Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Drama Review: Last Friends

Last Friends has been in the top tier of my Pile of Shame for things that I should finish for a while. Last Friends is an 11 episode drama about a group of young twenty-somethings and their relationships. The OP ("Prisoner of Love", by the lovely Utada Hikaru) highlights five themes that each of the five lead characters represent-

Aida Michiru (Love) is a sweet but timid hairdresser who drew the short straw in life. Her alcoholic mom has always treated her like crap, her co-workers are jerks to her, and her boyfriend Sousuke starts beating and controlling her after she moves out of her mom's apartment to live with him. The only ray of sunshine in Michiru's life is how much she loves cutting and styling hair and her best friend from middle school and high school, Ruka, who helped Michiru when she was going through a rough patch in her teens because of her family and re-enters Michiru's life (unintentionally) right before she moves in with Sousuke.

Kishimoto Ruka (Liberation) tries to protect Michiru while being weighed down by the pain of having had a one-sided love for Michiru since they were in school together and wanting sex reassignment surgery. Ruka is also a kick-ass motocross racer. Surprise, Ruka's my favorite character.

Mizushima Takeru (Agony) is a make-up artist and hairdresser in the daytime and a bartender at night. He's afraid of sex with women because of a childhood trauma (e.g. he throws up after Eri comes on to him), but he has one-sided feelings for Ruka, who he becomes close friends with. He's basically the sweetie of the show. (And my second favorite.)

Takigawa Eri (Solitude) is an airline stewardess who wants a relationship, but hasn't had much luck in her love life. She starts falling in love with a guy from work, Ogura Tomohiko ("Ogurin"), who is separated from his wife who's cheating on him. Because Eri's problems are so miniscule compared to the other characters' and she's generally laid-back, her presence in the show provides some much-needed balance. She and Ruka share a house, but Michiru, Takeru, and Ogura later move in also.

Sousuke (Contradiction), ironically, works for the Children's Welfare Department. To make him more sympathetic, I guess, we get an overblown scene of him diving in front of a train to save a little boy, who he also looks after because the boy's from an abusive home. Sousuke was abandoned by his mom as a child and passed around to different relatives. That's terrible, but I still hate him. The ending for his story arc is complete bullshit because it isn't plausible for the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of abusers and I resent the show for trying to squeeze sympathy out of me for him. (I also wanted Michiru to take an active role in finally ending their relationship, not it ending on his terms- even if it was satisfying, in its own way.) To be fair, the show's screenwriter acknowledges (in a spoiler-laden interview about the show's ending) that Sousuke's ending is unrealistic.

I have a really mixed opinion of Last Friends. Aside from Sousuke, Michiru when she's running back to Sousuke or romanticizing him (or saying "Sousuke" in a sad voice), and Ogurin (he's such a sop), I like the characters. Ruka is as wonderful as Sousuke is horrible (Ueno Juri does a wonderful job playing Ruka), and Ruka, Michiru, Takeru, Eri, and Ogurin have good chemistry as a group. I also like how Ruka's sexist motocross sempai, Hayashida, comes to respect and support Ruka over the course of the show.

The coming out scenes with Ruka's dad and Eri are great. An interview with the screenwriter for Last Friends confirms that she wrote Ruka to be in a "gray zone" between FtM and lesbian. I don't care for the reason behind it (if she just wanted to write a genderqueer character, that would be another story), but it gives transmen and queer women a positive character to root for in a drama. Baby steps, I guess. (The interview made me think of the bonus comic in Honey & Honey Deluxe where Sachiko shows her manga to one of her professors, and he reads it and innocently asks, "So, are you going to become a man?") The most enjoyable scenes in Last Friends, imho, are when everyone is just hanging out at the share house playing video games or eating or whatever.

Despite the positives, the biggest negative, Sousuke, pervades the show like a colony of termites infesting a tree.

The series manages to have a happy, surprisingly sweet end, but Michiru's continued sentimentality towards Sousuke is flabbergasting. Her reason for having a baby (so that she won't be lonely) strikes me as more idiotic than sweet, but I have the crazy notion that people should have kids when they're emotionally and financially able to take of them. (Edit: She does become more emotionally mature in her decision after speaking with Ruka and Takeru, though.) The resolution with Takeru's sister in the Last Friends Special (a bonus episode taking place several months after the events of the main series) is poorly handled also.

Despite the negatives, Last Friends has some genuinely good elements. Sometimes it really works as a drama about the relationships among a group of close-knit friends. If only it felt less like a Lifetime movie. (In the sense that Lifetime has made a load of movies about women being victimized.)

Overall: C+

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