A-Z Drama Challenge: Zettai Kareshi

I did it! I made it to the end of my list! At least for the dramas that I intended to review here on my blog. The fine details don’t matter to anyone but me at the moment, so let’s go ahead and continue. Zettai Kareshi, or Absolute Boyfriend in North America is a title I put on my plan to watch back when I first started tracking my JDrama consumption on MDL. I had the brilliant idea that I was going to read every Shojo Beat branch manga, hunt down their live action adaptation, etc, etc.

Zettai Kareshi stuck around my plan to watch even after my great clean up of 2018, because it has robot-human dynamics. If my favorite series, and the ones I gravitate towards show any patterns it’s that I love a good exploration of what makes us human through the sci-fi lenses of machinary. Despite it’s age, Zettai Kareshi does hold up thematically, even if the beauty standards have changed quite a bit.

For those not in the know, Zettai Kareshi (2008) is the story of Izawa Riko (Aibu Saki) a temporary worker for the famous Asamoto Confectionary Company. She has no luck in love, all the guys she’s interested in are turned off by her homemade, old fashioned ideas of romance, and otherwise already spoken for. After another unofficial rejection, she is found by Namikiri Gaku (Sasaki Kuranosuke) an employee of Kronos Heaven, a robotic lover production company. With Riko’s high standards, she’s roped into making the first model 01, of their nightly lover series – the catch being that 01 who becomes Tenjo Night (Hayami Momomichi) costs a fortune! Between Riko’s hesitancy in a robot lover, Namikiri’s selfish means, and Night’s almost human advances there’s a lot on the line, especially with Asamoto Soushi (Mizushima Hiro) taking an interest in Riko after tasting her cream puffs. What can Riko do in a situation like this??

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this but – I don’t have too many deep thoughts about this series. My notes mostly consist of the differences of the live action compared to what I recalled from the manga, some notes about the storyline, and finally just me fangirling about Night x Riko, then Soshi x Riko, and my dilemma of knowing how the series was going to end from the start….

This is the ending theme which was so sweet. Very nostalgic.

I knew from when I first put it on my list how the story would go, was patiently waiting and considering the whole thing, and still ended up in tears lamenting over those who were lost. It’s honestly the first time, or at least that I can recall, that I still managed to get emotional knowing the major spoilers of the story. I think that does speak a lot of the story quality of Zettai Kareshi though.

I will be honest, with 2008 now fourteen years ago – Zettai Kareshi doesn’t hold up image-wise. The production looks pretty dated between the fashion, technology, even the script and way it was filmed. It feels a little clunky, making a point to let us see as much as possible, like a manga panel – but also forgetting to have close ups or subtly that manga panels have.

I’m also not a fan of the sepia tones they would use during certain scenes. This was done to replicate a sunny day when it’s obvious they filmed on a overcast one – the actual quality of the video and it aging not helping this even more. I suppose that the wide camera angles, and tone are a stylistic choice, but being honest I think this was just following the overall trend of the shojo manga to live action drama boom that was going on around this time.

It’s also worth noting that there are some huge deviations from the source material, Watase Yu’s 2003 smash hit Zettai Kareshi i.e. Absolute Boyfriend. I think anyone already familiar with the series noticed that in my synopsis. The biggest changes to me were: aging the human cast from high school to their early twenties, and Soushi going from a nerdy neighbor to a playboy business man.

I know that there are purists that will think this changes tarnish the series, and it’s not a true adaptation. Personally, I don’t really agree with that perspective. I think aging the character to being adults was inevitable – showing the original premise in 2008 as it was, was never going to get green lit by a production company nor would it garner any sponsors. The other changes, I didn’t mind, it made my viewing experience interesting as least from a compare/contrast perspective.

What was most important for me, was that the core themes of the manga translated into the live action. Namikiri Gaku was still a sleezy salesman, but he did grow to respect and cherish Riko and Night as customers and maybe even friends. He was clearly invested in making the best product possible, and like a true scientist as Night began to change – so did he. There’s the moral grey of is it right to make such a product, that interferes with our mundane human lives?

The best part was watching Night in real time become human. Hayami Mokomichi would not have been my first pick to play Night. I mean aside from the abs, I really had to squint to see why he was cast over all the other it-boy’s of the era. (Being completely transparent I’m genuinely surprised Yamashita Tomohisa or another Johnny’s wasn’t cast as Night. Neither here nor there.) However, watching Hayami’s performance I totally see why. There’s the quirky moments of ‘actor pretending he’s a robot’ for giggles, which are then coupled with completely natural moments, and then those rare but truly off-putting seconds of uncanny valley acting. The combination of these three, after the second or third episode is what sold me. A robot like Night would have to act similar to this, especially since he’s the first of his kind. It was stunning, Hayami Mokomichi really should have gotten more kudos for this performance.

The second best part was watching Riko get exactly what she wanted, and realizing that it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Then watching her grow alongside of Night in compromises, and elaborating on how how a feature she chose should be executed verses how it was programmed. It was really oddly sweet to watch. Aibu Saki was not familiar to me before this role, and that’s for the best. She truly felt like Riko through and through, with her earnest nature and being just a little too picky for her own good.

I want to comment about Soushi, played by Mizushima Hiro – he’s very take it or leave it. Personally, if you’re a purist for the manga, you’ll hate the changes to his character. If you’re like me and flexible to changes of the adaptation – he’s one to watch. I don’t want to alter your potentially watching experience with my thoughts too much though.

Overall, I’ll stand by that Zettai Kareshi is one you watch for the themes of the story, not the production quality itself. It’s also a nice nostalgia trip for those looking for something a little more simplistic, a little closer to when JDramas were in their ‘golden years’ for many. For me, Zettai Kareshi is a zettai watch – but your mileage may very.

So that’s my conclusion for the A-Z drama challenge! At least the reviewed titles here on the blog. I have a few more loose ends (as of writing) to cross off my list before my challenge is complete. I’ll be reflecting on this experience sometime next year, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for that!



    • Thank you!! Absolute Boyfriend was another one for me I hadn’t thought about forever, but now I’m feeling super nostalgic. It’s certainly a choice, but maybe since it’s been so long you wouldn’t be too bothered? lol

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Congrats on completing the list!! I remember reading Absolute Boyfriend a few years ago, it does feel a lot nostalgic after reading this post. Although the manga itself was good, the ending did leave me a little unsatisfied due to development leading nowhere. Hope the drama was better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Absolute Boyfriend as the manga was super solid. I have to say the ending of the drama was parallel to the manga (from what I remember). Still a really interesting take on a classic.

      Liked by 1 person

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