Mendol- Where Gender Bending Is The Norm Than The Exception

Over dinner with fellow-j-drama connoisseur, Alien:

Alien: What are you watching nowadays?
Me: I haven’t seen anything new this season yet.
Alien: Trying to impose some limitations? But you are watching something?
Me: Er, well, kind of. I’ve been er, watching this midnight drama…
Alien: Really? What is it about?
Me: Er… well, it’s an old midnight drama you know? Madcap, lame, low budget sort of thing… It’s kind of an idol drama.
Alien: *suspicious* What do you mean by “kind of”?
Me: Well… It features three members of AKB… And you know, I’ve recently become really fond of the group and Takamina (although she’s not my oshimen) because of her variety show appearances…

Alien’s reaction (and possibly many of my gal friends when they hear about this):

(Note: All Mendol moving gifs on this post were scooped  from Takaminas Please direct all fan love to the talented individual there. The stills screencaps of the show in the post were done by me but copyright reserved to all parties; please refer to Brittle Peanut’s Disclaimer for full disclaimers.)

Onwards to the show!

So, what about Mendol?

Mendol is a midnight idol drama that revolves around three female idols wannabes; Asahi, Nami and Hinata, who constantly meet (and fail) at various auditions and after yet another humiliating and trying day, they somehow bumble into witnessing a mafia-related crime together. In the midst of fleeing for their lives, they are saved by a mysterious talent agency president who not only agrees to keep them safe, but more importantly is willing to debut them…

But as a male idol group, Persona.

The Three Dango Sisters Brothers Crossdressing Idols

Desperate to get into the glitzy ways of show business, the trio agree to the contract, transform into Persona and proceed to spends] the rest of the series working their way to the top of the music charts, work on getting out of their daily mishap, dig deeper to learn about the values of idol life while avoiding exposure that would lead to their ruin and getting killed by mysterious men in black still hunting them.

And as with most Japanese midnight dramas,  if you were expecting some deep-seated philosophical discussions about the world of idol management or a resounding discussion-argument about gender displacement norms, you probably need a little perspective like this:

But if you’re into some crossing-dressing hilarity, an assortment of characters that range from a lolita airhead who loves pig feet, gender confused love rivals and a sadomasochistic lesbian agency president and her equally perverted manager-lover, REJOICE! This twelve episode series was made for you.

Kojima Haruna shares in your glee

But while Mendol had some really great laugh out loud moments, it felt like the directors and scriptwriters couldn’t follow through with their initial wild premise and give their concoction of weird characters enough due. The series was held up by their madcap story line but along the way, it descended into a number of silly cliches that lacked the quirky but insightful touch of a Kudo Kankuro to turn it a true classic.

(I did think it was a great casting decision to work with an actual idol trio, No3b. Not only were they actual idols, they didn’t have to work on developing chemistry in the show, being an active group.)

So when the going gets tough, I focus on a pairing in the show;  this time, in the form of Kai/Nami x Ray.

Ray is the cold diva armed with a a distasteful higher-than-thou attitude and a best-selling top of the charts career. This has the effect of having everyone around her either suitably terrified or busily fawning over her. All except our straight arrow new idol Kai/Nami, who takes exception to Ray’s over-bearing attitude and winds up heatedly telling her off during their first meeting in a recording studio.

As in accordance of the universal rules of any romantic comedy j-dorama, Ray instantly falls head over heels for the brusque Kai/Nami! *cue eyeroll*

This really irritates me. It’s not that I can’t play along with the concept; Ray plays the perfect tsundere (cold on the outside but gentle inside) nadeshiko (perfect wife) figure while Kai/Nami is the hot blooded lowly-born zero hero who will melt the snow queen with passion and sincerity. And yes, we all know that deep down inside she’s just a lonely number one songstress who’s really just actually looking for true loveee.

But going for the first person that comes along and throw you down? Because Kai/Nami told her the “truth” and therefore must really care for her. It’s almost akin to hearing someone say, “He’s only hitting me because he loves me.”

Which makes me want to do this:

Moving on, if I try and ignore how they started off, the pair are actually really quite goofy and adorable. Ray also turned out to be a real lady of action after dispelling the tsundere nadeshiko figure; she’s the kind of go-getter with spine whom I can always appreciate. Once she setted her lips sights on Kai/Nami after the rooftop love declaration, she displayed how the Diva wasn’t the sort of Princess who sat around waiting for Prince Charming to come pick her up for the ball. And it was definitely a love declaration not a love confession.

Check out her wonderful bitch-face when her kissing time is interrupted by the paparazzi:

But she becomes all gooey when Ray/Nami tries to act tough and mean towards her to drive her away:

She drops home visits to her “boyfriend” without the courtesy of a prior warning, which results in situations like this:
 

(I love Kai/Nami’s explanation to Ray later on who the mystery girl who opened the door was: “she was a neighbour who came to borrow soy sauce!”.)

Devilish diva somehow looks more attractive.

And my favorite icing on the cake; she manipulates a scandal to break up Persona to get her man after Kai/Nami tries to fend her off appearing and posing as a girlfriend using her Nami self.

Come hell or high water, the prospect of being filmed on national TV, other people trolling watching, Ray never stops making her moves on Kai/Nami.

Example#1: National TV, plus By-Stander#1 in the middle:

Example#2 (continued): National TV, plus By-Stander#2 gawking on the left:

Example#3 (continued): National TV, Relentless Assault:

Example#4 Conclusion: National TV Conquest, Success!

No one else can put her hands on her man! It’s public knowledge the boy is mine! It’s pretty awesome, really.

Finally, in the last episode, with Persona’s retirement and fake deaths ensuring that the mobsters would no longer come after them, Kai/Nami and the rest prepare to resume their normal lives when Ray immediately declares her intent to follow Kai/Nami.

A frustated Kai/Nami finally tells Ray the truth; that she is a female. And just in case the message isn’t clear enough for our rather dense songstress Ray, Kai/Nami tears off her wig AND her shirt to show enough of her asserts to leave Ray in no doubt or denial about her gender.


Kai/Nami: I’m… female!


Hapless Other Two: SHE’S FINALLY SAID IT!


Ray is…shocked.


Kai/Nami is also rather emotional about the confession.

And this is where my gooey uncertain love for Ray is SOLIDIFIED.


Ray: So?


Kai: Eh?


Ray: Whether Kai is male or female, Kai belongs to me. And I belong to Kai.


She plants another kiss on Kai/Nami. Who is half naked. And very obviously female.


Not-quite-understanding-the-situation Kai/Nami is stunned, but…

As we have all been have clued in on the last few episodes, she’s been pretty much softening and falling for Ray.

She kisses her back, even putting her arms around her.


And everyone pretty much claps and wishs them well.

Just when I thought, wow this is a nice enough ending…

But as it turns out, the show isn’t quite done with our couple isn’t quite done yet…

After having to quit as an idol, Kai/Nami returns to making her living by doing part time jobs. This time…as a mover.

(I’m not going to make any U-Haul jokes but while watching this, I was like, OH REALLY. Of all the part time jobs the drama has previously come up with, why couldn’t they have given her a more traditional one, like working in a twenty four hour convenience store? Or simply return Nami to her previous job as a shrine attendant?)

Just after moving some boxes, she gets a message on her cell phone and lights up.


She leaves promptly…

Which turns out to be to a meetup with Ray for lunch. In A Park. In the Day Time. Where Ray feeds her. They are both in girly clothes and accessories, leaving no one in doubt of their gender. All I can think is; has some Dark City massive overhaul happened in Japan overnight?

Here, have some pictorial evidence:

While I ingest this brave new world, the drama had to  keep things “real”, and two haters passing schoolgirls make some rude remarks about how our delightful couple were disgusting.

Never one to back down in the face of wrong-doing or injustice, Kai/Nami immediately steps up to challenge them with a classic line, “What’s wrong with being L(esbian)!”

And she continues with this:

Seriously if there is ANYTHING that this drama does right, it’s this. Thank you for not censoring this.

As the girls scuttles away from the wrath of Kai/Nami, a still-very-smitten Ray leaps up.

Ray: Kai is so cool!

Kai/Nami’s gives a triumphant smirk! Brownie points in front of the girlfriend!

The pair returnto their lunch, very much a couple in love…

(The only thing that discomforts me slightly is how Ray still calls her Kai. But I’m willing to see it as Ray simply being more used to a name that she has used all this time. And given how they are dressed on the date,  I’m sure she’s not under any illusions that her partner is a guy. I mean Nami’s hot pants are shorter than Ray’s dress or whatever it is…)

And there you have it; my very quick bit of Mendol. It’s a fun enough drama and I didn’t detail it here, but the other two leads have pretty interesting love lines too.

The lolita of the group’s Prince Charming turns out to be a mobster whom she drags to a “date” in a maid cafe and feeds him dessert while he’s actually trying to pump her for information about her friends while the last of the three ends up in a bizarre love triangle with a childhood friend turned tabloid reporter, and a young, handsome music company president who is struggling with his true gender preferences… Mendol‘s final scene was somewhat open-ended, giving rise to the possibility of a sequel…

And if they sign on Kudo Kankuro  for it…

You can be sure I will be coming around for a second helping.

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1 Comment

Filed under Goggle Box

One response to “Mendol- Where Gender Bending Is The Norm Than The Exception

  1. Crosteks

    I wish there was a season 2 of Mendol Ikemen Co’z i really like them

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