I should probably start out by providing a summary of this show and the real-life story it is based on, but in all honesty, I really don't want to. The main reasons being that (1) I stink at writing show summaries and (2) it's just boring. So if you are not yet familiar with the story and history of this series I strongly suggest reading about it in Wikipedia. Despite the fact that I don't want to write about it, it really is pretty interesting.
So that all being said; on to the review...
Densha Otoko ("Train Man") is a very enjoyable and entertaining "feel good" drama. It's a story of a man overcoming his own personal limitations in order to find love, and I think that's something most anyone can get behind.
In addition to the "personal triumph" piece; the story includes other inspirational themes like the importance of honesty, accepting the flaws/quirks in others, maturity, and most of all the importance of support and friendship. That last piece -- social support -- is what really gives the show it's dramatic impact.
The main character -- Yamada, aka "Densha Otoko" -- is trying to land this babe -- Aoyama, aka "Hermes" -- but he is way too much of an introverted otaku geek to approach her. So he uses an internet chat community for single men (although oddly there are plenty of women and couples in this "single men's" chat thread) as a means of social support and through it he gains enough confidence and courage to talk to her. Yamada is basically a stammering buffoon (which I'll complain more about later) but the members of the chat board give him constant support and encouragement.
I really thought that the show did a great job of portraying the chat scenes. There were maybe 15 regular chat board members -- each with their own distinct personalities and eccentricities. Since no two characters were alike, you are almost guarenteed to find a favorite. I personally liked the guy in the Tigers jersey and also the guy who did the ASCII art. But -- even more than Yamada's quest for love -- the "feel good" part of the show really comes from the chat members wanting more than anything else to see "Densha" succeed. And many of them take Densha's quest as inspiration to conquer personal challenges in their own lives. When so many other shows focus on conflict as their central driving force, it was really refreshing to see one focus on encouragement like this.
Even though I really enjoyed watching most of these characters, the one character that I was not always especially impressed with was Yamada/Densha himself. The first thing that I had a hard time with was the extreme to which the actor went to portray Yamada's tense personality. I mean, at times the guy looked like his face was going to explode! It was downright painful to watch. The other thing that bothered me was that through most of the show Yamada seemed like such a wuss that it was hard to cheer for him. I mean, the guy collapses just from standing in the rain? Come on! And then there was his uncanny ability to turn any conversation into a self-depricating rant. At times I just wanted to say "Hey, Densha, it's not always about you, you know."(Though, the show is all about him, so I suppose it's just as well.)
Despite all that though, the show does do an overall good job of telling the story and being entertaining. One thing that that I found especially fun were all the pop-culture references. For instance, there were all kinds of anime-related toys scattered throughout Yamada's room; especially from Gundam, Sgt. Kerero, and Evangelion. Then there was the show's opening which was an animated homage to the Daicon IV video. There were also other non-anime references that US viewers can pick up on including Who Wants to be a Millionaire ("Final Answer!"), Pretty Woman, a Japanses version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart", and a pretty funny use of the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars.
All in all, despite a few frustrating moments along the way, the show was an effective empathetic drama. The end was satisfying since Yamada does finally grow and mature and each character gets a chance to have a final word with the very last chat session. I was really happy to see how it all turned out, and the last scene (in episode 11) left me with a smile on my face.
So in the end I would recommend this show; especially to anime fans but really probably anyone who is able to accept a little over-acting. Just stick with it and you'll see how "feel good" it really is.
And just because I have them handy, here are a few more fun facts for your enjoyment:
- There was an extra episode called "Another Ending" that goes over what the different characters were doing in the background while the Densha story was going on. It ranged from interesting to downright creepy including one character doing an especially disturbing imitation of a sea turtle laying eggs. (Ugh. Don't ask.)
- Although the TV series hasn't been license for US release, the movie version of the story will be released in the US in January 2007.
- The parody anime that was shown in the show's opening animation and throughout the story itself, is being made into an OVA series which will be animated by GONZO.
- A somewhat famous "archtypal otaku" named Toru Honda critisized the Densha Otoku story; saying that instead of trying to change, otoku should embrace their lifestyle because otoku life is in fact superior to regular life.
- Here's an English translation of the original chat posts that the show is based on.
- As an experiment, a show call Trivia Seed wanted to see how many otoku would actually rescue a girl in trouble like Densha Otoko did in the TV series. As it turned out an impressive 69 out of 100 did! You see it for yourself at the following Youtube links: Part 1, Part 2
- Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that I really loved that ending theme.
Man, was this a really long review or is it just me?