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Nobuta wo Produce - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Nobuta wo Produce

Japan 2005

Number of Episodes: 10
Running Time: 45 min.

Comedy, Drama

Hitoshi Iwamoto
Norika Sakuma

Kazuya Kamenashi
Tomohisa Yamashita
Maki Horikita
Erika Toda
Takashi Ukaji
Mari Natsuki
Yoshinori Okada
Kiyoshiro Imawano
Yuto Nakajima
Fumiko Mizuta
Shunsuke Daito
Katsumi Takahashi
Rumi Hiiragi
Kanako Fukaura
Mansaku Fuwa

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Nobuta wo Produce

aka The Makeover

Story: Shuji Kiritani (Kazuya Kamenashi) sees school as a game. A game, in which it is most crucial to survive. That is way he is putting on a mask when going to school. He is the coolest guy at school, gets along with everyone and has the most beautiful girl as his girlfriend. However, when it comes to it, he actually has not one true single friend among his buddies. He even doesn't really love his girlfriend, but only goes out on dates with her to keep up appearances. Nonetheless, there is only one guy Shuji can't stand: Akira Kusano (Tomohisa Yamashita). Kusano is an annoying and odd guy, who oftentimes follows Shuji whereever he goes and seems to have some special interest in him. Maybe he is the only one who realizes that Shuji has never shown anyone his true character?
One day new student Nobuko Kotani (Maki Horikita) enters class. She is quiet, talks strange, moves strange and always radiates an aura of darkness. She is predestinated to be bullied by her classmates and that's also what happening, sometimes in a really harsh way. Still, Kotani seems to be used to it already. However, Shuji starts to develop some interest in her, because he always wanted to do something extraordinary before leaving school. Along with Akira he decides to "produce" the newly named Nobuta, in order for her to become the most popular girl at school. That's a task not easily accomplished, even the more as Nobuko/Nobuta doesn't seem to be willing to lie to herself and play a different character than the one she really is. Shuji constantly meets with the two in secret, but soon he realizes that he doesn't only learn to be more honest thanks to the two, but that there are also important lessons of life he is now able to understand because of them. What seemed impossible at the beginning becomes reality - the three become friends.

Review: At first, this might sound like your standard Cinderella story, but it actually proves to be an astonishinly well-done profound series around friendship, life and all the obstacles we have to get over in life. "Nobuta wo Produce" is a wonderful drama, that manages like none other to balance between comedy and drama without ever running the risk to become a typical tearjerker drama. That's also surely the reason why "Nobuta wo Produce" is so captivating and touching. Along the way the different characters also provide us with worldly wisdoms, that our protagonists learn to live up to. The show might shed light on the lives of teenagers and their confusion in life, but it always remains surprisingly mature without refraining from bestowing a good share of humor and wacky character on the series.

For a good TV show, apart from a good story, interesting and three-dimensional characters are indispensable. "Nobuta wo Produce" has everything of it. We get lots of very colorful individuals, who all provide pools of precious things to discover. However, without a doubt the focus lies on Shuji, Nobuta and Akira.
Shuji is someone who thinks that school is simply a game. You just need to know the rules to survive in it. And Shuji seems to know them pretty well. He puts on his mask every day, transforming into the coolest guy at the school. The rituals he cultivates with his buddies every day are completely loony and thus especially believable, as we surely all know similar greeting rituals from back when we were at school (just think about the hilarious: "Bye-bye-cycle!"). But there is not a single one of Shuji's buddies who actually knows him.
Furthermore, we also get insight into Shuji's world of thoughts, which shows us that he never says what he's actually thinking. He completely becomes one with the character he is playing, which is why he and his friends later on have to realize that he is an lonesome being in his heart. Most likely, that's also the reason why the bond that connects him with the outsiders Nobuko and Akira becomes stronger with every day that passes. Shuji is very popular among the students, everyone seems to want something from him, and he is willing to give also, as he is an individual that thinks of what he wants himself last. His true nature, however, is something only Akira and Nobuta can discover after some time.

Nobuta is the typical quiet, withdrawn outsider, who naturally becomes the victim of her bullying classmates. She has been tyrannized since her childhood, which is why she almost got used to it and doesn't care anymore. Shuji and Akira, however, want to change things. Of course Nobuta is by far not what you would call ugly, it's just that she behaves like an ugly duck. Which is one of the reasons why "Nobuta wo Produce" is so great and stands out from similar TV shows. The producers of the series don't make the mistake to just give Nobuta some new clothes and a trendy hair style, that make her look like a completely new person. No, Nobuta stays true to her nature and soon realizes that she can't turn into someone she actually isn't. The only thing that changes about her is that she develops a more proper self-esteem. Shuji learns from this and derives something for himself that changes him, too. Still, Nobuta somehow always remains the somber girl. Yet she can easily win over our sympathies. And whenever she hits in some "Nobuta Power, Enter" along with the appropriate body moves to encourage herself, which stands totally in contrast to the rest of her character, she look exceptionally cute in her own charming way.

Kazuya Kamenashi as Shuji and Maki Horikita as Nobuta provide some really great performaces, but the true highlight of the show is Akira, who is played by Tomohisa Yamashita in an absolutely astonishing way. You've never seen an individual like this before. He's somehow at the same time intro- and extroverted, sometimes he is quite annoying, but it's still impossible not to like him. His lunacy and kinkiness know no bounds and thus even rubs off on his two friends. Akira seems weird in a credible manner, the way you can come across in real life, too.
The series is also full of stars and several interesting, even though sometimes too comic-like characters, which the book store owner is a good example for. Erika Toda ("Death Note"), being a J-Idol by profession, plays the girlfriend of Shuji and Fumiko Mizuta ("Swing Girls"), who I'm quite taken with somehow, plays the leader of the girl clique that makes Nobuta's life a living hell. Furthermore, there are several more or less important characters. For instance, there is the teacher of the class "2-B" or the female vize president, who is played by Mari Natsuki in a hilariously, yet honestly extroverted manner. She always has an eye on her students and stands by them with words and deeds. Sometimes, however, it feels a bit contrived, that she is always at the right place at the right time to provide the protagonists with her advice to keep them going.

Unfortunately, we only get to know little about Nobuta's and Akira's family. The series really would have benefited from it if there would have been some more background story about them. However, it's a different story when it comes to Shuji, as we actually get to see more of his family. Every time he is with his father or little brother - his mother is seldomly at home as she is always on business trips - we see more of his true face. It's also great how we are introduced to his father. With a distorted face the father stares at the TV screen when a live report about a crashed airplane is aired, an airplane of which one of the passengers is said to be Shuji's mother. Although this is actually a pretty serious scene, you just have to laugh out loud the moment you see this man who can't get out a single word and looks as if being seconds aways from a heart attack. The guilty conscience we have is soon soothed, when we find out that Shuji's mother wasn't on board of the plane, natch.
Also very refreshing is that we don't get your standard love story woven into the plot. Every now and then there might be some hints into that direction, and Akira indeed seems to fall in love with Nobuta somewhere during the show, but we soon realize that the series is centering around the love between friends, even though "love" might not be a word often used in that context.

"Nobuta wo Produce" is very funny thanks to its wacky characters, offers enough lighthearted moments, but then again also has a slightly serious undertone most of the time, which never feels forced at all. The three friends grow into adults, learn what it means to be yourself and not the one others might want to see in you, and they succeed in overcoming any obstacle in life, due to their strong friendship. The show's mood is oftentimes bittersweet, heartwarming and heartrending at the same time. It's that well working mixture, that is the attraction of the show.
There are used different kinds of color filters in "Nobuta wo Produce". Mostly, there is made excessive use of the yellow-reddish colors of the sun. These pictures often convey the feeling of the dawn of a promising future, which is also accompanied by fitting music. Which brings us to Yoshihiro Ikes fantastic score, that always underlines the prevailing mood in an appropriate manner.
The directing is pretty well-done, in general, along with some nice tricks, e.g. the scenes when the lights turn out in the class room and only our three heroes are illuminated by a ray of light. Sometimes this accentuates their loneliness, at others the bonds of their friendship.

Nonetheless, there are also some points to criticize. Some of the supernatural insertions revolving around three ghosts in particular, or a dream concerning a suicide, somehow don't fit into the series. Also, the ending feels a bit too sad regarding the mood of the rest of the drama, even though the ending also stresses how much the characters have grown. They are adults now and know how to handle life. Shuji still likes to compare life to a game, but at the end he points out that it's a game worth playing to the very end, and that the most important thing is to have fun while playing it. Despite all the drama of the series' finale there is always this warm cozy feeling, that leaves us with a smile after the ending of this way too short TV series.
"Nobuta wo Produce" is a great and outstanding TV show about friendship, growing up and about what it means to be yourself. The series radiates hilarious humor everywhere and provides us with colorful characters to which we easily can relate to. This show always hits the right notes and feels surprisingly mature. Great stuff!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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