Alice no Toge

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Alice’s Thorn (or better known as Alice no Toge) is one of the latest spring season J-dramas starring Ueno Juri and Odagiri Joe that has come to an end last week. It tells the tale of the female protagonist embarking on a journey of revenge, and seeking justice from the people responsible for her father’s death 15 years ago.

It was a drama anticipated by me and Ueno’s fans when her return to the small screen has been announced. The idea of seeing the bubbly and 4D Ueno Juri challenging such a dark and cold character was intriguing, especially if you love her as that quirky, weird and comical Nodame in Nodame Cantabile. Thus, I jumped into this drama in hope to be mesmerised by Ueno Juri’s again.

Title: アリスの棘
English Title: Alice’s Thorn
Genre: Suspense
Episodes: 10
Broadcast network: TBS
Broadcast period: 11.04.2014 – 13.06.2014
Theme song: Taiyo to Hana by Takahashi Yu
Screenwriter: Takahashi Maki, Ikeda Natsuko
Directors: Tsukahara Ayuko, Watase Akihiko, Hirano Shunichi
Official Website: http://www.tbs.co.jp/alice2014

CHARACTER RELATIONSHIP CHART

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PLOT SUMMARY

Mizuno Asumi (Ueno Juri) is one of the new resident doctors that join Seirin University Hospital. Asumi isn’t like any other new doctors where their ambition is to succeed in becoming a good doctor, or earn fame and secure their position in the medical field. Her only objective is seeking justice and avenges her father’s death.

Asumi’s real name is Osanai Asumi, her father, who was a doctor – Osanai Takao (Mashima Hidekazu) died in an operation 15 years ago in Seirin University Hospital. Her father’s medical report was sent to Asumi anonymously, indicating that the operation was a medical mistake, and has been covered up. Asumi asks her father’s friend Mizuno Kazufumi (Nakamura Baijaku) to adopt her so that she can change her name, and vows to find the culprit(s) responsible for her father’s death.

During the course of her undercover revenge, she gets recognized by Nishikado Yusuke (Odagiri Joe), a medical journalist, and was someone she has known from her past. Nishikado eventually becomes her accomplice, and helps her uncover the truth.

REVIEW

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Ueno Juri gets a round of applause for her stellar performance as that tortured angry dark soul, Mizuno Asumi. Juri’s outstanding performances can be seen throughout the whole drama – a character that is consumed by hatred towards those people who took away her one and only beloved family. After losing her mother; her father was all that she has left – to lean on, to love and for support, but he was taken away from her so abruptly by selfish scheming people. Her hatred is comprehensible because losing her only family is already heart-breaking, but as if that wasn’t enough – those people tarnished Osanai Takao’s reputation and the good father image in her heart.

The success of Juri’s acting is her ability in expressing the various layers of her character’s emotions, but then she has to be under absolute control in order to keep up the façade. Asumi’s cool and composed mask gradually dissipated when she drags innocent people into her plan, and those people end up getting hurt. She becomes emotionally conflicted as she gets closer to the ultimate evil(s).

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The drama has lots of flaws and plot holes, for example, while needing to conceal her identity and carry out her revenge – would anyone in their right mind stucked a whole wall of Osanai’s medical report to lure the culprit? It is unrealistic, but such revenge technique is ignored because the directors were aiming to create suspenseful dramatic effect rather than being logical. Hence, with that in my mind, we get a fairly good cinematography and BGM that helps in creating the eerie atmosphere surrounding our dark characters and its story.

I find it creative to associate the children’s story – Alice in Wonderland – into the revenge plot. We were manipulated to only see the good side of the story in movies or cartoons; we were fascinated with the wonders of the fantasy world, but we don’t give much thought to a children’s story, and question the whys or hows. So, I like the approach this show takes in making the symbolic reference, or relation of Alice in Wonderland to Asumi’s revenge targets. But I find it a pity that there is very little linkage between the actual Alice in Wonderland’s story to Alice no Toge.

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When I first watched the show, I remembered thinking the whole revenge went by a little too quick with Asumi finishing off 2 people in the first episode. The show continues to let her finish off one person per episode until she meets the tougher villains. That’s when the pacing slowed down tremendously, got a little draggy since I was used to the fast pace, and becomes frustrating to watch because she keeps failing.

If you are thinking of jumping into this drama because you are lusting for some bloody revenge, then this isn’t that type of drama for you. Asumi doesn’t want them dead, so we don’t see her plotting to kill. Her style of revenge is similar to Lee Min Ho’s City Hunter, but without the actions and romance. Her objective is to uncover the truth, and chase these culprits out of the medical field forever.

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I am disappointed at the character of Date Risa (Fujiwara Norika) because she was a smart woman who knows how to utilize her strengths to get what she wants, but instead of acknowledging her fault and move on; she blames her failure on Asumi. Date Risa’s latter action also serves as a wake-up call in showing Asumi the consequences when she drags non-related, innocent people into her revenge plan in order to achieve her goal. Asumi was prepared to go to jail, or die in the process of seeking revenge, but she wasn’t ready to take innocent lives.

All in all, Ueno Juri and the rest of the casts put up a good performance. The drama and its revenge plot are pretty straight forward and lack of mystery, because it is obvious that the doctors appear in the show are all suspects. The writing is considered cliché and old school. However, the finale does come with a twist, but the ‘twist’ itself isn’t a difficult guess. By the end, it was impossible to introduce a new character that does not scream the obvious. Thus, the only logical way to create the final suspense and dramatic effect is to make someone we are already acquainted with our suspect, and that person has to be of great impact on Asumi.

I think it’s a pity that this drama lacks freshness. It could have been more addictive if the writer can balance out the revenge plot by injecting a bit of romantic conflict for Asumi, and having her falls in love with either one of the two young men, Nikishido Yusuke and Bandai Yuma (Nakamura Aoi). Ah well. Romance has been the missing element in all J-dramas this decade. The show just can’t seem to multitask in their story-telling, and give us a balance story on character’s romance and the main plot. I supposed the length of the episodes is to be blamed.

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