Archives

A Story to Read When You First Fall in Love: The Age Gap Romance

Spoilers ahead.

Age Gap Romances are tricky. And, especially gaps where it’s the woman who is older. Depending on the story, they don’t always come across as believable, and then there’s just the Don’t-Even-Go-There! ones. A Story to Read When You First Fall in Love gets many, awesome story points, but as a romance, I wished they just didn’t even go there.

Maybe it’s because we now have so many lonely, aging, single women suddenly waking up to the fact that feminism has failed them. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason there are more and more age gap romance dramas where the women falls for a much younger man, or he falls for her, or whatever. It’s not totally unbelievable, certainly there are relationships like this in real life, however they are not the norm, and this sub-genre of romance is definitely also in the fantasy category. In this particular drama, a Japanese drama, it really only works for one reason: The female lead is extremely beautiful almost to the point of looking ageless. If she was an average looking woman, this relationship would be creepy. In fact, later on in the show, the show itself showcases the creepiness of such relationships using a woman of the same age who is slightly less beautiful, and more manipulative.

But I get ahead of myself. Harumi Junko is a cram school teacher who never really made it in life. She failed the test for Tokyo University and just settled into being sort of a nothing. She is thirty-two, still living with her parents, and at risk of losing her job because she’s not a popular teacher at the school. Through happenstance, Harumi comes in contact with a group of teenage boys and somewhat befriends them. Later on, one of the students, a boy with pink hair named Yuri comes to her cram school. He’s a slacker who decides he wants to pass the test for Tokyo University. This is a nearly impossible feat, for he’s barely up to junior high standards in scholastic activity. However, Harumi sees something in him, a bit of herself at the same age, and she strives to help him see this through despite difficult odds.

This in itself would have been a great story, no romance needed. But, because the writers decided to go the Don’t-Even-Go-There! route, it’s also a romance. Not just any romance, no. I am not sure what’s worse, the sixteen-year age gap, the fact that Yuri is a minor and only seventeen for most of the show, or the fact that they are very clearly teacher and student. I think the last fact is the stickler for me. Coming from an American perspective we have a lot–a lot–of thirty-something female teachers who end up in sexual relationships with their male students and have ended up charged with crimes, doing jail time, etc. Fortunately in this story the female lead is so utterly clueless about any romantic attention towards herself that it’s the farthest thing from her mind until about the last episode. That doesn’t really make it great, though.

A great platonic friendship between student and teacher would have made more sense. And this is because the largest portion of the show is all about Yuri studying and striving with blood, sweat, and tears to pass the test and make it to Tokyo university. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, on the show cheers him on. And so the romance is pushed to the side…yet it’s not.

Harumi actually has three possible love interests in the show, and all are Don’t-Even-Go-There! Besides Yuri, we have Masashi, Harumi’s successful cousin who works at a trading company and who incidentally went to Tokyo University. That’s right, he’s her cousin, her literal cousin who has been in love with her for twenty years and too scared to make an actual move. Then we have Kazuma who is not only Yuri’s teacher at school school, but the first person that Harumi ever taught. He’s a bad boy, who is awesome and flirty and…married. Yes, married. But he gets divorced. I wish I could say that made things better. It didn’t. Suffice to say, with three possibles and a very clueless heroine, the show actually has very little romance, so, so little that it could have been done away with altogether.

With Yuri, he’s a minor, and of course you can’t show Harumi wanting or doing something illegal, so that’s out. There’s not a lot of “story” to their love story. Then there’s her cousin. Same deal. Then there’s the sometimes married, sometimes divorced one. Same thing again. The only way the romance kind of works in the end is that Harumi finally gets a clue already and actually does something for herself for a change. Thankfully, by this point our pink-haired hero is nineteen. Still with the pink hair, though. Yes, this man will never change, not even his hair, so you, beautiful woman, sixteen years older, have nothing to fear.

Yet there’s a lot to love about this show. Not the title, which has nothing to do with anything, but the characters. Almost every single one of them turns out to be really good people. These are people that genuinely love and care about others, and that’s pretty awesome. The cousin in love wins us over by the fact that he really does love Harumi and wants what’s best for her. He is true to her and helps Yuri for the test any way he can even though this boy is his rival. Masashi just tried so hard, yet fails so miserably, one just can’t help but root for him. But by the end, he gets the truth: cousin or no cousin, Harumi is just not into him like that. Sad, but true. He has a great line, asking her to give him a clear rejection, so he can move on. That’s a life lesson there. Often we want to let people down easy and it’s better just to give them the straightforward truth so that they can move on and find the one who will love them.

The bad boy teacher makes the biggest, selfless move, seemingly giving up everything so that Yuri can have a chance at succeeding on the test. But his move sacrifices any chance he and Harumi could be together. It’s all okay, though, because he still loves his wife, or ex-wife, or whatever she is. At the end he says he’s courting her, which is rather cute, and he becomes a politician, giving up his teaching career. He also has the best flirtations on the show and a sort of dry humor. He and Harumi drink together and fall asleep. He touches her boobs, but swears to her he didn’t do anything else because he doesn’t want to sleep with her when she’s drunk. He wants them to be coherent and in love, etc. Puzzled, she asks, then why did you touch my boobs? Because they’re there, is his answer. That got a laugh out of me. I don’t know, sometimes in these shows it’s just nice having men being, well, men. And it was just refreshing that he didn’t come up with any big excuse or falling over apology that really wouldn’t have been sincere. She obviously forgives him, for they continue to be friends.

In addition to the heroine and the three love interests, all of the minor characters on this show are also great. Some strange at first, but they all come around and are, fantastic, caring people. Interestingly, none of them are truly put out by a Harumi-Yuri romance, but then this is a bit of a fantasy. It is also a comment that people of all ages do fall in love, and sometimes with those deemed unlikely to be the object of one’s affection.

It is true that age gaps matter less the older one is, however, it was just unseemly that Yuri was a minor and also her student. It’s hard not to see a “grooming” aspect in the story, and the writers know full well it is there as they address it later on with another teacher the same age as Harumi who definitely preys on her students in a romantic way. This is then swept away as she just does it to motivate them to study. Really?!? In the last episode many other teachers at the cram school state that when the students pass their exams they will often give love confessions to their teachers. Maybe stuff like that does happen, and sure, students sometimes get crushes on their teachers, but it’s odd to make it seem so lighthearted and so commonplace mixing romance with teacher-student relationships. Maybe I am just too cynical, but what’s the real agenda of such plot lines?

Age gaps: Sixteen years. This is one of the biggest age gaps I’ve seen in an Asian drama. My favorite one, High School King of Savvy, was ten years and definitely and solidly more of a romantic comedy, with a clear emphasis on both. They took pains to show how the pair was a match for each other and also that the young man was ready to be a man. It still has a bit of a weird factor, though. Then there’s Secret Love Affair that is almost a work of art when it comes to the sound and cinematography, but has a twenty-year age gap with the man being younger. In that one at least he’s not a minor, but the woman is married. Don’t-Even-Go-There! but the writers do and somehow manage to tell compelling stories while doing so.

You’re My Pet: Oddballs Find Each Other

Kim Wa Petto, or You’re My Pet is my second Japanese drama. Although I didn’t love it like Pretty Proofreader, the frustrating characters make one think, and it ends happily, which is always best case scenario with a RomCom. This one is the 2017 version by Fuji TV starring Noriko Iriyama and Jun Shison.

Sumire Iwaya (Iriyama) is a reporter with beauty and smarts who struggles at life and is basically her own worst enemy. One night she gets very drunk and mistakes a young man hiding in a cardboard box for a puppy she had as a kid named Momo. Takeshi Goda (Shison) carries her home and ends up staying…as Sumire’s pet! If that wasn’t weird enough, there is an age gap of ten years. Takeshi, or “Momo” is 20 and Sumire about to turn 30. The pet thing is strange on its own, but made worse by the fact that Momo easily could pass for a teenager.

Despite all of that, I liked the main relationship and romance and wanted to see more of it. Here, chemistry is a key factor. The two leads are an instant family, though the specifics of their relationship get worked out over time. In contrast to that, we watch Sumire suffer miserably through a relationship that can never work. Sometimes chemistry just doesn’t develop, even with time.

It was tedious and also horrifying to watch as Sumire fails time and again to simply be herself with a man she was once in love with. Shigehito Hasumi, played by the handsome Terunosuke Takezai, is unfortunately equally clueless. Both are not comfortable with each other, but persist and persist, as if loveless sex can simply cover over the problem. It was so irritating it made me want to tear my hair out, but sometimes it takes people forever to realize the truth, and, more importantly, to act on it. Later on Hasumi gets a “pet,” too, and it is actually those humans that help the two finally understand that their relationship is just not going to work.

Takeshi says he likes Sumire in part because she’s not a fighter, she won’t compete for him or run after him or anything. That kinda makes sense because usually the men like to do the chasing, but he is truly blessed with a patience for her as she stumbles through a personal life filled with insecurity and lack of self-confidence. The pet thing begins as a sort of joke, Sumire is really trying to get Takeshi to leave and is surprised when he agrees to be her pet, or, rather agrees to make her his Sugar Momma. We find later that on the first night she kissed him, and perhaps it is that which is still keeping him around. But the only satisfying explanation is that they have instant chemistry and get each other in a way no one else does.

As for Takeshi, we get to know him in his profession as a dancer–a profession in which he excels–however he seriously lacks screen time compared to Hasumi. Incidentally, we don’t really get to know Hasumi, either, but despite being overbearing in his attentions to Sumire and failing to notice how uncomfortable she is, he’s a good guy. He’s sadly such a good guy that he lets a scheming receptionist in his company seduce him. Well, sort of. In the end, the two are a good match and seem to actually like each other, if not love each other.

By the end of the show, I found it to have been a tedious watch. Good, peppy intro song, but not nearly as funny as I thought it would be. Sumire is agonizingly slow to realize she’s fallen in love with Takeshi, and it’s sad that her character has such low self-esteem that she can’t simply break off her relationship with Hasumi. It was great when both finally happened, but it should have happened about ten episodes before that. Hasumi perhaps has a similar insecurity, which is why he didn’t break it off, either. The manga this was based on and the other TV/movie versions of this story are hopefully better.

The pet thing was weird, but I kinda get it, it’s a role play, a way or excuse to care for and love someone in ways that would normally not be accepted unless one is dating the person. Sumire and Takeshi are instantly physically close due to this role play, and it was really the age difference that was holding Sumire back. Holding her back, perhaps, because although she’s a decade older, she’s not nearly as mature as him. A large age gap with the woman as the older one is kind of a new subgenre in RomComs. Probably A, because there’s a ton of older women who are single and alone, B, youth is attractive, C, young men are often still more eager to please the women than many of their older counterparts. It’s difficult to imagine Hasumi, for example agreeing to be a pet to a woman. He’s just too old for it, and once Takeshi finally decides to stop playing around, he’s the same. The age gap works here because Sumire is immature for her age and Takeshi is mature for his, although it may not seem so at first.

It’s unclear how many Sugar Mommas Takeshi has had in the past, but Sumire with her insecurity helps him leave that lifestyle behind, taking on manliness and the leadership and willingness to provide that comes with it. In turn, Sumire truly learns to rely and trust another person. She can completely be herself with him, and sometimes I think that is an aspect that really defines love. Yes, there is uncomfortableness sometimes due to chemistry and sexual attraction, or even just misunderstandings, but at some point that wall is broken down if the relationship is real and going to last. The worst aspect about Sumire’s forced relationship with Hasumi was that neither tried ways of making it better. They just continued on hoping things would change. That’s not love. Love deals with things, really deals with them. Lovers shouldn’t brush problems under the rug, but seriously examine them. If what you have can’t pass that test, then what you have may not be love! All the time, Takeshi was trying to help the two, especially to get Sumire to open up to Hasumi. I think if she’d been able to do that, and able to rely on Hasumi and let him help her with things, the two would have made it, but it would have taken ages before either felt like family with the other.

You’re My Pet was a show of oddballs, and the biggest ones all ended up together. If America did this show, it would have been…way kinky. This story was portrayed largely very innocently, and although it did involve some sex, it clearly showed that simply having sex doesn’t and can’t make one happy. A good lesson. Love is really the thing to pursue. On the whole, the show was neither funny nor romantic, yet somehow it’s still a RomCom. Both leads did a great job acting, especially Iriyama as Sumire. She’s a difficult character on so many levels. Not a show I would watch again, but perhaps will someday check out some of the other remakes.

6 Quick Drama Reviews

Tale of the Nine-Tailed

Starring Lee Dong Wook (Goblin) and Jo Bo Ah (Shut Up Flower Boy Band). 2021.

Enjoying it a lot more the second time. The characters are all great.

The Devotion of Suspect X

This one’s a Chinese movie from 2017. Starring Wang Kai (When a Snail Falls in Love) and Zhang Lu Yi. Directed by Alec Su.

Although I really liked a lot of the shots and the silence of the movie, it just wasn’t compelling. It’s a murder mystery that’s too easy to figure out, and although the friendship of the main two men is interesting, the story just isn’t thrilling in the way it could have been. The movie is based on a book and there are some other adaptations, so might check those out sometime.

One Page Love

Starring Hashimoto Kanna. 2019 Japanese drama directed by Keita Motohashi. Not having much luck with the Jdramas. This one I will maybe finish eventually, but I find the main character boring. And three love interests in a little much for only a few episodes.

The Divine Fury

Korean movie from 2019. Although I love me some Park Seo Joon (What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?), this was too scary for me. And the theology was certain to bother me before long, so I gave up.

Touch Your Heart

2019 Kdrama starring the much beloved second lead couple from Goblin: Lee Dong Wook and Yoo In Na. Am only on episode 2, but it’s pretty funny, the kind of romcom women love to watch and probably most men hate to watch. Both main characters are simultaneously lovable and annoying. Whatever youth serum the two leads are ingesting, I want some! They look great.

Doom at Your Service

This one is 2021 and currently on air. Starring Seo In Guk (The Smile Has Left Your Eyes) and Park Bo Young (Strong Women Do Bong Soon), it is a slow-burn supernatural romance with fantastic acting, an odd world in which the god of it is pictured as a young women who must continually die for the world. Definitely not as powerful as Jesus. He only had to die once for all time. There’s a lot to like – the acting and chemistry between the leads is awesome. The soundtrack’s pretty good, and the love triangle subplot with the minor characters is unexpected and interesting on its own. Still, the show is a bit slow for me and muddled. The world isn’t so far (I’m on episode 10) explained well to my satisfaction and I would prefer more action. No real villain so far, except for Doom himself, and the god girl who sometimes seems good, sometimes malicious. As it’s got SIG in it, I may do a longer review when I finish it.

Updates

I’m getting so, so close to finally finishing my initial draft of TfD, Season 3. It would help if I actually wrote from time to time…but, there’s so many distracting–look, a squirrel! As I’ve committed to a book fair this fall, I’ve got to start to be on the ball, already. Fighting!

As for reading, I am now on Prince Caspian in the Narnia series and am just going to write a blog post once I’m done with the whole series. Have lately to find a Regency Romance that I like enough to actually finish to review. Nonfiction reading: Dr. Mütter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, and then The Story of Japanese Tea by Tyas Sosen (I don’t know how to make the line above the o). Thriller reading: The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong, and then the second book in the Bowers Files series.

Pretty Proofreader: 100%!

Who doesn’t love a story about a person who gives 100% in what they do? These books, movies, and shows are always inspiring to me and I wish there were more of them. One of my favorites of these is Morning Glory, starring Rachel McAdams, and I think the girl power version of this 100% dedication could be its own sub-genre.

The Japanese drama Pretty Proofreader is the second J-drama I tried on Viki and this was a hit! What a show! Perhaps I’m a teensy bit biased as I used to proofread for a codebook (city and county ordinances) company and often miss doing it. Proofreading is one of those unsung heroes types of jobs, especially as the reality is that very few of one’s suggestions are often taken. It requires dedication in the face of that.

Etsuko Kono, played by the petite Satomi Ishihara is a bubbly, vivacious fashionista in her late 20s. Ever since graduating, she’s applied every year to the publishing house that owns Lassy fashion magazine, hoping to get hired as an editor. She is the magazine’s biggest fan, having kept all of their copies over the years and reading them cover to cover. To her surprise, I think this is the 7th or 8th time, she is finally hired! But it’s to the proofreading department in the basement.

At first Etsuko is disappointed, but she quickly rallies, delving into the proofreading with a relish she probably didn’t know she had. Her greatest skill is checking the facts of the novels she proofreads, and soon she’s taking off at all hours of the work day to confirm things. This isn’t so unusual, fact checking is a part of proofreading, but the proofreaders usually just stay at their desks. Some of her colleagues previously built model houses, acted out sword fights, and the like, but soon all of them are out and about, checking the facts and getting to know more of their countrymen in the process. If only real proofreading jobs were more like this! Perhaps there are some, but it may take persistence to find them. Etsuko’s blatant questioning of some of the novelists choices would probably normally get her fired, but here, they quickly warm to her and are encouraged by her to do even better jobs at writing.

Yukito, the love interest, becomes so fascinated by the proofreaders that few know about, that it inspires him to write a whole book on all of the unsung heroes in Japanese civilization, the people who keep the electricity going, the trains running safely, and so on.

If one knows Japanese, the show would be even more enjoyable, because there’s a lot of play on words–much to her chagrin, Etsuko Kono, or Kono Etsuko is shortened by her colleagues to koestu, which literally means copywriting, and I know I likely missed a lot of that not knowing much of the language.

As is traditional with these stories, there is a romance, but it was kind of meh. Yukito (Masaki Suda) is a college student and magazine model who runs into Etsuko by accident. They click right away, but over the course of the show there didn’t seem to be real chemistry. She had more chemistry with the editor for the proofreading department, Mr. Kaizuka (Munetaka Aoki), who she calls Octopus. Perhaps because Yukito is quieter and more blasé, and the other two are loud and dynamic, that’s why I thought they got along better, but, honestly, I just found Mr. K to be more manly and attractive and was hoping they would change course and make the romance with him. Oh well. Etsuko and Yukito support each other well in their work and lives, and maybe that’s more important than a lot of passion.

Etsuko lives above a neighborhood Odon restaurant owned by a friend of her dad’s, and her apartment is cute, but she spends at least half of her time there in the restaurant. Odon is a hot pot or soup that’s popular in Japan and the show inspired me to try and make it sometime. I find most Asian foods from whichever country to be delicious, so it’s always fun to try new ones. Odon is from the Kantu region in Japan, and the broth is made of dashi, or fish and kelp stock, and miso. The main ingredients in the soup are usually fish cakes, boiled eggs, and daikon radishes. Not sure how I’m going to find or make fish cakes.

Pretty Proofreader is only 11 episodes, but the time is used well, and it’s a warm blanket type of show as there’s really no outright villains, and almost every character is caring and caring of others. It’s very, very sweet and comforting to watch, even if it is fantasy. I have noticed with K-dramas and now this J-drama that the characters are often more caring and kind to each other on American shows. This is maybe because most American shows are plot driven, but really it’s probably our independence here. We take much pride in doing things ourselves, and bottom lines often override everything else. The characters in this show are workaholics also, but it’s portrayed as work uplifting and meaningful to their souls, not a lot of talk about making money. What talk there is, is portrayed as troublesome and missing the mark of both connecting with people and doing a good job. It’s a refreshing perspective, though I’m not sure how much of it is true of either Korea or Japan, having never lived there.

Unsurprisingly, this show is based on a book of the same name. There is a Chinese version, and I do know a smidgeon of Chinese, but I’ll have to put getting this book out of my head as I’m trying to learn Korean enough to read their novels. It’s very slow going: Never have I fluently learned another language.

Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone!!