Sunday, September 18, 2016

REVIEW: Atelier (live action TV series)

Mayuko is a “fabric geek” who gets a job at Emotion, a high-class custom-made lingerie shop. Her first days there are nerve-wracking, as her new boss, Mayumi Nanjo, tells her that she doesn't understand beauty and dresses horribly. She eventually adjusts and learns to love the place and her coworkers. However, as much as Mayuko and the others admire Nanjo and her work, her way isn't always their way.

I really enjoyed this series, much more than I expected. I had thought it would be a sort of Japanese The Devil Wears Prada, but it was much warmer and kinder than that. Even though Nanjo was pretty blunt with Mayuko at times, she was also gentler than I would have expected – some of the things Mayuko did when she first started working there (like talking back at the boss) would probably have gotten her fired from any other place.

Although this had lots of ladies walking around in their underwear, it was absolutely written with a female audience in mind. The cast was almost entirely female, and the few characters who were shuffled to the background or replaced were usually male. Nanjo focused on how lingerie made her customers feel, rather than on the effect that the women wearing the lingerie might have on men. Also, and I have to laugh here, the series stubbornly refused to let romance take over, instead keeping its focus on the various women trying to figure out the direction their professional lives should take.

On that note, I should mention that one of the things about the series that made me uncomfortable was the way everything seemed to be shuffled aside in favor of the characters' work. The series included lots of different kinds of professionals: the lingerie designer who was also a single (I think?) mom, the designer who decided that seeing more people wear her clothes was more appealing to her than creating expensive works of art that only a few people could afford, Nanjo and her focus on both beauty and the customer over everything else, and more. None of those people had much in the way of personal lives, however.

In fact, Nanjo's storyline showed her rejecting, and forgiving herself for rejecting, personal attachments that weren't directly a part of her career. I'm not really interested in ever getting married or having kids myself, and even I found aspects of her storyline to be heartbreaking for at least one of the people around her. Meanwhile, Mayuko was so focused on her career that she barely seemed to notice that two separate guys were interested in her. It would have been nice to see even just one character have some significant down-time from work – maybe a bit more about the one older Emotion employee (can't remember her name right now, but she taught Mayuko a little about how to measure customers without making them uncomfortable) and her relationship with her husband?

Anyway, overall I really liked this. Mayuko's relationship with Nanjo was enjoyable, and Nanjo herself was wonderful – I'd love to see Mao Daichi (Nanjo) in more things. I admit, I was a little disappointed that there wasn't any romance, but I still got a kick out of how slow Mayuko was to realize that anyone was even interested in her, and that she then used what could have been a romantic subplot to find new direction in her career. The series' cheese factor was occasionally a bit high, but the drama and general kindness helped make up for that. I liked that, in the end, the closest thing the series had to a villain was the one corporate dude, and even he was presented as being just another part of the way the clothing world operates – not evil so much as very different from people like Nanjo.

Ah, one last thing: I wish the series had been just one episode longer - I would have liked some reassurance that everyone was still doing okay a few months/years down the line. Especially Mayuko, who made what I felt was an extremely risky decision considering that she hadn't really saved for it, gotten financial backing, or done much planning.

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