I still can’t believe I went from recapping zero J-doramas to doing two in one season back-to-back. It was so much fun, even if one got a bit boring towards the end, and the other went crazy before finding its way back sanity and happiness all around. While Zenkai Girl isn’t a drama that will be talked about long after it’s over, overall I really liked it. This final episode sealed the deal for me, leaving me plenty satisfied.
Beyond the drama exceeding my expectations (I had none) in every way, it also changed my mind about Aragaki Yui and made me fall in adoration with Nishikido Ryo all over again. Gakki and Ryo are now up there in terms of great J-OTPs, which are really so few and far between. Their chemistry was wonderful and their moments together always made my heart thump. Even if episodes 9 and 10 were crap, episode 11 redeems this entire drama not a moment too soon. While everything is wrapped up as pat as can be, in this case that is just fine with me.
Episode 11 recap:
It’s farewell time for Piitaro, as he’s headed to New York with Ririka. Everyone gathers at the bridge to say their goodbyes. Piitaro walks up to Hinata and hands her a bracelet he made with the beads resembling pillbugs. She sticks out her hand and he puts it on her. Hinata smiles and says she loves pillbugs, promising to wear it everyday. Piitaro says he’ll email her everyday and look towards the North star. Hinata says she will as well. Piitaro says goodbye to Wakaba, then he runs into Shota’s arms for a goodbye.
Shota starts to cry, leading Piitaro to ask why his dad is crying? He’s promised not to cry anymore, so his dad needs to stop crying and only cry when he is happy. Piitaro leans back with a smile and says goodbye.
He starts to walk away with his mom when suddenly he stops and exclaims that he’s forgotten something. He runs back and kisses Hinata on the forehead before running back to join his mom. Wakaba comments how Piitaro really didn’t cry once like he vowed. Hinata cries as she watches Piitaro leave.
Wakaba drops Hinata off at school, who notes that Shota won’t be coming by anymore. Wakaba pretends she’s not looking for him and thinks it’s easier this way, with less kids to watch after school. As she leaves the school, she looks around and remembers all her moments with Shota. She steels herself with the reminder that she only has to worry about one thing.
At the firm, Wakaba runs into Shindo as they are headed to a firm wide lawyers meeting to discuss the future of the firm and the need to retain their largest client Brighton. Sakuragawa sensei stands up and confirms that she did indeed upset the CEO of Brighton. She’s apologized already. But today she is here to announce that Sakuragawa law firm will be merging with Smith & Clark law firm.
Brighton will continue to engage the firm because it’s going to be top-notch going forward. Shindo stands up and yells that she can’t make merger decisions on her own. Sakuragawa sensei confirms that her partners are all supportive of this decision, and points out to Shindo that the winds can change very fast. The new Sakuragawa, Smith & Clark law firm has chosen her to lead the merged firm.
After the meeting, Shindo announces that the betrayer, i.e. himself, will be packing up and leaving. Sakuragawa sensei wonders why he’s leaving since she didn’t fire him. To the contrary, she wants him to head the new merged firm’s New York office. She also tells Wakaba that her three-month trial period is over and the firm will officially be hiring Wakaba as a permanent lawyer. Hinata’s nanny is back from maternity leave soon and Sakuragawa sensei wants Wakaba to handle Brighton’s child products line now that she has earned the stripes.
Wakaba sits with a forlorn Shindo, who bemoans that he fought but was defeated thoroughly. He still wants to leave the firm, and he asks Wakaba to break their engagement since she shouldn’t be with a loser. Wakaba says she will go with him to New York. Shindo quietly says Wakaba is someone who makes a decision and never wavers from it, that is a reason he chose her. Wakaba reassures him that failure only helps make him stronger for the next success. Shindo wonders why he ought to remain at the firm as a loser? She doesn’t think there is anything wrong with that, which is how she has always succeeded in her life. She grabs Shindo’s hand and tells him that she will grow old with him and they can be Manhattan eagles together.
Wakaba tells Hinata and Soyoko that the wedding will be completely stripped of all the lavish accoutrements and will instead be an intimate affair. Shindo tells everyone at the firm about the change of plans with respect to the wedding, and how he’s doing this to repay Wakaba for how she’s treated him. Sakuragawa sensei smiles and says this is just like Shindo’s way. She tells him not to consider himself a loser. She’s worked so hard to get to where she is today. She tells Shindo that she likes this surprise.
Shota sends back an RSVP for the wedding that he won’t be attending. Soyoko arrives and he tells her that he will be helping out at Paul Bocuse for the time period before he leaves for France. He wants to brush up on his skills. Soyoko notices the declined RSVP and wonders why he can’t attend. Shota says he’s leaving the day of the wedding. Soyoko wonders why he has to leave that day. Oh girl, stop asking the stupid questions. Shota is surprised and tries to say he just wants to start his training early. Soyoko realizes he’s leaving to avoid Wakaba but Shota keeps saying he’s not. He rushes out to go to Paul Bocuse.
Soyoko sits with Hinata and tells the wise one that Shota clearly still has feelings for Wakaba. Hinata asks if Shota is just using Soyoko to forget Wakaba? Soyoko says no, Shota is sincere about her, and genuinely wants to make it work with her. Soyoko wonders what she can do to make him look only at her? She likes him so much. Hinata grabs Soyoko’s hand and says that loving someone ought to be thinking about what would make that person happy. Shindo walks over to the conference room and overhears this conversation. He walks in and asks to speak with the two bridesmaids.
Wakaba sits in her apartment and eats a bowl of rice with soy sauce. She chews and looks around her tiny place which she is packing up. Suddenly the door rings and it’s Soyoko, here to tell Wakaba that she’s not going to France with Shota. She doesn’t feel right about going. Soyoko complains that after dating, she realizes that Shota’s kindness is just weakness and he doesn’t appear to care about her. Wakaba starts to say that Shota is genuine about everything. He may not be the brightest thing, but Wakaba wants Soyoko not to let go of him.
Soyoko smiles with tears in her eyes, confirming that both Wakaba and Shota are the same, putting each other first. Soyoko wipes her tears away and says that no matter what Wakaba says, she still dislikes Shota now. The reason why is because Shota likes Wakaba. Always has and always will.
Shota comes home and calls out for Piitaro. He opens the bedroom door and sees it’s all dark. He knows Piitaro can’t possibly be here. He sees a letter on the table from Soyoko. Shota reads it as Soyoko explains to Wakaba that no matter what Shota says, he still likes Wakaba and that truth cannot be denied. Wakaba sits in her room and starts muttering to herself about that pillbug liking her. She shakes her head and gets back to keep packing, telling herself not to waver. She got this far because she never gave up on anything.
She reminds herself to be stronger and not to waver now. Suddenly she sees a note she taped on the window that says “be honest with yourself.” Wakaba hears her childhood voice call out, saying that she doesn’t want to become that kind of person. Wakaba comes face-to-face with her younger self, who wonders how things got so messed up. Little Wakaba says following through is one thing, but why does she lie to herself. Little Wakaba holds up a sign that says “lying is a big crime.” If Wakaba knows its wrong, she can just start over again.
Adult Wakaba says that if she can start over she would. But adults have adult rules and it’s not so easy. Little Wakaba throws down the paper and says those rules are bullshit. She tells adult Wakaba to look into herself and be honest this one last time. Little Wakaba disappears as adult Wakaba holds her heart and thinks.
The day of the wedding arrives. The daddies find out from Shota that Soyoko is not going with him to France. They want to know if he’s still not coming to the wedding? Shota makes an excuse about how busy he is because he’s about to leave. He asks the daddies to wish Wakaba a lifetime of happiness. Lovelorn daddy gets a call from Kujo sensei.
Wakaba sits in the preparation room dressed in her bridal gown. Hinata notes that for a bride, Wakaba sure doesn’t look too happy. Wakaba pretends she’s just nervous and worried about how to go to the bathroom in her wedding dress. Soyoko leaves to go check on the wedding site. Wakaba asks Hinata if she has something to say to her? Hinata says that Wakaba looks beautiful today. Wakaba wonders what’s gotten into Hinata all of a sudden since she’s always ribbing Wakaba. Hinata says Wakaba is no longer her nanny, but she was the only nanny that Hinata wanted to learn her name.
Wakaba doesn’t seem like an adult, constantly getting herself into messes. Wakaba turns around and says that Hinata is like a friend to her, not a charge. Shota is at Paul Bocuse and preparing food for 18 people. Hinata tells Wakaba that she sucks as both a woman and a nanny, too stubborn and unbending. Wakaba accuses innocent people of wrongdoing, and giving them bad nicknames like pillbug. Wakaba thinks back to her first meeting with Shota on the subway. Even though Wakaba likes watching the kids, but she still pretends otherwise and complains.
Wakaba kissed Shota first but then accused him of taking advantage of her. The man who picked up her fallen bento, instead Wakaba accused him of doing the wrong thing. Every step of the way, Wakaba has kept denying her true feelings. When Wakaba finally confronted her feelings, she still allowed a little thing to send them apart again, always allowing chances to pass them by. Wakaba thinks back to all her moments with Shota. Hinata says Wakaba does have one positive trait, which is that she never gives up on anyone and she goes full speed ahead.
Hinata asks Wakaba who the person is that Wakaba wants to protect the most? Wakaba takes out her own note that asks her to be honest with herself. HInata asks Wakaba again who the person Wakaba cares about the most is? Wakaba suddenly stands up and asks where Shindo sensei is? Soyoko walks in and smiles, telling Wakaba that Shindo is already at the altar and the guests have arrived. Wakaba runs out and starts rushing to see Shindo before the ceremony begins. Shota is plating food and looks at the clock, noting that the ceremony should be starting soon.
Wakaba arrives at the wedding site and finds it completely empty. She suddenly hears a noise and turns to see Shota standing at the alter placing a stack of macarons on a table. They ask each other why they are here? Shota explains that he’s here for a catering event on behalf of Paul Bocuse.
Hinata walks out holding a phone and says Shindo wants to talk with her. He tells Wakaba that he’s headed for New York, and this is his surprise for her. When she decided to stay with him even after he lost to Sakuragawa sensei, he realized at the moment that he wanted to make sure she was happy. This is his way to repay her. He’ll take all the blame and explained everything to his parents and the guests already. Shindo reveals that all her friends know and they all approve. Wakaba says she is genuinely very sorry to him. She promises to pay back the dowry and the loan. Shindo smiles and says to let him be cool now at the very end. He tells her that the rest is up to her.
Wakaba ends her call with Shindo and Soyoko calls Hinata away to give the two stupid people some privacy so they can finally talk. Wakaba walks over to Shota and faces him directly. She takes a deep breath and says that she believed that a kiss is nothing. But she was wrong about that, and somewhere along the way, all she could think about was Shota. All this time, she’s been in love with him. Shota just stands there and listens to her without saying anything. Wakaba asks Shota if he will marry her?
Shota starts to cry and apologizes to Wakaba, because he promised Piitaro not to cry anymore. Shota looks serious and tells Wakaba that he is rejecting her proposal. Wakaba looks crestfallen. Shota tells Wakaba to let him propose to her, because he has always liked her. Even though he can’t do much, he will protect her and take care of her for the rest of her life. This he has confidence to do. Wakaba starts to cry and Shota walks up and reaches out his hand to her. She takes his hand and accepts his proposal. Both of them start smiling like loonies.
Which is when the speakers start to play the wedding march and all their friends and colleagues run out of hiding to clap and congratulate them. Even Wakaba’s dad is here, and he’s so happy and crying, He grabs Shota’s hand and thanks him.
Suddenly a little boy starts calling out daddy, and it’s Piitaro running out to hug Shota. Turns out Hinata wheedled her mom into bringing Ririka and Piitaro back on a private jet from New York just for this event. Shota takes Wakaba’s hand and tells her to wait for him. He’s going to develop his culinary skills and he will be back ready for her. She says yes.
Shota picks up Wakaba and they kiss amidst more applause and even a petal shower courtesy of Hinata and Piitaro.
Sakuragawa sensei is working late when Wakaba comes to see her. Wakaba confirms that she just got back from sending Shota off, and then she hands Sakuragawa sensei a resignation letter. She finally knows the path she wants to take. Sakuragawa sensei says there are plenty of people who can take Wakaba’s place. Wakaba tries to thank her for the few short months, but it’s clear Sakuragawa sensei isn’t one for maudlin farewells. Wakaba bows to her and leaves. As she walks out of the darkened office, she takes one final look around before leaving with a smile.
It’s one year later and Wakaba is walking to court with another lawyer. Turns out she’s a lawyer taking on small cases for normal folks. The other lawyer thinks Wakaba dresses so badly she won’t ever get married, though he’s heard she has a guy waiting for her. Wakaba says she does have a guy, but they have agreed not to contact each other until they achieve their dream. Outside of the court, they run into Sakuragawa sensei who is leaving the court after winning a case. They pass each other with a smile without acknowledging each other, which is the way Sakuragawa sensei still is.
Shindo is in New York and doing a great job of heading that office. Soyoko is still Sakuragawa sensei’s trusted assistant. Lovelorn daddy isn’t so lovelorn anymore. He’s an actor now and married to Kujo sensei. Urara sensei tells her daddy the principal that she wants to marry the chubby daddy, which surprises everyone.
Hinata is leaving school with her friend when she gets a text message. It’s Piitaro sending her a picture with the scribble “I Love You” on it. Hinata’s friend asks if that’s her boyfriend from New York. Hinata confirms it’s him, and he insisting on sending her a love text every day. What can she do, he loves her too much.
Wakaba heads to meet a client only to find that it’s Ru Sato. But the restaurant has a different name, it’s now a French restaurant called Bistrot Le Chateau. She opens the door and walks in to see Shota waiting for her. He welcomes her in as the first customer of the restaurant. The adorable owner comes out and welcomes Wakaba with a bonsoir. Shota seats Wakaba down and then goes off to bring out a dish.
He puts down an appetizer that is a French method of preparing rice mixed with soy sauce. She complains that he’s mixing cuisines in her usual way, but Shota moves to take a bite. Wakaba quickly takes the other bite, and both of them exclaim that it’s delicious. They smile and rest their foreheads against each other, finally together at last.
Thoughts of Mine:
I really liked this cute rom-com of a J-dorama. It was refreshing and unexpected, which added to how much I liked it. It never tried to hard, so it always remained just this sweet little story about a go-getter girl trying to figure out her life as an adult. The early episodes were much funnier than the latter ones, but the story remained true to it’s objective from beginning to end. This wasn’t a story about reaching a goal, but was instead a story about being honest with one’s feelings. With that said, the drama was awash in feelings, and oftentimes lacking in intellectual depth. Let’s just say ZG doesn’t stand up to any level of critical scrutiny.
But why scrutinize that hard when this drama just made me smile from beginning to end, with only a slight hiccup or two. I thought everything was presented in the simplest of ways, but it was never stupid or pointless. ZG had a kind heart, and all the characters united together to show it despite their vastly different personalities. I genuinely liked all the characters and really enjoyed spending time with them every week. Hinata and Piitaro nearly stole the show with their precocious adorableness, and what I wouldn’t give for a drama about them after they grow up and make good on their promise to marry each other.
I find Wakaba’s stubbornness frustrating at times, and Shota’s excessive kindness difficult to embrace. Their personalities were written almost so diametrically opposite on purpose that it became painful when they would take steps towards each other, only to have the camera pull back metaphorically and show us how far apart they still were. I’m glad in the end Wakaba did choose Shota, even if it was at the last minute, and had the extra deux et machina of having Shindo already decided for her. Plot contrivance aside, the drama ended marvelously with me with everyone getting their happy ending.
I’m not sure I understood why Wakaba gave up the big firm career for a small practice, but ultimately she appears to have found a measure of satisfaction with the law she is practicing. Perhaps watching Sakuragawa sensei struggle constantly to maintain on top was the clincher for Wakaba, but I think she and Shota will be just fine financially with her being a lawyer and now him running a cute little French bistro. The combination of the French technique with the Japanese cuisine was of course a stand in for mixing Wakaba’s zenkai attitude with Shota’s pillbug laissez-faire approach, and knowing that somehow that combination works. Which is how I view ZG – a drama that seems so random at first blush, but put together it meshes into this wonderful little bite of deliciousness that is both satisfying and rewarding.