I'm still addicted to Japanese TV dorama. The latest marathon I had was 2005's H2~KIMI TO ITAHIBI, a baseball-themed romance adapted from the classic manga by Mitsuru Adachi.
What Mitsuru Adachi's H2 is to baseball is what Takehiko Inoue's Slam Dunk is to basketball. I read a bit of the H2 manga series, and bought the last volume for collection, watched a few episodes of the original animated series as well, but since I was barely eleven then, I was put off by its languid pace and understated tone, DRAGON BALL Z and YUYU HAKUSHO were more appealing to me then.
Adachi's other baseball manga, TOUCH, was also adapted into a live-action film that I watched earlier this year.
Seriously, I don't know a thing about baseball, but I somehow find baseball films rather appealing, like the Dennis Quaid-starrer, THE ROOKIE, or the Robert Redford one, THE NATURAL. They just make the whole thing seem so freaking suspenseful! ... yet I can never sit through an actual baseball game whenever it was on ESPN. Lifelong NBA fan, me.
I think H2 stands for the two main male characters of the film whose names begin with H. Hiro Kunimi (Takayuki Yamada, the dude from the 'DENSHO OTOKO' film and the CRYING OUT LOVE, IN THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD TV dorama) and his best friend/archrival/love rival, Hideo Tachibana (Koutaro Tanaka, also in CRYING OUT LOVE, IN THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD dorama). Or H2 is actually referring to the names of the two females they are involved with, Hikaru and Haruki... basically, the names of the four main characters begin with H. But why isn't the thing called H4? Maybe it ain't as cool.
I'll just copy and paste the summary from Jdorama.com cos I'm lazy.
Hiro Kunimi (Takayuki Yamada) was an ace pitcher in junior high school,until he was diagnosed by a doctor as having a "glass elbow". He gave up baseball and joined Senkawa Senior High School's soccer team. But then something happens that reignites his passion for baseball and he joins a baseball team managed by Haruka Koga (Satomi Ishihara). And he finds himself in a match against his old rival Hideo Tachibana (Koutaro Tanaka) who has advanced to Meiwa No.1 High School. The meeting of the two is observed by Hidehiro's girlfriend Hikari Amamiya (Yui Ichikawa). Meanwhile, Haruka finds herself increasingly drawn towards Hiro, despite his being interested only in baseball. It's a story about high school students who dream of appearing at Koushien baseball tournament and young love.
Series director is Tsutsumi Yukihiko, who also co-directed the successful CRYING OUT LOVE, IN THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD dorama, and the TRICK series.
So, besides baseball, the series really centers on the love triangle between Hiro, Hikaru and Hideo. Hiro and Hikaru were childhood friends and Hikaru ended up going out with Hideo thanks to Hiro, and it all happened only when Hiro belatedly realized his own feelings for Hikaru. Lots of regret and angst. There's also the chaste budding romance between Haruka and Hiro.
It's engaging soap opera-stuff, but not as horrifyingly puke-inducing as I described, since, as I mentioned, Adachi's manga is often rather understated, and the TV dorama is rather faithful to its source material... most of the time. After all, at least the romance and the sport can co-exist well in H2... imagine if SLAM DUNK, or PRINCE OF TENNIS tried to go for some serious romantic subplots. Rabid fangirls dying to see the male characters going at it will be displeased.
No mindblowing acting here, everyone's serviceable, Takayuki Yamada's sheer deadpan expression throughout the whole film is similar to his manga counterpart. Unfortunately, Yui Ichikawa (who replaced Aoi Miyazaki in the bleh-inducing NANA 2) MIGHT be the weakest link here. I don't know whether it had to do with the characterization, or her performance, or whether I was just annoyed by her doe-eyed-ness. But her Hikari just wasn't that likeable a character, there is just something artificial about her. So I wonder whether the artificiality stemmed from the character herself, or Ichikawa's acting. If this is intended by the director, then maybe it's quite a success.
However, due to Hikaru's lack of appeal (something I didn't seem to feel in the original manga), audiences are more likely going to root for the romance between Hiro and Haruka, and Hiro's lamented lost love with Hikaru actually feels less tragic or heartfelt, and more petty and dumb (on his part).
Have to admit that I was BLINDED, yes, BLINDED by Satomi Ishihara's overwhelming CUTENESS as the klutzy Haruka. So... cute! And that wide smile, aahhhhhhhh!
What sort of idiot would choose Hikaru over Haruka? I know I wouldn't. So for some strange reason, Hikaru feels like a villain in the series.
The entire series spans 3 years, so having three years worth of events, 41 volumes of manga, crammed into 11 episodes is a little dizzying. One thing I need to point out is that this is one of the most well-shot Japanese dorama series I've ever seen. Somehow, the cinematography here is really good, more so compared to many of the other higher-profile, bigger budget doramas (and even many feature films I've seen). Lots of scenes shot during the magic hour, thus increasing the romanticism when characters are standing at a wide sprawling grassy field, bathed in the golden lights of the setting sun.
The baseball scenes are aided by CGI effects, but they are still exciting to watch. After all, it's more or less an underdog story, so it's always cool to see Hiro Kunimi's insanely fast pitching, and then look forward to long-awaited final clash against Hideo, the star hitter.
Good series, though the whole Hiro - Hideo - Hikari triangie DOES become TOO melodramatic in the last few episodes, not as subtle and understated as Adachi's manga.
Currently starting to watch Takuya Kimura's KAREI-NARU ICHIZOKU (also bought during my trip in Taiwan), will voice out my thoughts once it's done.