Okay. I have a secret confession to make.

Hana Yori Dango was the first official Japanese drama that I have ever watched. At that time, I was still a neophyte drama-watcher, and had neither exact expectations nor awareness of conventional drama formulas. Hana Yori Dango was my first love, a little darling that, like its earnest heroine Makino, tried its best in its endeavor to produce a lovable story. And it did, for the most part, do so, albeit with a few minor blunders. The show was an altogether cute and watchable treat, not unlike Japanese dango (sticky and sweet rice balls).

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The title of the series Hana Yori Dango quite literally translates to Sweets Over Flowers, a Japanese saying that refers to the idea of valuing substance over appearances. In this case, although flowers represent the physical aspect of beauty, they are quite useless for an individual in a practical sense, just as dango (a symbol for food) does not represent a visual statement, but is rather a nourishment for the body. This contrast refers to the differing lifestyles of F4, four elite male heirs to mega-corporations, and Makino, our frugal daughter of the middle-class. While the rich and entitled students at Eitoku High School flaunt their wealth and status through material possessions (in the beginning of the first episode, there are bragging rights of designer jewelry and exotic vacation locales), Makino lives day-by-day with her sole purpose of studying and living on her basic necessities. The representation of the four heirs as examples of the extravagant, aesthetic lifestyle are inherent in their name “Flowers 4”. In fact, Kamio Yoko, the author of this series, twists the pun in that she substitutes the kanji for boys for food, so the translation could be meant as “Boys Over Flowers” (which consequently the title of the adjacent Korean drama).

This drama is the first major break-out role for Inoue Mao, who was actually close to her character’s age (a tender age of eighteen) when the first half of the drama was shot. Matsumoto Jun (dubbed Matsujun by his worldwide fandom), a member of the famous ARASHI band, takes the role of Domyouji, the iconic bad-boy. I will forever associate him with that curly mop of hair, because he plays the role of Domyouji so well. Actually Matsumoto Jun, Inoue Mao and one other actor, Oguri Shun, were both exactly how I imagined the real-life portrayals of the manga characters to be. Oguri Shun portrays Hanazawa Rui with all his subtle nuances, which is difficult because due to Rui’s taciturn nature, it is easy to portray him as flat and one-dimensional. The rest of the supporting cast did an excellent job with their characters as well, from the elegant and timeless Shizuka Todo, as well as Makino’s adorable younger brother Susumu.

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We start off with our introduction to our main heroine, Makino Tsukushi, whose first name translates to a sturdy type of mountain grass. Harkening back to our flower analogy, Makino is equivalent to a weed that can grow anywhere, even on rocky soil, because she has the drive and work ethic to survive. At her elite prep school, Eitoku, Makino is surrounded by “flower” students, girls and boys who have been cultivated in an enriched environment since they were young, and most likely would not be able to withstand the barer conditions of a lower-income life. Aware of her inferior status at school, Makino strives to remain as anonymous as possible, simply hoping to graduate within four years. But that doesn’t happen because of her unfortunate encounter with F4, who turns her life upside down. 

F4 is an uber-elite clique composed of the four sons of extremely wealthy Japanese families. Mimasaka Akira, portrayed by Abe Tsuyoshi, is the son of a powerful gangleader and has a taste for older women. Nishikado Soujiro, played by Matsuda Shota, is an art museum heir, and is an expert pottery-maker just as he is a prolific playboy. Hanazawa Rui is the grandson of a political party leader, and is a reserved young man with an unhealed heartbreak. Finally, Domyouji Tsukasa is the modern prince of the financial world – his last name is the title of Japan’s largest conglomerate. Due to the joint political and monetary power the group commands, the four informally rule over the school, and use it as their territory for carrying out “punishments”, or retributions for anyone who dares to threaten their authority. Underneath all the glitz, the four are simply playground bullies who exert their power through belittling others. Because of their impressive and formidable backgrounds, all of the girls at Eitoku high fawn over them, and all of the boys command their utmost respect to them, as their leaders.

Makino’s righteous nature cannot stand F4’s treatment of others in school, but her desire to stay out of trouble forces her to stay quiet. That is, until the day that Tsukasa confronts her first friend, Sakurako, for accidentally dropping her lunch tray on him. Sakurako has just returned from overseas, and is surprisingly nice towards Makino, much to our heroine’s delight. Despite the girls’ difference in social status, Sakurako and Makino quickly become good friends. During one lunch, Makino brings her mother’s homemade rice balls, and offers one to Sakurako. Although Sakurako has only eaten the high-dining cuisine before, she tries one, and her eyes widen in surprise at its good taste. That, however, is broken when Domyouji’s shoes get dirtied from Sakurako’s clumsy hands. In his anger, Domyouji begins his verbal rant against Sakurako, but is interrupted by Makino, who delivers a bounce, bounce, and resulting high kick.

tumblr_lnmtjxg5W51qewbrbOkay, this scene gets me giggling every time, possibly because of the slow-motion shot of Makino’s punch, replete with Domyouji’s defeat on the floor, and his accompanying facial expression of confusion to shock.

Yep, the almighty Domyouji Tsukasa has just been hit by a girl.

The school king lies helpless on the ground, staring up at Makino in bewilderment.

I find the scene hilarious because in the more serious scenes, you can tell that Domyouji is a good fighter – he takes on multiple guys at a time, and is a threatening force to all of the boys in the school. But no matter how much of a bad boy he may seem on the streets, he, for once, gets defeated by a high school girl. I think this is also part of the bigger motif of Domyouji being pushed around by all of the women in his life – his mother, his sister, and now, Tsukushi.

399That expression.

Excuse my strange animal analogy, but it kind of reminds of a cross between a whimpering puppy and a lion cub out to take revenge.

After the incident, Domyouji’s interest is piqued by the one student who has the nerve to talk back to him and not follow his supreme command. At this point, he’s fixated with Makino, and subconsciously begins to like her. But as the son of the Domyouji Corp., who had been entitled to anything he had wanted since he was in diapers, it’s difficult for him to discover what it means to have something out of reach, something unobtainable by wealth, status or power. Other women would faint for the chance to be with him, but then again, Makino is no ordinary girl. But Domyouji mistakenly does place her mindset to be similar to other women, and in that context, he sort-of kidnaps her into viewing his ostentatious mansion. He rations that Makino would prefer the life of luxury and prestige to her current poor and mundane living conditions. He buys her an incredibly expensive dress and jewelry, sneering at the fact that it would take lifetimes for Makino to pay it all off.

Much to Domyouji’s shock, rather than being flattered, Makino is repulsed and immediately demands her original uniform back. Fleeing from the room, she gets lost in a maze of dining halls and pool tables (In one memorable line, Makino runs into a large dining common and explaims in disbelief “what is this, Harry Potter?”), before finally escaping the mansion.

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But while Makino harbors a strong dislike towards Domyouji’s arrogance, she is taken in by Rui’s quiet and gentle nature, and harbors a bit of a crush on him. Contrary to Domyouji’s loud and brash nature, Rui is somewhat of an introvert and likes to spend time by himself. The two coincidentally first meet when Makino runs to a balcony and yells out her frustration with regards to Domyouji. She’s interrupted by a voice, belonging to a boy taking a nap a few steps below the balcony, who is amused at her annoyance with Domyouji. Since then, Makino sometimes runs into Rui on the balcony, and she sometimes uses him as a confidant for her troubles. But Rui has a few troubles of his own, including his own bittersweet romantic past.

The most important person in Rui’s life returns from her time overseas, and F4 hosts a party to celebrate her return. The young woman is Todo Shizuka, Rui’s past love interest and an elder sister figure to the rest of F4. Shizuka is also the reason why Makino decides to attend Eitoku Academy, because she had given an inspiring speech as an alumni, and is a living example of a model-turned-international lawyer (so the beauty and the brains). Coincidentally, Makino is also invited to the party, although when she shows up she is a little bit out of place, due to the formal attire required by the event.

Mean, meaner, and meanest – three of the snobbiest girls in Eitoku high, stick their noses up at her and make fun of her low social status. Makino’s identity as a “commoner”, compounded with the fact that she has attracted the attention of F4, throws the three girls into a fit of jealousy, and in a fit of spite, the girls pour their drinks over her head.

The girls are caught by Shizuka and Rui, however. The former expresses her disappointment with the girls and teaches them a “practical lesson” by giving them a taste of their own medicine; the latter watches with disapproval.

Gently, Shizuka offers her hand towards Makino, and the two ladies head to the upper floor of the mansion to help Makino get cleaned up. When Makino heads downstairs again, a hush falls across all of the guests, who see her in a new light.

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snapshot20070503222242-copyDomyouji is irritated, Rui is appreciative, and Domyouji’s observation of his best friend’s gaze towards Makino causes a flare of jealousy, to which escalates into a bit of a shuffle between the two F4 boys. Domyouji’s insult of Makino, and subsequent brush-off of Shizuka’s defense causes Rui’s consternation, and the two seem close to duking it out when Makino intervenes. A trip of balance, much to shock of the party-goers (not to us drama-watchers, we could have seen this a mile away), this is the resulting scenario:

76d03d127c967e63030ad589902a7edd1226972817_fullAWKWARD.

A part of myself wants to ask whether it is actually even possible for two individuals to fall and end up in this compromising position…but another half of me just wants to just let it go, and enjoy the romantic development. And the next few episodes do give us that, as they continue our hero’s progress at winning Makino’s heart, with the introduction of a few more side characters along the way. We get a glance into both the Domyouji and the Makino household, and the different social spheres that the two inhabit.

Domyouji, since he was small, has grown up in the finest luxury possible. In addition to being raised in an extremely privileged environment, Domyouji has also been raised in a family of dominant women – his mother, Kaede, and his sister, Tsubaki. It’s a humorous gender subversion, to see Domyouji serve as the leader of immense power amongst the male-powered F4 and as a whimpering, powerless man amongst the Domyouji girls (including Makino, harhar). Kaede is an easily-hatable villain (Domyouji calls her the “witch” and fittingly so), and essentially encapsulates every quality a dictator/horrible mother-in-law would have. Tsubaki is a headstrong female lead, but mercilessly teases her younger brother. As the youngest member of his family, Domyouji is the most easily bossed-around at home, in that sense tries to find dominance in the arena of the school. In a very suffocating family, Domyouji tries to find reprieve through exerting his frustration in physical fighting, but this only leads to a vicious cycle of violence in order to fulfill his entitlements. He is essentially a spoiled child used to receiving whatever he wants, and in being able to receive infinitely anything, is never truly satisfied. That is, of course, before he meets Makino.

Makino, on the other hand, was raised in an environment of self-sufficiency and determined work ethics, being almost like a bread-winner (her family brags about her getting into Eitoku consistently). Her family serves as comedic relief, with Susumu and her father periodically getting drilled on Japanese Idioms by her mother (it’s a nice running theme, because the title of the drama itself is a play on words). In a cute, parallel reversal, we see that Domyouji is absolutely hopeless with Japanese puns (or perhaps just the Japanese language in general), and his misinterpretation of other’s sayings have also served as comic gags throughout the episodes. In one example, he attempts to defend Makino, but his arguments end up sounding like a convoluted logic puzzle…

Domyouji Proof

Premise 1: Even for you, sleep talking is talking when you’re sleeping.

Premise 2: Talking when you’re awake is not sleep talking.

Premise 3: If it’s sleep talking, talking when you’re awake is okay too.

Premise 4: If it’s not sleep talking, it’s talking when you’re awake.

Premise 5: Talking when you’re awake means you’re not sleeping.

Conclusion = Makino: What are you saying?

Haha.

Domyouji. Such a lovable idiot.

Makino also works at a dango shop (yet another reference to the title), where boy-information is consistently spoken about by her boss while her coworker Yuki, who also happens to be her best friend, listens to her plights sympathetically. Later on Yuki and Soujiro have a little bit of their own romantic story (and perhaps her boss with Akira, as he does prefer older women), and through Yuki we get to see why Soujiro acts so jerk-faced towards most women and has such a love for pottery.

It’s such a joyride to see the two main characters, and their completely different worlds collide, just as it is a pleasure to see the palpable chemistry between the two main leads. I don’t think I was the only one who secretly hoped that Inoue Mao and Matsumoto Jun dated secretly in real life. Their interactions on screen were like genuine first-time lovers, at times awkward, at times cute, at times downright irritating, but nonetheless full of heart.

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The soundtrack of the drama is also very memorable, especially several of the instrumental songs – which are variations of the same theme. The subtle, mellow version of the theme, titled Blue Mind, plays in the background of many emotionally-charged scenes. Despite its simplicity, Blue Mind is a heart-moving, climatic piece that, in my opinion, reflects the storyline of Makino’s love towards Domyouji – from her initial aloofness to the melting of her heart (ahem…excuse the cliche-sounding phrase, I hope you’ll understand more by listening to it).

The settings are very pretty, and overall the drama is directed in a well-done manner. Although it is a little exaggerated at times, it is a manga adaptation onto a live-action series, and I do think that the true spirit of the original story is kept on screen. In any case, the cast are adorable together, and have excellent camaraderie with one another, as evidenced below.

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Simply adorable.

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Now that I have begun to become addicted to Bollywood films, I have come to watched back-to-back films starring one particular actor – Aamir Khan. One of the multiple Khan’s in the movie industry, Aamir Khan has established himself as a solid actor with a versatile range in his roles. Here, he takes on a wide-eyed, curious student who desires to learn – not by simply memorizing a textbook definition, but through using his own trials and methods to observe the world around him. His unconventional approach to learning is taken in awe by his two roommates, Farhan and Raju, and the three boys form a sort of ragtag, three musketeer group – going through all sorts of goofy shenanigans and emotional trials together. To put it in plain terms – the 3 Idiots is a light-hearted comedy about three technology students who discover that there’s more to life than simply studying by the book, and that perhaps even the wisest of us all need to learn a lesson or two sometimes.

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We start off the movie with a man on a plane departure, who receives a shocking phone call. Thinking quick on his feet, the man pretends to faint, and because of this “medical issue” the plane is forced to emergency land. Once at the terminal, a taxi cab is called, and the miraculously recovered patient dials a number, which wakes up his sleepy, white-robed friend. The two friends, Farhan and Raju, are startled to hear of the reported sighting of their long-lost friend Rancho, who they had tried (unsuccessfully) to locate for ten years. Both men dash towards their old university campus, climb up onto the rooftop of the engineering tower, and burst out expecting to see their old friend. They are instead met by their old nemesis, Chatur, who is takes a moment to gloat of his current financial status to the two friends. He whips out his phone and begins listing his material possessions:

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“Don’t eye my wife. Check out the mansion behind her, idiots. $3.5 million. Swimming pool – heated! Living room – maple wood flooring. My new Lambhorghini 6496 cc (sucks in breath) – very fast.

While the two boys are confused as to why Chatur called them out to randomly boast, Chatur scrapes away a section of the tower wall, in which the date 5 September is inscribed. There’s a brief flashback the boys’ college days, in which Chatur strikes a bet with an unseen boy, in which he asks him to meet ten years later, in order to determine who is more successful. The boy is, of course, Rancho, and upon further questioning, the two boys discover that he is currently residing in Shimla.

The road trip unleashes a breathlessly beautiful song, Behti Hawa Sa Tha Woh (He was Like the Breathless Wind), which essentially sums up the young man Ranchhoddas Shamaldas Chanchad.

    • He was as free as the wind,
    • He was like a soaring kite,
    • Where did he go? Let us find him.
    • He was as free as the wind,
    • He was like a soaring kite,
    • Where did he go? Let us find him.
    • We were led by the path we took,
    • While he carved a path of his own,
    • Stumbling, rising, he walked carefree.
    • We fretted about tomorrow, 
    • He simply reveled in today,
    • Living each moment to the fullest.
    • Where did he come from?
    • He who touched our hearts and vanished?
    • Where did he go? Let us find him.
    • In the scorching sun, he was like a patch of shade,
    • In an endless desert, like an oasis,
    • On a bruised heart, he was like a soothing balm.
    • Afraid, we stayed confined in the well,
    • Fearless, he frolicked in the river,
    • Never hesitating to swim against the tide.
    • He wandered lonesome as a cloud,
    • Yet he was our dearest friend,
    • Where did he go? Let us find him. 

Farhan flashes back to his childhood, leading up to the first time he met Rancho. Farhan seals his family’s wishes when he applies and gets in the Imperial College of Engineering (ICE), where his bags are carried by the witty busboy Millimeter.

Millimeter: These engineers call me Millimeter. For eggs, bread, milk, laundry, finishing journals, copying assignments, I’m your guy. Fixed rates. No bargaining.

Farhan: (Sees a small litter of puppies) Hey wait, hold this. (Begins to take out his camera).

Millimeter: Meet Kilobyte, Megabyte, and their mother, Gigabyte. Go ahead, click. Their family doesn’t bite. (Farhan takes several photo shots).

Farhan meets one of his roommates, Raju Rastogi, who is a deeply devout religious student. For a somewhat generate tip, Millimeter gives the two boys one piece of advice – wear their best underwear tonight.

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Cue freshman hazing night, in which the newly admitted technology students must bare their derrieres  to the upperclassmen. It is at this moment that Farhan looks across the room and sees Rancho for the first time. Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 1.53.10 PM

At the appearance of “fresh meat”, two of the seniors corner him, one making fun of his name and the other pouring water into his pants. Rancho’s whispers his mantra to himself, “Aal izz well, aal izz well.” In a desire to force him to abide their threat, one of the seniors orders a student (a back-then version of Chatur) to translate their warnings into Hindi. Chatur, born and raised outside of India, uses the dictionary phrase “urine-expulsion” instead of the colloquial “pissing”, and Rancho uses the resulting uproar to escape into one of the dorm rooms.

Upset at the escape of one freshman, and not willing to seem weak in front of the audience, a senior boy angrily raps on the door and gives an ultimatum – if he doesn’t get out by the time he counts to 10, then he’ll carry out “urine expulsion” on his door all semester. Rancho, in a fit of genius, quickly scans the room and comes with the idea of a little contraption – he takes a metal spoon and ties it to an electrical wire, holding it in place with a ruler and metal clip. He then sticks the spoon underneath the door. When the urinator unzips his pants and begins to carry out his vengeful vow, the urine, which is composed of saltwater, touches the conducting piece of metal and…well…a bit of electrocution occurs. The senior falls on the ground, curled up in pain, and Rancho steps out, having gained the awe of the freshman class.

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The next day, a the head principal of ICE (Imperial College of Engineering) comes riding on his bicycle, carrying a bird and eggs, towards the boys’ dormitory. A severe authoritarian, he is nicknamed “Virus”, and is an immensely competitive and time-effective man. To save time, Virus updates his wardrobe with velcro shirts and pinned ties, trains himself to write ambidextrously, and allows a servant to shave and clip his nails while he takes his daily 7 and 1/2 minute nap.

When he arrives on the site, he quickly makes a demonstration out of the koel bird and eggs. It turns out that the koel bird is a bit of a ruthless specimen – it finds another bird’s nest to hatch its eggs in, and when the original eggs hatch, it pushes them off the nest, to their death. The hundreds and thousands of students are just like the cracked eggs, cracked in order to let the small number (the 200 freshman) of healthy eggs remain intact. Continuing his lesson, the professor instructs the students to treat life as a race, to compete or die.

Launching into another allegory, the professor reaches into his shirt pocket and draws out a pen. This pen is no ordinary pen – it’s an “astronaut pen”, and can write forward, backwards, upsides down, and in zero gravity. When the professor was a student, this pen of excellence was passed down to him, and  he has waited over three decades to pass down this pen to the next prodigy. The whole audience, except one member, raise their hands when the professor asks them if they’d like to be the one who receives the pen. When all hands are lowered, the un-raised hand, Rancho’s, goes up. Rancho asks the professor one question – instead of spending millions of dollars to develop a pen that could work in outer space, why couldn’t the astronauts simply have used a pencil?

There’s an uproar of laughter amongst the other students, much to the consternation of Virus, who is struck speechless at Rancho’s question. Embarrassed, angry, and a little bewildered, the professor responds that he would get back to the Rancho a little later, and stalks off.

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Back amongst the school hallways, the Millimeter conveys his awe to Rancho. When asked why he doesn’t join school, Millimeter responds that he doesn’t have the financial means to do so. Smiling, Rancho tells him that he doesn’t need tuition money to attend school – he simply needs a college uniform. With this as his key, he can audit any university course. If he get’s found out, he simply needs to buy a new uniform, and attend another college.

On one of the first days in his new class, a professor, unnerved by the enthusiastic nature by a certain yellow-shirted student, asks him to stand up and name the definition of a machine. Rancho explains to the whole class that a machine is any instrument that makes life a little easier, giving the example of a fan and a pant-zipper. Not amused, the professor picks on another student, Chatur. Chatur has memorized the textbook definition and recites it, perfectly, word-by-word to the professor.

Chatur: SIr, machines are any combination of bodies so connected that their relative motions are constrained and by which means, force and motion may be transmitted and modified as a screw and its nut, or a lever arranged to turn about a fulcrum or a pulley about its pivot, etc. Especially, a construction, more or less complex, consisting of a combination of moving parts, or simple mechanical elements, as wheels, levers, cams, etc.

The professor, a little teary-eyed, is impressed by Chatur’s answer. Rancho rolls his eyes throughout this Chatur’s proud monologue, and at the end makes the point that he essentially spoke the same thing – only in a simpler language. The professor tells him to either memorize the given definition, or fail the class. When Rancho tries to make the point of other books and their own definitions, he is promptly kicked out of class. But when he forgets his books, he comes back and makes a little monologue of his own…

Rancho: Instruments that record, analyze, summarize, organize, debate and explain information; that are illustrative, non-illustrative; that are hard-bound, paperback, jacketed, non-jacketed; with foreword, introduction, table-of-contents, index; that are intended for the enlightenment, understanding, enrichment, enhancement and education of the human brain through the sensory route of vision, sometimes touch.

Dumbstruck, the professor asks him what in the world he means. Rancho responds, “Books. I forgot my books sir. May I?”

Rancho’s uniqueness carries out to other matters – besides slipping in and out of any classroom (kicked out by professors), he would shower outside with a garden-hose at unconventional times during the day (rather than join the scramble for the shower stalls each morning), and take apart and fix machines at his spare time.

Another student, Joy Lobo, similar to Rancho in his passion for machines, only he currently is in a fix because he cannot complete his project deadlines. Joy had started a camera-attached helicopter, but due to his father’s illness and other issues, he still hasn’t finished. Virus extends his sympathies, but unfortunately cannot extend the deadlines. Just around the corner, Rancho eavesdrops on this conversation, and decides to see what he can do to help Lobo’s project. He salvages the incomplete helicopter from the trash and takes it back to his dormitory.

Farhan and Raju both can’t believe Rancho’s allotment of time on another student’s project when they have so many exams to study for. Rancho teaches them the mantra “Aal izz well”, which launches into an upbeat ditty:

    • When life spins out of control,
    • Just let your lips roll.
    • Let your lips roll,
    • And whistle away the toll. (2x)
    • Yell – “All is Well!” 

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    • The chicken’s clueless about the egg’s fate,
    • Will it hatch or become an omelette?
    • No one knows what the future holds,
    • So let your lips roll and whistle away the toll, whistle away the toll…
    • Yell – “All is Well!”
    • Hey bro – “All is Well!”
    • Hey mate – “All is Well!”
    • Hey bro – “All is Well!”
    • Confusion and more confusion,
    • No sign of any solution.
    • Ah! Finally a solution.
    • But wait…what was the question?
    • If the timid heart with fear is about to die,
    • Then con it bro, with this simple lie.
    • Heart’s an idiot, it will fall under that spell,
    • Let your lips roll, and whistle away the toll, whistle away the toll…
    • Yell – “All is Well!”
    • Hey bro – “All is Well!”
    • Hey mate – “All is Well!”
    • Hey bro – “All is Well!”
    • Blew the scholarship on booze, 
    • But that did not dispel by blues.
    • Holy incense lit up my plight,
    • And yet God’s nowhere in sight.

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    • The lamb is clueless for what it’s destined. 
    • Will it be served on skewers or simply minced?
    • No one knows what the future holds,
    • So let your lips roll, and whistle away the toll, whistle away the toll…
    • Yell – “All is Well!”
    • Hey bro – “All is Well!”
    • Hey mate – “All is Well!”
    • Hey bro – “All is Well!”

When the song is finished, Rancho has a “eureka!” moment, and the helicopter, much to the astonishment of the other boys, begins to fly. The camera swivels around as it captures the world around it. It humorously captures Chatur in his underwear, cramming for an exam. It flies higher and higher, eventually hovering right outside Joy’s window. The scene that the video camera captures stuns the boys, as they see Joy Lobo hanged in the middle of his room. When the boys rush upstairs, the find a dead student, and on the wall a suicide sentence – I QUIT.

At the funeral, Rancho confronts Virus, telling him that it wasn’t the physical pressure of the noose around Joy’s throat that killed him, but that it was the four years of mental pressure that the principal gave him. The next day, the principal is Indignant at being told, by a student, that the current education system is wrong. Rancho explains:

Rancho: Suicide is a bigger killer than disease. Something’s terribly wrong, sir.

Virus: I can’t speak for the rest, but this is one of the finest colleges in the country…we were ranked 28th, now we’re ranked No. 1.

Rancho: What’s the point, sir? Here they don’t discuss new ideas or inventions. They discuss grades, jobs, settling in the USA. They teach how to get good scores. They don’t teach Engineering.

Virus: (Furious) Now you will teach me how to teach?

In a fit of fury, Virus drags Rancho outside and pushes him inside a classroom midway through a lecture. He orders him to teach the entire class a lesson, and takes his seat, expectant of the humiliation of Rancho’s inadequacy at an engineering professor. Although a little uncertain at first, Rancho removes his book bag, quickly flips through the textbook, and ends up writing two words on the chalkboard. (Before you read further, examine the two words he has written down. See if you can notice anything familiar about them…)

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Rancho gives the entire class exactly thirty seconds to come up with the definition of these two terms, allowing the use whatever resources at their disposal, including their own textbooks. As soon as time commences, the entire class plunges into a frenzy, with students flipping haphazardly throughout their books (Virus steals another student’s textbook in order to double his efforts). When the time has elapsed, and no one has found anything, Rancho tells them to stop and rewind life back one minute. Did they feel curious, excited to learn something new? No, they weren’t. They simply frantically tried to find the answer. Rancho: “This is college, not a pressure cooker.”

And the meaning of the two words? They were simply complicated, chemical-ending based versions of his two roommates names – Farhan and Raju.

Back in his office, Virus ambidextrously writes two letters – one to the Qureshi family, the other to the Rastogi family – each informing the parents that their son has fallen into bad company. The boys travel to both Qureshi and Rastogi households, and leave with both paternal scolding and empty stomachs. Hungry, the three boys sneak into an Indian wedding, taking advantage of the banquet’s generous portions to fulfill their hunger.

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While seated, Rancho witnesses what he mistakenly presumes to be the groom getting angry at his bride-to-be, at not wearing the watch he sent her as a gift. When the gentleman walks away, Rancho intervenes and advises her not to marry him. He gives her a “practical demonstration”, where he purposely spills mint sauce on the man’s leather shoes. The following proves Rancho’s point – the man angrily demands to know who spilled the sauce on his “$300” shoes.

A bit confused at these unknown guests, Pia, who also happens to be Virus’ daughter, asks her father who the three men happened to be. The university head is a little taken aback to see his three students here, and when the two parties come face to face (hee – each boy has a mini heart attack when they see him, and each murmur ‘aal izz well, aal izz well’ under their breaths), Rancho makes up an excuse that he has represented the scientific society in creating an inverter. Enraged, the principal demands to see Farhan and Raju in his office the next morning.

In his office, Virus advises the two boys to stay away from Rancho, who he labels as a bad influence, and instead move in with Chatur. Although Farhan is unpersuaded, Raju, thinking of his stricken parents and his dowried sister, cannot put up with Rancho any longer. Rancho tries to convince Raju to stay, in his adage – “follow excellence, and success will chase you, pants down!”, but Raju ends up moving in with Chatur anyways. Here, we finally understand the meaning of Chatur’s nickname, “The Silencer”, when Raju has to cover his nose from the stench made from Chatur’s “output”. In an effort to sabotage other student’s scores, Chatur resorts to distributing porn magazines on the doorsteps of all the other students.

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Rancho decides to use a masterplan to bring Raju back (and, as a side effect, humiliate Chatur). Chatur goes to the school librarian to create a high, lofty speech to honor the school’s higher authorities. Rancho and Farhan distract the librarian and Chatur, and Rancho quickly uses the “Find and Replace” button in order to replace the honorary, respectful terms with crude language. The altered speech is spoken, much to the delight and laughter of the students in the audience and the enraged nature of Virus, at the ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the three musketeers reconcile and hang out at their usual engineering tower spot.

A fourth visitor, mortified at offending the principal and being made a laughingstock at school, angrily approaches them and makes a bet to see who will succeed more in life ten years later. He uses a knife to etch 5 September on the wall (the etched date seen in present day), and leaves the boys with his looming challenge.

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Meanwhile, Pia and her fiance Suhas (the man with spoiled leather shoes) are choosing an engagement ring when Pia spots Rancho in the crowd. Angrily, she confronts him about the speech that insulted her father. Rancho throws out an insult about her fiance, and states that he only cares about her because it makes him look financially better-off. To prove his point, Rancho takes off Pia’s watch and calls Suhas over, telling him that Pia lost the expensive gift. Suhas goes on an angry tirade over Pias supposed mistake, and Pia, in tears, throws him the watch and tells him to find another wrist for it.

Impressed, Rancho follows her to her motorbike when he receives a call informing him of Raju’s father’s critical condition. In a plea for her help, the two together drive Raju’s father on a scooter into the hospital, where he is luckily saved. Raju, teary-eyed, thanks Rancho for helping his father. Pia leaves the three boys in the hospital, and says farewell to Rancho. A high voice begins to sing…and we lapse into a lovey-dovey jazz number.

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The boys spend the night at the hospital, and are thus late to their final exam. The professor, unfortunately, cannot take their tests because a strict policy against turning their tests in late. In a quick burst of thinking, Rancho asks the teacher whether he knows their names or roll numbers. The answer is negative. In one spontaneous act, Rancho throws their papers into the existing pile, mixes them up, and runs out with his two buddies. Now, it is only waiting for the results.

Rancho and Farhan are disappointed to know that they came in last place in school rankings, but feel even more disheartened when they discover that Rancho finished first place in the entire school. When it’s school picture time, Rancho sits on the distinguished right of Virus, much to Chatur’s chagrin.

We flash back to the present day, in which Farhan and Raju enter the dwelling of Chanchad family, which is currently a funeral for Rancho’s deceased father. When they call out Rancho’s name, they are startled and confused to find an unfamiliar man respond to it. The odder thing is – they see a certificate of graduation from the engineering school on the family wall, and also a seemingly different school picture than they hard remembered….

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Determined to find out the truth, they quickly go back to the home and confront the new “Rancho”. Amidst a hilarious bout of possible toilet-flushing his father’s ashes, “Rancho” sits down with the two boys and gives them the true story of what actually happened.

It turns out that the Rancho that they knew, ten years ago, actually was not the real Rancho, but the family’s gardener’s son taking his identity after a teacher’s accidental discovery of a sixth grade student completing tenth grade math. The son (nicknamed Chhote) is ordered by the real Rancho’s father to attend the Imperial College of Engineering, and to graduate with a degree. Once the degree is sealed, Chhote would disappear and the real Rancho would utilize this academic certificate in order to secure a career. The real Rancho gives the duo a new address, and the two discover that the Rancho they knew is now an elementary school teacher at a small village in Ladakh.

We flash back in time to carry on with their university years. The three boys are nearing graduation, and its a stressful and suspenseful season of potential job interviews. Virus is confident that both Farhan and Raju will not be able to receive any job offerings, and makes a bet that if either of them do, that he will shave his mustache off. At the evening, the two boys confide to Rancho their worries about their grades, and their future.

Rancho addresses Farhan first, by emptying out his backpack and drawing out a single unposted letter. It’s a letter that Farhan wrote to his favorite wildlife photographer, Andre Istvan, desiring to take on his tutelage. Rancho encourages Farhan to not “marry Engineering”, but rather seek out his true love, photography.

He then turns to Raju, and points out the number of religious rings he has on his fingers. Raju, he concludes, lives in fear of tomorrow – fear of having to provide for his ailing father, tired mother and unwed sister. Because he’s so afraid of tomorrow, he ceases to live in today.

The two friends begin snickering upon hearing Rancho’s advice, where they can’t believe that the “great and almighty” Rancho is giving them lessons when he can’t even follow his own. In his confusion, the two edge him into confessing his love for Pia, one boasting that he’ll tell his father of his wildlife photography hobby, and the other declaring that he’ll take off all his spiritual rings before his first job interview. All a little drunk, Rancho grins a little, and the next scene cuts to the boys staggering towards Virus’ house. Raju and Rancho climb up the trellis, and Rancho climbs through the window onto an occupied bed. Grabbing a hand, Rancho begins his oration of how he fell in love with Pia.

Rancho: Just listen for a moment, then I’m gone. Pia…those 22 minutes with you on a scooter were the most enchanting 22 minutes of my life. I could spend an eternity with you on that scooter. Every night, you ride into my dreams on a scooter, dressed as a bride. Instead of a veil, you lift your helmet, and come close to kiss me. But that kiss doesn’t happen.

Unidentified Hand: Why?

Rancho: Because the noses collide, and I wake up.

Pia’s sister, Mona (the owner of the hand): (Light turns on). The noses don’t collide, stupid!

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 1.33.02 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 1.33.30 PMIt turns out that Pia was listening as well, and Mona laughs and gives her approval for her younger sister about the startled male specimen in front of them. While the three talk, Mona feels the baby move, and excitedly tells Rancho to feel her stomach. When the two sisters explain that their father desires the boy to be an engineer, and the girl to be a doctor, Rancho chuckles at the unborn child, telling him its better to stay inside for now because the circumstances are a “circus” out in the real world with Virus being the “ringmaster”. Rancho imparts his mantra onto the fetus, and to Mona’s delight, the child kicks. Mona grabs both Pia and Rancho’s hands and places them on her stomach, as the three of them say the phrase once more. The baby vigorously responds, and all three are excited.

Two more individuals yell out the phrase, while doing “urine expulsion” on the professor’s mailbox. In their drunken state, the boys quickly make a dash for it, as Virus angrily almost slips on a wet stain on his front porch. The trio escape and hide at the back of a lecture hall, and fall asleep till the morning, where they each report for attendance. Raju, however, is still a little drunk from the night before, and acts oddly in front of Virus. Rancho and Farhan try to cover him, by making the excuse that Raju had pulled an all-nighter studying induction motor. To verify, Virus asks Raju to explain how induction motor begins. In response, Raju starts up his own human engine, with his mouth. Furthermore, an empty bottle of rum is found at the front of the classroom, where it is coincidentally picked up by Chatur, who shows his discovery proudly.

It’s to the office, for Raju, who faces expulsion from college. Raju pleads for one more chance, and is given one – he can place either his name, or Rancho’s name, in the letter. Raju flashes back and forth between his helpless family, and Rancho’s acts of kindness. Caught between two sides, Raju steps on the balcony, and falls to the ground below.

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He’s immediately rushed to the hospital, and Pia gives the friends’ the diagnosis – Raju’s mind is paralyzed but his mind is alert. She encourages them to talk to Raju, in order to waken him from his inactive state. Thus begins Rancho’s series of white lies, such as giving Pia’s red scooter to his ill father. The class brings balloons and cake for a party, and upon no response, throw darts on a target of Virus’ face. Humorously, the machine records spiked heartbeat. But Pia rounds the corner, and Rancho and Farhan scramble to hide the offending apparatus. In concluding his white lies, Rancho tells Raju that his sister is to be wed to a man who requests no dowry, a man who has an interest in wildlife photography, a man that they know very well…

At this, Raju’s fingers twitch and his eyes blink. Rancho widens his eyes as Raju opens his mouth to whisper…”stop kidding”. The friends are reunited, and in joyous celebration, good news is heard. It turns out that Rancho’s unsent letter was actually sent, and that Farhan’s admired photographer Andre Istvan loved his photos and is offering an internship abroad. Meanwhile, Raju gets a job interview by a prestigious firm. Both boys, in fulfilling their earlier promise to Rancho, each set off to complete their missions – Farhan breaks the news to his father, and Raju takes off all his rings in preparation for the interview.

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Farhan tells his father that photography is his passion, and that his reputation, money, and status, aren’t as important. He explains, when his father brings up a neighbor’s opinion, that it’s not the world’s view of him that matters, but his own family’s.

Farhan: Mr. Kapoor didn’t provide me with an air conditioner. It wasn’t him who slept in discomfort while I slept well. He didn’t take me around the zoo on his shoulders. You did all that, dad.

His father, after a sigh, tells his wife to return the expensive laptop he bought for his son…and to see whether it could be exchanged for a professional camera. Tearful, Farhan embraces his father and the two share a father-son moment.

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Raju frankly tells the interview committee how he ended up in his current state of paralysis, including the attempted suicide and mail-box urination. The higher-ups are a little taken aback by his honesty, but an interviewer tells him that he is willing to consider his application, if he can fix his attitude. Raju smiles a little, and tells him that after breaking many bones in his body, he has come to the conclusion that he’ll live life without fear, and this attitude he’ll keep, even if it means the forfeit of a possible career. But as he turns to leave, a voice calls him back.

Interviewer: Wait. I’ve interviewed countless candidates for 25 years. Everyone turns into a yes-man to get the job. Where did you spring from, son?

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 2.41.41 PMThe two friends, with tears in their eyes, offer themselves to the great “Rancho”. Rancho himself, overcome by emotion, hides behind a pillar and cries. Meanwhile….

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Someone’s mustache was shaved off (much the giggles of two daughters)…

Furious with this humiliation, Virus swears to create Raju’s test himself, in order to insure that he’ll fail.  Pia, not tolerating her father, gets drunk enough to steal her father’s office key. She sneaks into Rancho’s dorm room, and in her inebriated state, adorably accuses him of various things.

Pia: Tell me something! Do you really feel…the noses collide while kissing? (Leans towards him…)

Rancho: (Pulls down Pia’s visor). Here…have some dhokla (a chickpea/rice ‘cake’).

Pia: (Wobbly). You Gujaratis are so cute. But why does your food sound so dangerous? Dhokla, Fafda, Handwa, Thepla, Khakhra. They all sound just like missiles. ‘Today Bush dropped two Dhoklas on Iraq. 400 dead, 200 injured’.

Rancho: (Grabbing her hand). Come.

(Leads her towards the door. She shuts the door, and turns to face him).

Pia: I can deal with Khakhra, Fafda, but your name…Ranchhoddas Shamaldas Chanchad. Yuck. I won’t change my last name after marriage!

At this, Rancho’s expression saddens. As the audience, we understand why – Rancho’s identity is a lie; his deal with his rich master forces him to leave after graduation. But Pia doesn’t know this, and comes up with all sorts of various other excuses (is there someone else? are you gay? impotent?). Rancho shakes his head at each one, and at the last, Pia takes his face in her hands and asks him to prove it…

Where we shift to the present day, where the two men realize they’ve forgotten to tell Pia. A car drive towards the opposite direction, they arrive to crash Pia’s wedding.

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Farhan attempts to convince Pia to leave her to-be-husband, who has the same stingy personality as he did when they had first began dating. In a hilarious proof, Raju pretends to be the dry-cleaning gentleman and intentionally spills mint sauce on Pia’s fiance’s suit, which results in much childish shouting. Meanwhile, Pia walks down the aisle with none other than…Raju! Telling her to live life with no regrets, the two convince her to run away from the unhappy marriage, and join them in finding their best friend. In a hilarious bit of dialogue, the two boys alert Pia of one minor problem.

Farhan: Pia, one minor problem.

Pia: What?

Farhan: We don’t know if Rancho is married.

Pia: WHAT?

Raju (reassuringly): He won’t be married!

Pia: And if he is?

Raju: Then we’ll drop you back.

Pia: -about to strangle him-

We flash back to the past, where the two boys are shuffling about in Virus’ office, trying to locate the cheat sheet for Raju. In an attempt to find it, they call Pia, only Pia and Mona are busy and Virus sees the phone call instead. It a heart-dropping experience for us, when we see Virus see the caller ID, and discover that someone is inside his office in the middle of the night. Set out to find the lurker, Virus takes off in the middle of the rainy night, intent on punishing whoever dared set foot in his office.

Rancho and Farhan finally locate the sheet, open the sealed package, photocopy it, and quickly run back to their friend. They urgently wake up Raju, and tell them that they’ve secured the answers. But a man with a renewed purpose, Raju crumples up the paper and throws it away, telling his friends that a high score achieved without his own ability would be meaningless. Proudly, Rancho and Farhan hug him, expressing their love for his moral growth. Meanwhile, Virus opens his office and  discovers the freshly resealed envelope and the blinking photocopy lights. He immediately calls the police, intent on arresting those rascals. Sure enough, when Virus breaks into the boys’ dorm, the evidence lies right in front of him, in crumpled form. In his fury, Virus sets about beating up Rancho, defining him as the culprit for the theft.

He kicks all of them out of the university, and then sets out to find who stole his office key.

When he discovers that the criminal is his own daughter, Virus looks at her with confusion. Amid bitterness and anger, Pia accuses him of being responsible for her brothers’ death, as he had over-exerted pressure on him to become something he didn’t want to be – an engineer, when his true passion had been literature. Pia runs out with the final, haunting words “he was murdered”, leaving Virus shocked and dazed.

Amidst this emotional stress, Mona begins her contractions. Unfortunately, she is stranded near the university, because of the flood, and Virus is unable to take her to the hospital.

When the boys hear Virus’ call for help, they immediately set out to help Mona. With a bit of maneuvering, they carry her to the school table, and set out to help deliver the baby as safely as possible. With the aid of a video camera, they rely on Pia’s instructions to help Mona with her labor. Millimeter grabs hot water, Rancho rips the curtains from the living room to cover her, and Raju pushes the computer screen close to the table, so the two sisters can communicate. Mona’s exhaustion, however, leaves her efforts futile. The baby still hasn’t crowned, and Pia begins to get desperate. She says that ordinarily, when mothers’ are too tired to push, the hospital would use a vacuum hose that would gently suction the baby’s head until it successfully moved past the mothers’ birth canal.

But Rancho widens his eyes when he hears the idea, because he thinks that he can make the vacuum pump. With everyone’s help, they use Rancho’s inverter to convert the electricity from the cars’ batteries into energy, and then fasten a vacuum pump to the machine. Rancho adjusts the dial to the specified strength, and with hopeful hearts, they try the contraption. In brutal agony, Mona makes a final push, and with a help of Rancho’s suction cup, they manage to succesfully let the baby into the real world.

Celebration ensues, except, after a few moments Pia realizes that the baby has a problem.

He hasn’t begun crying.

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Pia tries to get Rancho to rub his back, but there’s no use.

Shock and desperation falls on Mona’s face, and the others realize the meaning of a possible still-born child. In an effort to calm her, Raju tries to use Rancho’s famous saying, “Aal iz well.” Amazingly, a foot strikes up and kicks Rancho. In realization, Rancho tells everyone to begin to chant his adage, and when everyone begins to chime in, the baby starts to wail. Ah, what a great hospital story for Mona to tell her son someday.

Amongst cheer and celebration (Virus tells his grandson to be a football player, which shows a change from his narrow-minded view of men becoming engineers), Rancho attempts to slip away. But before he goes, Virus runs after him and concedes his position in their battle. As a token of his acknowledgment of Rancho’s achievement, Virus surrenders the astronaut’s pen, along with the answer that Rancho had desired in the beginning – that the pencil’s broken tip would serve as a hazard to astronauts, potentially getting into their eyes and mouth.

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Graduation commences, and Rancho slips away once and for all.

And here is where we end up in our present state, where the group of four finally arrive at Rancho’s purported location, a small village. Chatur scoffs at Rancho’s occupation as a school teacher, snobbily boasting of his merger with the famous and phenomenally successful Phunsukh Wangdu, a scientist with a long-list of patents under his belt. Farhan, Raju, and Pia smile in wonder at the scene before them, as small children use machines, such as a bicycle, to grind wheat. A young man finds the three of them, and smiling brightly at their arrival, leads them to Rancho’s office.

In his office, the young man tells them that Rancho has been keeping up with their day to day lives, as he reads Farhan’s books, shows the children Raju’s blog, and still has Pia’s motorcycle helmet. Pia looks at the young man with confusion, wondering how he knows knows them so well. The young man explains, while smiling, that “Millimeter” has now become “Centimeter”.

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The boys embrace him, while Pia looks on with tears in her eyes.

When asked on how he ended up with Rancho, Millimeter (or should I say, Centimeter), relates the story of how Rancho gave him a note and an address, asking him if he wanted to continue his studies. Millimeter agreed, and thus, has his current job as sort of an assistant to Rancho.

And speaking of that bastard….

 

 

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Pia finds him flying a model airplane with a few children, and rides her motorcycle towards him. Hahaha. Exactly like his dream. Rancho freezes when he sees Pia riding towards him from a distance, and tells the children to take-over the controls. She takes off his helmet, leans towards him slowly, and…

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…slaps him.

HA! The perfect revenge.

Rancho, in his adorably chastised state, endures Pia’s verbal assault. A moment later, Pia asks whether Rancho’s currently in love. A little embarrassed, Rancho nods. At his assent, Pia’s face falls, as she asks who it is.

Rancho: You.

Eee! Pia passionately kisses him (Rancho awkwardly holds his hands to the side).

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 3.35.13 AMFarhan and Raju find Rancho a moment later, and each deliver their own punishment. Chatur, a little bit physically incapacitated from the spoon-urine experiment (it’s probably a good lesson for him), stumbles up towards them to triumphantly deliver the treaty they had promised years earlier – for Rancho to sign that he had lost (in terms of being less successful). More amused than angry, Rancho takes out his pen and signs the contract. Chatur, at the realization that he holds Virus’ astronaut pen, snatches it from his hand, declaring that the writing instrument was for “winners”, not “losers”. Sneeringly, he takes Rancho’s signature and stalks back to his car, in an excellent mood for his upcoming deal with Phunsukh Wangdu.

When his friends groan at this “Phunsukh Wangdu”, Rancho states matter-of-factly, that he is the very same man. Farhan, Raju, and Pia all look at him, surprised. The surprise turns into elation, as the three musketeers decide that it is time to get back at Chatur. Ingeniously, Rancho uses his phone (which is registered as Phunsukh Wangdu’s number) to call Chatur. He tells him in a serious tone that he cannot sign the merger because…Chatur has his pen.

Chatur comes to the slow horrid realization that Rancho is Phunsukh Wangdu, as he comically tries to use the underwear trick to garner respect from his new leader.

And the three boys laugh.

And all is well.

 

 

 

 

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You know you are addicted to Rockband (or Guitar Hero) when:

  1. You have the songs on Rockband on a repeat shuffle list in your head.
  2. You listen to new songs, and imagine what it would be like to transform it into Rock-Bandable material.
  3. You have considered writing a letter to Harmonix Systems, the creator of Rockband, in order to let them officially create more songs (ahem, K-Pop).
  4. You’ve memorized the lyrics to songs you would have never listened to if it had not been for Rockband.
  5. You find yourself liking the rock genre a lot more than you thought you would.
  6. Your fingers itch in class, and imagine themselves pressing keys.
  7. Your feet tap in anticipation of an invisible foot pedal.
  8. You equate singing vibrato with a terrible voice, because you are deemed “weak” or “okay” by the game.
  9. You look at anything below a 95% as complete failure, and pride yourself in only missing one or two notes.
  10. You have officially considered taking up drums/guitar as a real instrument.
  11. You have thought about starting a real band with the skills you have accumulated playing Rock band, and with you fellow Rockband players (hey, you were all on expert!).
  12. You know the song well enough to sing without looking at the screen.
  13. You right calf seems to be a bit more muscular lately…
  14. You use it as an excuse for exercise (Hey! Drumming requires legwork and arm-work!)
  15. You laugh at the fact that your friend suspects you of spending six or more hours on the game…and then realize that you actually are very much addicted.

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CaseClosed_1024aDetective Conan (FunAnimation’s Case Closed) = Sherlock Holmes Anime Style.

Warning: This show is not responsible for compulsive Youtube searching disorder, paranoid scanning of environment, lack of sleep, need for voice-controlling bow ties, fixation with handsome, unreal characters, and a desire to change profession into becoming the world’s coolest detective. Oh, and getting the English opening theme song stuck in your head.

It was the first new century,
In 100 years.
And when I felt like I should cry,
I laughed away my tears.
The end of a millennium,
We waited a long long time.
To see the brave new world,
And the mountains we would climb.
The things I try to comprehend,
As a child remained a mystery.
There’s nothing I need to defend,
There’s nothing great about me.
All that I’ll ever believe,
Is the pounding of my heart,
No it doesn’t answer questions,
That’s just the way it goes.
All I will ever have faith in,
Is the beating in my chest,
It won’t predict tomorrow,
Or give me eternal rest.

Ode to Detective Conan

Detective Conan, Detective Conan. You are the Ran to my Shinichi. You are the beer to my Mori-san. You are the inflatable soccer ball to my red sneakers. You are, to put it simply, a long-time friend that is always consistently fun to hangout with. No matter how long I am with you, I never get bored – there are always new surprises.

Conan-kaito-shinichi-detective-conan-33748081-2000-1464If you are a Detective Conan fan, then everything above this point made complete sense to you. If you are not, then, welcome to the club!

Detective Conan is exactly as its title describes – it centers around the life of a 7-year old boy, named Conan who solves mysteries that even the police cannot solve, on a daily basis. But here’s the catch – Conan is actually Shinichi Kudo, a 17-year-old genius high-school detective with an excellent streak of closed cases, in his 7-year old form. The reason? Because he accidentally overheard a conversation that he shouldn’t have and as a result was administered pills that should have killed him. Instead, they had an unintended effect – shrinking his physical body but retaining his sharp mind and even sharper tongue.

But because the organization that administered the pills is a deadly one, Shinichi must hide his real identity from his loved ones, and take up an alias. Furthermore, he must find a way to continue solving cases without adults questioning his apparent mentality of a young child. These two factors, along with the loss of his original identity, force Shinichi to create almost an alter-ego for himself, Conan Edogawa.

tinkerbell-anime-manga-shinichi-kudo-detective-conan-80711He introduces himself, in his new form, to his childhood best friend Ran. Because their parents were good friends, Shinichi and Ran had grown up together. Doctor Agasa, Shinichi’s eccentric mentor, tells Ran that Conan is one of his relative’s sons that has come to stay with him. Conan explains Shinichi’s disappearance by giving the excuse that he is constantly busy working on cases. In a temporary living arrangement, Ran takes Conan to live with her and her father, Inspector Mori, who is also a detective (albeit, a mediocre one).

Shinichi doesn’t mind, however, because it is through Ran’s father that he is able to successfully reveal the culprit. With the help of two of Doctor Agasa’s inventions, the anesthesia-dart watch and the voice-changeable bow tie, In each case, Conan temporarily knocks out Inspector Mori (which leads to the famous nickname “Sleeping Kogoro”), and then hides and uses the bow tie to speak in his voice. To the rest of the world, Mori Kogoro appears to suddenly become a brilliant detective. There’s an influx of business at the detective agency due to Kogoro’s fame and reputation, and unbeknownst to both Mori’s, it is because Shinichi has been helping the entire time.

But Mori’s daughter and Shinichi are in somewhat nebulous territory regarding their relationship (it’s obvious that both like each other, there is just a lag in the actual conveyance of feelings happens).

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Ran doesn’t know that she’s currently living with Shinichi, and this fact isn’t helped by the fact that his transformation occurred in the midst of what could be their first date. Although both are very good friends, there’s a subtle thread throughout the whole show reveals a deeper, romantic aspect of their relationship. The fact that Ran unsuspectingly reveals a bit of her thoughts of Shinichi, on the fact that she misses him, to Conan, serves as a dilemma for the couple. At certain circumstances, Shinichi reveals himself to Ran as his original self, but because this transformation is only temporary and he must reverts quickly back, Ran is constantly left hanging. It’s a little bit heartbreaking, because although Shinichi desperately wants to tell Ran that he’s been by her side all along, but is prevented from doing so for fear of endangering her life.

In a sense, it’s strange to see Ran playing the mothering role to Conan, when we can see that before the transformation she played Shinichi’s love interest and best friend. Shinichi’s transformation illuminates two facets of herself – Conan brings out her nurturing side while Shinichi brings out her flustered and annoyed attitude. It’s also somewhat refreshing to see Ran mature throughout the series. Although we can tell that she is a strong, independent girl, in the beginning of the show she served more or less in a secretary role, through running errands for her father and looking after Conan. However, the more recent episodes have illuminated a more direct participation in cases, as well as a closer and closer realization of who Conan truly is. It’s good to see a heroine with a firm head on her shoulders; it’s even better that she has a sharp mind.

Speaking of romantic couples, another side-couple that has a recurring appearance to the show is Heiji and Kazuha, a pair from the “West” (Osaka. Ran and Shinichi are from the “East”, or Tokyo). Heiji and Shinichi both have a competitive streak, however, and try to outdo one another in order to prove their superior expertise. Nonetheless, the two are like two brothers, and Heiji is one of the few who knows and covers Shinichi’s secret. Just like the two gentleman, Ran and Kazuha also get along very well, with both of their exasperation with their fellow men and their deadly martial arts power.

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If we focus back on Ran and Shinichi, we can observe that both have quite interesting families. Ran is the daughter of Mori Kogoro, an ex-cop-turned-detective. Mori is an absolute hoot to watch, and serves as comic relief throughout the series. As viewers, we are with Ran in that we roll our eyes in exasperation whenever Mori boasts too much about himself, flirts too much with women, or drinks too much beer (again). But we forgive him at the end of he day, mostly because we know that he’s not taking himself too seriously, and for the fact that he has another side to him – a particular protectiveness towards his daughter, as well as a seriousness with his separated wife, Eri Kisaki. Eri is a refined, perceptive lawyer who notices evidence in cases far better than her husband. The two have a bit of an antagonistic relationship, although there are brief moments in which it appears that they would reconcile (personally, I find that Mori always has Eri in his heart, even though he may be a bit of a player on the surface).

Shinichi’s parents are an impressive duo – his father is a brilliant author of the detective genre, and his mother was once a famous Japanese actress. But besides writing excellent literature, Shinichi’s father possesses an incredible skill in solving mysteries. For Sherlock fans, if Shinichi were to be Sherlock Holmes, then Kudo Yusaku would be equivalent to Mycroft, in the sense that he is superior in intellect and skill, but chooses to stay out of the profession. Yusaku has offered great advice to his son, not just in terms of detective clues, but also with regards to general wisdom as well. Complementary to Yusaku, Shinichi’s mother Yukiko is brilliant as well, as she is a master of disguise and appears to Shinichi in different forms throughout the series.

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The fundamental goal running through the show is Conan’s struggle to find the Black Organization, the organization responsible for his current state. The organization had hired a young scientist, Haibara Ai, in order to create a deathly pill that would kill people if it were ingested. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the pill resulted in Haibara and Kudo being reverted back to their childhood bodies. Both have such a mature aura that it is amusing to compare both to the playfulness and childishness of other seven-year-olds. Speaking of which, these other seven-year-olds – Ayumi, Mitsuhiko, and Genta – make up a motley bunch in a Conan’s elementary school, and the group name themselves the “Junior Detective League”, in their attempt to solve cases. It’s sort of adorable how all three loyally follow Conan around when it comes to solving cases. Shinichi ultimately plays a big brother role to them.

Each episode focuses predominately on this trio – Mori, Ran and Conan – although the supporting cast is featured quite often. There is a consistent layout of the episode. The episode opens to a single individual’s death, and an introduction to some background knowledge on the victim. Conan, as well as the audience, is introduced to three (or four) possible suspects for the crime, all related in some way to the victim. Possible suspects could be members of the victim’s family, friends, secretaries or colleagues. Evidence is presented in an accumulating fashion, with Conan slowly piercing the answer together as the case goes on. The genius factor is that because Conan’s thoughts are made apparent to the viewer, the viewer can actively participate by thinking about the presented evidence himself and also presenting his own theories as to what really happened. The show throws in quite a few red herrings, dead-ends, and stumbling blocks for a good measure, which forces Conan to think on his feet and also adds to the overall tension of discovering the true criminal.

The door-shut/door-open sequence occurs when Conan discovers who the true criminal is. Conan first states who the criminal is, and then proceeds to go over the exact evidence as to why the crime must have been committed by that single individual and no other. It’s fascinating seeing the final act dissected into its evidential components, and seeing how each component adds to the overall argument against the murderer. It’s fascinating seeing how Conan reconciles the impossible crime (I.e. an individual’s death in a snowbank, but no footprints), or takes apart an individual’s alibi. As a fan of the detective genre myself, each episode is almost like a logic puzzle, where the answer isn’t revealed until the very end. In most cases, the criminal has a personal vendetta against the victim, and justifies his method of killing as retribution for an earlier crime. The episode often wraps up on a light note, such as Ran taking Conan out for ice cream, or a funny act from our Detective Mori. 

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Detective Conan is one of the longest running anime series in history, with over 600+ episodes to date (the first episode was aired in 1997). But it is fortunate that its exceptionally long length does not lead to redundancy in case-solving methods, nor plot and character development. Furthermore, Detective Conan has also launched a total of seventeen movies, with each premiering in theaters across Japan. The movies are fleshed-out versions of the episodes, with a slightly longer arc and more case development. There are actually quite a few romantic developments in the films (romantic developments are a tad scarce in the actual episodes), which is always an added bonus.

Furthermore, there are live-action movies, with the first two featuring Oguri Shun as Shinichi and Kurokawa Tomoka as Ran; and the second two featuring Mizobata Junpei and Kutsuna Shiori as the two leads. I was a little irritated that I had not discovered it earlier, but there is also a 13-episode special with Junpei and Shiori, with the famous trio locked in a white-room maze and having to find their way out through Shinichi’s memory of passwords. It’s a genius way of incorporating one case per episode, in the format of Shinchi’s memory, so that each past case possesses a key to escaping one more locked room.

But before the whole franchise, the live-action, the movies, and even the anime series – is the Detective Conan manga, written by Aoyama Gosho. This manga author is the sole cause for such a fantastic show, so hats off to him and his conception of the story in the first place.

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Haha.

Mori’s face kills it every time.

At first glance, Kodocha appears to be a child cartoon, a simple and humorous series aimed to evoke laughter from the audience. But there's more to Kodocha than what meets the eye and it's definitely more than just an anime about a somewhat hyperactive sixth grader who has a grudge against the school's silent ring leader. It's hilarious to watch, of course, but even more so, it has pretty deep emotional beats too. On a whole, it's a progression of a girl's childhood into womanhood, and the shenanigans that occur along the way. Warning: The actual series is a little more than a hundred episodes long, so I suggest either marathoning (in chunks), or watching a little each day. The former is preferable, just so the story experience is more cohesive, but there's obviously a huge time commitment. Also, the graphics aren't the best...and well, before disregarding a series because of this, just fully finish watching the first episode before judgment. Okay, without further ado! Summary Due to the actual length of the series, and the multiple arcs, I will be focusing on just the broad strokes of the narrative. Nonetheless, this summary contains spoilers, so be warned. url-1 Sana Kurata is a bouncy, excitable sixth grader who is a child actress on a popular children's TV show. She's surrounded by people who love her - an eccentric mother who is a multi-awarded author with an expansive hat collection; Ren, a full-time loyal driver by day and (according to Sana) gigolo by night; and the behind-the-scenes family for the TV show. Thus, she is a little taken aback when, on the first day of school, she is promptly ignored amidst a classroom squabble between the rowdy boys. It turns out that the leader of these rowdy boys, Akito, an i-pod-listening loner who is openly disrespectful, cold, and uncaring to the world around him. Infuriated by his attitude, Sana declares war on Akito, and uses every possible method to defeat him. She tries scary items such as rubber snakes, plastic spiders, and other surprises. With knowledge of his acrophobia, she challenges him to bungee jumping from the ceiling of their gym (this backfires when Sana ends up shrieking her head off). Sana discovers that the reason why the teachers are powerless to prevent Akito's tyranny is because of a blackmail photo that shows two of the teachers displaying forbidden public affection. Sana decides to let Akito get a taste of his own medicine, by snapping a candid photo of him herself.  url-2 Dressed up as Sherlock and Watson, Sana and Tsuyoshi spy at Akito's house. There's commotion in the Hayama household, and Akito angrily steps outside and punches a wall. Here we learn a little bit about the young delinquent's past. According to his family, Akito's birth was the cause of his mother's death, and so his father and younger sister blame him for ruining the happiness of the family. Hence, while Sana grew up with people who loved her, Akito grew up with people that hated him. His anger and delinquent behavior was simply a mechanism to cover up his loneliness. With a tender heart, Sana reminds the Hayama family of their only son and brother, and helps mend the bridge between Akito and his family.  Meanwhile, Misako (Sana's mother) publishes a shocking autobiography, which explains that Sana was adopted. Sana is shocked and saddened at this revelation, but goes to meet her real mother anyways. It turns out that her real mother was just fourteen when she gave birth to Sana, far too young to properly take care of her. Thus, she abandons Sana on a park bench, hoping a kind family would find her. When she tearfully asks Sana if she'd consider rejoining the family, Sana shakes her head and firmly decides that she would like to stay with her real mother, the one who took care of her all these years. Emotionally tired, Sana is comforted by Akito that night. url-3 After awhile, Christmas season is arriving, as Sana is in the midst of a hectic filming schedule and Akito worries about finding a perfect Christmas present. Akito shows up to the Christmas party empty-handed, but leads Sana towards the front yard, where he's created a mini snowman for her. Underneath the tree, he attempts to confess to her that he likes her. Only Akito's embarassed stuttering only keeps Sana on her toes guessing.

Akito: I like y- Sana: Yogurt? Akito: Y... Sana: Yo-yo's? Yodeling... Akito: ....
Oh Sana. Although it is a common thread to have heroines be a little oblivious, I find her innocence to be such a funny contrast to Akito's seriousness. Anyways, Akito silences her with a kiss (#2!). The two share a moment underneath the tree, and Sana adorably keeps the mini snowman in the fridge. Okay, brief interlude. From here on out, I will attempt to finish summarizing this series - but rather than attempt to do it chronologically, I will do it based on story arcs. The reason I do so is because the show's sequence interweaves multiple story arcs together, and although this dispersion is easy for a show watcher to keep up with, it becomes a lot more confusing on paper (or, ahem...computer screen). Keep in mind that each of the elaborated story arcs inevitably relates back to Sana, for the whole series is centered around the growth and maturity of our lovable young heroine. Rei's Backstory Rei, our chauffeur/butler/gigolo extraordinaire, actually has quite a bit of a story of his own. Several years ago, Rei was a homeless beggar on the streets. One day, Sana, just a few years old, had noticed him. She gave him cookies and asked her mother (Misako), if she could let him stay. And thus, Rei became a new addition to the Kurata household. Underneath her love and affection, Rei grew from a lost young man to the charming gentleman that Sana had a crush on in the beginning of the series. Rei, however, has a backdrop love story of his own, illuminated when he meets Asako, his ex-girlfriend, once again. The two had broken up because Asako had planned on continuing her dream of becoming an actress, which lead Rei into his downward spiral in the first place. Meh. I've never really been a fan of Asako (nor Rei's past either, for that matter), because I had thought her to be rather selfish for leaving Rei. But I think I might be over-reacting due to the fact that she was almost a love rival to Sana. Sana and Takeshi Sana does a gig with Takeshi, a small-time actor who lives by himself in his apartment. Sana instantly feels a connection towards him, and the two soon become just like father and daughter. Sana imbues a spark back in Takeshi's dull life, and Takeshi's affection satisfies a longing for her real father. Only, almost as if it were a joke, it turns out that they are father and daughter. And moreover, that he has a terminal illness. Seriously? -Throws fist into the air- Why? In the final scene they shoot together, Sana's real father dies in her arms. In a depressed stupor, Sana retires to the mountains, where a snowdrift settles in. She's inside a cabin, amidst a snowstorm, when Akito goes to find her. The severity of the blizzard causes the roof to begin to cave in, and while Akito struggles to find a way for both of them to get out, Sana falls and hangs precariously by a wooden ledge. In a daze, she hangs there, over a cliff, slowly slipping. In an emotionally gut-wrenching scene, Akito yells at Sana to snap out of it. It's here that Akito's determination is truly shown, because it is through his willpower and levelheadedness that frees Sana from her emotional dead-end. Sana strains her fingers just as Akito grasps her hands - the two fall back on the snowbank, Sana crying and Akito holding her. Yep, and my tissue is wet. In all seriousness, this is an excellent example of why Sana and Akito make such an excellent couple. They are almost opposites in a personality sense, but where one lacks, another makes up for. Sana's cheerfulness and spontaneity is an example of her uplifting, childlike spirit, which softens Akito's cynical and heavily-guarded heart. But Sana is also sensitive and easily hurt, and Akito's sturdy and reliable nature is what anchors her in times like these. And of course, the chemistry from their everyday bickering is the perfect cherry-on-top.   Sana and Naozumi & Akito and Fuka These two love stories blossom in the middle school arc, or the past the midway 50 episode mark. A little after school begins, Sana takes leave to go to a movie shoot in the mountains. There, she meets her costar Naozumi, who tells her that they actually share a brief moment of their childhood together - both stayed together in the same orphanage. Naozumi is soft-spoken, gentle, well-mannered - everything that Akito is not. Naozumi treats her dearly, and ends up falling for her. Sana cannot reciprocate, however, although she has yet to fully articulate her feelings for Akito. The paparazzi follow the two actors into the wilderness, and blows up their "love story" onto front headlines, which is seen by Akito, who is back in school (this also causes a rampage of fan girls who attack poor Sana). The misunderstanding is perpetuated and complicated by the fact that Akito has begun dating Fuka, one of Sana's best friends. Just as Naozumi shares a bit of his past with Sana, Fuka shares her past with Akito, although while Naozumi looks fondly back at the memory, Fuka at first still lingers in the bitter aftertaste of having Akito steal her first kiss. Akito, you bad boy. But it is understandable as to why Akito does feel an attraction towards Fuka. Both Fuka and Sana have similar personalities, in their spazziness and bright nature (although I do think Fuka is the more toned-down version of Sana). Akito and Fuka begin going out, and the relationship is partially fulfilling. I'd say that although Akito does feel a certain sense of belonging with Fuka, he also feels an emptiness which he can't seem to reconcile. When Naozumi finally declares the true status of his and Sana's relationship, Sana and Akito almost reconcile (remember that Akito's still dating Fuka at this time), but their off-timing (Sana's flight to New York, Akito's relationship with Fuka) makes them miss their chance.   New York - Naozumi and Sana I will be skipping this part, because it doesn't particularly relate to the main story arc. But for just a quick summary - it is basically more back story to Naozumi. It is revealed that Naozumi actually isn't an orphan and that he is the long-lost son of an established American family.   Anime Ending kodocha05The anime is cut off at 102 episodes (the manga is fully finished, and goes more in depth of Sana and Akito's relationship), and in that sense, the 2nd season ends rather abruptly. Sana and Akito are temporarily back together again, but because it isn't a permanent ending, I shall leave off fully summarizing the entire story.   ReviewI wholeheartedly recommend this romantic comedy to anyone who loves the crafting of an excellent story.As a watcher, Obana welcomes you into the world of Sana Kurata, and offers for you to put on her shoes and see what it's like to be a twelve-year old girl, with a little too much energy and a lot of love. It's a coming-of-age story, but it's also an ode to childhood as well, as Sana explores a world filled with all sorts of ups and downs. As for the rest of the cast, Obana molds her characters in such an organic way that they grow and mature as the series progresses, learning to overcome their own personal hurdles. Kodocha is surprisingly dark for it's appearance, as a simple children's TV-show, but the seemingly childish cartoon art is deceptive. There are quite a few depressing themes below the running wisecracks, such as unwanted children, orphans, and death of family members. If a food analogy would be appropriate, I would say that Kodomo no Omocha is marshmallowy on the surface, but dark chocolate underneath. It's fluff, but when the angst gets going, the tears just keep flowing. (Ew. That rhymed.) 500465 I do understand how it can be a little too cheesy for some, however, so if you find yourself wanting to switch channels at the end of the first episode, feel free to do so (but watch the first episode, at least!). To fans of Marmalade Boy, the "feel" of the show may be quite similar, although I personally think that Kodocha infuses both humor and romance, while Marmalade Boy yields a bit more to the latter. So if you have any time in the afternoon to spare, check out Kodocha. It might just become one of your guilty anime pleasures.            

1. Doushite Kimi Wo Suki Ni Natte Shimattan Darou?

This is the iconic Japanese single that is profoundly beautiful and ultimately ageless. It’s a piece that embodies a classical romance – capturing the feelings of a young man’s love and regret in a soul-searching poem. There’s a certain ambiguity of it all – it’s never truly clear on why the protagonist and the newly bride never ended up together. Was it because of ill-timing? Or misunderstanding? Or a simple decision? The short word exchanges scattered throughout the music create an atmospheric tension that conveys so many words unsaid.

It’s here that the angelic voices of Tohoshinki shine brightest – clear and resonant vibrations of sound float on top of the instrumental soundtrack. The pureness of their sound matches perfectly with the innocence and sweetness of the background, and also the recounting of memories of the main narrator of this love story. Definitely one of Tohoshinki’s best, the song will remain one of my favorites for ages to come.

2. Bolero

Five young men look dashing in their black suits while standing in, what appears to be an old, traditional church. The shots, like in Doushite, switch back and forth between Tohoshinki and the story’s plotline – in this case, of a sweeper girl with a dream of becoming a ballet dancer. The color scheme is dark and rich, with a bit of a hazed effect during the ballet room scenes, almost giving it a fairytale vibe. The song’s message and corresponding storyline follows a path of desperation, ascent, and finally, hope and upliftment.

A power ballad, Bolero utilizes the unique aspects of each member’s voice to produce a powerful and moving masterpiece. Although Jaejoong’s and Junsu’s voices take on the strength and skill required the lead voices of TVXQ, the other three members’ own vocal talents are showcased magnificently as well. Yunho’s voice holds itself quite well during his verse and Changmin’s sheer power in high notes makes for a jolting ascend to the climactic bridge. Micky’s naturally baritone voice is low and refreshing in the beginning, but it’s the climax that reveals a different side of him – his voice shoots up two octaves to scream the last thundering cry, a yell that culminates the piece with an almost painful, emotional rawness. One can hardly doubt the vocal abilities of Tohoshinki after this, especially one, scruffy-looking baritone.

3. Stand By U

Stand By U is a refreshing breather after Bolero, with a calm and clean feel throughout the entire song. The opening sequence displays a grand piano’s monochromatic black and white keys, and a muted and low-key ambiance follows from beginning to end. There’s no dramatic storyline that accompanies the singing scenes – but there doesn’t need to be one. The song’s message itself is universal – there need not be explanation or illustration, because the lyrics themselves are self-explanatory. In the chorus, Jaejoong muses:

君は何処にいて 誰と何処にいて
どんな服を着て 何して笑ってるんだろう

Where are you, who are you with,
What are you wearing, what are you doing that makes you smile?

TVXQ’s voices are a lot less pronounced in this song – the feel of this piece is definitely more subtle and contained than in their other ballads. The simplicity of the lyrics, carried out by their voices, reflects on the ordinary nature of people’s everyday lives and relationships. But it’s also the simple questions that capture the singer’s longing for his love in a gorgeous, minimalistic way.

4. Melody and Harmony

It’s just shy of a lullaby, Melody and Harmony is a feel-good, floating-on-clouds sort of song automatically puts me in a good mood (a sort of music balm). There are no words to describe how uplifting the song meaning is – instead, a wordless splash of color does the trick. It’s delightful symbolism – for the colorless world to be a reflection of the monotony of life, and the paint-infected world to be a representation of the vibrancy and richness of life. Jaejoong and Yoochun, decked out in white, provide a visual feast for the eyes (so much gorgeous skin), along with their pretty voices.

Like the name of this song implies, two clear layers of vocals are heard above the instrumentation. Yoochun’s huskier tone interweaves through Jaejoong’s clear voice, and through harmonization both voices bring out the best in the other. Yoochun’s husky voice fits especially in the rap bridge, where he soothingly assures and comforts the listener. It is a good choice to see this duo emphasized out of the five, because both have such a chemistry and dynamic with one another – this song is the perfect example of the soulmate couple in action.

5. Toki Wo Tomete

Toki Wo Tomete is a beautiful poem about a dreamer who reminisces on his past memories, as well as a written wish to remain by her side forever. The usage of a planetarium as a dark, nostalgic background, as well as a metaphor of the two lovers’ journey under the stars is simply perfect. The rich yet musty, dark blues that permeate the music video serve as a somewhat nostalgic, bittersweet undertone. One gets a certain calmness through watching the five guardian angels of a saddened young woman, each sings part of a silent love song.

The fives’ voices meld together seamlessly during the chorus, and shine independently during each of their parts. Even without knowledge of their words, one can feel the emotions that run through this song. Their execution is flawless, breathtaking and as close to the heavens as a mortal voice can get.

 

I confess that I am a complete newbie when it comes to vocaloid music. Up to a few months ago, I had never even heard of Hatsune Miku, much less seen the thousands of Youtube videos with enchantingly (sometimes eerily) poetic lyrics sang with an animated background. I’m also quite clueless as to how the whole process works – yes, the lyrics and melody is inputted to format a song…but how exactly, I do not quite know. Just by imagining creating an entirely new song from scratch from a purchased voice gives me a headache. Instead, I scroll through other people’s published songs and enjoy. Oh, and I get a visual feast from the gorgeous pictures.

Witch – Megurine Luka.

Dark Woods Circus – Hatsune Miku, Kigamine Rin & Len

Although I know there is a die-hard fanbase based on the vocaloid world, I’m not too eager to step foot onboard yet. I know that most of the songs published become insanely catchy after several listens. Each crafted song is unique based on it’s own vocaloid, and almost all have complex and interesting instrumental layers in the background. The lyrics are at times masterpieces themselves, whether using the imagination to tell a vivid and colorful story, or to paint a realistic portrait of real life. These songs seldom have bland lyrics, redundant melodies, or dull voices. And yet…here lies the catch.

Vocaloid songs aren’t boring at all, they’re quite on the opposite spectrum. At times, there is almost too much going on. An electronic voice speaks syllables rapidly, tumbling through the lyrics, as though racing to reach the next line. The instruments in the background echo together, each squeak, pound, clang, thunk, whistle and vibration pushing together, rising to a chaos at the climax of the song. There’s a dissonance in the feel of the sheer precision the song plays out – there’s no room for modulation, no room for error, no room for change. It’s so unlike the imperfection of a human’s voice, one that wobbles unsteadily while holding an emotional note, or that strains to reach the zenith of a chorus, or that lets out an unexpected sigh after the finish of a verse. It’s predictable down to every nanosecond of a song, and although the composition itself may be a work of genius, the actual piece always seems to fall short.

Hello/How Are You – Hatsune Miku

Rolling Girl – Hatsune Miku

Don’t get me wrong, I fully respect artists who use the vocaloid software to create their own original works. There is so much talent, creativity and hard work needed to build a song using a voice software and to make it sound new, fresh, interesting (also a hats off to the vocaloid visual and animation artists, who have done beautiful work from what I have seen). But although I admire vocaloid songs themselves, I can’t help but not truly connect with them because they lack a certain humanness, an unpolished sound that reveals the imperfect emotions that flawed humans have.

But despite my complaints, I concede that I have enjoyed listening to a few songs over the past few weeks. One great thing about vocaloid music is the enormous archive and variety of different styles, as well as the visual feast that goes along with the lyrics. Here are a few that I would recommend to any casual viewer (I’m sure that most fans will have seen these already, for they’re immensely popular):

1. Just Be Friends – Megurine Luka

It starts off with a repetitive english phrase, then drops into low and bittersweet murmurings of a lost and hurt lover. A stark and beautiful high note unleashes the power of the chorus, which further unravels and elucidates the narrator’s painful decision. The dichotomy of loving one another and hating one another (both sides of the same emotional coin) is so universal amongst real boyfriend-girlfriend couples, and the lyrics resonate as well. This song’s music video is simply breathtaking.

2. Suki, Daisuki (I Like You, I Love You) – Kagamine Rin

If the term “kawaii” could be epitomized in one song, this would be it. The song itself, from it’s soothing and club-like chords in the beginning to the almost unbearably adorable lyrics and the hesitant, childlike voice singing them, is utterly addictive. It essentially captures the timidness and awkwardness of confessing one’s love, and all the cute diversions along the way.

3. Daughters of White – Yowane Haku

The resounding church bells in the beginning and the oriental instrumentation provide the perfect setting for a fairytale, which the lyrics of Daughters of White attempt to tell. The voice at the start of the verse sounds bleak and resigned, as we learn of the heroine’s isolation. It then rises to a more emotional, almost pained cry as the singer discovers one source of comfort and friendship, and then plummets upwards towards the zenith of both the song and her revelations. Daughters of White is the one, out of these three, that is crafted by an artisan – the melodies are rich with sounds of distant shores, and the tale is rich in meaning, a riddle, a parable, some food for the afterthought.

If you’d like to suggest any other vocaloid songs for me to listen to, please feel free to leave a comment below. Any recommendations are welcome.