Jdrama Review: No Dropping Out: Back to School at 35
A 35-year-old high school dropout gets to relive her final year of high school thanks to the help of her former homeroom teacher who is now a school superintendent. Can she overcome the traumas of her past to finally earn her diploma or has the times and modern high school life changed too much?
I do find it interesting. At the heart of the drama is the question is homeroom and being with the same set of students all of the time a bad environment? Superintendent Asada (Watari Tetsuya) believes it’s the root of the high school problem and this caste system which determines the merits of all of its students. Going to a more college-like system in which you are only taking the classes you want with peers who share the same interest is the proposed fix.
When I started middle school, we had a homeroom, but that was essentially a non-class that you were only in until first hour started. Later, they just rolled first hour and homeroom into one. When you go to small schools, it honestly doesn’t matter the system because you essentially know everyone and you’ve had at least one class with almost everyone in the same grade before you graduate. Separating students by interest or grade didn’t stop any bullying or any perceived class systems. Is it as bad as an Asian school? Hard to say if you’ve never experienced it yourself. But all in all…there is no escape. There is always a class system and bullying always will exist. It’s always been that way. The degrees always vary.
Okay. So I liked this drama. I was hooked after the first episode despite some of the acting drawbacks. Despite the seriousness and the issues tackled in this drama, you do get slapstick and that over the top hyperbolic acting. Katase Nana’s school counselor Nagamine Akiri could send shudders down my spine. You get that they want to break heavy moments up with comedic relief, but I prefer more understated expressions versus overly done exaggerated ones. Of course, Katase’s character wasn’t the only one prone to spastic actions, but she was the worst of the bunch. Then there is our main actress. I’m just not quite sure what to think of Yonekura Ryoko. For the most part I liked the character of Baba Ayako, but then there were other moments where Yonekura had to display a more vulnerable teenage-like quality for Ayako that just fell more flat and some of Ayako’s panic attacks didn’t ring quite true.
Yamazaki Kento’s portrayal of the expressionless Akutsu Ryo was a highlight and I liked how despite all of the bad things he did to Ayako, he came to think of her as his deceased sister. I was all ready for these two without families to adopt each other as family. There were also some other standouts in the students, like Hirose Alice who played Hasegawa Rina—Ayako’s first real friend.
So despite a few brief periods of slightly off acting with our leading lady and the hyperbole, the acting was overall done well. As for the plot…it did have room for improvement. I think the biggest problem comes with the plot which was in a plot in yet another plot. Akutsu was a mastermind behind all the bad events happening to class 3-A. No one was in on this plot with him, so it was confusing. Asada’s spy was Katase Nana’s student councilor. Was his whole experiment of doing away with the caste system simply introducing Baba Ayako to the teenage sharks and hoping that would break the caste system? It would make more sense if he was seriously conducting the same experiments with Akutsu and seeing what happened (minus the violence and other things, of course). So with those two plots intertwining, it gets weird and things get a bit disjointed.
Of course, the drama also throws hints at us that Ayako is really involved in some plot by superintendent Asada, so it’s not until the final episodes we get the big reveal. I will admit surprise in learning that she wasn’t an actual active participant…er…knowing participant in Asada’s schemes, so the plot isn’t one you can 100% guess what is going on, although it was fairly obvious from early on just which student was working behind the scenes instigating everything.
Overall, this was a fine high school drama and I liked that it was fresher. It’s not too often that you have an older person entering high school under their age. It was nice to see how a 35-year-old worked to fit in with peers that were much younger and I liked their bonds and relationships and trust. I didn’t like it when everyone started doubting everything she did, but you had to admit the suspiciousness of the whole situation once the superintendent announced his major education reform for the system.
I also liked the insert/theme songs for the drama. Check out EXILE’s contribution “Flower Song.”
If you’d like something a little different and don’t mind some overacting and a few small plot shortcomings, this is definitely a good drama to try out.