I wanted to like this more – Girls Gaku drama review

Seemingly a lifetime ago (i.e. July) I wrote up my first impression of this drama. Given it’s outside my usual bubble of drama-watching habits, I wasn’t sure how exactly this series would play out. In many aspects, Girls Gaku: Girls Garden was about what I anticipated. On the other hand my title says it all- I wanted to like this drama more then I do. Of course, before getting into the entirely we gotta talk story here, so let’s go!

Girls Gaku is actually a live-action sequel of the animated series Girls Gaku: Sei Girls Square Gakuin, which wrapped a few months before this drama aired. The anime covered the core events, which is training academy aimed at producing female talent, and cumulating in the girl’s performing at their annual event/competition Girls’ Arena.

The drama picks up after the conclusion of Girls’ Area, where the winners – east², west², and south² who now make up Girls² have been scattered to train abroad. Now only the members of east² remain at the academy as the winners and student council. The principal summons the girls, Yuzuha, Toa and Ran and declares that they have one final assignment before they graduate and debut!

Admittedly, this is significantly more information then is presented within the series. If you aren’t aware this series is a sequel to the anime you will be a bit lost as to certain events. Characters and their dynamics will just appear and you won’t know if they’re from the anime, or a live action exclusive until the final third of the episode. It’s a bit chaotic, but it does keep you engaged if you don’t know, and it’s a nice tie-in if you do. The nature of this series being a bit chaotic, but still enjoyable is maintained throughout.

The biggest problem is the cast. Not their acting, but how big it is. The members of Girls², nine in total are the respective leads, and then add in supporting, guest, etc characters and even without much effort the cast is already bloated. Girl’s Gaku did it’s best to alleviate this by having one or two members be the ‘main’ for an episode, introduce and or then transitioning to the next member(s) for the first ten-ish episodes. A factor that works for anime, but not so much in live action form.

On top of this is that due to the timing, a mere twelve, 24 minute episodes, all the girls are reduced to a single trait. Momoka is the girl that likes food. Kira is the one that’s most dance focused, etc. All the character development of the anime is more or less sidelined, making these 3D girls feel more flat then their animated counterparts (to my knowledge). It’s a bit disappointing since this seems to be a discrepancy in the audience. Were they aiming for an audience like me who had never seen the anime, or the audience who had? It’s not clear by a lot of the choices made.

This being the animated source material; I wish it had been incorporated better.

On top of this was then subplots, which by the end… ended up usurping the main cast’s actual goal in terms of storytelling. I can’t tell you how odd it was to watch each girl get their story, see how it clicked in place for their final ‘assignment’ only for them to be sidelined by the supporting adult cast’s story as the last conflict where the girls were just players in their game. Don’t get me wrong; it was laid out in a manner that made sense in the story and the shift from Girls² to the supporting characters wasn’t something the preteen audience likely noticed. As an adult viewer though it made me perplexed. I wish it had been written so that Girls² remained in focus the entire series, since this is suppose to be their story.

I don’t want to drag this too long but some other issues were the stilted dialogue, and pacing issues. I chalk the dialogue up to being kids/preteen programing where this is somewhat common. It didn’t bug me so much as it was just noticeable in my adult perspective. The pacing was significantly more of an issue and something only noticible when watching without commerical breaks. A lot of sequences weren’t timed correctly, and time wasn’t alloted to the more pressing or impactful scenes.

The pacing issue were only exaggerated with the way this series was framed. It wasn’t good, and there were a lot of sequences I am genuinely in disbelief made the final cut. Half or more of a frame wasted by an object blocking the camera, main characters not being in focus, that’s just wasted space. I appreciate the director trying to add some flair to it, but don’t waste frames when the series is already so short! I’m so frustrated for Kureha and her episode in particular. She had two running montages, and neither of them had a stable enough camera for her to be in focus! It’s her episode, and she’s a main character! These types of mistakes on the director, editor and filming crews part were too often, and really squandered the efforts of the actors.

Image from livedoor; not the worst offender, but seriously they couldn’t get the two characters out of the foreground and use the camera as a framing point by shifting a few feet over?

Which, leads me to my commentary on the actual acting. Based on where all the members of Girls² came from, which is the various Girls x Heroine! franchises, everyone was on an even playing field in terms of experience and it showed. There’s a lot of things, (dialogue again), that were borrowed from their earlier roles. This means that no particular member outshone, and no one dragged down the overall performance. In terms of the supporting and guest cast; no one particularly of note in that department either. Overall, a well balanced sense of actors here which honestly led to some rather… bland to unremarkable results thanks to editing and production.

I made some noise about all the ads and tie-ins in my first remarks. Once I started watching online, this was significantly less irritating. In terms of the story, especially when it comes to the ‘assignment’ all the product placement in food, clothes, make-up, etc. makes sense. I mean it’s set in Harajuku and aimed at preteen girls; there’s a lot of money to be made there. I didn’t mind the repetitive nature of Girls², latest single being included since the song is catchy and the dance is top notch.

All in all, I think Girl’s Gaku was always intended to be a middle of the road series, made for fans but not intended to capture an additional audience. It managed to connect nicely enough to where the anime left off, to my knowledge, and the sequence of events was by the book but entertaining. What’s truly disappointing is how bad this looks due to production errors. It’s just okay, and not worth your time unless you’re already previously invested in a cast member, or the anime. With that unfortunate low note, I’ll see you next post.

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