High School Kagekidan ~ Otokogumi (2012)

Okay, let’s be honest here. High School Kagekidan ~ Otokogumi (HSKO) isn’t going to win any prizes for ambitious story-telling. The writer behind this is Egashira Michiru i.e. the same person behind Gokusen and Tumbling, so if you’ve watched either one of those dramas, you’ll recognise a lot of the tropes in this one.

That said, to the embarrassment of my inner critic/snob, I enjoyed this SP a lot (if you must know, I actually dialed my expectations down a few more notches after watching the trailer.) I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes and muttering something about my lack of taste. Judge me if you must: I am weak to bromantic shenanigans and the three leads in this SP are adorable. Also, I would rather watch the most jejune of seishun dramas than the saccharine letdown that was RMPW any day of the week. *spoilers ahead*

HSKO is basically a drama about a social zero taking on an extra-curricular activity with a less than masculine image to impress a girl. Daito Shunsuke plays Yonehara Hiroki, a slacker without any goals or aspirations.

He is half-assed in everything he does, often starting things and giving up when the going gets tough, happy to coast along on mediocre grades and accept whatever comes his way. (Btw, can I just say how refreshing it is to see him play a character who isn’t too cool for school or a delinquent, for a change? I think this is the most normal I’ve ever seen him.)

Hiroki is in charge of his school’s Slackers’ Club Cultural Festival Committee, a party of three made up of his two friends, Hayato (Wakaba Ryuya) and Naoya (Irie Jingi). Hayato (i.e. the floppy-haired dude) is the son of a doctor and he is under pressure from his progenitor to get into med school.

Naoya is the peacemaker in their little band of brothers (which is basically shorthand for saying that he doesn’t have much of a backstory.) He is also an acquaintance of Hayase Madoka (Sakuraba Nanami), a student from a neighbouring school and Hiroki’s Dream Girl. Well, at least his hormones are still functioning normally even though his brain cells are in hibernation mode.

Alas, being the chicken shit that he is, Slacker Boy can’t muster up the courage to talk, much less confess his feelings to her. (After seeing Daito in all his other dramas and movies, I am going to be forever amused by how little game his character has here. It is HILARIOUS. This, btw, is one of my favourite scenes. HIS PANIC. HIS FACE!! The Cool Type Hiroki is not XD)


One day, he overhears her gushing about someone named Saionji Akira. Turns out that Akira is a Takarazuka actress and Madoka is a huge fan of the all-female theatre troupe. This gives Naoya an idea. Time’s running out for them to come up with an event for the cultural festival and so he suggests that they stage their very own Takarazuka production — it will be Hiroki’s chance to impress his lady love. But their not-so-fearless leader is against the idea: No way in hell is he going to cross-dress as a woman!

Of course, this resistance doesn’t last long because Madoka soon gets wind of the production and offers to help him out.

You didn’t think he’d turn down the chance to get her number, did you? XD

And so begins our three amigos’ mission to round up their band of can-can dancing brothers.

As part of their performance, they decide to stage Romeo & Juliet (because it is Madoka’s favourite Takarazuka performance) and much to his dismay, Hiroki ends up getting cast as Juliet while Naoya gets the role of Romeo. (Of course, they have to kiss. You didn’t think they were going to get away with wearing dresses, did you?)

To whip them into shape, their teacher enlists the help of ballet instructor Midorikawa Hana, who couldn’t be less enthused about teaching a scrappy bunch of half-assed boys how to perform a chorus line dance. The boys, who thought they were going to be taught by a gorgeous babe, are equally unimpressed with her.

She assigns training duties to Nami, her 12-year-old drill sergeant (who IMO has the best job in this SP. Love the look of contempt on her face, btw.) And so begins the boys’ days of torture. (I wonder how many of those medicated pain-relief plasters Daito had to stick on himself this time XD)

As the days go by, the boys’ initial excitement for their project starts to ebb. Bodies aching from all the seemingly useless drills that they’ve been practising, they begin to suspect that Midorikawa-sensei isn’t interested in teaching them how to dance at all.

Meanwhile, Hayato, who has taken on the role of set designer, is facing extra pressure from his father over his grades — they aren’t good enough to get him into the University of Hokkaido’s medical faculty. Of course, he has no idea what his son is doing and Hayato has no intention of telling him the truth because he knows his father will force him to quit the performance. So he has no choice but to stay up and make up for the time spent at school and dance practice. This state of affairs starts to take a toll on his friendship with Hiroki, who he feels is not doing his job as the head of this project.

And he’s right. Hiroki is far from the decisive leader that he should be. He’s unable to motivate the other boys to take the practice sessions seriously and while some people thrive on the adrenaline of taking charge of situations, he shies away from such situations. Things come to a head when the boys’ frustrations get the better of them following a particularly grueling practice session. Midorikawa tells them to quit if they’re not happy with the way she’s training them, and so they do.

Hayato is furious with Hiroki for not stopping them. The latter, on his part, doesn’t understand why his friend is making such a big deal of the whole situation. It’s just a school festival, isn’t it? Why do they need to work so hard for something so trivial? Hayato loses it, calling him out for being so half-assed all the time. Wasn’t he the one who suggested doing this in the first place?

This hits too close to home and Hiroki loses his temper as well, telling Hayato that he can bloody well act in the play on his own if he is so keen on it. Back home, his mother tells him that she had a feeling that something like this would happen because he is always so half-hearted in everything that he does. (I have to say his mother’s response is a little too placid for my liking. If Hiroki were my son, I would have given him a good shake — for starters — to wake him up a bit. But it looks like half-assery runs in the male side of the Yonehara family. Someone please come up with a way to isolate this loser gene and banish it for good.)

Despite the fact that everyone has given up on the performance, Hayato secretly continues working on the production’s set design, in between preparing for college mock exams. The stress eventually catches up with him and he ends up being hospitalised for exhaustion. At the hospital, his parents finally find out what he’s been doing all this time and are predictably beside themselves with rage.

Meanwhile, it’s time for Hiroki to feel like a dick as he finds out why Hayato has been skipping his college prep cram classes to work on the production. Despite the fact that his grades are far from stellar and that he has no interest in becoming a doctor, he’s been pushing himself to study for his parents’ sake. Performing in the Takarazuka play, however, is something that he enjoys doing but now, it looks like even that’s not going to happen anymore. He’s a failure all right: his grades aren’t fantastic; he’s no good at sports and he’s not going to be able to see the Takarazuka production through either.

After the fall-out with the boys, Midorikawa-sensei decides to go to the boys’ school to return the rest of the money to Hiroki since they didn’t complete their training with her. Just as she is about to leave, three members of the Takarazuka OG show up. It turns out that they were asked to assist with the training as the teacher-in-charge didn’t want to trouble Midorikawa any longer.

Looking like she wants to crawl into a hole, she tries to slink away unnoticed but is seen by one of the women. They call out a greeting to her, addressing her as “Hana-san” and remark that they haven’t seen her since she left the troupe. The boys listen to their exchange, open-mouthed, as they make the connection between their erstwhile teacher and the three glamorous women. Who would have guessed that grumpy (and frumpy) Midorikawa-sensei used to be a member of the Takarazuka?

And now it’s time for the boys to find out what all those useless exercises were for. They were meant to prepare them for the high kicks they had to execute in the line dance. Realisation dawns on Hiroki as it becomes apparent that they were wrong about Midorikawa-sensei. He dashes off to her ballet studio to apologise for the way they treated her and asks her to resume her role as their teacher once again.

She tells him not to be silly and to return to school. Those women are the stars of the troupe while she was never anything more than an understudy. Throughout her years as a Takarazuka member, she never played any major roles and this continued until she was 40, when she decided to retire and leave the troupe. There was no point in staying on because no matter how hard she tried, her efforts amounted to nothing as she was constantly being overshadowed by the new entrants.

Hiroki says he used to feel the same way (i.e. why bother working so hard if it isn’t going to change a thing?) but seeing Hayato bust his ass on their project made him realise that it’s kinda cool to have a purpose in life (no matter how futile). And then the rest of the boys troop in to join the party. Whoo hoo!

Because this is a Japanese seishun drama, it is now time for an Inspirational Speech™. Hiroki exhorts his friends to give the production another go. Even though it might not amount to much, it’s something they’re doing for themselves. Condensed version: Dudes! Let’s! Not! Give! Up!

The boys wibble and pledge their allegiance to their newly invigorated leader. Together, they ask Midorikawa to be their sensei once again. She rolls her eyes and lets out a sigh. (I love her dour expressions and how she’s completely unimpressed by them. You are not going to get any lectures on dreams and whatnot from this woman XD)

“Give me back the money I returned you.”

The boys burst into cheers. (Random observation: Daito’s voice gets really high-pitched whenever he’s excited…or in pain XDDDD)

GROUP HUG, MINNA!!!!

Midorikawa-sensei: *rolls eyes* What a bunch of idiots.

And so the boys resume their practice session with renewed vigour and soon, the day of the big event arrives. I’m not going to describe the performance in detail because it is self-explanatory. Suffice it to say that as the boys are extremely nervous, they don’t have the best of starts. However they gradually find their feet as they start easing into the story.

Halfway through the performance, Hiroki sprains his ankle backstage when someone accidentally pushes him off the stairs. But the New!Hiroki is no longer the wimpy loser of old and so grits his teeth and bears with the pain because what would have been the point of the past hour otherwise?

And now for our final act…(drat the camera angle.)

But it’s not only Madoka who’s impressed…

Despite Hiroki’s bum ankle, the performance continues smoothly, ending with the chorus line dance they’ve been practising so hard to perfect. Even without the applause, it’s a great moment for the boys; For most of them, Hiroki especially, it’s the first time they’ve worked so hard to achieve something. But it looks like they’re not the only ones to gain something out of it. As Midorikawa leaves the school, we see a smile form as she picks up her pace and walks resolutely away.

Time for Hiroki to give another speech: Guys, we did it. Never give up, yadda, yadda, yadda. (Yes, this is the super condensed version)

Okay, so the performance might be over but Hiroki still has some unfinished business left to do. That’s right: Time to pluck up the courage to confess his feelings to Madoka.

Ganbatte, Hiroki-kun! You can do it!! NO PRESSURE!!! Heh.

Unfortunately, Madoka already has someone she likes. She tells him that in her heart, there is only Saionji Akira. I know I shouldn’t be laughing but I just can’t help it. Sorry.

But look on the bright side, Hiroki. At least you’ll always have your friends XD

THE END

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