Geeks on a Train: Densha Otoko

Ah, Christmas… the time for whatever the mass media defines as traditional to be on the air and for the viewers to accept it whether or not it’s directly in relation to Christmas or not. Maybe it’s my holiday spirit finally running out of gas, but I’ve noticed that as of late, Christmas (or even holiday specials in general) are starting to become few and far in between. Even on the major family channels like say… ABC Family, the definition of Christmas movies and specials have been dumbed down to any and all things mystical including but not limited to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Harry Potter series, the Narnia series, and just about anything Pixar’s come out with. It’s reached the point that anything and everything has been bent and twisted all for the sake of being “allowed” to play during the month of December. In fact, I find it hard to believe that movies like Jumanji and the first Die Hard have yet to be considered holiday classics since they technically take place during that time of year. And now that I’ve reached my search referral queue for the post, time to delve a bit deeper into things.

In addition to the general fantasy genre weaseling its way into the holidays, another movie genre has been practically integrated into the winter holiday—the romantic comedy. From Sleepless in Seattle to You’ve Got Mail to While You Were Sleeping, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that movies that try to pull at your heartstrings have been clumped together with one of the more major heartstring-pulling holidays of them all, leading me to my latest movie review: Train Man.

If you haven’t figured it out by my shojo retrospective post, I’m a sucker for romantic comedies… or at the least romances that are light on the drama and heavy on the quirkiness. So it was only natural that when I stumbled into a Japanese book compiling the (supposedly) real forum posts surrounding the romantic exploits of someone who goes by the online moniker “Train Man,” I had to check it out. Supposedly originating from the Japanese 2ch forums, “Train Man” (or 電車男 romanized to Densha Otoko if you’re fancy) was the given name of one particular single nerd (again, adding to my interest, pathetically enough) who ended up “saving” a beautiful young woman from a drunkard on a (you guessed it) train. Not knowing how to follow up with his interest in the woman he’s fallen for, Train Man begins to seek romantic advice from his fellow singles on the 2ch forums. Following the success of the book collecting posts from said forum, various manga were released under the same title as well as a movie and short TV series.

I don’t know what it is with live-action Japanese movies, but I’ve yet to fully enjoy any one I’ve seen. While the movie adaptation covers the basic story people are expecting, certain elements tend to drag it down, making for an alright movie overall. For one, the main leads of the unnamed Train Man and the young woman who goes by “Hermes” seem like an odd match not just in terms of the story itself, but in terms of on scene chemistry—something I never complain about in these kinds of movies. Maybe it’s Japan jumping on the American Movie Bandwagon and making oddball casting decision. Either way, I don’t really dig it.

As the movie progresses, you begin to realize just how “boxed in” the story is, giving little to no character building scenes for the audience to truly form any kind of connection with any of the characters—Train Man and Hermes, especially. The norm for most quirky romances is to at least flesh out one of the two main leads, leaving us in the dark about the other and their feelings towards the former. But in this case, we’re only given a small taste of what each lead does (Train Man being a geek, proven mainly by the nerdiness of his room and general awkwardness; Hermes being some kind of businesswoman), the movie relying more on the quirkiness that is Train Man following every bit of forum advice his online buddies give him. This results in the viewers receiving a sort of secondary account of the story as it unfolds, following it more from the perspective of the easier to connect to (and in my opinion, much better looking in some cases) forum posters, who have Train Man’s back every step of the way and who ultimately make the movie that much more enjoyable.

While the movie adaptation wasn’t the best “romantiquirk” movie I’ve seen, it was still enough for me to want to check out the 11-episode TV series, just to see which one holds up better.

Only one episode in, and the flaws from the movie adaptation have all been tended to.

The major problem with a story like this is that while it has the quirkiness appeal covered by the fact that its core foundation is forum posts, that’s not enough to carry any series alone (though I guess that could be immediately shrugged off considering how critically acclaimed the book alone has gotten). The movie makes a meager attempt at fleshing out the main leads, but the TV series better takes on the job, taking its time to really make its viewers connect to each lead in one way or another. Instead of the quick “oh here, I have a bag of nerdy nerd stuff for nerds” that the movie conveys, the TV series really makes an effort to fully flesh out Train Man (here actually given the real-world name of Yamada) and the kind of world he lives in. From the borderline creepy conversations about female anime characters and their according voice actors with friends, to a rather depressing family life where even his younger sister disrespects him, you really get a feel for Yamada and really want him to make a difference in his life after seeing how downright pathetic it is.

In general, the simple decision of giving names to both leads (here the nicknamed “Hermes” is also given the real-world name Saori) has apparently opened up the series to so much more of each character’s life, making for an overall enjoyable first episode, which is something, considering I barely have the attention span for series with hour-long episodes.

So while I may not enjoy the zombie that is the Christmas season infecting all media to fall under its general genre umbrella, I will say that there’s no better time to sit back and enjoy a little romantic comedy.

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About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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