Ah yes, early December, an ideal time to talk about a drama set in the middle of summer vacation in Japan. It’s also a drama that I thought for sure I would be aware of due to the main cast being Bishonen of Johnny’s Jr, but ultimately not see. Mostly because it didn’t air on a TV station I get at home, nor was it on any of my streaming services. That is until a particular subber announced the project, and well, here we are!
However, once I celebrating being able to see this series I had to reign in my enthusiasm. Just a little. I’ll talk about that in a minute. First, I should let you know what the story is.
Satoru (Sato Ryuga), Ryuji (Iwasaki Taisho), and Atsushi (Ukisho Hidaka) are three 2nd year high school students, with the image of yankees. All three just look the part, but are actually just country boys at heart. They have a secret hideout that they kill time at after school, where on one evening a particularly large thunderstorm occurs. The trio’s hideout, with them inside of it, is struck by lighting and after the strike, a World War II solider appears holding them at gunpoint. This solider is none other then Mihara Sanpai (Hakata Hanamaru), a private from the year 1945, that has been mysteriously transported into the year 2020! The trio invite Sanpai to stay with them for the summer, eventually roping in the Class President Michifumi (Nasu Yuto), and twin brothers Akihiko (Fujii Naoki) and Kazuhiko (Kanasashi Issei) in their unforgettable summer. Of course, with three wannabe trouble makers, and a ‘Showa Era’ man in a small town; things will inevitably get interesting.
Which sounds like a very interesting premise on paper. It does need to be taken with a grain of salt, given this is a Johnny’s Jr drama. Being honest, most prior dramas starring the Juniors are average at best in most regards to story and acting. Fun for the fans, but for those looking for quality usually a pass. So while I was invested in Bishonen, and the really good storyline, I didn’t want to hype this up too much.
Midsummers Boys, I have to say blew my expectations out of the water. Being completely honest, it even kicked We Apply for an “Easy” Job, Snow Man’s last Jr. era drama, out of the top spot for best Johnny’s Jr. drama so far. The first episode was incredibly engaging. It was well-written, smartly cut to set all the other main player characters up, and kept you on your toes. I mean, I purposefully left out the biggest event of the story out of the description to boot!
The drama also managed to circumvent my bias when it comes to idol dramas. A lot of times I get distracted by the ‘real person’ behind the character, verses the character being a stand alone figure played by the idol. I hope that makes sense. While watching, I totally forgot it was Bishonen in the main roles, and just took the story as it was. It’s very rare that a Jr. drama has managed to have that good of a story, and executed in a manner to make me do that!
The main reason for the is that Midsummer Boys was set up better then prior dramas. There’s no episodic nature ‘boy of the week and his problems’ formula to it. Proper character archs for each boy were set up, reached their peak, and transitioned to the next event very smoothly. Another element is that the story isn’t being held together by a character played by Bishonen, but rather by Sanpei’s adjustments to the real world, and other events occurring at school or in town. A few moments include, Sanpei and the supermarket, an indie guitarist’s viral hit, the town’s fireworks display, and all of these events being covered by the love them or hate them school broadcasting club.
The school broadcasting club, actually being the supporting cast that actually does their job, support the main cast. While I found the male character rather bland, Akina the brains of the duo played by Yanai Yumena was brilliant. I was so utterly conflicted by her character in the best of ways the entire time. Good media, bad media, framing of stories, and rescinding certain statements were all covered. They’re never the bad guys, but they never really came off completely good either which was extremely well executed within the story, especially when it related back to our main cast.
I have to say as a whole the supporting cast was pretty hit or miss. The majority of the hits were in the adult characters. Mostly through Sakura the school store clerk, who served as a bridge between adults and kids. This was latter complimented by Akihiko and Kazuhiko’s mother, the mayor of Tomimura City. About the only adult I had to roll my eyes at was Michifumi’s mother who was a tiger mom, mostly due to my person bias. It’s unfortunate that the students were not given the same treatment. There were a lot of fluff students who are named and shown on screen but never actually played any significant role. They were mostly female, and mostly did nothing more then be a one-off stepping stone to progress the plot. I also, absolutely hated how they set up Atsushi’s stalker becoming his sort of girlfriend, just NO Johnny’s N.O.
What was more significant was the critical role of Sanpei, played by Hakata Hanamaru. Of all things, I wasn’t anticipating finding out he’s a comedian. That explains his stage presence, and top-notch comedic timing demonstrated throughout the story. He reads like a long-time pro on camera, capturing a variety of emotions that would have surely been felt by a Showa Era man, and one transported into a familiar but not land. Having Sanpei be the character to round the Midsummer Boys’ experiences, and offer seemingly dated but still accurate commentary really propelled the series forward into being much more fulfilling. It’s one thing for a teacher to say something trite like ‘don’t act in anger’. It’s another for a grown adult who experienced life in a completely different era, to say, ‘Remember that anger, and use it to make a change’.
This leads to of course to talking about Bishonen’s performance, since they are the main cast after all. The on-screen chemistry, once they were introduced and fit into their spot within the story, was there. As actors they’re all about on the same level of intensity and experiance that worked together well. None of them truly stood out in a grandiose manner, but that wasn’t the goal of this drama.
I have to say that Iwasaki Taisho, Fujii Naoki and Nasu Yuto didn’t really stand out to me. They were good, they fit in, but weren’t impressive. This is a nit-pick because it was the last episode, but whoever shot Kanasashi Issei’s crying scene needs to be fired. It was not flattering, and was filmed so different then the rest that it stuck out for the wrong reasons. Issei himself, was the same as prior mentioned. I did like how Sato Ryuga handled Satoru’s character overall. That was some choice casting since of all the boys, Sato Ryuga on camera has the most presence. Which might be contributed to the blonde hair, but time will tell.
Personally, I think Ukisho Hideka had the most impressive performance. He was first member to really become his character to me in the series. He was closely followed by Sato Ryuga, and Nasu Yuto. However, Hideka really did become Atsushi in the series, so I am anticipating future projects he might be cast in.
Now for the all important question; does Midsummer Boys deserve a recommendation? The answer is, surprisingly, an overwhelming yes. It is in fact a Johnny’s Jr drama, but it has way more story and soul to it then prior projects that any watcher can enjoy. It’s by no means perfect, but it is incredibly enjoyable and worth your time. Be sure to give “Manatsu no Shonen English Subs” a search online, and you’ll find it. Now’s the perfect time to escape into summer as the harsh winter comes. With that I’ll see you next post!