Thoughts on “Atelier” (aka “Underwear”)

It’s been way too long since my last blog post. Tomorrow is the first of April and the start of NaPoWriMo and I still haven’t made up my mind whether I will participate or not. I’ve got a lot of work on my desk, but maybe I’ll get bored? Who knows… Expect nothing and you might just be surprised!

Anyway, in the meantime here’s another review, of the Netflix/Fuji TV drama Atelier (or as it is known in Japan, Underwear), my first Japanese drama in a long, long time – and a pleasant surprise at that! (minor SPOILERS included)

Thoughts on Atelier (Underwear)

When you’re living in Japan, you can’t escape Japanese drama – of course. Still, I never really found one that I really liked. I blame this partly on the tendency of Japanese actors to behave like anime characters: pretty much everything is done over-the-top. They can’t act shocked in silence, they always gasp; women pout like little girls; etc.

Of course, Atelier has this ailment as well, but it’s not as pronounced as it could be. One reason might be that one of the co-stars, Daichi Mao, is a former Takarazuka otoko-yaku (player of the male role) and Takarazuka acting is not as over-the-top as you might guess from their make-up (at least that was my impression).

But let’s put that flaw behind us and concentrate on what’s really important here: story-wise, Atelier is a really good series (once you get past episode 2 – we’ll get to that in a moment).

The basic story is rather simple: average girl Tokita Mayuko starts her new job at on-demand lingerie producer “Emotion”, headed by the “grand dame” of lingerie, Nanjoh Mayumi. However, Mayuko has absolutely no interest in fashion, which is kind of a problem when you want to be succesful on Ginza, Tokyo’s high-end fashion eldorado…

The main reason why this is a great series: IT’S ABOUT WORKING WOMEN!!! A Japanese TV series! About working women! I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s not the first one (Japanese dramas can be much more progressive than the country they originate from), but this fact alone makes it totally worth watching. Plus: it easily passes the Bechdel test, because the staff at “Emotion” (5 women and 2 men at the start) actually talk about work-related issues rather than personal ones. There’s a hint of romance, but – another plus – it’s not a major focus of the story.

At first, the women appear rather stereotypical. Especially in the first two or so episodes when Nanjoh insists that all women have to be “beautiful” and Mayuko explains she doesn’t know about fashion because she grew up without her mother. Ignore it and continue watching, because the story gets better. Or as one of the “villains” puts it: “Business isn’t beautiful.” This is a story about working women, and the women show ambition, they want a career, and they fight for their dreams. And you really come to like these characters, even those that are kind of “evil”.

Sure, it’s rather stereotypical that these women are working in the underwear business. Luckily, this is not an anime, so the only women who are actually wearing underwear on screen are professional underwear models (including Ishida Nicole, a Japanese actress with an American father). And of course, they don’t have DD cups, but regular (i.e. small) cups. You’d wish some anime producers would take a hint from that. Because small breasts can be beautiful as well, especially when they’re wearing “Emotion” (well, actually, Triumph) lingerie.

One point that was handled a bit clumsily was the whole “working mother” aspect. Either you are doing amazingly well (Mizuki) or you’re a spectacular failure (Nanjoh) – and it’s never really explained how Mizuki actually manages to succeed. This point feels a bit like a missed opportunity, but maybe I’m asking too much of 13 episode à 45 minutes that are already filled with a lot of story?

But since the finale left a lot of avenues open for future stories (not to spoil anything, but I never expected the series would end like that), I’m really hoping that Netflix and Fuji TV will consider making a second series. The responses on the show’s official Japanese website seem to be really good (and plentiful), but who knows what ratings the show is scoring on Netflix…

Which means: you should all really watch it, even if it’s (at the moment) only available with subtitles! (and maybe, just maybe, we will then also be told what the name of the main title theme is and who sings it – apparently, not even Netflix and Fuji TV know that…)

Still not convinced? Here’s the Japanese trailer:

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