Recap: Tumbling Episode 1

I can’t remember the last time I marathoned a drama in one, okay, two sittings but that was what I did with Tumbling last week. You can always leave it to the Japanese to make a drama out of an obscure sport, in this case men’s rhythmic gymnastics, and make it seem like the answer to all of Life’s big questions. Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? Try rhythmic gymnastics!

So what is this drama about? In a nutshell, you could roughly describe it as:

There are plenty of ikemen, it’s a feel-good story about underdogs, what more can you ask for?

Episode 1

For as long as he can remember, Takenaka Yuta (Seto Koji) has been dreaming of competing in the men’s rhythmic gymnastics tournament. Thing is, unlike women’s gymnastics, it’s an esoteric sport with a bit of an image problem — for instance, contrary to popular misconception, men don’t wear leotards or perform with ribbons.

However this doesn’t stop Yuta from forming a club at Kara High School. Earning the rest of the students’ and teachers’ respect, however, is a much harder task. For starters, it’s an uphill struggle getting members to join them given that they are nowhere as good as the girls’ team (at the bottom of the food chain would be a more apt description. They are, as you’ll find out later, only allowed to practice in the gym when the girls are not using it.) Also, rhythmic gymnastics isn’t the manliest sport on the roster, an image that they don’t exactly dispel.

However Yuta’s fortunes are finally looking up with the arrival of Tsuchiya Satoshi (Tomiura Satoshi), who brings the team’s numbers up to six, meaning they can finally compete in a group event.

Meanwhile, lounging at the top of the food chain is Azuma Wataru (Yamamoto Yusuke). Unlike Yuta, he has zero issues with asserting his masculinity and getting people to run in fear of respect him. As the gang leader (or “boss”) of Kara High, students and teachers part like the Red Sea when he appears with his posse.

Roll call: (Left to right) Tsukimori Ryosuke (Miura Shohei) fulfills the role of the resident flirt while Nippori Keiji (Kaku Kento) is Wataru’s official dogsbody (If you’re too lazy to put out your own cigarette, just give him a call.) Akabane, the guy on the extreme right whose hair looks like the love child of a bumblebee and a toilet brush, is bad news, as we will find out later on.

Wataru’s current lifestyle is like one neverending King of Fighters game: Beat the crap out of high school gang >> Look for an even stronger opponent >> Beat him up as well >> Go to school if schedule permits >> *Rinsewashrepeat*

However his extra-curricular activities have taken a toll on his studies and to make up for his missing credits, he’s given two options: take extra classes for a month or join a club. If neither sounds agreeable, the school will have to call his mother in for a chat.

That’s enough to settle it for Wataru. If there’s one person who’s able to put the fear of God into his heart, it’s his mother, the deceptively demure Azuma Natsuko (Otsuka Nene) whose fists pack a pretty powerful wallop of their own.

So a club it is – but which one? After terrorizing the rugby and judo teams, Wataru finds his true calling courtesy of his newly minted crush, Mari, who happens to be a member of the women’s gymnastics team. Like a puppy, he follows her to her training session, where he overhears her fawning over Hino Tetsuya (Nishijima Takahiro).

Hino is a princess one of the best high school-level gymnasts in Japan and the only male gymnast in Kara High with a legitimate shot at winning a tournament.

As a result, he gets special treatment from the teachers and coaches, who let him practice on the court whenever he wants. He doesn’t bother hiding his disdain of the other members in the club and it turns out that Hino could have attended Washizu Academy, a school with a far superior gymnastics team but here he is instead…who wants to bet that this has something to do with the parentals?

Because Wataru’s thought process is rather straightforward and simple, he figures that he’ll win Mari’s heart if he can pull those tumbling moves as well. (Why doesn’t he just ask her for her number, I hear you ask. It’s because he’s, uh, shy. Yes, hard to believe, innit? Don’t believe what the synopsis says. The thing about him having a weakness for women is BS. That’s Ryosuke.) With that, he literally drops in on Yuta and his boys, demanding that they let him become a member of their team, much to the latter’s dismay.

Yuta reluctantly agrees when Kashiwagi, their homeroom teacher, pleads with him to take Wataru in, explaining that they’ll only need to put up with him for a month.

Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be a looooong month for Yuta and the boys as Wataru shows no interest in being a part of their team or learning any of the basics. All he wants is to learn how to do what Hino’s doing.

Like Hino gives a rat's ass, Wataru

But a simple ultimatum from Natsuko (either take his club activities seriously or she’ll have him withdraw from school and work in her restaurant immediately) and a smile from Mari soon set our wayward delinquent on the right path again.

And so we get to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude as Wataru is put through his paces and everything is looking up till the boys meet with a bunch of hoods on their way home after practice.

In an attempt to help them, Wataru intervenes the only way he knows how and opens up a can of whoopass with his Fist of Justice. Problem is that Tsuchiya ends up spraining his wrist in the scuffle, which means that they won’t be able to compete as a group.

Yuta is understandably furious about this but it looks like there’s an even bigger problem he has to deal with. News of the fight reaches the school and the girls’ coach, Ezaki Shoko (Kuninaka Ryoko) calls for the men’s team to be dissolved since if these violent incidents continue, they’ll affect their chances of competing as well.

To cap off a really bad day for Yuta, Aoyama announces that he’s going to quit the team as his parents want him to concentrate on his studies. It doesn’t help that Wataru is unable to grasp the gravity of their situation as he and his friends continue their loutish behavior, smoking in the team’s club room and playing a fool with their equipment.

Unable to bear it any longer, Yuta finally snaps when Wataru breaks one of their props and decks him (thank god. I’d have done it much earlier because Wataru is an ass in this episode.) In that moment, all his frustrations come pouring out as he talks about their dream of competing as a team and the work they’ve poured into making it a reality despite having to endure everyone’s ridicule, only to have one person ruin everything.

Yuta: You’d never understand what it’s like to endure hurt or disappointment for something that’s really important to you!
Wataru: Rhythmic gymnastics is lame.
Yuta: But it’s everything to me!

And so begins a journey of soul searching for Wataru as he mulls over Yuta’s words. What does it mean to lose yourself in something that you truly care about?

Meanwhile, Kashiwagi expresses his regret to Ezaki about asking Yuta to let Wataru join the club. If he hadn’t joined them, the boys would still be able to compete in the meet.

Ezaki corrects him, saying that the boys are naïve for thinking that six members are all they need to compete. Even though they think they’re practising really hard, they still lack an important element.

On his way home from school, Wataru comes across Yuta having a conversation with Tsurumi, the bitchy captain of the Washizu gymnastics team, who taunts him about not competing in the meet.

That’s enough to make up Wataru’s mind and the next day, he stomps up to Yuta and announces that he’ll make amends by taking part in the competition as well. Yuta tells him it’s impossible, saying that they need six members. Wataru’s comeback? I’ve single-handedly fought against 10 people before. Why can’t we compete with four members? It sounds like a simple-minded thing to say, but this is exactly the kind of fighting spirit the boys lack.

Kaneko (dude with glasses) explains that while a team can compete with only four members, they will get points deducted automatically for falling short of the requirements. Hey, those are the rules, don’t shoot the messenger.

They’ll get 1.5 points deducted for every member that’s missing from their team and since the total score is 20 points, this means the maximum score they can get is 17 (which is highly unlikely.)

But Wataru’s got a head that’s as hard as granite and he tells them to wait and see. He’s going to show them what he’s capable of doing when he puts his mind to something.

The next few days see Wataru training like never before: running, stretching, building up his stamina…and one by one, Yuta’s team mates are won over by his dedication.

Eventually, Yuta relents and agrees to enter the meet as a four-member team.

On the day of the event, it soon becomes clear what Ezaki meant when she said the boys were still not good enough to compete. As she explains to Kashiwagi, unlike the women’s and individual events, the men’s group routine is all about moving in sync with one another. In order to do this, they have to trust each other and this is something they don’t have at the moment.

True enough, their performance is a mess. Even though Wataru has made a lot of progress in a short period of time, his inexperience still shows and his mistakes cause the others to lose their nerve, exposing the team’s lack of cohesion. It’s all they can do to finish their routine and burning with humiliation, they leave the stage in tears.

Kashiwagi tries to find consolation in the fact that they completed their routine but Ezaki will have none of it. She tells him that it doesn’t matter whether they finish the performance or not if they lack the unity and cohesion required to master the moves. I wish they had given Kuninaka a meatier role as Ezaki because she’s so awesomely no-nonsense. She doesn’t sugar-coat her words and just tells it as it is. Needless to say, I’m with her on this one because I don’t subscribe to the ‘everyone’s a winner if they try’ philosophy either. To quote a certain someone: “Either do or do not. There is no try.”

Meanwhile, the boys’ humiliation isn’t over yet. Tsurumi chastises Yuta for allowing an inexperienced member to compete, telling him to quit the sport if he isn’t going to take it seriously. This sets Wataru off and the boys have to restrain him from punching Tsurumi’s lights out and getting the school into further trouble.

Washizu’s coach comes looking for Tsurumi and witnesses the whole commotion. He tells him to stop taunting them and turning to Wataru, adds, “You can compete as a group of four. You can have blonde, brown or red hair. However taking out your frustration with violence is deplorable.”

Meanwhile Yuta, having recognized the truth in Tsurumi’s words, apologises to the team. He had competed for the sake of competing without considering whether they were ready or not.

Okay, you can beat yourself up later, Yuta-kun. Right now, you have bigger fish to fry because Washizu Academy’s just lodged a complaint against your team for Wataru’s little stunt.

Once again, Ezaki urges the vice principal to dissolve the men’s team (the fact that Wataru keeps calling her a hag in front of everyone doesn’t really help matters either. *sigh* Wataru, when are you going to install a filter between your brain and your mouth?) He offers to quit, but that isn’t enough for the vice principal, and he suspends the club for three days. Since Wataru is part of the team, the whole team has to take responsibility for the incident. He tells the boys that the school will decide whether or not to dissolve the club during this period.

Meanwhile, Wataru tells Kashiwagi that he’ll take extra lessons instead and after school, he goes to his usual stomping ground to beat the crap out of anyone stupid enough to show up (turns out that there are plenty of idiots waiting in line to have their asses kicked.)

However (surprise, surprise) fighting no longer brings him the pleasure it used to. The next day, who should the boys see in the gym doing his stretching exercises but Wataru? And look, he’s even got his own special T-shirt! (Note: Unlike the rest of the boys, he’s written his first name instead of his family name on it.)

He strides up to Yuta and tells him, “I’ve decided I can’t quit. I’ve never lost before. I can’t pull out with things like this…Takenaka, we’re definitely going to win next time.”

And what is Yuta’s response to Mission: Defeat Washizu Academy?

“I refuse.”

*facepalm* What is wrong with you, Yuta?!

Thoughts: 

Let us harbour no illusions here. Tumbling doesn’t reinvent the high school drama genre; it follows a predictable trajectory and treads familiar ground — before the 11th episode, everyone will have fallen out with one another and gotten punched at least once before crying and making up. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what’s going to happen at the end but does this bother me? No, because I inhaled this for the adorable friendships and cast interaction.

One thing I like about Tumbling is that the boys don’t need a teacher to inspire them. (And thank god for that too because the teachers in this drama, save for Ezaki, are pretty much useless.) The other thing I like is that they aren’t just a bunch of posturing delinquents spouting hot air. They may get into trouble a lot, but they’re also the ones figuring out how to get out of it. You won’t find them sitting around waiting for a Yankumi-like saviour to save their sorry asses.

Likewise, they grow and improve as a team via their own efforts, and not because of some motivational pep talk. Wataru, for example, doesn’t start off as the most likeable character but he’s someone with an unfailing sense of conviction and as he finds a sense of purpose, so does he give the rest the strength to believe in their own abilities.

Btw, the stunts you see in this drama were all performed by the actors themselves and not stunt doubles. I don’t know about you but knowing that Miura Shohei and Daito Shunsuke (and the rest of the boys) had to suffer go through sessions like this made me root for them even more. Plus, is it wrong that I’ve watched the clip more than once? XD

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4 comments

  1. love your recap!!! I just started watching Tumbling and I adore it to the max. I really wished that I’ve known this drama sooner.

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