Well, I wasn’t expecting a Junior Exile cross over in a drama about an under performing school and pro wrestling but 2022 is full of JDrama weirdness we’ve come to expect. Fukumen D being that drama, and being one I absolutely had to check out since it stars Sekiguchi Mandy of Generations, and is the debut drama for Takechi Kaisei of The Rampage, as well as for Matsui Riki of Ballistik Boyz. It was going to be a time either way and I was down for it.
Daichi Daisuke (Sekiguchi Mandy) is a passionate high school teacher, but unfortunately has hit a career altering stumbling block early on. He is transferred to a troubled school allows him once again to try his hand at changing student’s lives through education. The only problem is that his students all have problems that take them out of the classroom and deter their education. On one of his attempts to help his stray students, Daichi ends up scouted by the BBT as a pro wrestler! Not willing to put his identity at risk, he dawns a mask, and becomes Fukumen D! As he puts his body on the line in the ring, he puts his mind at work to help his troubled students!
Being succinct, Fukumen D is a well produced but lackluster drama. Run by AbemaTV, the show is comparable to all their other productions as of late. It’s fresh, clean, and modern fully intending to copy the glitz and glamour of their South Korean contemporaries, but with a distinct Japanese twist. The locations, camera work, and all the behind the scenes work is excellent. I give them major props for having proper sound design, since the dialogue was always clear regardless of the situation. AbemaTV also stacked the cast with young talents, Mizusawa Rintaro, Akita Shiori, Sota Ryousuke and Konno Ayaka being the stand-outs as pure actors. Then they gave the series a little something more, with the aforementioned Junior Exile members. The final bow on this drama package was it’s 45 to 50 minute per episode run time, at just eight episodes. Just enough time to flesh out a story, explore the characters, conclude all the arcs, and finish it up before overstaying it’s welcome.
The problem is despite all the aforementioned good elements – the show failed to capture my attention. Like clockwork, I’d sit down, start the episode, pause it about 17 minutes in, drift off mentally and eventually remind myself to finish what I’d started.
It wasn’t boring – let me be clear. It just truly failed to capture my attention. Much like Seito ga Jinsei wo Yarinaoseru Gakko (2021), I know teacher specific inspo-porn when I see it, and Fukumen D is just that. I am sure that if I weren’t in education as a job, I would have a very different perspective on this series. Unfortunately, my own experiences crept in and I just didn’t click with this one. I also have a bit of a problem with the framing of the series, something that is spoiler heavy so I will make an add on at the bottom of this post discussing it further.
Given now much of an Junior Exile fan I am, I do want to spend a little bit of time talking about the boys. For this being Matsui Riki’s first role, he was passable as Maeda Chikara. His character wasn’t one of Daichi’s homeroom students, so he didn’t get highlighted in that regard. Even in the BBT, he was a scout/trainer verses a wrestler so again most of his character was secondary. Unfortunately, Riki’s character Chikara had a very distinct way of emphasizing certain words, which made his dialogue at times incomprehensible to my non-native ear.
Takechi Kaisei as Haoh, this was a strong start. Kaisei has the physical build to be a convincing wrestler, as well as background in karate for the opening episode. Again, his character wasn’t one of Daichi’s students, and while he was the closest thing the BBT had as an antagonist for Daichi – he didn’t quite have the screen presence to really win me over. He was accurate in his role, and to my knowledge he did a lot of his own stunt work, which is a solid positive. Haoh just didn’t get enough time to build his story as tightly as the students or Daichi.
Then there’s the man of the hour, Sekiguchi Mandy as Daichi. It’s certainly a step up from his days as a secondary support/comic relief roles which is good to see. Unfortunately, Daichi’s character is a bit too thin to really pull deep emotion from, aside from the superficial “I believe in my students always, and strive to do the straight and narrow choice”. Which was starting to lose it’s charm by the end of the second episode. Mandy much like Kaisei, does have the physique and training to pull off Daichi at least in visuals. It’s again worth noting, that to my knowledge he did a lot of his own stunt work in this one. Plus, he worked incredibly well off of Kaisei in particular, especially in the final episode. But… as much as I love Mandy as a dancer, performer, and vocalist – acting is not his strong suit. He lacks the role diversity and experience to be the main character in a series like this. Let me be clear – he was passable, much like his aforementioned juniors. But being passable rarely cuts it when it comes to being the main character of a story.
Outside from that, Fukumen D is a solid, but lackluster series for me. It has a lot on the technical side to make it shine production-wise, and there are some gemstone moments of true emotion in the series. Unfortunately for me, my own personal bias in terms of content on the series, really colored my experience with this one. Not an outright skip, but one where you’ll need one or more actor to pull you in. With that, I’ll see you next post!
AFTER REVIEW ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS
The following is my extensive thoughts regarding the framing of Fukumen D‘s student/school problems and pro wrestling in the series. This framing is the largest contributing factor as to why Fukumen D failed to get my attention, and largely why I didn’t like the series. As previously mentioned, this does contain heavy spoilers for the series. Please read at your own discretion.
I think my biggest problem with this drama was the juxtaposition of very real problems, with a very fake sport. The societal issues that Daichi’s students face: poverty, crime as victims and perpetrators, teenage pregnancy just to name a few are intense. Fukumen D does a lot to make that clear, and give these stories some nuance and elaboration on it’s not just one thing that’s stopping this student from being successful – it’s systemic.
Compare that with pro-wrestling, which is very much fake. The matches have a pre-determined winner, with a pre-determined wrestling choreography, with the wrestler’s adding in their personal flair and a bit of improvisation to make it convincing. There are no (at least there should not be) any real physical, or mental stakes on the wrestler aside from a good performance. It has to be that way, otherwise the wrestler’s could get seriously hurt, as was shown by the Takada Akio’s career ending match.
Fukumen D is intentionally lying to the audience, characters, and maybe even Daichi. I don’t think it’s wrong that the BBT is ‘lying’ about the matches to the audience. Long-time fans know it’s fake. If Daichi’s students are inspired by his wrestling to try harder and persevere I don’t think that’s a bad thing. JDramas as a whole are fictional, but people are touching/inspired/etc by them all the time.
What gets complicated is that this fact, wrestling is fake, is seemingly withheld from Daichi Sensei – that’s dangerous. I don’t recall a single conversation between Daichi Sensei and anyone affiliated with the BBT explaining this very important fact to him. It’s one thing to withhold certain information until the right time, it’s another to NOT tell a wrestling noob a foundational fact and have him enter the ring. While of course he didn’t actually hurt anyone, it’s fake because it’s a drama, the implication could have had Daichi seriously injuring his fellow wrestlers or himself.
I get that the drama was trying to parallel Daichi’s teachings and morals, with his fighting style. That the good guy who doesn’t give up, will always come out on top, because justice or whatever – but just adding in the simple fact that, wrestling matches are predetermined – tarnishes, and even at points ruins the message Fukumen D is trying to portray. At least in my eyes it looks and feels more cunning then it was intended to be. Then again, and I sincerely hope I missed it while my attention drifted and that they did address this, although I’m genuinely unsure if it would make the cut in dialogue.
And that really is unfortunate, because I do think Fukumen D had some really poignant storylines, and good points about education as a whole.
Thanks for the review. The truth is I was mostly concerned about whether Mandy could pull off a serious lead role and he seems to have tried his best a little. But I agree with you that acting is not his strength. That being said, I think there is room for improvement (I mean look at Reo and Ryota).
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No problem! I think with more time and better role diversity (he did so well in his Cinema Fighters role!!), he could build his way up to a serious main character. I think this was just a little too soon for him. Hopefully it allows him to be cast in more serious roles in the future. Fingers crossed that he gets more chances in the future!