It took me awhile to get up the courage to recap this episode of Zenkai Girl, because the first time I watched it a few weeks ago, I was bawling my way through it. It wasn’t sad, it was moving in ways that felt so immediate, like an arrow to the heart. While this episode was all about Wakaba and her dad, in the end it was Shota with his one single tear that had me feeling so brokenhearted that this OTP can’t find a way to be together (yet).
I love a drama that tries to address love in it’s different iterations, be it romantic, familial, or even just unconditional affection from children who can love without reservation. I felt Wakaba needed to confront her past before she can take a step forward, and maybe head in a different direction. I think this episode was a breakthrough for our plucky and stubborn zenkai girl.
Episode 8 recap:
Wakaba misses her engagement-announcing lunch with Shindo and her colleagues at the law firm, all thanks to hugging and more hugging with Shota. By the time she arrives at the restaurant, the waiters are cleaning up and everyone has left except for Sakuragawa sensei. She sits outside and tells Wakaba that Hinata just called her to ask her mom to confirm whether Wakaba really intends to marry Shindo sensei? Sakuragawa sensei was shocked that her Hinata would be so concerned about Wakaba’s future. Wakaba says she doesn’t intend to change her mind, because she’s already agreed and will go through with it. Sakuragawa sensei sighs that Wakaba sure is stubborn. She heads to a meeting at Brighton.
Wakaba goes back to the firm and apologizes to everyone, explaining that she was walking past the park and saw someone who was very hurt and she couldn’t leave that person so went to take care of him. Shindo gives her a piercing look, but then smiles and says it’s just a lunch and he’s glad everything is fine.
Afterwards, he asks Wakaba if the person she took care of is someone he knows? She says no a little too quickly, but Shindo doesn’t press her any further. He asks if she’s ready to start planning the wedding? She says yes.
Hinata remarks that she heard the engagement lunch was a failure. Wakaba confirms she’s upset about it, but Hinata says it’s a lie, Wakaba isn’t sad about it. Wakaba overhears the principal talking to his dog about regrets, the regret of losing his first love, who happens to be Hinata’s mom. Everyone is shocked to find out that the principal’s first love was Sakuragawa sensei. The principal tells Wakaba that regret is the worst feeling in the world.
Wakaba looks at her engagement ring and thinks about the word “regret”. She gets a call from Shota, who wants to apologize for his embarrassing behavior earlier. He promises to be strong going forward. He thanks her, and congratulates her on getting engaged. Wakaba is silent, but before she can say anything, Shota ends the call.
Suddenly her phone rings and it’s Shindo sensei. Shindo’s calling because his mom wants to officially have a parental meeting to present her with a dowry present. He suggests inviting her father over this weekend for a lunch, or they can take a trip to her hometown. Wakaba imagines her dilapidated home and tries to dissuade him by saying her father is such a failure she’s not had contact with him. When Shindo insists, Wakaba promises to try to reach her dad.
When dropping off Hinata at the preschool the next day, Wakaba hands Urara sensei Hinata’s baby book which chronicles a child’s growth records. The kids are all getting physicals. Hinata asks Piitaro how his dad is doing recently? Piitaro isn’t sure what is going on? When asked about Wakaba, Hinata says she’s given up on that one.
As Wakaba and Shindo are talking at the firm, she sees a simply dressed older man, which she immediately recognizes as her father. She quickly shoos Shindo away and goes to get her dad, who is thrilled to see her. He’s here because he received her telegram that she’s getting married. Wakaba asks why he’s here since she specifically told him not to come. He says that’s not right, he needs to come and say hello to her colleagues.
He offers folks edamame he brought from the countryside. Sakuragawa sensei greets him warmly and happily eats an edamame. When Wakaba tries to intervene, Sakaragawa sensei takes her aside and tells her that she understands since she also clawed her way to the top. She invites Wakaba’s dad to sit in her office and tell her all about his hometown. Wakaba watches them walk away with her eyes widen open. So Wakaba, the #1 ranked graduate from Todai Law, has Forrest Gump for a daddy.
Sakuragawa sensei sits in her office and looks at pictures of Wakaba growing up and laughing happily with Wakaba’s dad. Wakaba drags him out of the office, pushing him in the elevator and handing him her house keys and a map to her place. He asks if his coming is a bother to her. Wakaba stops for a minute and says no, it’s just she’s so busy. The door to the elevator closes and you can see how sad Wakaba’s dad is.
Soyoko mentions to Wakaba that her dad seems like a very nice man, reminding her of Shota actually. Since Wakaba’s mom died when she was young and her dad raised her, it must have been quite hard. Wakaba says hard is on the kids.
Wakaba picks Hinata up at the preschool, running into all the daddies there. She explains her dad is in town because of the upcoming dowry ceremony with Shindo parents. The daddies are shocked the she-devil like Wakaba has a dad, wondering if he’s just like her. Shota is surprised that they are already having a dowry ceremony.
Urara sensei comes out and hands the parents back their kids baby books. Hinata says she lost 1 kg and wonders how much Wakaba weighs? Wakaba says her weight and BMI are healthy and she’s not aging prematurely. Wakaba finds out that it’s her turn to watch the kids after school. She wants to know if anyone can switch with her since her dad is in town. None of the dads can switch with her, so she takes the kids back to her apartment. The kids think Wakaba looks nothing like her dad, who explains Wakaba takes after her mom in looks and brains. The kids thinks Wakaba’s dad smiles just like Shota. Wakabe interrupts and says that is not likely. Wakaba needs to head back to work so she asks her dad to watch the kids.
Back at the office, Wakaba works and imagines the kids torturing his dad with toilet paper and drawing all over him. His poor dad cries out for Wakaba. Turns out her dad is reading a children’s book to the kids, who are all sweetly surrounding him listening to the story. Awwwwww.
Sakuaragawa sensei sees Wakaba and wonders who is watching the kids. She says her dad, and Sakuragawa sensei says that’s great, if it’s Wakaba’s dad then she is relieved. She discusses how Wakaba’s dad had to file for bankruptcy after he was swindled by unscrupulous folks preying on his low intelligence and became a guarantor for their loans and they took off with the money. Sakuragawa sensei reminds Wakaba that bankruptcy laws are there for people to start over.
Wakaba goes home and sees the apartment dark and empty. Her dad left a note explaining Shota came by and took everyone to his restaurant for dinner. At the restaurant, Shota serves the kids food and then asks Wakaba’s dad what he would like to eat. He asks for rice mixed with soy sauce. Shota tells him to please don’t be so polite, he can make anything for dinner. Wakaba’s dad says he used to eat rice and soy sauce with Wakaba, and coming here because she’s getting married soon makes him very nostalgic, which is why he wants to eat the same dish right now.
Shota smiles and makes him that dish. As Wakaba is leaving her apartment, she sees a man with a cane waiting for her. It’s the same loan shark that came to collect from her dad many years ago. Shota serves Wakaba’s dad rice with soy sauce and some side dishes. He takes a bite and is so happy at how delicious it tastes. Shota remarks that Wakaba and her dad are actually much alike. Shindo goes home and his mom meets him to hand him a report about Wakaba’s background, revealing there is something of concern with respect to her dad.
Shota pours Wakaba’s dad a drink and asks how it feels to marry a daughter off. He says it feels so happy. Watching her grow even a cm made him happy. Shota takes out Piitaro’s baby book and says he feels the same way. Wakaba’s dad says he was so useless that all Wakaba could do was study hard every single day. He doesn’t know when it started, but soon they wouldn’t even talk when eating together. But every time he looks at her baby book he would feel reassured. Even if she left his side, the baby book makes him feel like she’s nearby.
Wakaba’s dad cries and says he’s just such a useless father. Shota says he shouldn’t say that, he raised such a direct and candid daughter like Wakaba. It’s Shota who doesn’t have the right to be a dad. Wakaba’s dad reveals that Piitaro told him that Wakaba’s dad’s smile was just like Piitaro’s dad’s smile. And how Piitaro was so proud of it. Piitaro tells Wakaba’s dad that Shota is not his real father but he’s so happy because everyone says he smiles like Shota. He used to cry alot, but he learned to smile from his dad. In fact, he got his smile from his dad. Hearing this, Shota starts to cry and smile at the same time.
The other dads arrive and realize Wakaba’s dad is sitting there. Suddenly Wakaba runs in and shows him a loan document where he signed as a guarantor for someone. He says he wasn’t swindled this time, his colleague wants to borrow money to expand a chicken farm. Wakaba says he got swindled. Why did he make the same mistake again? She tells him that Shindo sensei’s mom paid off his debt already. Wakaba’s dad cries and says he’s never even met Shindo’s parents. Wakaba’s dad sobs as Wakaba takes Hinata home without talking to him.
Wakaba and her father are formally dressed and sit across from Shindo and his parents. She bows her head in gratitude and embarrassment, promising to repay every penny of the paid off loan. Shindo says it’s not a lot of money considering her dowry would have been even more. She says it’s a lot of money to her!
Shindo’s mom tells Wakaba to not be embarrassed, because they appreciate this about her and feel like she is the right woman for Shindo. Wakaba’s dad thanks them and promises to pay off the loan. He bows his head and asks them to please take care of Wakaba. She watches her dad bowing and joins him in a deep bow.
Wakaba’s dad is saying goodbye to Shota at the restaurant. He wants to pay for the rice and soy sauce but Shota won’t take it. Piitaro asks Wakaba’s dad to come visit again soon. Wakaba’s dad asks Shota to give a bank book to Wakaba. It contains an account he opened in her name when she was born. He would deposit money in every year, with the money intended for her to use when she got married. It’s not a lot, and he feels a bit ashamed about it. Shota smiles and promises to deliver it to her.
As Wakaba’s dad is walking out, he runs into another daddy and some items drop. He runs to catch a ride on a delivery truck with his friend, saying goodbye to everyone. Shota heads to Wakaba’s apartment and hands her the bank book. She notices every year he would put in exactly 2,705 Yen. Shota says it might not be alot, but it contains her father’s love for her during the past 24 years.
Wakaba looks at the bank book when suddenly someone is at the door. It’s the loan shark again. They go pow wow at the park. She demands to know why he is here? Is there any further outstanding debt? He says that he just wanted to see her one more time. He notices she is holding a bank book, which he recognizes from years ago when he went to collect the debt from her dad. She offers to give him the bank book if she won’t bother her again. The loan shark remarks that she is still the same. He asks if she’s sure he can take the bank book? She says yes, so he leaves with it.
At the restaurant, lovelorn daddy finds a baby book that turns out to be Wakaba’s baby book that her dad dropped. They tease about her birth weight being heavy at 2,705 grams. Shota calls Wakaba and tells her that the money deposited into the account was not random at all. Every year on Wakaba’s birthday, her dad would deposit her birth weight in Yen into the account. So that dirty little bank book contains the love of a father for his daughter.
Wakaba’s dad walks to meet his friend at the truck stop. He turns and looks around, hoping that perhaps Wakaba will come see him off. When he sees no one, he bows his head and walks towards the truck. We see Wakaba running. His father hears someone running towards him. He’s ever hopeful that it’s Wakaba, but turns out to be a stranger out jogging. He opens the door and gets into the truck.
Wakaba runs to the loan shark’s office and barges in. She asks for her bank book back, offering to pay him money for it. The 66,558 Yen isn’t just money to her, it has special meaning. The other loan shark lackeys try to intimidate her, but she’s unafraid. The loan shark boss sighs and hands her the bank book back. Wakaba grabs the bank book. The loan shark boss tells her that he chose not to take that bank book years ago, because it was a father’s love.
Shota runs to catch the truck, wanting to return Wakaba’s baby book to him, because he treasures that baby book like it’s a good luck charm he always keeps with him. The truck pulls away before Shota can stop it. Wakaba stands at an overpass and looks at the bank book. She thinks back to her life with her dad growing up.
They were so poor, but he loved her with such an overflowing heart. When she went to deliver a rice ball to him during the snow, he gave her most of the food while only eating a small bite. It’s these little things that Wakaba remembers now. Like how she wrote “I love my dad the best” on the sand. Or when they happily waited for the bus together. Wakaba looks out on the traffic and says “thank you, dad.”
Sakuragawa sensei arrives to pick up Hinata at the preschool. He hands the principal a box of cakes. He’s happy to see her again after not seeing her for so long. Sakuragawa sensei says she’s been remembering those happier innocent times. Shindo sensei talks with his clients at Brighton about his upcoming wedding. They note that Sakuragawa sensei hasn’t been working as hard, making more time to spend with her daughter. They suggest Shindo’s era is coming soon at the law firm.
Shota finds Wakaba still standing on that overpass. He hands her the baby book that her dad left behind, explaining that her dad keeps it with him at all times like a good luck charm. He apologizes for looking through it, but he was very happy to read about how Wakaba grew up. Wakaba flips through the book, which contains a lot of her dad’s notes such as when she got sick. Wakaba chides Shota for looking through it, but he says it’s okay to sometimes let people see one’s embarrassing moments.
Wakaba sees a picture of her younger self smiling widely sitting next to her dad. Shota says just like this baby book is her dad’s good luck charm, the bank book will surely become Wakaba’s good luck charm going forward. Wakaba starts to cry.
Shota turns to look up at the sky, noticing the North Star is visible. Wakaba steps forward and puts her head on his back, asking if she can just rest it there for a moment. Could she please borrow his back for a moment? She cries, and one hand reaches out to grab his shirt.
Shota looks up, and his hand slowly reaches down and grabs Wakaba’s hand. Slowly a tear falls from his eye as they stand there with the traffic passing below them.
Thoughts of Mine:
Sigh, where do I start? This was a heady episode of ZG, taking the bits and pieces we’ve seen about Wakaba’s life growing up and finally putting a backstory together. So it was a rough childhood because her dad was just so gullible and unable to do more than make money through manual work and labor. But seeing her kind and simple father show up with his heart on a platter for Wakaba just awoke every single love nerve in my body. What was just so heartwarming to see was how kindly and with respect Sakuragawa sensei treated Wakaba’s dad, eating his proffered edamame, taking him to her office to chat, and spending time looking at pictures of Wakaba growing up. She may be HBIC at work, but more and more it’s plain to see she’s got a genuine heart in her all-work no-play outer shell.
I love how Hinata still tries to enlighten Wakaba, and is frankly at the verge of giving up on the lost cause that is Wakaba. When Shindo’s mom brought out the background check on Wakaba, I was hoping her snooty ways would make her force Shindo to cry off. Yet to my surprise it was the opposite, the Shindo family paid off Wakaba’s dad’s defaulted loan and did not have any airs about it. They genuinely want Wakaba to be a part of their family, her poor background and her less than capable father notwithstanding. They may be butt rich, but it’s nice to see a family like that portrayed as not having any airs, which makes any decision Wakaba must make about Shindo not a cop out. He really appears to be a decent guy (aside from a bit of ambition at work) who even notices Wakaba’s weird behavior around Shota, but chooses not to pry.
I like that the story is really about forcing Wakaba to reevaluate all her previously held beliefs about success, life, and happiness. It hurts to see that Wakaba is getting closer and closer to changing her set course of action, but worried that it might be too late if she doesn’t figure things out for herself soon. I appreciate how, while everyone can see that Wakaba likes Shota and marrying Shindo may not be the best or right decision, no one is forcing her outright to change her mind. It’s through little hints, small nudges, tiny pushes, but leaving everything in the extra-smart brain of Wakaba to sort through and figure out herself. It’s really so satisfying to watch, but so painful when it feels like Wakaba takes one step forward and then two steps back in each episode. But once I remind myself that this is a J-dorama, then my patience comes back. While I would have loved a full body back hug from Wakaba to Shota at the end of this episode, in the end I’m quite satisfied with one head rest and hand grab that was just so gaspworthy.