Well, you heard about this series once. One that I actually said, and I quote “as long as the energy and shenanigans from the first episode continues as the series goes along; this might be one of the best dramas of the summer!” here way back in July. When I put that that much faith, and admittedly that much hype on a series – I need to follow through with a full review of it now that it’s finished! So let’s go ahead and jump into that premise for those who don’t know.
Hayame Katsuragi’s (Nikaido Fumi) married life comes to an abrupt end, when she confronts her then husband Masahiro (Inowaki Kai) about his affair. Masahiro, no match for Hayame’s strong sense of justice, confesses and quietly asks for divorce. Without much forward thinking, Hayame immediately leaves their residence with a single suitcase, managing to humble an affluent brat Issei (Maeda Gordon), only to then be robbed and left camping in the park. Issei, taking delight in getting her back, manages to manipulate her into staying at his home and playing penalty games for his own entertainment, and eventually to repay a debt after Hayame accidentally damages an expensive hanging scroll. Thus, the sparks from games or something more, begin!
My first impression was that we were going to get a somewhat ‘over acted’ Japanese drama adaptation of a manga. The stereotype of Japanese dramas i.e. just being live action anime. Over exaggerated expressions and gestures, circumstances that just got continually more obnoxious if not downright comical, other elements along those lines. Personally, as I stated in my initial impression I was down for a high energy and summer shenanigans, but was pleasantly surprised that this was toned down moving forward. It never fully went away, but eased off so that scenes could be nuanced and that serious moments would make their impact.
I have to say this is large and part due to some A+ casting, and cast chemistry. The first and most importantly being Nikaido Fumi as Hayame. I loved Hayame’s character and how she was portrayed. Hayame has a strong sense of justice, and it’s shown to be the strongest character trait she has. Normally, this trait is always shone as being good or the correct way of thinking. With Hayame though, it shows that her intentions are good that the results, aren’t always as she thinks they should be. Plus, Nikaido Fumi is just such a great actress in general. She was able to balance the more comical ‘anime’ like moments, with the serious scenes perfectly. Her character to character interactions, no matter what circumstance felt so genuine. I also appreciated that later in the story when it becomes apparently who she’s interested in, Hayame does have a crisis of consciousness. Not anything dramatic, but I’m just glad there was a very clear point that Hayame is aware of the prior dynamic of her relationships, and how introducing new elements to it changes it.
Next of course is Maeda Gordon as Issei. Admittedly, I was on the fence with how this would go. My prior impression of him was incredibly hit or miss, and with the more seasoned cast I wasn’t sure how he’d hold up. I was pleasantly surprised, and then blown away in retrospect. Issei actually felt like a real teen boy when I was watching. To the point I’d refer to him as a gremlin, as I do with actual teen boys in my life. He was prideful and often times misguided in his actions due to this and his affluence. He didn’t immediately unlearn this, but naturally realized the error of his ways and changed, clumsily and non-linearly as real people do. His initial pride was counter balanced with a concealed sense of purity, and at times naivety. This combo was very prevalent when it came to his relationship with Hayame, and reaches a critical point when he decided he wants to ‘push the ball forward’. Overall, an incredible performance and he genuinely shows a lot of promise as an actor.
There’s then Iwata Takanori as Seigo, Issei’s older brother. Man, he does look fantastic in this series. I never understood Second Lead Syndrome (SLS) until this drama. Because while I understand why it couldn’t have happened, I was hoping and praying the entire time that there would be some moment of turn around. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be here. Iwata Takanori for how his role played out, and how his character worked was awesome. He’s really starting to feel like he’s got his acting roots solidified.
I also have to say that this is a drama that absolutely shines with it’s supporting cast as well. Fujita Akemi, played by Tomochika in particular stands out. Having an older woman who understood Hayame’s relationship issues there to consult and guide Hayame in her new job was awesome. And as much as Koya (Kaneko Nobuaki) was kinda slimy at the beginning; he really did an excellent job tying all the cast together, as well as defusing certain situations was stunning. Last for this section is Kinuko (Matsui Rena) who I won’t talk extensively about, but will mention. She’s one to look out for since I loved how she was initially set up, but was bummed about the rather… too clean of an ending she got. But, she was a great character to see unfold despite that.
Story-wise, it’s solid. I’m not sure how much of it was altered from the manga, but it flowed really well in this adaptation. The story was easy to follow, and fairly low stakes until around episode 7. It never gets too wild, but the build up and then decline was well done. There’s a few red herrings plot-wise to keep it interesting, but nothing that will have you going ‘well how did we get here’.
I would comment about the romance itself, but I think I’ve left enough hints prior to let you know how I felt. What I will give Promise Cinderella is that they set up the chemistry for the final couple really well. Enough where enough I had to admit defeat, even if that wasn’t until the final hour lol. I’ll still pout about my ship not sailing in private.
Location-wise; absolutely gorgeous. The Kataoka Ryokan looks lovely and is a real ryokan so when corona subsides I will be off to visit it. The Kataoka house had the perfect balance of affluence, but actually feels lived in and not just… rich people being rich.
However, I was disappointed with a particular episode’s editing. Episodes one through six, had nice balance in terms of plot development, locations, character development, music, audio mixing etc. Episode seven noticeably was off from this. The locations were unnaturally bright, almost filtered looking the entire time despite it not needing it. The background music more than once overwhelmed the spoken dialogue, which was actually really important to the plot and why the next set of events occured. And some of the final scenes of the episode did not read well on screen at all. Episodes eight through ten had none of these issues, so it didn’t completely turn me off but it was so odd when looking at the whole picture.
As a recovery point, I do have to have Promise Cinderella a lot of points for having a reoccurring motif of shoes. It’s not the most original motif, since it is playing off of Cinderella, but it was used so well. Every time shoes were a point in the story, it was centered in a different circumstance that was a turning point for Hayame. It was incorporated in such a manner that I hadn’t noticed it while watching, but once the series finished I looked back and had an ‘ah! that was really clever!’ set of moments. It makes me really happy when something isn’t a one and done motif, or just tied to one particular storyline.
We now have to return to the all important prediction, was Promise Cinderella the “best drama of the summer”? Unfortunately, my answer is mixed. I think it was a great summer evening drama, but I don’t think it realized it’s full potential (mostly that pesky episode 7, and Kinuko’s conclusion!). Overall, I recommend taking this one at face value and just letting it be a fun summer drama. Not everything needs to have deep meaning perfection and this series proves that. With that I’ll see you next post!