SM’s “Hana Kimi”: Beautiful but Unrecognizable?
Hanazakari no Kimitachi e, better known as Hana-Kimi, is a Japanese manga series written by mangaka Hisaya Nakajo. The concept of the original story is simple. Hana-Kimi is a delightful tale about Ashiya Mizuki, an average girl living in the U.S, who idolizes Izumi Sano, a famous track star in Japan. To meet her idol, Mizuki travels from her home in the U.S. to Japan, attempting to enroll in her idol’s school — an all boys school — by cutting her hair and posing as a boy. However due to personal reasons, Sano stops competing, leaving Mizuki, Sano’s new roommate, to get him active once again while trying to keep her gender a secret from the rest of the world. Along the way, Mizuki meets and befriends Shuichi Nakatsu, who along with Sano, eventually develops feelings for Mizuki. And from here starts the humorous and oftentimes ridiculous adventure that is Hana-Kimi.
While the cross-dressing concept is not the most original, Hana-Kimi proved to be very successful in not only in its home Japan, but all over Asia as well. To this day, Hana-Kimi has been adapted twice in Japanese and once in Taiwan. Over a year ago, a Korean adaptation was announced to be in the works, being done as the first drama of none other than SM Entertainment itself, in an effort to expand the company. Back when it was first announced, Johnelle gave her expectations and cast speculations of the whole ordeal, and now with more information and the official cast members recently revealed, I’d like to give my two cents on the project, titled To the Beautiful You.
While many are wary of the casting choices, I tend to support it. First of all, there is the role of Mizuki, renamed Goo Jae-hee, to be played by Sulli. Sulli has a history of being a child actress, and while she hasn’t had many recent projects, I think she would be able to get the job done. Mizuki isn’t the most outstanding lead, being ditzy and clumsy, so portraying her shouldn’t be that hard considering that the manga and all of its adaptations were generally lighthearted. Also, for those worrying about Sulli’s very feminine appearance and her having to look like a boy, Maki Horikita didn’t appear very masculine in her portrayal either. The fact that it was obvious that she was a girl added a bit of irony and humor to the situation.
Additionally, having Sulli take this role is a good choice as it would help f(x) potentially gain new fans and would give her a bit of importance in the group. Despite being the assigned visual, Sulli’s presence in the group isn’t that significant with all the members having significant side projects other than her. Also, even her visual position was taken over by Krystal, who is more popular and more recognizable, so establishing Sulli in this drama would prove to be beneficial.
Secondly, there is Minho, set to play Kang Tae-joon, Sano’s counterpart. While Minho’s acting skills is a bit underwhelming, he isn’t as bad as most people would think. Also, the role of Sano isn’t very hard to portray either. He’s athletic and calm, traits Minho himself has. Minho can easily just act like himself and do an acceptable job with this role. If anything, it’ll let Minho improve since he can continue acting with a character that’s fairly familiar to him.
Finally, as a third lead, there is Lee Hyun-woo as Cha Eun-gyeol, Nakatsu’s counterpart. Out of the main leads, Nakatsu is most definitely the hardest to portray. He’s loud, outgoing, and hilarious. Whoever got this role would be put under a lot of pressure as the ones who played Nakatsu before — Toma Ikuta and Jiro Wang in the Japanese and Taiwanese adaptations respectively — did an amazing and unforgettable job. Thankfully, actor Lee Hyun-woo got the role instead of an idol. Lee Hyun-woo is a pretty skilled yet, at this point, relatively unknown actor so this drama could end up being his big break. He showed pretty good skill in previous dramas God of Study and Equator Man, and I believe he would be able to do just fine with this role. While he may have pretty big shoes to fill, I believe he’ll able to do a good enough job.
Other than the two main leads, there is a relative and surprising lack of idols, considering this was thought to be SM Entertainment’s answer to JYP‘s previous hit Dream High . This is comforting in the way that more skilled actors would be able to carry the show, adding a bit of credibility to this very risky, yet potentially profitable project. ZE:A’s Kwanghee is confirmed and Infinite’s L in talks, but the two would likely be getting minimal roles at most.
Choosing to adapt Hana-Kimi in Korea was surely an ambitious decision that hopefully came to with careful consideration. This is true in the way that both the original Japanese and Taiwanese adaptations are dearly beloved by fans, meaning that there are already a fair amount of expectations and basis for comparison this drama. This means that the weaknesses this drama might have would be more evident and quickly brought up.
Furthermore, despite an overall overdone and, at surface-level, safe concept, this drama actually has some pretty risque elements that aren’t that accepted in Korea in its abundance of sexual humor and blatant homosexual themes. While other previous K-dramas Coffee Prince, Secret Garden, and You’re Beautiful touched on the topic of homosexuality before, I still wonder what will be done in Hana-Kimi. Admittedly, the male-to-male implications and the questioning of one’s sexuality, while treated lightly and often-times humorously, were major aspects and charms of the manga and show, helping create some of the more memorable moments of the series. If those themes were or aspects were softened or outright removed, the show would most definitely lose much of its spark.
And judging by the meager information currently released, it seems as if this would be the case. While both the previous adaptations made their respective changes, for the most part, they didn’t deviate much from the original plot of the manga. The Taiwanese adaptation was probably the most faithful in terms of following the manga, only changing certain aspects to add realism to the very outrageous, yet very typically manga, plot, but still remaining very comedic. The Japanese kept that outrageous feel and instead focused on making a comedy with occasional romantic and heartwarming scenes. This did hurt both dramas as there were moments where the Taiwanese version became too plot-focused and became boring, contrasting to the Japanese version, where it was oftentimes too comedic that the serious moments seemed a bit trivial in context. But otherwise, both dramas worked and became favorites, and the little changes in mood and plot made watching both adaptations a different yet enjoyable experience.
However, the changes currently announced concerning the Korean adaptation is turning the project into something unrecognizable. While the basic concept of a girl transferring to an all boys school to meet up with her discouraged idol still remains, major changes in plot is already evident at this point. While the two main characters Goo Jae-hee and Kang Tae-joon (Mizuki and Sano respectively) stay roughly the same, aspects of other characters are warped.
First off, there is second male lead Nakatsu (Cha Eun-gyeol). A major aspect of Nakatsu’s character is his questioning of his sexuality after getting attracted to Mizuki, who he believes is male (contrary to Sano who learns of Mizuki’s gender unintentionally but keeps it a secret). Nakatsu even briefly acknowledges and embraces his homosexuality at one point in the story before he learns of Mizuki’s true gender. His moments leading up to and after that point are some of the series’ most memorable, with the wonderful portrayal of those scenes further helping them to be fan-favorites.
However, based on the information currently released, nothing hints at this necessary development. While I doubt that they would remove such character defining moments (or at least hope they won’t), it’s very likely that they would either downplay it, or change the way it’s being handled, adding more drama or conflict rather than acceptance.
Also, there is the character of Hokuto Umeda, a gay school nurse. Hisaya Nakajo herself confirmed Umeda’s homosexuality and the manga portrays many of his lovers. Judging by the information currently released, it seems like the drama would disregard Umeda’s (renamed as Jang Min-woo) homosexuality. Actually, it seems as if he would be getting a love triangle between the school coach and another female teacher. Unless the female teacher’s affection towards Jung Min-woo would be totally one-sided, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a gay Umeda, which is sad considering he too brought some hilarious moments in the series.
To add to that, there is also the casting of Kim Ji-won to play the female rival to Mizuki. As a popular track superstar, Sano had his fair share of admirers — most notably Hibari Hanayashiki, a student in a nearby school — but none were a serious threat to be considered a romantic rival to Mikuki. However, considering the treatment of Kim Ji-won’s casting, it seems as if her character would play a much bigger role which unsettles me. Most K-drama watchers are very much aware that the second female lead is usually shallow, unlikable, and downright mean, and it seems like this will be the case for Seol Han-na, Kim Ji-won’s character. If you ask me, the addition of this love triangle is just really unnecessary, and is just there to add extra drama to a show with already a lot going on to it.
Despite having a different writer, the drama features Jeon Ki-sang, the director of the notorious guilty pleasure Boys Before Flowers, and because of his involvement, To the Beautiful You is already getting comparisons between said series. Boys Before Flowers was infamous for its deviations from the manga it was based on, Hana Yori Dango. From the looks of things, it seems as if To the Beautiful You is heading the same direction, but whether it will become a guilty pleasure or an actual quality drama is still out there.
For now though, what we can almost guarantee is a visually stimulating drama. Boys Before Flowers, despite its shortcomings, had some beautiful camerawork, so hopefully To the Beautiful You will get similar treatment. Also, considering the nature of the series, some eye candy would be abundant as well, and that in itself will help gain viewers. And who knows? Maybe the writers’ll choose to stay closer to the manga after all? And if they don’t, the changes may turn out to be a good thing. Since if there are enough deviations, comparisons between the other beloved adaptations would be less reasonable seeing that this adaptation might end up completely different. But for now, only time will tell.
What do you think, Seoulmates? What are your expectations of To the Beautiful You? Are you goung to tune in? Or will you be ignoring this drama altogether?