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Drama ReviewsReviews

Hana Nochi Hare: First Impressions [Ep1 Review]

Hana Nochi Hare: Hanadan Next Season, or Hana Nochi Hare for short, is the sequel to the classic Hana Yori Dango drama and film franchise. The drama stars Sugisaki Hana as Edogawa Oto, Hirano Sho as Kaguragi Haruto, and Nakagawa Taishi as Hase Tenma.

The drama has inevitably become the talk of the town due to its status as the sequel to Hana Yori Dango, and also because the male lead belongs to King & Prince, the newest promoted idol group product from Johnny’s Entertainment. We decided to discover what the hype is about.


The first episode opens and Oto, Tenma and their families are shown together. All seems well, until the show brings us to some time in future after a time skip. Now, the fortunes of Oto’s family have shattered, but Oto still continues to attend Eitoku, the prestigious school attended by societal elites. The school is ruled by a group called Correct 5 (C5) and led by Haruto, the son of an extremely powerful and rich man. C5 ensures the continued eliteness of the student population by conducting regular witch-hunts that identify students who have lost their “elite” status and forcing them to quit Eitoku.

 

Correct 5

Despite the drama attempting to craft an ominous atmosphere, the name and the way C5 did a power walk down the corridor did nothing to fit this image, and one ends up snorting at how Oto was saying the term with such awe and fear. The desire to stay true to the manga may be important, but you also have to consider that the name “Correct 5” is only marginally better than “Lucky 7” and inevitably conjures up images of branding failures of various real-world organisations. There are definitely better names to call a group, especially when the effect wished to be achieved is a sense of fear and awe. Talk about the importance of names.

As for its members, their characteristics display standard trope-usage. The group consists of the leader and his personal secrets, the brains and glasses-wearer, the chick and her off-kilter cheerfulness, the Casanova, and the fighter. As a group, C5 hunts and eliminates students who cannot maintain their societal status and have fallen into one of a “commoner”.

However, the way C5 functions – though necessary for the plot – is unrealistic at best. The teachers and other authorities are virtually non-existent, and one would expect a school for elites to have their own forms of backing from a faction. Perhaps the writer intended for us to assume that the parents of C5 are the source of funding, nobody really knows.

In addition, the entirety of the student population is complacent and naive in a way, given how they actively step on those who fall down the social ladder. However, there is no guarantee that this will not happen to them one day, seeing how often people are eliminated. Then again, the intelligence of the elites fluctuates wildly throughout the drama. Oto’s mother does not appear to have much of a brain, Kaito is touted as a genius but does not manage to see the above-mentioned flaws in logic, Haruto has been trained all his life but somehow lacks sense and maturity, and Oto’s classmates are single-mindedly obsessed with desserts. At the same time Haruto’s father is ruthless and shrewd, and Tenma and his stepmother are subtle in speech and action. Everything seems too convenient and “it is the way it is”. At this point, the writer is unable to reconcile the dream-like setting with consistency in-universe, but this is probably why some people never really got into the Boys Over Flowers franchise.

 

The Meeting of the Leads

Either way, this sets up the source of the main conflict for now, but it is not for long before it is revealed that Haruto is quite different from the image he presents to the general student population. C5’s leader carefully crafts an image of invincibility, going as far as having Kobayashi the butler formulate various ridiculous rumours of his physical and mental abilities. And despite being the butler of an elite household, Kobayashi is a delightful character with a weird obsession with lucky charms, even influencing his young master into joining him in his fascination. Due to his age the butler injures his back one day and Haruto has to collect his beloved regular Mars Rocks delivery on Kobayashi’s behalf instead. This results in him finding out about Oto’s job while being embarrassed by the delivery order, creating a hilarious scenario that ends with Haruto leaving the convenience store in a state of shock and speechlessness. This is an entertaining way to introduce them to each other officially, and far more creative than those cliché knight-to-the-rescue type of meetings. Haruto launches into a frantic frenzy when thinking about the consequences of being found out for collecting a delivery of Mars Rocks, revealing the fact that he is simply a pure highschooler deep down below and only forced by circumstances to keep up his cold demeanour. The C5 are also less scary than they appear as they are just deliberately creating an aura of power to keep up the school’s formidable reputation and to not let down the legacy of F4. In other words, the C5 is a group of youths with misguided intentions.

 

Oto and Her Mother

The episode also covers ground on Oto’s family, the friendship between Oto and Tenma’s mothers, as well as the plotline involving a marriage agreement between both children which came forth from Tenma’s mother’s dying wish. A condition of the marriage agreement between them is that Oto has to attend Eitoku until 18. The issue is that ever since the girl’s family has fallen on hard times, Oto has been suffering a lot of stress on all sides and has begun re-evaluating the agreement and questioning if the benefits are worth the sacrifices. Oto’s mother, Mrs Edogawa, is a simple woman who has only known comfort all her life and sees things only on the surface. As mentioned previously, this is where one finds it hard to reconcile the writing of the character with the rules of the universe. Oto’s mother comes off as brainless, which is puzzling because although she was a rich sheltered young lady in the past it makes no sense for her to be so devoid of thinking skills given her constant contact with Tenma’s family and her experiences socialising all over the world. This character calls for some suspension of belief whenever she appears. Oto has to go to this school to uphold the marriage agreement with Tenma, but if it is causing much suffering on the daughter’s side would it not be better to just call it off? Oto’s mother continues prattling, going as far to say, “I hope you can marry Tenma so you can become the cheerful Oto again”, simply because the boy’s mother was her close friend and he is an ideal prince, yet never questions if her daughter actually likes him.

Although she is concerned about her daughter’s welfare, the way that it is phrased gets irritating at some point. It is because of the agreement that Oto has to go to Eitoku and has to worry about getting caught all the time. It is the cause of her stress, and no one would be cheerful in such a situation. The fact that she raised the possibility of not continuing her education at the school already hints at her not enjoying this sort of hide-and-seek lifestyle. At this point, though it is not portrayed as such, the girl’s mother is effectively guilt-tripping Oto into doing what she wants her to do. There is a slight chance the mother might be unaware of what she is doing since Oto loves her and wants to give her the best. One hopes that not only will the leads grow, but that Mrs Edogawa will also get to develop and mature along the course of the drama and learn not to indirectly enforce her own dreams and desires on her child.

Another issue is the miscommunication between Oto and her mother. Due to her great sense of responsibility, Oto does not inform her Mrs Edogawa of her suffering. She also views marriage to Tenma only as a means to ensure the survival of her family. However, the situation will not improve if the two do not communicate. The show portrays it as Oto being filial and kind, but the expense is that she has to endure all this in silence. Is a marriage arrangement that was agreed to when Oto’s family had the ability to keep her in the school still worth the trouble now that they can no longer afford it? I personally hope that the relationship between Oto and her mother will be addressed further down the story.

Looking at the situation, Tenma’s family is also unreasonable. If they truly would want their own son to marry Oto, they would understand Oto’s circumstances and alter the terms so that she may enjoy school. It appears that Tenma’s family is not as generous as they seem after all. I might be reading too much into it, but the absence of Tenma’s father beyond the opening and the way Tenma and his stepmother behave towards each other and towards Oto’s family gives one something to ponder about too.

 

Haruto’s First Steps

Despite any grievances that Oto might have against the whole situation, time waits for no one and continues flowing its course, dragging her into it. One day, delinquents harass an Eitoku student right on the school’s doorstep. Oto sees Haruto ignoring the student, and he asks her to shut up. It is the same time his mask starts crumbling and while he looks like he is trying to hold up the appearance, it is unsuccessful. Oto unabashedly calls him out on his pretense. You go, girl! Haruto’s mask disintegrates further and it is obvious that he is trying to hold himself together. All his life, he has been struggling to get attention from his family – and getting none – while acting like a king to the student body, and among friends who don’t even know all of his different sides. Haruto has been living a lonely existence. And out comes Oto, calling him out for his crap. Oto, despite her “commoner” status; Oto, who manages to see through him despite not knowing him that well; Oto, who directly calls him out and holds in accountable for bragging about his values but shunning them when the occasion calls for the upholding of them.

The scene in which Oto calls Haruto out is a powerful moment. To have Oto – out of everyone he has known all his life – be the one to expose him and dare him to live up to what he claims, is impactful. Contrary to what he thinks, Haruto has not grown yet. He has merely created the false phenomenon of power. He has yet to truly understand Doumyoji’s words and is merely engaging in blind hero worship. I like how they have Oto rush out headfirst to rescue the girl while Haruto continues battling his inner demons, interspersed with scenes from the past and his initial oath to become powerful. At this point, the guy is like a cocoon, but the butterfly emerges the next moment. Whether he succeeds or not, Haruto will leave this incident as a better man. He has taken the first real step to becoming stronger instead of just hiding behind a false image of himself. Through this scene it becomes even more evident that Haruto has been going around “protection” in the wrong manner. It is not filtering out people to maintain eliteness. It is protecting your own, caring about them, standing up for them when in need. It is the protection of actual people, not the eliteness of the school. This was exactly what Doumyoji had asked him to do, and Haruto finally realises his error after all these years. The entire scene is a revelation and Haruto finally takes action. As he prepares to fight, the tension peaks — he trips and somehow lands a punch squarely on the delinquent’s stomach. It is absolutely hilarious how Haruto somehow manages to defeat the delinquents by accident and then it ends up feeding into his rumour of invincibility.

The enjoyable thing about Hana Nochi Hare is its handling of the comedic moments. They feel organic and flow seamlessly from the normal and dramatic scenes and do not seem wrangled in. Nonetheless, the team goes overboard with this important character moment by inserting a cheering scene right after, making it feel cheesy compared to the great editing of the build-up towards the fight. It would have been better if Haruto’s scene had ended in a simple heartwarming manner without the over-the-top rallying and the cringe-inducing chanting of “C5! C5! C5!” But regardless of what we think, Haruto basks in that moment — only to crash back into reality when Oto waves the Mars Rocks from afar and gestures threateningly. What a reversal of roles. Oto may be the poor female lead but she has the fire and guts, whereas Haruto – though having “power” through his family background – is actually the “weaker” one. It creates an engaging dynamic between the two.

Although Haruto has taken his first baby step towards actual growth, he still has a lot of room to grow. Case in point: right after Oto’s attempt to blackmail him, he immediately thinks of getting rid of her because she poses a threat to his invincible image, calling her a “commoner” as a defence mechanism. He may have started truly protecting his people but he still has to get rid of his elitist mindset since status should not be something that dictates whether someone is worthy of protection. Perhaps in Haruto’s case it might be an attempt to feel like he has something over Oto as she has rubbed the fact that he is not as great as he thinks he is right into his face. And let status be the one thing that he consoles himself with, even though it’s such a sorry excuse for his behaviour.

There is another thing Haruto has yet to learn: loss and the pain of it. Oto has experienced it. Haruto has not. This fact causes his flippant attitude towards wealth and his ease with splurging. In his attempt to use his higher socioeconomic status to console himself, he invites Oto and Arisa to his house under the guise of generosity. (A slight digression, but the way the latter is acting in response to all this opulence is unrealistic. Perhaps the director should have instructed her to react in a more live-action appropiate version of excitable awe. One with less “faithfulness” towards manga-style portrayals of Arisa since her reaction feels out of character for the live-action version.) Losing control of himself, he gloats and the second call out of the episode occurs, with Oto pointing out that there is nothing fantastic about being rich. Here, Sugisaki Hana transits through multiple expressions, running from sorrow and disappointment to anger and disdain. Anyone less would have displayed a single layer of emotion, but Hana handles it brilliantly, making one sympathise with Oto while experiencing a sense of disappointment in Haruto at the same time.  In response, the latter acts like a bristling puppy trying to salvage his face but the more worked up he is about it, the more he fails. Hirano Sho does it all convincingly as he sputters at the turn of events.

Understandably upset, Oto leaves and Haruto chases after her. It’s then Tenma spots her from afar but she moves out of his line of sight right before she suddenly gets attacked by a lecherous colleague. Thankfully, Haruto catches up and attacks Oto’s colleague, leaving Tenma to arrive and see his fiancee together with his rival. The way Nakagawa Taishi’s Tenma sizes up Sho’s Haruto is very interesting. Very, very interesting. Taishi controls his gaze very well, with the right amount of wariness and danger yet also hiding a sliver of concern for Oto. With his arrival the tension in the air ratchets up a dozen notches. It’s safe to say that Taishi is the one in control of the entire scene, dictating the atmosphere.

 

Hirano Sho

Hirano Sho is decent enough. His bodily and facial expressions are average but his line delivery and voice control leave much to be desired. He does not catch the rhythm of the lines nor does he have great intonation. His voice quality is hoarse and breathy, but he does not control it well and it does not feel commanding. His voice does not really come up and project well, making it feel as if something is stuck in his throat. Sho embodies the character suitably in terms of the body frame, but he will need to work on his lines. I hope to see him improve over the drama.

Although I am still ambivalent about giving lead roles immediately to newbies, I think it works in this case since the character requires a certain raw freshness that seasoned veterans might not channel so honestly and openly like an actual new actor does.

 

Introduction Sequence

The introduction sequence is kitschy and reminiscent of early 2000s dramas. That is not say that such an aesthetic is inherently bad, but it feels out-of-place. One would have expected a sophisticated and sleek design, given that the whole story revolves around the rich and powerful and their high-flying lifestyle. The sequence is therefore a bit of a let-down, with its colour palette of primary colours that unfortunately only comes across as childish. You’d suppose the production team invested more funds into the casting and the renting of limousines and houses, leaving an insufficient share for the design team.

 

Conclusion

At the point of writing this, I have already watched the latest episode (Ep3). Hana Nochi Hare’s first episode is better than expected but has quite a few flaws of its own. I love the peppering of comical moments within the development of the main plot as they are actually funny and also provide some relief from the darker side of the drama such as Oto’s constant worrying and Tenma’s family issues. The biggest saving grace of it so far, however, is the earnestness of the leads. But besides Sugisaki Hana and Nakagawa Taishi, the cast does not have the force of personality that the cast of Hana Yori Dango had.

The whole drama is rather bland so far, and not the type that can be viewed as a serious candidate for classic hit status. It is very obvious that it’s hanging upon the influence of the Hana Yori Dango franchise and upon Taishi and Hana’s acting and ability to attract viewers. Sho’s Haruto, though comical, is not as outstanding and is nothing but a typical lead. It all just falls a bit flat somehow, especially for C5, partly due to the gap in acting and also the director’s decision to put the focus more on Haruto vs Tenma vs Oto. As a result, C5 feels more like a group of collateral characters that are just there for the sake of it. Hana Yori Dango, on the other hand, worked well as the members of F4 are all involved somehow. They are not just simply there in the way dramas typically delve into backgrounds of each side character, but because they have ties, investment, and stakes in the main conflict that the audience can relate to.

 


Project Profile

TitleHana Nochi Hare: Hanadan Next Season
Related WorkHana Yori Dango (2005)
ReleaseTBS, 2018
CastSugisaki Hana
Hirano Sho
Nakagawa Taishi
Hamada Tatsuomi
Iitoyo Marie
Imada Mio
Suzuki Jin
Nakata Keisuke