Either I have no self-control, adding another drama to my recap plate, or it’s simply that Zenkai Girl is just THAT good (psst, it’s the latter). A unrelated matter first though – I need to take a hiatus from recapping Material Queen, which is still brilliantly good, but so angsty it actually made me feel like retching when I watched episodes 10-11, since I haven’t the stomach for so much pain right now. I’ll pick it up when the happy swings back into the picture. For now, ZG with Gakki and Ryo is officially my Summer 2011 crack, a drama I completely ignored until peeps keep bugging me to check it out. Check it out I did, and 8 episodes later, I am completely and utterly in love with it.
It’s a bona fide romance leaning J-dorama, which are few and far between, tempered with the family and professional growth arcs that cut down on the maudlin and cheesy bit of most romance dramas. I am totally bowled over by Aragaki Yui‘s perfect and nuanced portrayal of a girl who has clawed her way to achievement through only hard work. Gakki, gomen ne, for dismissing you for so long as a limited expression cold fish. Nishikido Ryo finally gets a chance to win a girl without being a complete creep or for her to end up six-feet under by the end of the dorama. Ryo-chan, you are adorable! Never go back to playing bad or super depressing characters again, m’kay? With that said, let’s get this show on the road. So what happens after a drunk Wakaba woman-handles herself a Shota and plants him a kisser? Read on and find out.
Episode 2 recap:
Wakaba wakes up in her teeny tiny apartment crammed top to bottom with books. She’s a nerd alright. But a nerd who has no recollection of what happened last night, after she engages in her first ever beer bender after getting sacked from her law firm job for not performing her nanny duties up to par, as per HBIC’s requirements (her name is actually Sakuragawa sensai, but I’ll call her HBIC until she starts humanizing). Wakaba checks – her clothes are still on, everything still in its proper place. She’s good. But what the heck happened?
Shota is distracted while making breakfast for Piitaro, burning the bacon and generally being all mind-not-focused. Piitaro notices his daddy is very out of it. Daddy just got kissed by his not-so-secret crush, Piitaro-chan, so cut daddy some slack.
Wakaba checks to make sure all her important valuables are still in its place. Suddenly Wakaba remembers what happened prior to her beer bender. She got fired! Hinata asks mommy when Wakaba is coming to pick her up. Mommy notices that her daughter actually took the time to remember the name of her new caretaker. Getting fired does not compute or simply does not deter go-getter Wakaba, who immediately dresses and heads over to HBIC’s house to pick up her charge Hinata.
When Wakaba arrives, HBIC is all like “didn’t I fire you?” and Wakaba is all like “well, you did, but according to labor laws you kinda couldn’t do that without notice.” Wakaba just plows ahead and tells HBIC that she will prove herself and continue this job.
Wakaba takes Hinata to school, where she promptly runs into the daddy contingent, including her maybe nemesis Shota, step-father of adorable Piitaro (nee Emitaro), the sweetie of Hinata’s lil’ heart. Wakaba holds up the note Shota left for her, demanding to know what he did to her last night and what he saw last night.
The other daddies see Wakaba and immediately start cringing and shivering. She’s like the HBIC here to them, heh. She asks them to butt out since this does not concern them. They are totally concerned, since she embroiled them in her wicked ways last night. They announce she stole a KISS from Shota!
Wakaba piffles that she could have done anything to Shota. She accuses them of doing something to her if something did happen, and she’ll sue them. Shota tries to defuse both sides and be the peacemaker he naturally is. Wakaba leaves and the guys, minus Shota, call her a she-devil. Shota watches Wakaba huff away.
Wakaba is at work and HBIC hands her a series of assignments, including teaching Hinata English and picking up clothes she ordered for Hinata. Wakaba promises to do everything, asking only for a bike to perform her duties. But everywhere she goes, she sees people or pictures of people kissing. She reminds herself that it’s only for three months and soon she’ll be right back on track to her dreams. But even the kissing pigeons mock her.
It’s Wakaba’s turn to watch the groups kids after hours. No one can or wants to pinch hit for her. Though the daddies discuss whether its safe to entrust their children to this female drunk kissing bandit. Shota speaks up for her and says she’s reliable when not drunk. The dads want to know what Wakaba’s apartment looks like, what it smelled like, and why Shota has a scratch on the back of his neck. He manages to put them off without answering their barrage of questions. Wakaba approaches this after school child care like all her assignments in life – plows right through it. She takes four kids and a baby back to her tiny closet-spaced apartment to watch them.
The dads try to push their way in but Wakaba keeps them out. The kids start screeching about the tiny apartment and even tinier TV. Wakaba tells them to “shut up” and then proceeds to try to do work while keeping the kids occupied. One kid trips the power cord in the middle of an assignment Wakaba is typing up on her computer.
They say they are hungry so Wakaba goes to buy take out food, which are all the cheapest items out there, which the kids notice. Hinata takes a bite of the ikura nigiri and schools Wakaba that the ikura is man-made and not all-natural.
The dads come by one by one to pick up their kids, with Shota picking up Piitaro and reminding Wakaba that next week is the preschool’s picnic and each student needs to bring their own bento box. Hinata has always brought a bento made by her favorite restaurant, but Shota thinks it would be great if she can bring a homemade one this time. Wakaba suddenly sees the scratches on the back of Shota’s neck and quickly excuses herself, thinking back to her jacket which has a button torn off. Wakaba tells herself that it can’t be.
Wakaba presents her daily notes to HBIC on what Hinata learned today. She explains about the monthly picnic. HBIC says the restaurant bento will be just fine. But when Wakaba says it’s suggested that it’s homemade, HBIC tells Wakaba to make it. She offers to take Wakaba to the next meeting with the biggest client at the firm, Brighton Holdings. Oh, Wakaba is bought by the promise of billable hours.
After the meeting, Wakabe meets with Shindo sensai, the hot lawyer at the firm. He’s about to ask her out to dinner when she turns the tables and asks him first. Suddenly Shota arrives bearing take out, which was ordered by HBIC’s secretary at the firm Shoida Soyoko, who clearly and wisely has the hots for Shota. Wakaba purposely reminds Shindo about dinner tonight, which Shota hears and his face just freezes.
Wakaba and Shota go to a fancy French restaurant, and as they are walking in, we see a framed picture near the front foyer where Shota is standing behind the head chef, clearly a member of the cooking staff at this established restaurant. Back at the tiny restaurant, the daddies note that Shota gave up his dream to raise Piitaro, because his work hours at the French restaurant doesn’t allow him any flexibility.
Shindo asks Wakaba why she became a lawyer. She says it’s for money, and having dinner with Shindo tonight is also to potentially raise her future worth. This girl, she doesn’t have a coy or missish bone in her body. Shindo appreciates her frankness, explaining he’s got it all, and asks if Wakaba will spend the night with him? Wakaba thinks that her underwear is fine for tonight, but she shouldn’t be undervalued like this. She takes Shindo’s hand off hers and shows him the note from Shota, saying she’s recently spent the night with another man and she’s just peachy.
At the preschool, Wakaba is reminded by the principal that tomorrow is the picnic bento day. Wakaba says she’ll make it, but the daddies make fun of her, asking if she can make a cartoon bento. Wakaba refuses to acknowledge any lack or defeat, and immediately goes online to research cartoon bentos. When asked what she ate growing up, poor Wakaba ate bread and the most basic of bentos made with vegetables she dug out from the ground. Wakaba notices that Soyoko has a nice bento and drags the girl shopping for ingredients. They run into Shota at the supermarket. Shota offers to help Wakaba as well but she declines.
Too bad Soyoko gets called back to work and ditches Wakaba, telling her she’ll pray to god Wakaba succeeds. Wakaba takes all the ingredients to Shota’s restaurant and asks him if he can make it for her. He says if he makes it, it’s no different than a restaurant bento. He suggests she make it while he shows her how. LOL, you just want a date with her, nee, Shota-kun?
Shota teaches Wakaba how to carve vegetables, and teases her sketch of what the bento cartoon animal is supposed to look like. Wakaba is determined to do everything by herself, and Shota just smiles at her. They keep carving vegetables until Wakaba gets the hang of it. Shota takes the knife to show Wakaba how to cut, and they get a little too close for comfort and both move away.
Wakaba blames Shota for distracting her all the time, whether it’s cooking or work. She demands to know what Shota did to her that night, showing him the dropped button. Clearly more happened but Shota can’t bring himself to say anything. He finally says nothing happened, they didn’t even hold hands, much less kiss.
Suddenly Wakaba starts crying and Shota tries to explain himself. Turns out Wakaba is crying because of the onions she just chopped. They go back to cooking, with Shota teaching Wakaba every little step. She’s so intent on doing everything, smitten Shota just peeks at her occasionally and smiles.
Morning time arrives and Wakaba is still cooking, while Shota has fallen asleep at the table. He wakes up to see all the food Wakaba made. He takes a bite and tells her it tastes good with a smile for confirmation. He offers to assemble the bento and bring it to Hinata. Wakaba says she’ll do it herself since she came this far. Wakaba takes Hinata to school and promises to bring her a homemade bento today. Hinata thinks Wakaba should have just ordered from the restaurant which is more reliable.
The kids head to the park. Wakaba finishes her meeting and then grabs all the food out of the closet. She takes out all the individual ingredients and starts to assemble it right there at the conference table. Shindo and Soyoko watch her assemble it. Shota is cooking lunch for customers but he can’t help but check the clock. Wakaba assembles the food into the shape of her cartoon animal design. The clock nears noon as Wakaba carefully prepares the lunch.
The kids arrive at the park and happily sit down the eat. Hinata doesn’t have her lunch and all the kids offer her some of their food, which she happily accepts. Shota arrives at the park to see the kids eating, but noticing that Hinata doesn’t have a lunch and is eating food offered by others. He looks around, wondering where Wakaba is.
Suddenly Wakaba arrives, riding her bike pell mell down the slope towards the park. Which is when she crashes her bike, and the bento boxes go flying everywhere, landing in an overturned mess on the sidewalk. Wakaba gets up and says she made it for nothing, since Hinata is happily eating lunch right now, and the bento is ruined.
Wakaba goes to pick up the bento contents when suddenly it starts to rain. All the kids put on their raincoats as they hurry back to the preschool. Shota pulls Wakaba up and takes her under the tree to escape the sudden rain. They stand there in awkward silence, until Shota tries to discuss the bento. Which is when Wakaba gets a call that she’s needed back at the office. Shota offers to finish picking up the bento, telling Wakaba that she can just owe him for own after care session. Wakaba rides away, but stops and looks back towards the drenched Shota crouched down picking up the bento. Wakaba gets back to work and dives right into her assignment. We see Shota picking up every last piece and carefully wiping it.
The rain has stopped and Wakaba rides her bike to pick up Hinata. She arrives in the classroom to find Hinata alone and drawing. Wakaba walks up and apologizes for today, not fulfilling her promise to bring Hinata a homemade bento. Hinata gets up and says she already got a homemade bento today, taking out the bento Wakaba made. She explains Piitaro’s dad brought it to her today.
Hinata opens the bento and we see that Shota has carefully rearranged ALL the fallen pieces so that it makes the exact same cartoon character Wakaba designed. Wakaba holds back her tears as she looks at the bento. Hinata thanks Wakaba for the cute rat. Wakaba wipes away her tear and says that it’s a bear. AHAHAHA, so cute and so sweet.
Wakaba sits at her desk at home and types away, looking back at the bento box sitting on her sink counter. She gets up and washes it carefully. Her phone rings and it’s HBIC calling, thanking Wakaba for the bento.
Wakaba takes the cleaned bento box and runs over to Shota’s restaurant. Wakaba enters the restaurant and starts to thank Shota, but suddenly she sees Soyoko working in the restaurant. Soyoko says she’s here to learn cooking, but the other daddies correctly tease Soyoko for working here to prepare to be a bride (to Shota).
Wakaba gets ornery and places the bento box on the counter, demanding to know why Shota delivered a dirty bento to Hinata, who mistook her bear for a rat. Even Shota thought it was a rat? The daddies show her the sketch that clearly shows it was a rat and Shota perfectly assembled it. They tell her to be thankful for Shota’s thoughtfulness.
Wakaba says a dirty bento is dangerous, what if Wakaba ate it and got sick. The other daddies are pissed at Wakaba’s sharp tongue, requiring Shota to restrain them. They bring up the kiss again, and when Wakaba says she doesn’t remember, one of them whips out his cellphone camera and shows her a picture of the kiss, where she is clearly the one kissing him.
Wakaba accuses them of photoshopping the picture, but they enlarge it to show her it’s real and she’s the aggressor. Wakaba suddenly gets her drunken memory back (including her drunkenly demanding Shota piggyback her home and making him put her in bed), and asks Shota why he lied to her (that nothing happened). Shota says he thought it was for the best. Wakaba grabs her head and says she can’t believe she would give her first kiss to a guy like this.
Shota leans down to ask if Wakaba is okay, which is when she throws a instinctive right hook and it lands right on Shota’s poor nose.
Thoughts of Mine:
I can’t quite put my finger on why Zenkai Girl works so well. It’s cobbled together so many elements from a plethora of J-doramas, which love to center growth around family and children (and even cute dogs), and then throw in some romance as a side dish. Perhaps it’s the confident and utterly smooth chemistry between Gakki and Ryo that sell the simmering romance so that we’re anticipating lots of cuteness even while enjoying everything else in the meantime.
I like all the characters in ZG, even HBIC Sakuragawa sensei and slightly oily Shindo at the law firm. I like how all the characters appear to just be who they are, honest, direct, and pretty charming in their own unique way. The daddies add the comic relief, the two cute kids Hinata and Piitaro are too precious, Wakaba’s pursuit of her valid and commendable life long goals for monetary security is a goal I can get behind, but ultimately it’s Ryo’s sweetheart Shota that is the marshmallow nugget of sweetness that tempers Wakaba’s bluntness.
While the drama may seen fun and cheerful right now, with some tiny heart tugging moments, I must warn everyone to have tissues ready and expect the waterworks as the story ramps up and our OTP find that sometimes it’s not easy to alter the path of life when love might be the only reason why. ZG reminds me of a Cinderella story with a twist, where Cinderella makes her own way in life with sad sack upbringing, only to find out that Prince Charming isn’t quite the man who touches her heart. What to do when the fairy tale has a third wheel? All I know is angst aplenty, and hopefully a whole lot of soul searching before everyone gets their happy ending.