18 May 2008
Recently the manga 'Hana-Kimi' (shortened from 'Hanazakari no Kimitachi e' which translates into something like 'For You In Full Blossom') finished its English run. What some fans of the manga might not be aware of that in 2007 it was adapted into a live-action television drama in Japan, spanning 14 45-minute episodes. It even won awards! If you've no interest or experience in either the manga or the show, this post is not for you. Stop reading now.
Okay, awards aside, we must now pose the question: Hana-Kimi - Most Unfaithful Live Action Adaptation Ever?
Definitely not, but let's examine the glaring differences all the same. Spoilers within!
The premise remains the same: half-Japanese Mizuki Ashiya runs away from home in America to go to high school in Japan. However, she wants to go to the same high school as her idol, Sano Izumi. The problem is, he goes to an all-boys boarding school. Problem? That�s no problem! She then (against all sorts of crazy odds) succeeds in posing as a boy and enrols in the school, and as the shoujo gods of fate would have it, was even lucky enough to wind up in his class and sharing his dorm room in a twist of romance novel convenience. Naturally, hijinks of the hilarious gender-bending variety ensue.
It's actually unfair to accuse the live-action of being unfaithful to the manga as though it�s a bad thing. In many cases, this does in fact turn out to be a pretty good thing. For starters, the live-action does one very important thing that the manga failed to, and that was to provide a realistic motive for Mizuki to go through the trouble of infiltrating the school. In the manga it comes across as a rather flimsy, poorly thought out decision to be near the high jumper she idolised. This is more or less stalking of the highest degree, and yet nobody - including the victim - appeared to be at all freaked out by that. It also removed a lot of the potential romantic development, which honestly - given that it is a shoujo series - is the whole darn point of the story. It was easy enough to forget about this rather glaring oversight and immerse yourself in the amusing shenanigans, but whenever the point came up the believability ship started to sink.
To avoid falling into this death trap, the live-action instead wove in some extra details where Mizuki was indirectly responsible for Sano's injury that made him quit the high jump, instead of it being an unrelated accident. Wracked with guilt, she infiltrated the school to set things right. It was far more believable that guilt could drive her to make such a drastic move, and with her continual insistence that she was only staying until Sano started high jump again, the romantic development actually had a small question mark above it (even though common sense told the viewer that it was inevitable). This small change did wonders for the series.
While the plot nicely plugged some gaping holes in the leap, the characters suffered an odd transition. While the main three of Mizuki, Sano and Nakatsu were very well cast, there were a number of supporting characters who underwent changes that just didn't make any sense.
Let's start with Nao. Nao was meant to be short pretty boy whose primary role was camouflage for Mizuki by being even girlier than she was. However in the live-action version he was instead a slightly chubby, peppy weirdo with a bad haircut, and this change really made Mizuki stand out like a sore thumb. It made you wonder how on earth anybody could ever mistake her for a guy, even dressed in the uniform. They probably should have cast a girl in Nao's role and just lied about it.
The next character casualty was the head of Dorm 2. In the manga he was a sensitive, vain, overdramatic soul. Also, German. In the live-action, he was just some sort of freak who liked dancing, wore a shiny cape, and was prone to getting possessed by spirits every five minutes FOR NO REASON AT ALL. He wasn�t an important enough character for the change to really mess things up too much, but it was HORRIBLY ANNOYING. The urge to fast-forward through any and all scenes featuring his character due to embarrassment was overpowering.
The third oddity was Dr Umeda. Overall, they did a pretty good job with him, but honestly- why no glasses? Dr Umeda wore glasses. It's possibly the easiest prop to add to a costume in the world, and they skipped it. This is a mystery. It's easy enough to understand the inability to find actors suiting some of the more outrageous characters, and outright stupid to try and mimic some of the designs in a manga... but glasses. It's baffling. They tried so hard with some characters, and then dropped the ball with the others. Or rather, threw the ball out of the window. And then it rolled off a cliff. Into a pit of spikes.
Even more unusual was Doctor Umeda's friend. In the live-action, they seem to have cut corners by combining two characters - Umeda's overenthusiastic photographer stalker with Sano's overenthusiastic photographer stalker. Looking back on it critically, I'm starting to think that the manga was mostly about stalking. In any case, this sort of change created a weird subplot that didn't exactly mesh with Umeda's character very cleanly.
There were a number of other character discrepancies, but as they almost universally affected minor characters, they're not worth noting. More interesting was the crazy partying going on with the plot. Plot wise, the giant hole plugging of Mizuki's motivation wasn't the only thing that changed, though it was probably the best thing. Some of the changes were understandable, and actually brought a bit extra to the story. Seeing the formation of the Sakura Student Council occur was sort of neat. And the sister all-girls schools of St Blossoms had a much larger role that made for some nice subplots and good humour.
There were some changes, though, that didn�t make a lot of sense. For starters, there was this school principal added - a mysterious lady who seemed to spend most of the year everywhere but the school - who then issued challenges to the dorms with lavish prizes for the winners. While this was an excellent vehicle for all sorts of amusing gags, and was in fact present in a different form in the manga canon, it became a major feature and was immediately stretched into the ridiculous. But hey, easy enough to overlook! They also added a whole section about Mizuki's parents visiting her, which was sort of overkill because they kept the subplot with her brother.
Several events were rearranged, which weren't such a big deal - it was sort of neat not having Sano know that Mizuki was a girl RIGHT from the start, and conversely, having the terribly conflicted Nakatsu find out a little earlier made for some interesting times - especially when he and Sano teamed up to keep Mizuki's secret without her knowledge. But some of the omissions were a little disappointing - such as the incident at the beach house where Mizuki gets herself into trouble, and Sano saves the day, which was supposed to be a bit of a wake-up call for Mizuki in regards to how close she cut things sometimes. They certainly went to the beach house, but the worst thing to happen was a silly competition with Kagurazaka, and Sano wasn't even present. And rather than Mizuki being egged into helping out by Dr Umeda for the beach house job, she�s kidnapped in the middle of the night by her classmates who drag her along! WHY? They didn't even offer a proper explanation for that! The only thing I can think of was that they really wanted to have some scary bizarre cliffhanger to end the previous episode on!
All in all, you can actually read the manga and watch the television show and have two ENTIRELY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES. Whether or not faithfulness to the source material is a good thing or not is a matter of debate - both mediums did different things right and wrong. Both were hilarious and feel-good, though both were probably a bit too long and turned to filler. The storyline featuring the main characters for the most part was handled better in the live-action, but the supporting cast was somewhat hit-and-miss. Both were missing some of the best gags of the others. Honestly, if you enjoyed one, it�s worth checking out the other one.
There still is the question, though - how hard is it to give a character glasses?! I'd really like to know what drove that decision. Still, barrels of fun for all involved, if the die-hard manga fans (are there any?) can get past the blatant disregard for the source material.