電車男 Densha Otoko aka The Train Man can without a doubt, be labelled as the new diamond in the rough of modern love stories, not only in Japan. After the big success of Densha Otoko - the novel, Fuji TV started broadcasting a 12 episode long drama series and Densha Otoko - the movie was recently shown at local theatres. But is the hype really justified?
Densha Otoko is the story about Tsuyoshi Yamada, a hopelessly nerdy young man who induldges himself in the world of anime and videogames. Branded as an otaku by society, life has been rather tough on him. One day, a fateful encounter on a train would turn Yamada's world upside-down. Together with his online friends from a popular japanese message board known as 2Channel, Yamada embarks on a courageous journey to change his life in order to shed his otaku tendencies and conquer the heart of a beautiful lady.
The fairytale of a beast who wins the heart of a beauty has been told thousands of times, so what is it that makes Densha Otoko so successful?
Maybe it is because Densha Otoko has more to offer than the average love story. Densha Otoko is a romantic comedy, a fairytale placed in a modern environment that doesn't focus on romance alone; the heart of the story is a young man who develops the courage to grow up and overcome his fears. The method in which the story is delivered is what sets it apart, it manages to stay both heartwarming and cleverly amusing.
A closer look at the opening sequence of the movie or the official website reveals another hint to explain Densha Otoko's success: "A true love story" - Whether or not the story was based on true events is still up to debate. The catchy phrase "A true love story" could have been a marketing strategy for gaining attention from hopeless romantics everywhere. Thus, giving the Yamada inside each of us a light of hope, knowing that what separates the dream of turning into a knight in shining armour from reality is our own resolve.
The most popular Densha Otoko story adaption at present is the 12 episode series broadcasted by Fuji TV. In a time where j-doramas are numerous and in high competition for ratings, Densha Otoko finished first with the highest viewership this summer.
In Densha Otoko - the series, leading actor Itoh Atsushi plays an over-the-top yet believable otaku by means of his posture and voice alone. Take away the dorky glasses and otaku outfits, he remains an average looking 20 year old. An episode reminds the audience that overnight physical change isn't the path to finding true love. Although the character has been portrayed as overly pitiful and miserable, Itoh Atsushi perfectly embodies the character of Yamada Tsuyoshi.
It is no surprise Itoh Masaki has been casted for the role of Aoyami Saori aka Hermes. Itoh is a beautiful, aspiring actress who knows her role and talents as a 'cutie' well: with her experiences as a beautiful teacher adored and idolized by her male students in Gokusen, an irresistable tourist guide in the series Tiger & Dragon and a hot strip dancer in the movie 9 Souls, Itoh almost seems like a natural choice. Consequently, Hermes' splendid appearance in Densha Otoko - the series leaves no doubt that she is truly someone special, not only for him.
Densha Otoko - the series also benefits from a strong and versatile supporting cast. Yamada's 2Channel friends are spicing up the plot with their unique character traits and habits, not just representing random visitors from a messageboard but also Densha's changing moods of fear, joy, despair and hope. The hilarious subplots about Yamada's two otaku friends and their unique personalities even provide enough material for the series' special Densha Otoko: Another Story. Fans of the well-known j-drama actors Shiraishi Miho (Orange Days), Oguri Shun (Summer Snow) and Hayami Mokomichi (Tokyo Wankei) will also be surprised about their rather unconventional roles in Densha Otoko.
Densha Otoko - the series is also filled with amazing details and extras. The anime opening sequence starring an original character known as Mina pays homage to the 80s anime Daicon IV, and has been exclusively produced for the series. Furthermore, Yamada's favourite Mina figurine isn't just a plain requisite but a unique object worth the equivalent of $4000 in US dollars. The anime, background music, carefully detailed locations and props, contrasting personalities of each of Yamada's 2Channel friends, and Shiraishi Miho's role as 'Jinkama', are but a handful of many entertaining extras one will come across in the series.
The success of Densha Otoko also resulted in a movie version. After watching Densha Otoko - the series, the viewer will notice and enjoy many identical elements like certain locations, some of the dialogue, similar clothing and room arrangements and even short cameos from the drama cast. Although the story is basically the same, the movie has a completely different feel from the series due to the cast.
Yamada Takayuki has been casted for the role of Densha in the movie version. Yamada, known from the sportsdrama H2 ~Kimi To Itahibi and the succesful love drama Sekai no chuushin de, ai wo sakebu, is usually casted for handsome highschool student roles. His popularity and looks apparently were meant to support the anticipated success of the movie and to boost ticket sales. Yamada's image is rather unfortunate for Densha's character. When Densha presents himself with a new haircut, trendy clothing and contact lenses, he ends up looking more stunning than Hermes herself. A sad turning point for the story because it is no longer a realistic challenge for Densha to win her heart.
Still, Yamada Takayuki did his best. At times he resembles Itoh Atsushi's Densha from the series almost to a fault. Yamada does have talent after all, however the exaggerated otaku outfits combined with a bad wig did little more than ruin the entire illusion of him being an otaku.
Nakatani Miki stars as Hermes in the Densha Otoko movie version. Viewers will have a tough deciding whether she was the perfect choice for this role. For a character described as stunningly beautiful, Nakatani, although an attractive woman, does little to convince the audience that she is someone special and worth risking everything for. When juxtaposed with the cleaned-up Densha, she doesn't shine.
Another significant difference lies in the way the characters are portrayed: The Yamada of the movie is quite isolated and is never seen together with his family. At work his desk is seperated from his co-workers, he doesn't have otaku friends and wanders in Akihabara all by himself. With no foes or rivals to deal with, the movie gives us a reclusive Yamada, completely ignored by society. His social interactions are reduced to Hermes and his online friends from 2Channel.
The story adaption is highly different from the series. Due to the 90 minute limit, the movie doesn't have much leeway for substories or supporting characters. Without that needed depth, the movie lacks charm and leaves little to no impression on the viewers.
Densha Otoko - the movie only has a spattering of comedic moments interspersed throughout, as opposed to the series. The movie concentrates on Yamada's loneliness and despair, telling the story of Densha Otoko in a slightly more realistic fashion. Weaknesses of the cast and abbreviated story aside, Densha Otoko - the movie remains to be an entertaining yet rather average love drama, only reccommended for Yamada Takayuki fans who want something to do on a lazy sunday evening.
This is why Densha Otoko - the series is highly recommended for fans of any genre. It's easy to digest, even for viewers new to both japanese culture and j-dramas. It is a refreshingly modern and forward story filled with surprises and hilarious moments. The only minor flaws come to light towards the end of the series, easily overlooked when considering the series as a whole. Although episodes may have their low points, not a one feels like a 'filler' episode. Everyone can identify with Densha Otoko's message about courage, love and maturity, which is why the show will surely leave a smile on your face.
The ongoing success of Densha Otoko has yet to end. After the book, the series and the movie, Densha Otoko has also been topic for a TV show (Densha Otoko Investigation) and the obligatory Densha Otoko Special (Densha Otoko: Another Story) shortly followed after the last episode of the series. According to various sources, a stage play and an adult movie are in the works. In addition, the drama Slow Dance continues a small subplot of one of Densha's 2Channel friends.
LINKS & RESOURCES
Densha Otoko - the Series
Densha Otoko - the Movie
Densha Otoko - Another Story
Densha Otoko @ D-Addicts