Omimi ni Aimashitara is music to my ears

Omimi ni Aimashitara is music to my ears

Hi. I’m Benjamin Wagner, this is my blog and today I take a surprising interest in podcasting. I have in my life heard podcasts. I know what they are and that some of them, are popular. I listen to the Abroad in Japan Podcast and the Arlocast semi-regularly but don’t often dive in deep; preferring to listen to music or watch shows and YouTube videos with my media time instead. I did play with the idea of starting a podcast myself but the disdain I have for the sound of my own voice very quickly put the kaibosh on that poorly thought-out idea. So, instead I will share my opinions and views using an archaic medium known as the written word.
This leads me into the J-Drama Omimi ni Aimashitara (literally translating as ‘If this suits your ears’, which I won’t be calling it because that sounds ridiculous in English) and my surprise and joy regarding my discovery of this show. So, what was it about this low-key Japanese drama that made me prick up my ears and listen? Well, you’ll find out as I attempt to review Omimi ni Aimashitara.

Omimi ni Aimashitara follows the story of Takamura Misono, a company employee at a Japanese pickle company (tsukemono), as she attempts to improve her socialization skills. Her co-worker and friend, the outgoing and popular Sudo Arisa, posits that Misono create a podcast to speak about her admittedly slightly odd passion for franchise food; known as chain meshi. To clarify, in a Western setting a chain restaurant would be a KFC, a Five Guys or even a Harvester; in that, it is a restaurant that attempts to appeal to the masses but nobody would ever really claim that it is their favourite food. In a Japanese context, the meaning seems to shy away from fast food restaurants that we in the West would refer to and instead encompass many different types of Japanese cuisine. Sushi. Ramen. Oden. Even coffee shops and family restaurants are included, as there are many chains across the nation of Japan, and some other Asian countries too where these brands and chains have staked a claim. Many tourists go to Japan and experience CoCo Ichibanya, a curry house chain and this is the perfect example of chain meshi. To summarise, whilst a lot of people are passionate about food and gourmet pursuits, those who claim to be huge fans of this specific subset of food, are far less and it is an interesting topic to explore.

Now the terminology is out of the way, we can attempt to dissect what the show is trying to achieve. Far from being a show to simply promote and explain the chain restaurants that are referred to, the story of Omimi ni Aimashitara instead does something that I wasn’t expecting. The show attempts to tie the food that Misono is eating to personal experiences that she has had in the past and that she is currently working her way through; the podcast speaking about the food acting as a sort of open therapy session where Misono bears herself to the world and attempts to grow personally and spiritually in the process. To be frank, I only found this show because I went onto a website that hosts many Japanese dramas, filtered them for genre (food) and bookmarked any that looked passable. The entire list looked passable. So thus, I download the show and whilst waiting for a friend to call so we could watch some more Naked Director together; a show I will be speaking about at a later time, I assure you, I watched Omimi. And I loved Omimi.

I will not be diving into each episode and synopsising each one. That would be dull. What I will do first is outline the journey I took whilst watching this show; from indifference to interest, and finally, to adoration. I will then fly through some highlights in each episode before attempting to tie everything together with a neat little bow. You ready.? Well then, let’s do it.

The story. Is it any good?

First, the brief outline of my time with this show. I watched episode one and was entertained if not blown away. I found Misono to be an incredibly likeable and relatable protagonist and her attempts to socialise and fit in with those around her spoke to me personally. However, I don’t really think the show found its groove. Episode 2 builds on the groundwork set up in the first but again is just good. Episode 3 again focuses on awkward relationships and expands the cast a little bit but is still only good. My reasoning behind this ‘only good’ claim is that, early on, it seems the directors were happy to play it safe; not taking too many thematic risks and instead choosing to slowly build up the relationships between the cast members. By no means was this bad and unenjoyable but it is something that many anime and manga I have seen (and enjoyed), such as Sansha Sanyou and Nijiiro Days do and something I have become a little resistant towards. Both shows are fun enough on their own but, as someone who has seen an awful lot of laid-back slice of life media, sometimes, a show needs to do just a little bit more. But this slow build-up then begins to pay of grandly as from episode 4 onwards, Omimi ni Aimashitara really begins to shine.

THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING. YOU HAVE BEEN SUFFICIENTLY WARNED.

In episode 4 of Omimi ni Aimasitara, Misono comes to terms with the end of a 2 year long coupling with her boyfriend; as he calls it off whilst eating at a family restaurant. From here, the episode shows Misono attempting to understand her boyfriend’s decision, then accept it and then look inward to the reasons why this break-up might have happened. She does the majority of this in an episode of her podcast and the raw emotion that the character exudes in this scene is palpable. It’s haunting. It’s real. It is some truly splendid acting. I had never heard of Itou Marika prior to this show but I am so impressed that I might just try and hunt down some of her other works. The way in which she blends the characters usual peppyness with some darker, more inward-looking moments is inspiring and I was blown away by her performance here. Episode 4 marked the turning point for me. The point in which this show moved from something to just pass the time, to something that I wanted to keep watching. And I did. Me and my friend both agreed that The Naked Director Season 2 Episode 3 had put us off of the series so decided to stop, which, in turn gave me more time to consume Omimi. (I left that sentence as is because, fully in English, it means it left me time to consume ears. And that’s just funny).

From this point, I was truly hooked on Omimi. Episode 5 deals with taking criticism and hate online and is dealt with maturely and with a satisfying payoff. Episode 6 sees Misono reunite with a college friend in an attempt to reconnect and plaster over past mistakes. Episodes 7 and 8 lean harder on the comedy side of things but still manage to bring things full circle with anecdotes and memories that make the audience feel part of the show. These episodes in particular highlight the surprisingly deep and diverse cast of Japanese company men and women that are portrayed in this drama and does a good job of showing hierarchical relationships as well as poking fun at traditions. Episode 9 takes things in a different direction and shows the effect that Misono’s podcast has had on its listeners: and one young lady in particular uses it as a catalyst for change. I wasn’t particularly fond of this one but could appreciate the artistic risk of abandoning most of your established characters for a one-off effort. Episode 10 involves family relationships and memories of childhood and how these memories and thoughts embed themselves into our psyche. The final two episodes (which I will not spoil as I implore you to watch the series yourselves) then move towards the finale; a touching if slightly cliche ending that left me both outwardly smiling and a little conflicted inside. In the grand scheme of things, considering the shows’ tone and what it attempts to balance, it is probably the ideal ending. I am supposed to feel conflicted. Moving on from what you know and love can be hard but it encourages growth. Change can be feared but cannot be ignored. You must grow along with the world around you. Omimi ni Aimashitara presents this message flawlessly.

You may have noticed that I have barely spoken about the chain meshi; the actual podcast content and the thing I wasted a whole paragraph near the beginning of this review explaining. The reason for this is simple; it is truly just a secondary plotline. The show seamlessly manages to combine interesting tit-bits about Japanese chain restaurants, a deeply moving and personal storyline and an entertaining work comedy all into one complete package. And all 3 of these areas feel sufficiently fleshed out and substantial on their own. Omimi ni Aimashitara is like a really good curry. Separately, the rice, the side and the gravy are delicious. Together, they create a stunning orchestra whose harmonies will resonate inside you long after you have finished your meal.

So, the long and short of it is that I think the story is pretty close to perfect, with just a deliberate slow start and a mid-run risk derailing the story a little in my eyes. So, with that, we move on to the other main talking point; the acting.

How are the supporting cast?

I am now a big Itou Marika fan, as previously mentioned. However, the rest of the cast do not disappoint either. Omimi ni Aimashitara is not afraid of comedy and attempts to interweave the personal tale of Misono with many light-hearted and down-right ridiculous moments she has working alongside her friends and colleagues. And it is these friends and work colleagues on which this section will focus. It has often been a trope in the West that we see comedy actors as less proficient or less important than ‘serious’, more dramatic actors. I think this is a load of balls. And this show proves it. The real storyline that this show chases allows the actors to express a wide range of emotions and shows each performers depth when they are focused.

Of the main cast, Igeta Hiroe does an excellent job as Misono’s best friend Sudo Arisa, acting as a believable and endearing foil to Misono’s typical upbeat and slightly ditzy persona. The importance of her character in the overall narrative cannot be overstated and whilst I can’t say a whole show about this character would excite me, Omimi would be lesser without her in it. The final, and up to now unmentioned third main character, Sasaki Ryouhei, portrayed by Suzuki Jin was unmentioned for a reason. Both Ryouhei and Arisa are important in terms of the story and certainly have their moments; and the actors performances are very good and nuanced, they just aren’t ever the main focus. This is Misono’s show and even the other main cast members do tend to slink into her shadow. This is not a criticism but just an observation. An especially odd one as the more minor characters do make more of an impact. This is likely because Arisa and Ryouhei are in more of a support role and don’t vie for the main focus whereas more minor side characters are often implemented alongside Misono for their story arc before disappearing almost entirely. For example, Misono’s university friend is introduced, has an understandable and relatable backstory and the issue is resolved by the end of the episode. This is far from novel but the way in which each actor portrays their role, even the most minor ones, is outstanding. There was nothing in Omimi ni Aimashitara that I could call ‘bad’ or ‘forced’. Even the comic relief company president was acted out in such a way that his foolish behaviours could be seen as a critique of Japanese managers and business owners on the whole and a uniquely poised social commentary. They probably just thought him being an idiot would be funny though.

So, yes, the acting is also very, very good and despite some characters having to sit in the shade a little, the show as a whole probably benefits from this by the endgame.

With the two main questions addressed, I will now move onto anything outside these that caught my attention; either good or bad. And there was only one this time; the ending song.

The Ending Song

I am a sucker for corny anime-style dances. It is one of the reasons I love the Switch game AI: The Somnium Files as much as I do. I love this even more so if done by a real human being. So, imagine my joy after I reached the end of the first episode and heard:
1. A beautiful ending song
2. A dance that makes my heart melt each time I see it

This dance even has different variations depending on the characters that were featured in that episode, or what that episode involved. This little touch shows that the showrunners and cast really cared and went the extra mile. If you just used the same credits clip each time, nobody would care. But I care. I appreciate this. And it kept me watching to the very last second each time.

I don’t really have any leftover criticisms for this show. I genuinely love it. Misono is an infectious delight and the supporting cast support her character so well that you don’t really mind them being overshadowed on occasion. Whilst the show does start a little slow, once you warm up to the characters, there will be no looking back. Oh, and most of the food looks pretty good too. On that note, I score Omimi ni Aimashitara…

Score: 9.5/10- A show that grows from something pleasant to something special. Watch it.

Thanks for reading, I’ve been Benjamin Wagner, I’m now hungry, and I endorse this message.

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