Review: Anego a.k.a A Tale of Futility (2005)

The Cast: Shinohara Ryoko, Akanishi Jin, Tomosaka Rie and a bunch of other people

32-year old OL Noda Naoko (Shinohara Ryoko) needs a man. (Okay, so which woman in a Japanese drama doesn’t?) Actually, she needs to marry one soon; her biological clock is ticking, her eggs are drowning themselves in alcohol and she’s hit the pay ceiling after working for the same company for ten years. Enter three men of varying degrees of attractiveness and desirability, namely, the fresh meat recruit (Akanishi Jin), the suave married CEO and some geezer she meets at an omiai. Naoko’s problem is that she is far too practical to settle for yesterday’s lamb chops and far too bothered about what people think to have her wicked way with a guy ten years her junior, which explains why she spends so much time drinking beer, drinking beer at izakaya stands, mooning after someone else’s husband, being problem counselor to her colleagues (hence the nickname Anego or “big sister”) and drinking beer. And she wonders why she isn’t married yet.

On the whole, watching Anego is like having lukewarm sex with a highly desirable individual. I’ll admit the only reason I watched this was for the kind of frisson I was hoping would take place between Naoko and Kurosawa (aka the younger guy); the kind where he smolders at her, she smolders at him, they exchange furtive glances, he does the lip/tongue thing Akanishi Jin does so well and before you know it, they’re both yelling, “Self-restraint be damned! Let’s get married and have lots of sex and babies!” (Japan’s population is dwindling after all. Got to set an example for all the impressionable teens and housewives.)

If only.

While this drama does have its adorable moments, you might want to lower your expectations if squee-worthy chemistry is what you’re after. Matsumoto Jun as Sawada Shin in Gokusen displays more fervor for Yankumi in his sleep than Kurosawa sitting across his lady love. For a start, I just wasn’t convinced that he was in love with Naoko; Let’s consider the following scenario: you’re madly in love/lust with a woman, the least you can do when she brushes you off/runs away/attempts to over-rationalize things is grab hold of her/run after her/make her weak at the knees. What does Kurosawa do? He pouts. He sends her emails. He stares after her when she flounces away. And then he pouts some more. God, Kurosawa, this isn’t a music video. Get a flaming move on already!

Kurosawa pining…and pining…and well, you get the idea

Granted, the fault isn’t his alone. It’s not clear Naoko really likes him all that much either. The only times she gives any indication she might feel something for him is when she’s drunk; other than that, she is, more often than not, just plain mean to him. Perhaps you can attribute this to the kind of perverse reverse psychology that fuels a lot of the relationships you see in anime, you know the kind where the chick is always beating the crap out of the guy she likes. Though seriously Naoko, you have Japan’s third most wanted man following you around like a puppy [1], the least you can do is take advantage of him and make him sweat. No, instead you get entangled in the marital affairs of a self-pitying psycho and her husband (i.e. the suave married CEO). What the hell’s wrong with you?

Between Kurosawa’s indecisiveness and Naoko’s foray into extra-marital affairs, the series is further weighed down by an ending that is about as WTF? as you can get; he goes off to Mongolia, she moves to another company, they meet again after attending a mutual acquaintance’s wedding[2] and then she makes him promise to email her. The next thing you know, she’s in a language class learning how to speak Mongolian. Does she or does she not like him? If so, why not just visit him in Mongolia and see what happens? Now you know why she’s 33 and still single.

Kurosawa chases goats and does the catwalk in Mongolia while Naoko surrounds herself with middle-aged geezers

I feel the series would have been so much better if they had focused on Kurosawa and Naoko’s relationship instead of turning it into a convoluted love triangle. That way, it would also have added more depth to Akanishi’s character. By all means, focus on his conflicting interests i.e. his desire to play the field and be with Naoko instead of letting him languish so pitifully in the office. There’s just no getting round the fact that Kurosawa is woefully under-utilized as a character or that Akanishi looks uncomfortable playing someone in a corporate setting; he’s just there as a convenient prop, popping up to look winsome every now and then.

Even with Akanishi Jin showing the occasional nipple, Anego is still pretty bland stuff. If you’re looking for something more engaging, you’re frankly better off watching him work the dance floor on YouTube.

Note: This review was written in 2006 but I stand by my original assessment. If you’re looking for a really good noona romance, may I suggest The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry?

[1] This was back in 2005 when a local variety programme named Yon-sama (aka Bae Yong-jun) the Most Wanted Man in Japan, with Kame and Jin coming in second and third place respectively.

[2] This scene has got to be the most contrived exercise in futility ever. The wedding reception is a really small one, how is it that she is completely oblivious to the fact that he’s just sitting at the next table? And why is it that Kurosawa can’t get off his flaming ass and walk over to where she is?

Kurosawa-kun, remove ass from seat and walk over to the woman dammit!

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