Ah, the school drama. Whether you never tire of watching them or can't get far enough away from them, they usually elicit a strong reaction from drama fans either way. In Nobuta wo Produce, we meet three students who couldn't be more different: Kiritani Shuji, the quintessential popular kid who secretly isn't anything like his school persona, Kusano Akira, an eccentric boy who seems to want to be Kiritani's friend, and Kotani Nobuko, a painfully awkward female transfer student who initially kind of resembles Sadako from Ringu.
Kiritani decides that he and Kusano should "produce" Nobuta soon after she arrives at the school -- that is, change her from what she is into a popular girl. Of course, a goal like this is easier said than done, and it actually takes a less predictable path than one might think. Follow me past the jump if this sounds like it could be up your alley.
Nobuta wo Produce
Whoa, a drama series not based on an original manga! Yep, they do happen. This one is based on a novel instead, which makes for a nice change. Many dramas also have a lot of familiar faces, but this one sports two very high profile ones: Kat-Tun's Kamenashi Kazuya in the role of Kiritani and NewS' Yamashita Tomahisa as Kusano. That alone makes this a must watch for Johnny's Jr. fangirls, but Horikita Maki is no slouch either in the title role as Kotaki (or Nobuta as the boys nickname her), and the three of them have some solid chemistry as the central characters of the show.
In the beginning, Nobuta is more or less a bedraggled mess when she shows up as a brand new transfer student, and it takes no time at all before she is mercilessly picked on by those annoying schoolgirls that you love to hate in every show of this type. Kiritani and Kusano notice this behavior and it seems to bother them, which is when Kiritani gets the idea to "produce" Nobuta -- to make her a girl that everyone will like.
Kiritani's character is, in my opinion, a bit of a confusing one. He seems as preoccupied with keeping up his image as you'd imagine any popular Japanese high schooler would be, but he goes through several conflicts that don't quite dovetail together when it comes to how his character is presented. As a whole, I never really felt his performance was genuine, and while I wouldn't call it a bad one, I certainly wouldn't measure it next to some of the better ones I've seen. He's not infinately likable or dislikeable.
Speaking of better ones, while Yamashita Tomohisa is still developing as an actor, he certainly does a solid job as Kusano, communicating all the quirky eccentricies that make his character likeable. Despite the fact I liked him more than Kiritani, I wished he could have been more fleshed out rather than relying on his cute gestures and expressions to get to know the character. He's still a lot of fun to watch though, and you'll find yourself wanting to say "kon kon!" and click your fingers together before you know it.
Horikita Maki's Nobuta, in my opinion, is the star of the show, but as an actress she usually gives consistently good performances in all the shows she's been in. I particularly admired that her character doesn't transform from what she is into the obvious popular type, but rather, she comes into her own while still staying a bit weird. Sometimes I wanted to just tuck my finger under her chin and make her stop staring at her shoes, but at the end, you realize Nobuta is who she is, and there's something awesome about the fact that she stays that way.
Ah, the supporting cast. The lovely Toda Erika appears as Uehara Mariko, the not-quite girlfriend of Kiritani, who makes him boxed lunches and observes the producing of Nobuta from afar. There's also a few evil villain types and quirky teachers, but no one overly memorable. The supporting cast is reminiscent of no more than attractively painted scenery, and there's nothing wrong with this, but it isn't one of those shows that lets you fall in love with a huge ensemble of actors and actresses. The story really reserves its focus for the friendship between the three main characters.
It probably sounds up to this point like I'm going to say that Nobuta isn't that great of a show, but that's not true. It's still an enjoyable watch, and certainly above average, but in my opinion it doesn't rank up there with laugh out loud school dramas like Mei-Chan No Shitsuji and Hana Kimi. I'd recommend it if you like the cast, are in the mood for a solid school story, or have an overwhelming crush on Yamashita Tomahisa and/or Kamenashi Kazuya. Guess which of those reasons I went with?
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