythological creature (though we never find out exactly what kind). He has come to put Mi-Ho back in the painting, but when he finds out that her desire is to become human, he changes his mind and instead helps her. Dong-Joo explains that if Mi-Ho drinks some of his blood and leaves her bead in Dae-Woong for one hundred days, then takes back the bead full of human energy, she’ll become a human. What he neglects to tell her is that when she takes the bead back, Dae-Woong will die. Mi-Ho, excited at the prospect of becoming human, goes back to Dae-Woong and strikes a deal with him: he can keep the bead, which is healing his injuries (thus allowing him to pursue his stunt acting career) for one hundred days. In the meantime, in order to explain her constant presence, Mi-Ho will pose as Dae-Woong’s girlfriend. Thus begins a whole new chapter of shenanigans as Mi-Ho tries to learn how to act like a human, and Dae-Woong learns how to grow up as well as open his heart.

Ironically, Dong-Joo’s hotness makes *my* eyes fill with tears.

There are tons of other side stories, from the bitchy girl who likes Dae-Woong and suspects that Mi-Ho is not what she seems, to the fact that Mi-Ho resembles someone from Dong-Joo’s past, to Dae-Woong’s aunt finding romance, but the main story is about the developing relationship between Mi-Ho and Dae-Woong. Part of what made this series difficult to get into was the fact that Dae-Woong is so very spoiled and bratty in the first few episodes. Luckily Mi-Ho is adorable pretty much from the get-go, so she was able to carry the series on her own merit until Dae-Woong evolves a bit. And boy does he ever! It’s incredible how a character that started out as such a conceited jerk can become so responsible, romantic, and endearing in only sixteen episodes. Also, having the gorgeous Dong-Joo as a foil helped fill in the eye candy quotient that I was missing. I was slightly peeved that he remained such an enigma throughout and that we never find out much more than his name and occupation, but I can also see how his background wasn’t that relevant to the main story. It probably just annoyed me so much because of my crush on him.

Nothing like gettin’ a little tail! (Yes, I made that joke with Spice and Wolf, too. Still works here, imho.)

The story is great, very emotional and involving, but in subtle ways. I was often surprised by how caught up I was in the lives of the characters and their emotions. Only one little side story about a false pregnancy seemed superfluous, but luckily it resolved itself in just one episode. The music is fantastic, a great blend of sexy Kpop (for Dong-Joo’s theme) as well as upbeat and dancey Kpop (for Dae-Woong’s theme). And the love theme, “Fox Rain,” by Lee Sun Hee, is my favourite Kdrama love theme ever. It’s soft and sweet without becoming cloying or cheesy (as so many Kdrama love themes are wont to do). Every time I hear it, I get a little catch in my throat because it’s so lovely and filled with longing. The actors are all excellent and really played their parts well. I’ll especially keep my eyes peeled for more from Shin Mi Na, the adorable girl who played Mi-Ho, as well as the smoldering No Min Woo (Park Dong-Joo). My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho is a very funny comedy, as well as a great drama with loads of folklore and supernatural elements, but at its heart it’s a pure romance, and one of the best, in my opinion. You can’t go wrong with this Kdrama, as this Gumiho has a tail that appeals to everyone.

Mi-Ho stakes her claim on Dae-Woong. Beware of crossing a gumiho!

Rating: ★★★★★ Watch it, buy it, watch it again. And again and again and again.

Can You Keep My Secret: Maid Sama

At school she takes orders from no one.

At work she serves all with a smile.

At long last I finished watching Maid Sama, or Maid Sama! if you’re being particular, or Kaichō wa Maid-sama! if you want to be precise (translation: The President is a Maid!). While I wrote a rather glowing First Impressions review of episode one, my adoration for this particular shoujo waned a bit throughout the many weeks it took to finish this anime. But before we get into that, I’ll provide a brief overview of the series:

Misaki: she works hard for the money, so you better treat her right.

Misaki Ayuzawa is the class president of unruly Seika High, which was, until recently, an all-boys school. She has taken it upon herself to rule with an iron fist and whip the slovenly boys who dominate the school into shape in order to make the female students feel more welcome. This is all well and good, and she does manage to command respect from students of all genders. However, due to money troubles at home, Misaki has secretly taken up an after school job at a maid café called Maid Latte. If you’re unfamiliar with a maid café, it’s where cute girls wait on patrons while wearing costumes, call them “Master,” and generally provide subservient fantasies to anyone with enough money to purchase a dish of ice cream or a cup of coffee. Misaki knows that her reputation and respect would be ruined if anyone at her high school found out where she works. So, naturally, the most popular boy at Seika High discovers her secret part-time job. All other girls bore Takumi Usui, but something about Misaki’s deceptive double-nature intrigues him, so he begins hanging out at her place of employment, teasingly flirting with her in a dominating manner whenever he’s around. The rest of the series is pretty much Misaki dealing with her double life while trying to sort out her confused feelings about Usui.

Misaki and domineering Usui: sexy or chauvinistic? It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

What was a cute concept for the first half of the season became stale and slightly boring around the middle of the anime. The formula goes something like this: Misaki gets into trouble of some kind, usually via some jerk threatening her friends, her work, or her school, Usui swoops in to save her, but Misaki ends up saving herself. Even so, Usui leans in and says something flirty and domineering, then Misaki blushes and calls him a pervert before the credits roll. While some have criticized this series as suggesting that all strong women secretly want to be dominated, I don’t feel that’s a fair judgement. Misaki makes a good female lead; she’s smart, ambitious, and overall a pretty decent role model for a shoujo story. If it was all an act and she was just a damsel in distress waiting for Usui to save her, then it would be super lame. Her saving grace is, of course, the fact that she does usually pull herself out of the jams that she gets in, be it through her physical strength or her forceful words. I don’t have a problem with her carrying on a flirtation with a dominant male, especially as Usui is never violent or seriously threatening to Misaki in any way. He was playful and teased her, but if she ever actually got freaked out he backed off. She’s a strong character, so it makes sense that she would be drawn to a strong love interest.

Hey there, new love interest! Too bad you didn’t show up a little sooner. Oh Hinata, we hardly knew ye.

My main problem was with the formulaic episodes that began to blur together around episode twelve or so. My interest was piqued again when a former childhood friend of Misaki’s appears as a love interest as well as foil to Usui, but I felt that he was introduced far too late into the show to add any lasting spice to the story. Also, like so many anime series before, Maid Sama just kind of…ends. There is some resolution, but not enough to be very satisfying. Speaking of which, the only character we get a full backstory on is Misaki, which is disappointing because Usui was interesting but a little too mysterious. I wanted to know more about him but never got much more info than what is shared in episode one.

“Don’t call me Nyan Cat, I hate that freakin’ video! Besides, do I look like I fart rainbows?!? Huh? Yeah, didn’t think so!”

Overall, it was fun to watch, especially if you enjoy shoujo, but I don’t see a lot of rewatch value for me personally. The art was typical with nothing really new there, and the music was the same. The subtitles go by rather fast in this one, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the constant added words in the background as well as explanations of Japanese culture at the top of the screen. There was a lot of rewinding and pausing in order to read everything, and that got to be a bit of a headache at times. I was a little shocked at a couple of episodes in the beginning that seemed to casually suggest that Misaki was in danger of being sexually assaulted (though luckily nothing of the sort occurred) and those instances remained jarring even when the rest of the show devolved into fluff storylines. But all in all, I’m glad that I watched this series. It was a pleasant shoujo with some unexpectedly sexy moments, and I bet that the manga is even better than the anime. It’s not my favourite series by any stretch of the imagination, but you could do far worse than spending some time in the world of Maid Sama.

Rating: ★★★ Definitely check this out if you enjoy shoujo, but don’t expect to be blown away.

First Impressions: Ef, A Tale Of Melodies

Another tale, this one told not in memories,

but in melodies.

I told you that I’d check out season two in the Ef series, and by gum, I did just that. (Thanks for showing season two right after the first one, Anime Network On Demand! Now if you could go ahead and show the second season of The World God Only Knows, that would be super.) I figured that A Tale Of Melodies would be an entirely new drama of heart-wrenching proportions, but as it turns out, we get to interact more with the side characters from season one. Hooray for familiar faces!

So, here we are, Yu. Alone at last. I’m so glad I decided to stalk you today!

Episode one opens with Yu Himura, the guy who dresses like a priest and took care of Chihiro in season one. He says some deep things about two towns, then we get to see a flashback of him during his school days. He meets up with the magical nun from season one, who is now also a teen, on the roof of his school, and we finally find out that her name is Yuko. They talk about not seeing each other for ten years and how Yu doesn’t remember her, then she leaves saying that she doesn’t want to see him again. After that we see more of Yu wandering around the school, first running into a creepy teacher who encourages him to join the art department, then finding a girl painting a self-portrait in the nude. Turns out that this gal is his friend (though I didn’t catch her name) and after she gets dressed they walk around town to do some shopping. Artsy gal notices that Yuko has been following them, gets in a huff because Yuko and Yu allude to having some sort of relationship/friendship, and leaves the two of them standing in the middle of town.

Hey Kuze, it’s totally not creepy if I try on your “cosplay” for “lady friends,” right? We’re almost all adults here, after all.

Finally, at twelve minutes in we get the opening credits (which are similar to season one’s) then we switch over to Mizuki Hayama, the blond side character who was obsessed with Kei in the first season. Turns out she’s Renji’s cousin, and she’s staying with him and his mom until she goes off to the school she’s been accepted to. Also noteworthy: turns out the whole thing takes place in Australia?!? I guess due to the names and outfits I assumed the setting was either Japan or some fictional “every place.” Anyway, Mizuki mentions hearing lovely violin music the previous night, and Renji’s mom tells her it must have been their neighbor, Kuze Shuichi, the professional violinist. (All the side characters from season one are coming out of the woodwork now!) Mizuki wants to meet him, but Renji warns that he’s also a pro at being a ladies’ man. Mizuki doesn’t care, so she gets her introduction via Renji’s mom. As a further treat Kuze agrees to let Mizuki spend the day with him. They faff about his near empty apartment, sometimes saying deep things, sometimes just chewing the fat. Mizuki finds his infamous collection of school girl uniforms but isn’t fazed, then asks to hear him play. He begs for a rain check and she obliges. At one point Kuze mentions needing to take medicine, but we don’t know what for. After that they spend time just lying on the floor and staring up at the ceiling, appreciating the simplistic joy of it. Mizuki leaves, and Kuze falls back on the couch in pain. O no! What will happen next?

Deep dramatic scenes are deep. And dramatic.

I really liked this first episode, thanks mostly to my enjoyment of season one. The art and music quality are still quite good, and I knew what sort of story to expect thanks to the first season. I was fully prepared to learn about a new set of characters embroiled in deep drama, but to my delight the story seems to be following up on side characters from season one. I like this not only because it already gives me a starting point brimming with comforting familiarity, but also I was truly curious about some of the characters that we saw so little of the first time around. Thanks to that, I’m probably more excited about watching season two than I was watching the initial season. I just hope that it lives up to its predecessor’s outstanding quality.

There Will Be Tears: Ef, A Tale Of Memories

Memories and dreams are fleeting things.

We must make our own destiny.

Today we have a series that ended up being the complete opposite of last week’s anime, The World God Only Knows. I’m not talking so much in terms of plot, but more about the overall feeling of the show. The World God Only Knows started out strong then faded off into a muddled mess. However, Ef: A Tale of Memories began confusingly (see my First Impressions post for details) and ended very powerfully, making me kind of love it.

Cheerful Chihiro. Who needs memories when you have fluffy duckies?

There are two main storylines happening at the same time, but all of the characters are connected to one another in some way. The first, and most central, concerns a boy named Renji who meets a girl with no memory named Chihiro. She’s not an amnesiac, but rather she has a condition in which her memories only remain with her for thirteen hours. When hour thirteen rolls by, she loses any short-term memories of the day before and reverts back to her twelve-year-old self on the day of her accident. The only way that she can retain anything is by both writing and reading a diary. Chihiro’s dream is to write a novel, but with her condition that’s all but impossible. However, Renji, a teen who’s a bit lost about which path to take in his own life, encourages Chihiro to pursue her passion and write her novel. As they work together, their bond grows, but in the back of each of their minds is Chihiro’s condition, making all of her memories fragile and precious.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray your friend Kei gets mauled by a wild puma…” “What was that last part, Miyako?” “Hmmm? Oh, nothing, Hiro! Tee-hee!”

The second story involves a young shoujo manga artist named Hiro who struggles to deal with both school and being a successful artist. His childhood friend Kei (Chihiro’s sister) does her best to keep him in line at school while concealing her massive crush on him. Yet after Hiro helps a girl named Miyako when her purse gets stolen, the two of them hang out together more and more. This fuels Kei’s jealousy, and she tries everything in her power to keep them apart. However, Miyako won’t disappear so easily, and Hiro cares for both girls. Which girl, if either, will he choose? Will Hiro finally find a balance between school and work? What will happen to the rejected girl(s)? And how can Chihiro and Renji’s bond continue to grow if her memories are so easily wiped away? Will Chihiro finish her novel? Will Renji find his true path in life? So many questions to be answered!

Some of that interesting and unique artwork. Preeeeeeetty.

And this series does indeed address all of them in just twelve episodes. The stories are more about emotion than action, and that, coupled with a handful of brief nude scenes, makes this a series for more mature anime fans. At times it could be a bit melodramatic, but once you get into the heart of the show, you get caught up in the drama. The art was really interesting and beautiful. At the outset it kind of looks like a lot of other big-eyed anime shows, but the techniques with the various silhouettes and colours really made the artwork stand out. The opening and closing themes were both pretty and hopeful, and I really enjoyed the background music that sounded like 80s-style synthesizers (80s new wave is my bread and butter). Chihiro and Renji’s story sort of reminded me of a non-funny version of 50 First Dates at times, but that didn’t stop me from getting completely drawn in (despite Chihiro’s ridiculously soft voice).

We never find out who that mysterious nun-type gal is. Maybe in season two?

Speaking of voices, the English dub was excellent, calling on industry pros like Luci Christian and Greg Ayres. Only Clint Bickham as Renji didn’t seem to be a good fit, but that’s just my personal opinion. Hiro, Miyako, and Kei’s tale was just as involving as Chihiro and Renji’s, even though I thought that Miyako was bats**t crazy. While I didn’t feel particularly close to any one character, I really did enjoy watching their stories unfold, and thanks to the artistic flourishes such as overly long periods of silence and the aforementioned artwork, watching this series felt more like getting lost in a great painting rather than a good book. Since the anime is based on a series of adult visual novels, that kind of makes sense. There’s a second season entitled Ef: A Tale of Melodies that I will definitely be checking out next. As for the first season, Ef: A Tale of Memories is a very heartfelt anime, executed impeccably, that older fans should certainly not miss.

Rating: ★★★★✰ I knocked off half a star for the copious melodrama, but overall, this series impressed me greatly, and I look forward to adding it to my collection one day.

Kdrama Fights Back: City Hunter

A twisted fate leads one man to fight crime,

but the truth will change his world.

Well, it took me a little while, but I finally finished watching the Kdrama version of City Hunter this week. (Truth be told, two months is nothing compared to the endless weeks it takes me to complete an On Demand anime series, but I digress.) It was quality viewing throughout, but I didn’t become super addicted until halfway through.

Crappy faux dads don't use bottles to raise stolen babies, they use guns.

The initial episode, which I wrote about in great detail in my First Impressions post, is the most important when it comes to plot, but I’ll summarize it again briefly. In 1983 twenty-one South Korean soldiers were sent on a secret mission to kill officials in North Korea as a revenge tactic after a bombing. However, during the mission the five men who organized the whole thing realized that what they did would ignite a political landmine, so they sent in a sniper to kill all of the soldiers as they were returning to the submarine that was supposed to take them home. Only one soldier survived, Lee Jin-pyo, and he had the brilliant idea to steal his now-dead best friend’s infant son and raise him on a drug compound in Thailand. The boy, Yoon-sung, learns how to fight and wield a gun, but it isn’t until his faux father gets injured that he finds out the reason for his unconventional upbringing. Jin-pyo explains that Yoon-sung’s real father was killed just after he was born, and now it is up to the boy to exact vengeance on the five men who sent those twenty-one soldiers to die.

Kim Young-joo tries to think of ways to win against Yoon-sung in the upcoming Blue House wet t-shirt contest.

Yoon-sung takes this news surprisingly well, and after spending a few years in the US earning a fancy MIT degree, he returns to Korea for the first time since he was a baby in order to take a job on the Blue House’s IT team. (The Blue House is the Korean version of the American White House.) From there he sets out to bring the five corrupt politicians to justice by exposing their lies to the public and delivering them to a young prosecutor named Kim Young-joo. The trouble starts when his blood-thirsty fake dad shows up in Korea as well. Jin-pyo doesn’t just want the five in jail and politically ruined, he wants them dead, but Yoon-sung doesn’t want to create anymore orphans. Throughout the rest of the series the two men come into conflict as they work to bring justice to the fallen soldiers using different methods, but it’s Yoon-sung’s Batman-like approach to bringing the truth to light that earns him the moniker of “City Hunter.” Kim Young-joo provides plenty of trouble of his own in his fervent quest to discover the real identity of the City Hunter. Then there’s Yoon-sung’s mother, Lee Kyung-hee, who has never given up hope of seeing her son again. However, Yoon-sung was told that he was abandoned by her as an infant, so even when he finds her his anger prevents him from revealing who he really is. And last but not least is Kim Nana, the Blue House guard who keeps having run-ins first with Yoon-sung, then the City Hunter. She has a full backstory filled with drama all her own, and when she and Yoon-sung meet sparks fly. But the City Hunter can’t fall in love, because love is a liability when you’re in the business of bringing justice to the world…

Surprise, there's romance hidden inside this action drama, too!

Whoo, boy, where to begin on this one? I must say, City Hunter really puts the drama in Kdrama. There are a billion twists and turns in this series, enough to make an American soap opera blush with envy. Just when you think you have one part figured out, three new riddles spring forth. Some of the answers I guessed in advance, and some completely took me by surprise. Overall, though, it was very enjoyable to watch this tale unfold. I must admit that it took me several episodes to really get into it. Up until now all of my Kdramas have been romantic comedies, which are easier for me to become immersed in than stories filled with fight scenes and warfare. (What can I say, I’m a lover and a dreamer, not a fighter.) Even with the über delicious Lee Min Ho at the helm I still wasn’t dying to watch an episode marathon until halfway through. By that point we have established likable characters and I was invested enough to crave knowing what comes next. The cliffhanger endings only helped fuel the fire. The end of the series wasn’t as tidy as previous series such as Boys Over Flowers and Lie To Me, but it answered the main questions, which is good enough. I would have liked a few more details about what happens after the finale, but considering how many storylines they had to tie up, it worked out pretty well.

The modern-day crime fighter: much more unobtrusive, though just as stylish as a Batsuit.

The acting in City Hunter is top-notch. I expect nothing less from Lee Min Ho, but I was happy to see that his excellent supporting cast kept pace with him every step of the way. The music was really good: the opening title song is badass and bombastic, the love theme is sweet without getting too saccharine, and the score is dramatic and fitting. Not to mention there’s a good smattering of fun and bouncy K-pop for the fans. Many songs were used over and over again throughout the series, as I’ve noticed is the norm in Kdramas, but this soundtrack had a large quantity of songs to draw on, which meant that I wasn’t sick of hearing them by episode twenty. The action scenes were very cool and choreographed well, the dramatic scenes became less cheesy the more involved you become with the characters, and there’s also plenty of funny parts as well as romance to keep this series well-rounded. I rooted for all of the “good” characters, despised all of the “bad” characters, and generally enjoyed getting lost in this winding and intricate drama. I read a bit about the manga that this series was based on, and I’m glad that the Kdrama version deviates from the source material. I’m completely bored with leading male characters who are misogynistic playboys, but I can definitely get behind a lead character who only pretends to be a playboy in order to keep his identity a secret. (Hence another reason why I’ve always been a Batman kind of girl.) The scenery of Seoul is stunning and definitely fuels my fire to visit Korea for myself. I would certainly recommend City Hunter to anyone new to Kdrama, or even long-time fans of the genre. With such a great cast and engaging story, there really is something for everyone here.

Rating: ★★★★✰ It took a few episodes to get into it, but once you’re in, you’re completely hooked.

Who’s That Girl?: Kobato

Her past is mysterious, her journey unknown.

All she has is love.

I just finished Kobato a matter of minutes ago (it really takes a long time to complete a twenty-four episode anime when you only get one episode per week via On Demand!) and, wow. I have so much to say about this intriguing anime.

Kobato, magically falling from the sky like rain. Or bird poo. Magical bird poo.

As you might recall, dear reader, I wrote a rather positive First Impressions review of episode one. To briefly summarize the overall story, Kobato appears to be a chipper young girl, but she’s actually from “somewhere else.” She arrives on Earth (in Japan, presumably, though if a specific location was provided I can’t seem to recall it) in the company of a grumpy talking stuffed dog named Ioryogi. His sole purpose is to help Kobato carry out her mission of collecting kompeito, which in reality is a type of Japanese candy, but in this story the kompeito are actually people’s broken hearts. Whenever she heals a broken heart, the glass jar that she carries with her gains a kompeito. Only when the jar is completely full will Kobato gain her wish, which is “to go to the place I want to be.” (Yeah, nothing vague about that, is there?) To pass the time Kobato works at Yomogi Kindergarden alongside a grumpy tsundere named Fujimoto. She also encounters a whole host of other people who are, for the most part, completely charmed by her optimistic cluelessness. A bit later on, just to make things more interesting, a stuffed bunny holding a flower appears out of the sky (I swear I’m not making this up) to inform Kobato that she only has four seasons to complete her mission, otherwise it will be bad.

This pic pretty much sums up Fujimoto's and Kobato's relationship throughout most of the series.

What I enjoyed about the first episode became less enjoyable by the third and flat-out boring by the eighth. Episode after episode seemed to have the exact same premise: Kobato wanders around in a daft haze of cheerfulness and naivety until she meets someone who is sad, Ioryogi tries to get her to stay on task, Fujimoto says something vaguely mean to her, Kobato keeps plodding forward with her good intentions, and finally she manages to bumblef**k her way into healing a heart and gaining kompeito. While I found Kobato to be charming, sweet, and silly at first, after just a few episodes she became nearly intolerable. Bless her heart, she’s dumb as a brick, and I find it difficult to stay with a character who has zero common sense. I understood that she was not of this world, but come on, show some growth after a few episodes! I actually thought that the series was only twelve episodes long, so I stayed with it, otherwise I would have probably stopped watching.

Ioryogi seriously needed to explain a few things a bit sooner. I'm all for anticipation, but c'mon, ya gotta give me *something*!

Finally episode twelve rolled around and we got some answers about just who the hell these characters are and where they came from. Not a great deal, but enough to make it interesting again. Then I discovered that there are actually twenty-four episodes in the anime, and my heart sunk. However, after episode twelve, the series got exponentially better. I actually found myself looking forward to watching each new episode week after week, which was a complete 180 from the first half (when I was literally forcing myself to keep watching). An actual plot began to unfold in which there were several stories going on at once, and we finally got to see these characters more in-depth than before. To my amazement, little by little I found myself completely sucked in, so much so that by the final episode I had to pause the TV several times in order to wipe the tears away from my eyes. It was that engrossing!

Wait, you think I'm deep?

Kobato really was an emotional roller coaster to watch. First it was just cute and pleasant, then it was boring and predictable, then it was interesting and involving, and finally it was intense and heart-wrenching. Once you finally receive all of the backstory in the final two episodes, it doesn’t seem that complicated. However, after reading up on the manga, it seems that the story is even more involved than what’s explained in the anime. Since there are only six volumes, I’m seriously considering checking the manga out in order to find out the entire story. However, even if you only watch the anime version of Kobato, I think that there’s something quite enjoyable to be found if you have the patience to navigate through the fluff at the beginning of the series. The animation is cute, and the music is sweet and strangely touching, rather like this anime as a whole. I really was shocked by how invested I became in these characters, who seem a bit flat and one-dimensional at first but then blossom into figures you truly care about, especially wide-eyed Kobato herself. I would definitely recommend this series to shoujo lovers and CLAMP aficionados, but even general non-jaded anime fans should find something substantial hidden within the sugary-sweet outer shell of Kobato.

Rating: ★★★✰ The initial eleven episodes keep this one from a full four stars. However, the end was emotional and satisfying, and even if I don’t add the anime to my collection, I’ll certainly be looking for the manga.

First Impressions: Ef, A Tale of Memories

Many tales woven into one.

A boy, a girl, and their chance meetings.

I didn’t read anything about today’s first impression, I just noticed it was new to DVD so I dove right in. After viewing it, I kind of wished I had read a description, because Ef: A Tale of Memories left me wondering, “What the eff did I just watch?!?”

Oh, wow. Yeah, I can tell that you don't get out much.

There are several stories building up in this series from the looks of it, but the main two revolve around a guy and a girl. I don’t remember character names, and I don’t want to look them up because I don’t want to spoil any surprises, so bear with me, fellow otakus. Story one starts with a guy, probably in high school from the looks of it, talking about how he always wanted to be a prince that saves princesses, but now that it’s time to grow up he’s not sure what to do. This guy likes hanging out at an abandoned train station and reading, but one day he encounters a girl with an eyepatch hanging out there as well. They converse briefly, then part ways. The next day the guy meets her again, and they talk again, though the girl seems to have a memory problem, though this doesn’t hamper their pleasant chit-chat. This cycle continues until one day the girl runs up to the guy and embraces him tearfully. After she calms down she asks if they can be friends, and the guy agrees with a big smile on his face.

I know I should call the cops, but damn, I love making monkey faces with corpses...

The second story involves another high school guy who skips a Christmas party in order to research a drawing he’s working on. While outside a girl (different from the one before) races by him in pursuit of someone she claims stole her purse. She grabs the guy’s bike and takes off at top speed, and the guy, understandably, chases her. He rounds a corner and sees his bike in pieces and the girl lying in the street, apparently out cold. He calls 911 and requests assistance, but the girl wakes up and says that she’s fine. The guy tries to get her to stay behind and wait for help, but she walks away, so he follows. As they walk in a park she says that nothing in her purse was of much value. However, she did lose her house key, and no one is at her house. She smiles and says that unless he wants to leave her out in the cold alone all night, he’ll have to stay with her. Why he doesn’t just take her back to his house and let her sleep on the couch is beyond me, but I suppose she could be a psycho, so maybe it was a good call. The girl and the guy swing on a swing set and chat esoterically. The end.

Then there's this random girl. Cool nun? I'm betting we'll see more of her.

This anime is obviously supposed to be very deep and meaningful, but I just don’t get it yet. Perhaps there’s a reason for the Tarantino-ing going on with the jumps from one story to the next. Maybe the main couples are the same people in different lives, or maybe it’s all supposed to be about love and human relations. I have no idea, but I am intrigued enough to watch more. The animation had some very cool techniques, such as showing the night sky in the silhouette of the girl in the park, and it was quite lovely from a purely visual point of view. The music didn’t particularly stand out, but neither did the characters or their stories. I want to find out some answers, and I hope that I don’t have to wait until the very end of the series to discover them. Keep me in suspense, by all means, but throw me a breadcrumb or two to lead me down the path, don’t just wait for a frustrating ten episodes before springing the entire story on me. Those are my feelings, at least. But Ef: A Tale of Memories does show some potential, enough to make me eager to watch episode two.

Policy Of Truth: Lie To Me

Living well is the best revenge.

If you’re not quite there yet, why not lie?

Last weekend I ended up watching my second Korean drama, a cute romance called Lie To Me. Since I watched the entire series all in one go, I didn’t even have a chance to write a First Impressions post for it! Hence you get a full-on review.

Hello, quirky/awkward heroine!

Kong Ah-Jung is a single gal with a good career as a civil servant. She lives with her widowed father and overall seems to be happy with her lot in life as well as good at her job. However, like so many of us ladies past the age of twenty-five, Ah-Jung keeps getting badgered about marriage. Worst of all, the badgering comes from the former best friend who stole her first love when they were all still in school! To add salt to the wound, the two of them ended up getting married while Ah-Jung remained single. One day, out of sheer annoyance and lingering heartbreak, she lies and claims to be married. Later on she’s seen in the company of handsome CEO Hyun Ki-Joon, and is mistaken for his wife. She tries to clear up the confusion, but that darn frienemy shows up again, and Ah-Jung only ends up making the lie worse.

And this is her leading man. Welcome to the fantasy.

Like so many romantic Kdramas, there are miscommunications flying left and right as well as a healthy heaping dose of chance meetings. Adding chaos to the mix are Ki-Joon’s first love, his wayward brother with his own interest in Ah-Jung, his proper and stoic aunt, and the various politicians and businessmen that hear the lie, not to mention Ah-Jung’s own former flame, concerned father, and wacky co-workers. Every time they try to make things better, the lie gets worse, until both Ah-Jung and Ki-Joon end up so entangled that the lie begins to feel more like truth than the actual facts.

As this is only my second Kdrama, the only other show I have to base this series on is Boys Over Flowers. While both are romances, this one has some distinct differences. First of all, and most notable, this is a story about adults, not high schoolers, which, as an adult around the age of the main characters, I find very appealing indeed. Who doesn’t like to see stories about people your own age every once in a while?

Ki-Joon, flashbacking with his first love. Because everyone wears glasses when they're a few years younger..?

Everything about this series felt just a bit more mature, and less like a guilty pleasure. Having said that, the romance in Lie To Me isn’t as ostentatious and lavish as it is in Boys Over Flowers. Ah-Jung doesn’t get swept away to island locales and ski resorts and bedecked in jewels and new clothes like JanDi is, and even if she does get the occasional fancy dress or vacation, she almost always pays for it herself. I liked the independence of it, but a small part of me missed the ultimate fantasy that’s so all-encompassing in Boys Over Flowers. On the plus side, Ah-Jung’s pride wasn’t the cause of every problem in this series, which I found very refreshing. It annoyed me to no end that JanDi insisted on making everything harder on herself out of pride (ie: to create more drama). Not so with Ah-Jung. While it could be argued that she did indeed create many of her problems with her lies, overall I found her actions to be very relatable and not based on something as moralistic as pride. Who hasn’t wanted to rub an enemy’s face in something at one point or another?

So refreshing to see a love story for adults that isn't smutty. We don't all live a Sex & the City life!

I really enjoyed all of the characters, from the super cute leads to the bitchy frienemies to the fun group who seemingly lives at the Twosome Place cafe. One character even sings the answer to every question while strumming her guitar. While that could potentially be annoying, it actually came off as awesome. Speaking of which, I really liked the fun pop music on this show even better than the poppy soundtrack to Boys Over Flowers, although both seriously overuse their love themes. As I mentioned earlier, this is only my second Kdrama, but even so I couldn’t really choose a favourite. Boys Over Flowers is much more of an escapist fantasy, but Lie To Me seems like it could possibly happen in real life (it would be a stretch, but still). And as much as I enjoy being swept away in a romantic story, I feel more emotionally connected to the characters, settings, and story of Lie To Me. Everything from the problems to the passionate kisses (which put the teens of F4 to shame) feels more realistic, which draws me in even more. You can’t go wrong with either of these excellent Kdramas, but if you’re well past your own years of teenage angst and enjoy a good romance, I can’t recommend Lie To Me enough.

Stay cool, Ki-Joon!

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