Being an oblivious fan of japanese anime and japanese drama shows, I don't know what I was expecting from a Netflix Original drama based on a high school romance 'Shoujo Manga' (teen girl comic) of the same name (from Yue Takasuka in 1997).
Considering the audience, it's an uplifting "nothing-happens" "will-they" "teen" romance, with Slice-Of-Life and comedy elements.
If you know the genre, you can watch this and enjoy the buffet of romance tropes and teenage drama.
Is it good ? average ? believable ? happy ? sad ? awful ? cliche'd ? idiotic ? ... yes, yes it is.
I liked it enough to keep watching, even though i have reservations.
TLDR at this point, if you're a fan, nothing i can say will change your mind. if you have no idea about the show... I really have nothing to compare this to, so giving it a score or a review is just difficult, so i'll point out the flaws in an attempt to showcase the best and worst aspects.
The quirky, indomitable, 15 year old (18 year old) Nao Yoshikawa (Haruka Fukuhara) is moving into an apartment (near the "soho" Meguro district in tokyo ?) for the first time by herself at the age of 15 (because her family has moved to the country farm to help her grandfather get better), only to find she's been duped into an illegal sublease with, (insert shock here), another male student of the same high school, Uehara Hisashi (Shun'ya Shiraishi), who just happens to be one of the "top 3 boys" of her high school (as voted by a committee of the popular/mean girl/harridans, who only ever show up on command to bully Nao).
And, of course, Boy #2 of the high school is her childhood friend, Shinozaki Daichi (Dori Sakurada) who patiently dotes over her, only to realise he has a crush on her (this isn't immediately obvious unless you're genre savvy, or a fan of the childhood friend/unrequited love triangle)
Plus, Nao also has a bevy of childhood friends, (and later, adults) who pep her up occasionally and will add drama into the plot when needed. Romance Tropes & Hijinks Ensue, and things are, so far, doing well up to episode 10 (I won't spoil the story or romance subplots since that's 70% of the series) . But, i can sort of tell where it's going, because they keep mentioning it like checkov's gun, and they playfully try to misdirect you into thinking it's going to last forever. cough.
Uehara (Hisashi) is the brooding, selfish, academically perfect, male fashion model-like heart throb student, with a 3 minute dramatic 'girls swooning entrance scene' MC, who's really an emotionally crippled loner. Who just happens to have the male fashion model esque hair/body/face, a vigilant female entourage "protecting him" from all of the other girls wanting to be his 'friend' (it's a vastly broken subplot, but it's HS). Uehara is the show lead, by way of being the main character Haruto/Kamen Rider in https://trakt.tv/shows/kamen-rider-wizard (another drama show i've not seen).
Nao's the Ditzy, Slow witted, Considerate, Home Cooking, Self-Absorbed, Way too fashionable, conservative, yet awkward Highschool girl that's "15" and "not that attractive". ie. pretty much classic girl wish fulfilment territory. It probably lines up with a lot of expectations of perfect wife material/ perfect girl material, idk. it can make her a bit generic, but in the setting, sure. remove personality, add confidence. I have the strangest feeling that Nao makes a whole lot more mistakes in the manga. There's just an anxiety about these "down" moments that is textbook high school girl drama, and not exploited for sympathy moments (though, they are many, varied, and per-episode sympathy moments to hook the addicts; check tumblr for the gifs after each new episode, there will be plenty.)
I don't know if this is a negative, because even as tragic and delightful as the romance angles work in the show, tropes don't seem bolted-on or forgotten by the next episode (except, in those cases where it is). So many tropes are just accepted and they never become critically examined by the MC's or the entourage of friends. i.e. Living with your girl/boyfriend while in high school / harem tropes, patient childhood friend romance, the long time male girlfriend (two girls and a guy) becomes boyfriend, because ? trope. (among many, many others that head into spoiler territory)
And to complete the triangle , the Second lead male, Daichi is perhaps more romantic/compassionate/responsible than the MC, due to the "damaged, defensive loner" Uehara being more high maintenance, aloof, and thus, "critically" more boyfriend material. But, since Nao and Uehara live together, Damaged Uehara is the 'fixer upper' boyfriend she's always/never wanted. From what i've seen on the fan community (because i just don't know if others like this), the series does lend into "Second Lead Syndrome" territory, with daichi doing more to 'coach' their relationship by his stalking /obsessing over her, or, conversely, being the romantic one and pushing Uehara into being more conscientious or considerate, sometimes by accident or jealous intent. However, Daichi is staged as to have no chance at all in this triangle/ 'fight' for Nao, even though he's doing all of the heavy lifting.
For sheer fun/watchability of each episode, i'd give it a 5, 6 or 7/10. And, it works as a TV show / Movie format because of the comic book's reliance on cutaways and high school problems making the premise, and their relationship questionably ... realistic ? cute ?
I kind of like the show, but i'm not a fan. Some of it is just way too sibilant and cliche, and it's bound to end in tears, but i'll still watch it because it is self-destructive, hoping that things get better as they approach the predictable staged emotional cliffhangers, and the story is... not important, because it is doomed, in a cheerful, positive way. I watch each show just checking off a long list of possible dramatic hijinks that count down towards the end of the season. Is this because I don't enjoy the show, and that i'm too jaded ? Definitely. Sometimes, i'd like to be surprised by a non-trope emotional hook, but it's rare. And yet, I keep wanting to watch what happens.
I can see Daichi is supposed to be the third wheel, because it's an analogue of Hisashi being the third wheel (spoilers) in the past. There's also some inevitable sinkholes for drama that i can guess show up, because, it's trope-driven romance.
The characters deserve a 9/10 for acting effort, sometimes they hit the mark, but it's enjoyable. It can feel like a bad stageplay at times, because of the way it's adapted from an anime/manga style, complete with missed lines, and off-time delivery, and cuts without much music or background to how or why we're going to a new scene.
Production wise, about a 6 to 8/10. As a show, it's really, really cheesy and cheap, but it's technically done well. The purple/green tinge of the camera can be notable on character closeups, but it's not always distractingly bad. Sets and locations look great, and they manage to do a lot of good work on a limited time/budget, especially given the editing process which is a bit rough around the edges with intentionally cheap/quirky transitions between scenes, and unintended cheap/flimsy filming/transitions.
The show looks great at times when it wants to, but also like anime, there's a lot of filler and lazy inserts to remind you where people are. Characters just show up at times with no sense of time of day, distance or travel, because it is anime and clocks are for other people to look at. It also just feels like real life, not a sitcom/romcom, and that makes the show more tangible and real, and somewhat more expensive. They made good choices early on with the characters, setting, and locations.
During what is a "live-action" anime, complete with comic trips and falls, sideways glances, etc. several minutes of each episode is taken up by emoting for its own sake, i.e. running along corridors/streets, waving of hands/body, visual sighing, brooding stares, and a few 5 second long double/triple/quadruple-takes at telegraphing shock/emotion/sarcasm/bewilderment/angst on the MC as "comedy" ...
I think one of the oddest things to "get on board with" is, yes, Uehara is 15/25 and Nao is 15/18, the actors are somehow bridging this gap, since Daichi is ... 16/24. In a real high school, filled with 18-25+ year old actors.
Nobody especially stands out as being 'bad' or a bad actor, perhaps Abe/Marina/Mitsuishi (or the other uehara's), because they often have nothing to do but hang around and 'not' look at the camera. Not being too literate to JP culture, everyone seems to be doing a great job. Despite some extras being coached a bit to 'act normal' in the background, it doesn't feel much like a soap opera (which it resembles). Is the age differential wish fulfilment ? probably yes. Is it palpably distracting ? kind of.
Despite how mary-sue the story is, it makes a good, solid 5/10, because it's drowning in male tsundere (jerk with a heart of gold) and a buffet of cheerfully used romance tropes. As an adaptation, the characters fit, but it's so independent of the manga from what i've seen in the ending scenes (EPs), and they make the transition work. Most of the time. I Guess.
If the romance had failed, the show would be awful, it really relies on Nao and Uehara having chemistry on screen, and ... the story dies a few times as a result of carrying so much on the shoulders of Nao. If Nao were actually 15, i'd believe a lot more of the romance and tension, but it's sort of muted in this, as she's far more mature than a teen girl who's seen the high school hunk naked, yet gets flustered when she talks to him as a person. Actually, this might be too much reality than stereotype, without heading into 'ecchi' or 'josei' (adult content / manservice) territory/subtext.
The source material manga art (which is featured in each episode's beginning, and pages of the 11-chapter novel are shown as a scene guide in some/most of the end credits) is kind of bereft of actual detailed character art, but it's complemented by the manga's chibi-nature (child-like, with enormous heads, larger eyes, small body characters), and visual style of drawing out moments for higher amounts of teen drama/angst, e.g. the equivalent of ? ... !! ... and !?..? >< >> << ... on various panels.
There's some pale 'tsuntsun' (arrogant/aloof) scenes where they have to be hostile to each other for the romance's sake, i.e. to keep the tsun in tsundere, but it's not outright hatred or "it's not like i ..." level of passive aggressive behavior. As the show goes on, it's more playful. i.e. the "be with the one you want to manipulate and change" / "only i can save him" / "jerk with a heart of gold" tsundere romance trope is half of the show's content. (along with some strange JP cultural fixation on breast size ranking and cooking food to appeal to Uehara's "better nature") Strange messaging, but who knows.
It feels like Nao's a fantasy version of the author, and Uehara's the perfect hunk/defensive loner, even when it's trying to avoid this for the 'dere' part of the scene. They don't feel in any way attracted or in love, which is what perhaps makes the show really work at it's best at being friends.
And ... not liking each other cements this ? The romance is slow and arc-like, because there's a season to fill, and, they're 15. not 25 (cough). Does the tsundere love story/love triangle make the series better ? not especially. It fits, because they're platonic roommates. Except, not. because romance (not sex) is on/under the table/heating up leftovers, etc. strangely, the lack of emotion (or my blindness to their unique /desireability / attractiveness / attraction ) makes the show work more. they don't really spark, or behave like people in love. and maybe that's perspective, but it makes the show more believable and watchable.
To see if that changes. week by week.
The most confusing/dissonant part to me, is really only when you see the manga art. It crosses the line of cute/alienating a few times, because the chibi like blond haired, triangular shaped 'couple' are non-expressive on the most part, and add nothing to the story except confusion. I mention it, because the show doesn't make sense when chibi nao/uehara pops into place; since the manga characters are blonde, doe-eyed teens, while the actors are regular japanese "high school students for TV" i.e. 23~28 year old japanese actors playing teenagers, nobody is dying their hair blonde or going wild with colored ribbons, etc.
It doesn't detract from the story, but it feels like the manga takes place on a different solar system of alien humanity, compared to the reality. (probably a gaijin/westerner thing, chibi art in a live action is akin to overdosing on wasabi. a little is okay. A lot is toxic. It comes up a lot more than i'm used to.)
Having never watched a 'Live action Anime' Drama, there's not much to tell, apart from it is saccharine TV. Characters are surprising though, because perhaps it's not manga-driven. If this was Anime, it would be sickly and sugary. As real characters, they have tangible personalities, real lives, they look (?) tired and cheerful at the same time.
It all works regardless.
*what she said..... I prefer the childhood friend