Hi. I’m Benjamin Wagner, this is my blog and today, I begin the mammoth task of reviewing every season of Terrace House.
Terrace House, for some years now, has been somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. A seemingly dull concept that took Netflix by storm years before I even knew how to say hello in Japanese, Terrace House is the most relaxed and relatable reality show I have ever watched. Yes, the later years of the show did grow to be a little forced and the show has always seemed like a runway for Japan’s never-ending list of models to strut their stuff, but there was a sort of quietness and realness that this show, especially the earlier seasons, exuded. It embraced you like a warm cup of soup on a winters day or an overly zealous musician trying to get his leg over on a campsite (if anybody gets this reference, kudos). Terrace House is a show I love and I am going to take my time to go through each season, piece by piece, bit by bit, to criticise, to share and to gush about this beautiful show.
For a show I only picked up because a friend wished to watch some for some Japanese listening practice, I never expected this reality show to click with me as it did. I can say after watching each season at least twice, it certainly clicked hard.
So, now the boring preamble bit is done, I can move on to the main event. The review. Terrace House: Boys X Girls Next Door S1. The first season of this soon to be giant cultural showpiece is the only series not to be connected to Netflix and, whilst a little harder to find, on the whole, is worth experiencing, despite the very first season of the first season (odd phrasing, I know) struggles to find its feet in its earliest days.
Six strangers move into a luxury house, with no intentions other than simply living together and experiencing an exciting co-habitation with each other. There is no script (in the earliest episodes at least), and the show attempts to depict what life is like for young people living in Japan. Of course, it’s better for the show if the inhabitants argue or fall in love, but that isn’t the aim. And in these first 12 episodes, it really shows.
Episodes 1-12: Growing Pains
So, with the premise out of the way, we move on to the content. The meat. The show itself. Episode One is simply about introducing us to the cast; the initial members. The fantastic six. Or, probably in the grand scheme of things, the forgettable six. So, introductions are in order:
Shota Nakatsugawa: A university student and aspiring artist. He is the only member in a relationship at the time of the show.
First Impressions: Normal guy who seems a little unlikable due to a certain scene with Tetsuya at the end of the first episode.
Rie Kitahara: An idol from AKB48. Surprised that this was allowed due to the strict prohibition on relationships often spoken about in Japanese idol culture.
First Impressions: Cute but seems very used to putting on her persona as an idol and doesn’t come across as very natural.
Masato Yukawa: A professional surfer. Typical cool surfer dude.
First Impressions: Really nice guy. Relatable. (This first impression was very wrong).
Momoko Takeuchi: An aspiring author who seems to have more jobs than I have hot dinners.
First Impressions: A relatable, nice girl who deserves publicity and popularity. (This first impression was spot on).
Seina Shimabukuro: The breakout star of Terrace House. A model with an affinity for wine.
First Impressions: The sort of girl I wouldn’t want to associate with; outgoing and party happy. Very outgoing; entertaining, but I wouldn’t want to meet her.
Tetsuya Suguya: The Terrace House Season 1 Pet Project, appearing as an aspiring firefighter, ‘Tecchan’ is the immovable object of the first run of Terrace House and is young and naive on arrival.
First Impressions: A nice young lad who is an easy target for teasing. I want to look after him like a younger brother.
So we have all of the players, now it is time to examine the talking points.
Reviewing a reality show such as this one will be a little difficult than I first thought when formulating the idea to cover the entire series. Instead of going episode by episode, I will instead attempt to cover each important storyline and talking point from each cluster of episodes and impart my opinion on them to you all. Sound good? Then let’s go…
Tetsuya’s attempts to woo Rie
The first real bite at romance that Terrace House has is young aspiring firefighter Tecchan, who quickly fits into the role of the child of the house, and his quick infatuation with the AKB48 member Rie is a solid throughline through the first 12 episodes. There is something about the naive young Tetsuya that makes you want to root for him, for him to succeed. He seems like the sort of guy with not a bad bone in his body and, despite oft being the butt of others jokes, is a genuinely likeable guy. I didn’t really warm to Rie that much but I have a theory regarding this. Rie is a member of the biggest idol group in Japan, AKB48. Idols in Japan are supposed to be above reproach. So that their fans can engage in odd masturbatory fantasies regarding their favourite idols, stars are often forbidden by their agency to have romantic relationships. Whilst this is not a hard rule and some idols of course do date in private, the idea of an idol willingly going onto a TV show where should we live with men and interact with those willing to enter a relationship with her, is a ballsy move on her part. Despite this, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a large amount of pressure on her to continue her acting on the show. AKB isn’t just an idol group, it is the idol group. I do feel some degree of sympathy for her as this is most likely a very difficult situation for a young person to be thrust into. Weighing up the benefits and risks to her career, I am surprised that her management team allowed her participation in such a show. This long-winded theory takes me back to my problem with Rie’s involvement in this show, one that will come up often as my critiques progress, in that I don’t feel like she has come onto the show to embrace what it was supposed to be about. She may have come in with good intentions, just wishing to make friends, gain popularity and maybe flirt a little, but I think it was a little naive and maybe even a little dumb to expect the hardcore Japanese idol fans to back any sort of story that involves her falling for a real-life man. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have been allowed on the show, as this signing was obviously a big deal for a brand new television programme to make, but any big love-related drama involving her seemed destined to end poorly. And end poorly it did.
Tetsuya took advice from other housemates, specifically Momoko and began to try persuing Rie more seriously to respond to some of the hate Rie was receiving online through her participation on Terrace House. Throughout all of this, there was never any real romantic tension between the pair, with Rie seemingly more interested in Masato instead of Tetsuya and keeping a safe distance from all of them most of the time.
This mini-plot concludes in episode 12 where, as Rie announces her intention to leave the house, Tetsuya attempts to hold her hand in an innocent attempt to be more assertive and convey his feelings. These feelings are slapped away and trodden on as Rie unceremoniously slaps Tecchan’s hand away from hers before the camera cuts to Tecchan’s pained face in one of the most awkward and brilliant moments of television I have seen. Whilst I am mixed on this whole attempted romance in terms of Rie, I cannot deny that it culminated in one of the most entertaining pieces of television I have ever seen and it makes the slog up to this point worthwhile. To this day, I still laugh when discussing or re-watching it and, despite feeling a great kinship to Tecchan in this situation, I can appreciate that moments like this helped the show seem real and grow into the titan it would later become.
Momoko’s Weird World
For the first 20 or so episodes of Terrace House, Momoko was far and away my favourite participant. She seemed just that little bit different to the ultra glamourous Seina and prim and proper Rie that she immediately endeared herself to me and those I was watching the show with. She seemed like a real girl trying to find herself in the world. The revelations in episode 3 regarding her family are relatable, heart-wrenching and the reaction of the other housemates are also genuinely touching, as they all begin to bond through shared pain. On a completely different note to this is Momoko’s honesty and openness about plastic surgery and her desire to undertake it. Whilst the idea of having an ‘Avatar-esque’ nose does not appeal to me, her justification that she ‘is pursuing cuteness’ and she feels she wants to change her body to chase her ideals, is one that is shared by many around the planet. If money wasn’t an issue, I would certainly go in for multiple surgeries to improve my appearance (weight loss surgery, nose job, loads really). Momoko’s candidness to discuss what in Japan is still seen as a little bit of a taboo topic really endears her to the audience once more.
One thing about Momoko that did catch me and my friend’s attention was the number of pies she seems to have her fingers in is hilarious and shocking. She writes a blog and wants to be an author. She also DJ’s and writes music. She gets to write a column as well and she really is a Jack of All Trades in terms of her career. Ironically, this post is set 10 years after the show aired, she became none of these things and instead is an idol herself, in the group Band ja naimon (literally, this is not a band). And their music is decent, although I do sometimes think the cutesie acting is a little off-putting; although that really is done to personal tastes above all else.
Besides this, Momoko acts as an elder sister character towards Tecchan and, without her advice for Tetsuya to take the initiative, we would have never had the iconic hand-holding scene I mentioned earlier. Momoko, whilst far from the most iconic Terrace House cast member, even amongst the original members, she was one that I remember long after the show stopped airing simply because she is just so real. It’s so easy to empathise with this young woman just trying her best to be her best. And that is when Terrace House is at its best.
Masato and Seina’s Adult Romance
I’m going to get this out of the way straight away; I’m not a fan of Seina. She does bring a certain western over-the-topness to proceedings and does force people around her to work with more urgency but this doesn’t mean I have to like her. I would not like to meet her and our personalities would more than likely clash. However, this is more of a reflection of what Seina became and not what she was to begin with. Here, she is a model struggling to make her name with a minor addiction to the old glug-glug. Despite Tetsuya’s longer stay in the house, Seina was undoubtedly the breakout star of the show for reasons I don’t really understand barring the fact that she wasn’t afraid to mix things up and be brutally honest on occasion. Her relationship with Masato was the first real sniff of romance that was detected in this season of Terrace House, culminating in 3 iconic scenes. The first, a house party in which Seina and Masato kiss whilst very, very drunk. The second doesn’t happen until the second season (episode 14- 25) and the third not until season 3 (episode 28-29) so despite Masato’s short stay (only 12 episodes), the impact his relationship with Seina left was clearly a big talking point for fans of the show.
Whilst Masato is, at least in the first 12 episodes, a relatable, seemingly- nice guy, there is something about his and Seina’s relationship that never really feels like it clicks. I don’t think it was for the cameras and I am certain they felt some sort of affection for each other but I just didn’t want to root for their relationship. Maybe because it seemed like the sort of relationships the cool kids at school would engage in and, as I was never involved in such exchanges ( as I approach 10,000 days without a girlfriend), I find it hard to relate to these sort of lustful exchanges. Yes, there are some more tender moments here but I just don’t feel the emotional connection. I am a big fan of an underdog story and that biases me against this little love scene. Yes, there is some sort of connection between them but I find it difficult to care. These two seemed made for each other and the sort of melodramatic drama that they created was just something I didn’t care for.
The First Graduation
Graduation. 卒業. The thing almost everybody will do once in their lives at some point or another. When one leaves the Terrace House, they don’t just leave; they graduate. The first two to graduate the house are Rie, who doesn’t give much of a reason but I assume the pressure of idol life was becoming too much to balance, and Masato who wished to travel to America to improve his surfing in the offseason. One thing I haven’t touched on so far is the relationships between the housemates; especially the men. Masato and Tecchan really have a special bond, as Tecchan seems to look up to Masato as a sort of older brother, mentor figure. This alone leaves a big impact, as Tecchan breaks down whilst reading a special message that his new friend has left behind for him. Rie leaving is also sad but Masato’s connection with Tecchan undoubtedly carries more emotional weight. Characters leaving can be sad and change the balance of the show but in this case, I think the introduction of some fresh members was probably what the show needed at this point. And they do come, eventually.
Before wrapping things up I do want to discuss the man I have barely mentioned so far. The invisible man, so to speak…
Shouta is a housemate that I don’t recall easily. He is a fine person and attempts to help Tecchan and other housemates when he can, but barring his endeavours to graduate art school and impress his professor, he is a mostly forgettable character. He just doesn’t make the same impact that other housemates do. Which is a shame but is also likely down to him already being in a relationship when he entered the house. Sometimes life isn’t fair, but it’s the way the cards fall.
On a quick aside before I finish, I have deliberately decided to shun away from speaking about people’s appearance too much here. As a human, we all judge on appearance before anything else and it is important to attempt to be open-minded and embrace other facets as much as possible to account for our inherent biases. Yes, typically speaking Momoko is more my type than Seina but this goes deeper than skin value. I also think that, in an attempt to speak objectively, Masato is an incredibly good looking man but I tried to keep these pre-conceptions away from my overall evaluations of each member of the house. At the end of the day, despite many participants being involved in show business, these are real people, baring themselves on the TV screen for our viewing pleasure. And, as a sign of respect, we need to show restraint and attempt to engage in this show in a responsible and sustainable way. Yes, we can criticise somebody’s behaviour and how we feel they act but if we resort to petty bullying or the pointing out of others imperfections, we aren’t criticising at this point; we’re attacking them. We’re bullying them. And it is this that I won’t abide and I have done my level best so that I don’t do this at all in of these series of reviews.
So, with that being said, the first season of Terrace House really was where it all started and it really felt this way. Without the panellist sections that later seasons embraced to tie the action together, the show feels a little devoid of character and a little bland at times. However, as later seasons will show, this isn’t a problem for very long.
Season 1: 7.3/10