So I have finally finished M: Ai Subeki Hito ga Ite, a series that I had eagerly anticipated earlier this year. This series had some ups and downs with production, the COVID-19 pandemic causing the series to get suspended after episode three, having the drama episodes allegedly cut down, but returned and finished rather quickly. The Ayumi fan in me wanted to jump back in right away, but something held me back. Let’s talk about it.
As a refresher, let’s first talk about the story of M. The drama is based off Ayumi Hamasaki’s biography (of the same title), and is the highly fictionalized story of Ayumi Hamasaki’s training, and debut. Set in the 1990’s, Ayu (Anzai Kalen) decides one day to pursue her dream of becoming a star, moving from Fukuoka to Tokyo. She ends up by fate meeting Max Masa (Miura Shohei), the executive director of record label A Victory. With his words, he promises Ayu stardom and success. The story also has Ayu’s trials and tribulation, her developing feelings, jealous rivals and so much more.
With all the goodness and personal hype I had for this series, it makes me very embarrassed to admit that there was one reason I didn’t finish this series sooner. That being, there was a particular character that made me keep this series at bay. No, it was not Kalen Anzai’s portrayal of Ayu, although we’ll get there. It was actually Tanaka Minami who played Reika, i.e. the eye patch secretary, who viewers either loved or hated. Personally, I was on the latter half of that.
Reika never existed at Avex. So her character was created, rightfully so, to add another layer of drama and suspense to the series. Is she really evil, or just obsessive? Will she or won’t she help Max and Ayu? That kind of thing. The problem is that Tanaka Minami did such a good job portraying the over the top, possessive secretary that she drowned out who was actually suppose to be the star, Ayu i.e. Kalen. She’s excelled at Reika too well, that she stuck out every episode. It really threw off my viewing pleasure. Which, is why I was surprised to read, although now of course my source is gone, that during the suspension they allegedy re-wrote the script to cut Reika’s appearences down from the main plot. However, I think Tanaka Minami is the real winner considering right after M finished, her own spin-off L: Reika no Shinjitsu aired. So good for her!
The opposite end of the spectrum in terms of acting, it’s time to talk about Ms. Kalen Anzai as Ayu. She’s the crux of this series considering she’s the main character. We have to keep in mind that this is also her first ever role. I say this as someone who sincerely hopes that Kalen Anzai goes on to do great things but… She has absolutely no presence as an actress. She does not have the same charms and charisma of Ayu, nor can she replicate them in acting. Her expressions were limited, and she’s didn’t have the emotional depth to deliver any sort of passion beyond the most superfisical kind. It didn’t help her appearance wandered into uncanny valley between the obvious circle lenses, and copied outfits. She felt closer to looking like the third member of FEMM then the next Ayumi Hamasaki.
I have to give her props that when she was allowed to use her vocals, she was excellent. It was very clear that she was singing for real for the early recording scenes, and vocal training. The director then of course would switch to Ayumi’s real vocals for all performances. Kalen knows how to utilize a backing track though, since the lip-syncing was damn near perfect. And that’s about where my praise ends. The appearance is uncanny in a bad way, and while I’m not disappointed in Kalen’s performance (to be honest I was expecting a little worse), but I’m certainly not impressed.
With that, let’s talk about the truly excellent of the series, Miura Shohei as Masa. I might hate the real Max Masa because he’s a piece of scum, but boy did Miura Shoei portray his passion and ambitions well. At some points, I really was convinced that it was Masa the person, not Shohei the actor engaging with Ayu on screen. I really don’t feel compelled to elaborate further then that. A truly good performance needs few words, just being viewing, and I’m of the firm belief that Miura Shohei is that type of actor in this series. Watching will tell you more then I could ever articulate.
Playing into that, and potentially my personal bias, was Shirahama Alan as Nagarukawa (i.e. Rukawa) as a sort of secondary male figure. Rukawa was another fictionalized character like Reika added in to make more drama. Unlike Reika, Rukawa served the role of showing a contrast between the greats and the just so-so’s in the music business. He was much more kind, significantly less flamboyant, a guy that knows what he’s doing, but hasn’t quite had the moment to push him into being the next big thing. However, he served a really nice contrast balance to Masa’s ambitions. Rukawa also rather naturally was able to defuse the more tense moments of the drama without the bombastic conclusions that Reika would provide if it was the same situation.
I think what was even more important was he and Shohei had a prior project together (Daytime Shooting Star anyone?), that fostered a very solid sempai-kohai chemistry off camera, that translated well on camera and in character. Unlike Kalen who would got buried at times by Shohei’s skill, Alan stood his ground and managed to push back a bit at times. A few of the scenes where Max criticized Rukawa to be more selfish and take what he wants, was clearly just meant to be in drama character to character. My mind interpreted that scene as being somewhat meta and Shohei calling out Alan to rise to the challenge as an actor. It was a layered performance in my fan-girl opinions and one that was incredibly well done at that.
Now onto the story itself, since I had a problem with it. This drama is already an adaptation of a novel, and intended to be a dramatic retelling not an accurate one. Nonetheless a few elements within the story telling didn’t sit well with me. The big one being the glorification of Masa and Ayu’s relationship. She was underage and a struggling artist. He was an adult in a position of power. The creepy tone of that should not be removed from the portrayal just because Reika and Masa’s relationship is more outlandish, nor should it be removed just because Miura Shohei was playing Max.
Aside from that, I don’t have any major complaints about the story actually. The additional sub-plots added in worked well enough. Ayu vs. AXELS ‘rivalry’ helped incorporate some idol troupes that might have been absent without it. The members of AXELS unfortunately, despite being four members felt more like one member, Risa (Kubota Sayu) and three back-up dancers. Their motivations were simple and effective enough ‘beat Ayu’, but it lacked any backbone to it. Their conclusion was effective and wrapped up rather nicely, while adding to the impact that Ayu’s music had on those even competing with her.
The other relationships, were a nice touch but not outstanding. Rukawa’s and his eventual partner in the series felt a bit shoe-horned in but acceptable. The subplot of Masa and Reika mostly took the cake, but felt rather distracting in terms of overall story. It was acted out incredibly well and the dynamic was there. It just felt more like interference then really contributing to the overall story. Drama for the sake of drama if you will, but at least it was watchable.
In terms of the ending it was rather too picture-esque for my tastes. Anyone who knows anything about Ayumi Hamasaki knew the ending would be a positive one more or less. She’s still the empress of Jpop for a reason. So all the additional fluff, and everyone being won over felt a bit too much to me personally.
Overall, M: Subeki Hito ga Ite, was a clean concise drama with a rather interesting set of conclusions for the story and this review. The cast as a whole were excellent, but the degrees of success in the portrayal and relevance to the story-line made it iffy. This story is fun for the Ayumi Hamasaki fans, and maybe for those who are fans of specific actors, but not a must-see by any means. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be jamming to M, the song, for the millionth time.
Nice review. I actually decided to watch the drama because of Alan and Shohei. The story was so-so to me but I loved the cast. Minami as Reika was great but I absolutely hated the character. Although Kalen tried, I felt she was underwhelming compared to even Risa. My favourite character though had to be the Tenma Sensei. That part where she shouted ‘Are you stupid?’ was so damn funny
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Thank you! Alan and Shohei are the big draw for this series. And I totally agree about Minami as Reika, great job, but I hated her character so bad.
Tenma Sensei is the true hero of the series. “Are you stupid?” with her voice and the scarf over the shoulder is too iconic.
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