I’ve run across another show that has captured my attention. It’s TOKUSATSU GA GA GA, a Japanese drama airing currently. Based on the manga of the same title by Niwa Tanba, GAGAGA tells the story of Kano Nakamura, a 24-year-old “office lady” with a secret: she’s a fanatical devotee of the live action super hero programs produced for children known as Tokusatsu (Tokusatsu literally means “special effects filming”.) As these shows are considered the providence of only young children, Nakamura lives a life of quiet desperation, yearning to be open about this thing she is so passionate about but fearful of how her friends and peers will judge her for it. As a comic book reader who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, I can relate like mad.
The show’s ethos can really be summed up by its marketing line: “I Like What I Like.” And this is what Nakamura struggles with every day. It plays as not only an accurate summation of fan behavior (and not even specifically the Tokusatsu fan) but also as a metaphor for any closeted lifestyle–the show overtly draws a parallel between the “Toku-Ota” and persecuted Christians living in Japan in the past, who had to hide their religion from others and could only identify one another through secret signs.
The magic bullet here is Koshiba Fuka, who plays Nakamura. She’s able to balance a genuine sense of exuberance and vulnerability, and she’s able to make both the comedy and the more heartfelt moments work. She commits to the role, and is particularly great at hitting expressions of shock and horror and internal tension in a very funny way. Whether she’s trying to get the last capsule toy out of a vending machine before a child can get to it, reeling in fear at the prospect of a visit from her disapproving mother or struggling to extricate herself from some situation in which her true nature would be revealed, Fuka is fun to watch.
Nakamura’s adventures begin when, on the train to work, she spies another woman who has a Toraiger keychain figure attached to her bag. Nakamura wants nothing more than to make a connection with this woman, but she can’t bring herself to do so directly–she’s too shy and reserved. Accordingly, she decides that she needs to get a keychain of her own, of her favorite character Shishileo, and affix it to her own bag in the hope that the Toraiger lady will notice it and it will break the ice between them. This leads her on a quest around her neighborhood for the elusive figure, stymied in part because she dare not let anybody from her office observe her buying it.
This sets up encounters with other members of the cast, including the kid she nicknames Damien, who attends a local cram school and with whom she has to contend for the needed keychain toy, and Ninkyou, a badass-looking guy who runs the local shop and who intimidates Nakamura but who ultimately turns out to be a secret fan of a girlish cartoon. Nakamura’s fellow office workers try to include her in their social activities (she’d rather save the money for DVDs and merch) such as karaoke, where all she’s really familiar with are Tokusatsu theme songs. In most instances, these conflicts are dramatized in parallel with the Tokusatsu characters–either Emerjason, Nakamura’s childhood favorite, or the members of the current team series, Juushowan.
I just love the point of view of this show and how it takes the struggles of the lead character to assimilate and find companionship and happiness seriously even while underscoring just how silly a lot of this material is. Its message is sincere: if you like something, age or gender shouldn’t matter.
The show’s theme song GAGAGAGAGAGAGA, performed by the band Golden Bomber and which doubles as the opening theme to Juushowan within the series, spells out this philosophy even more directly in its lyrics. (The band’s music video for the song, which sees them suited up as performers in a department store Hero Show, is a lot of fun until it takes a dark and creepy turn right towards the end.)
GA!GA!GA! GA!GA!GA! GA!GA!GA! I can’t say it!
To protect my world there are words I cannot say because people won’t understand me. So I live keeping this secret.
Are you friend or foe? But! But! But! GA! GA! GA! How-ev-er! I can’t say it!
In this whole world, I have but two comrades. If I wanted any more I would surely be punished for my greed. But if there’s a small chance, an infinitesimal chance, can I say, “I like it”?
If you call me strange then I want to ask what’s normal. But we won’t be able to agree so I live avoiding the subject.
It’s not like I’m causing problems but–But! But! But! GA! GA! GA! How-ev-er! I can’t say it!
What saved me yesterday when I was dead tired was my hobby that no one understands. But I love it all. Don’t take it away, don’t be mad, it’s not as though I’m not working. So can’t I say, “I like it”?
Is my enemy those around me? Or society in general? But! But! But! GA! GA! GA! How-ev-er! I can’t win!
Today in town, I found a rare compatriot. Since the world hasn’t given up on me tomorrow a new day awaits.
In this whole world, if I had but three comrades, maybe we can win I arrogantly think. But if there’s a small chance, an infinitesimal chance, that we can accept each other, can I say, “I like it”? Can I say, “I like it”?