Buzzer Beat 10
I’ve been terribly busy this week catching up on YEH’s new drama, Take Care of the Young Lady (10 episodes! In a week!) so I haven’t exactly had time to pen down any thoughts, but thought I’d better make some time for the latest episode of Buzzer Beat. Since my internet is fail, which equates to downloading at the pace of a snail, I only just finished watching the subbed version of it on Friday, although I know raws have been out since Tuesday morning (it’s like, if my internet worked any faster it would curl up and die…). Thanks to spoilers from various sources, I’ve also managed to figure out most of what happened even before watching it, but this did not stop my heart from breaking right at the end, when they both do the right thing and walk away from each other in tears!
So recapping from the end of the last episode, with Riko being hugged by Coach Kanzaki, and Naoki on his way to Riko’s apartment with a sunflower…
Naoki follows him and what follows is both the cutest and sweetest confrontation between two love rivals that I’ve ever seen:
The symbolism of the transferring ball from Coach Kanzaki to Naoki here is strangely paternal and at the same time, an acknowledgment of Naoki’s “win” over Kanzaki in gaining the fair lady’s heart (although to be honest, since Riko had been, metaphorically speaking, in Naoki’s court the whole time, it wasn’t exactly a gargantuan task).
See, I always knew I liked the scriptwriters of Buzzer Beat for a good reason (okay, so some people will say this script is boring since everything’s progressing so smoothly…which is rare in a drama! It’s about time people started writing things that don’t frustrate me at every corner, which I will angst about in my review of MFL, as much as I love YEH) and the best thing here is that, so far, I like and/or understand/empathise with most of the characters (even the crazy bitch-ex-girlfriend, since I can tell she loves him in her own way, and is rather human with the way she expresses it). I especially love Coach Kanzaki for being able to tell that Riko and Naoki really, truly love each other, and thus, even as he lets go, he issues Naoki a (sort of embedded) warning not to break Riko’s heart. (Although, as much as I love Coach Kanzaki, I love the fact that Naoki and Riko are finally free from that particular burden!)
As Naoki stands in the basketball court at South Park, he looks towards Riko’s window, only to see her staring down back at him. There’s a rather beatific smile on her face (she’s never looked so at peace with herself before in the show, which, I guess, goes to show that the cry she had on Coach Kanzaki’s shoulder was cathartic).
Riko starts off with, “I felt lonely. I knew nothing about the injury on your leg, and the fact that it was so serious you might need surgery.” Puzzled, Naoki asks, “How did you know?” to which Riko replies, “You don’t have to know. I won’t tell you.” There’s a momentary pause, and then she looks up and asks in concern, “Are you okay?” Naoki nods, answering, “Mm. Actually, I just didn’t want you to worry.” To which, Riko nods and gives an understanding sort of smile. Naoki: “Men…don’t like to expose their vulnerable (actually here he says lame, but I thought vulnerable would sound better in the context) sides in front of the woman they like.” (HAH. Excuses. Men.) To which Riko gives an (understandingly) feminine snort (I like to think, of disbelief) as she smiles and says, “Ah, is that so? How strange.”
And since this is turning out to be some major fessing-up session, Naoki in turn tells Riko, “Actually, I also felt lonely, since Riko, you didn’t tell me about how you lost your violin job.” There’s a LOL moment here as Riko widens her eyes and immediately says, “Ah, I just didn’t want you to worry…” and Naoki perches on the couch comfortably as he goes, “You see?” (Man, I hate it when people say that, but since I am guilty of throwing it out myself rather smugly on occasion, I can completely understand where they’re coming from.) It is Riko’s turn then to apologise, and after she does, Naoki reaches behind him and pulls out…
Naoki then tells Riko, “The only person in my heart is Riko, so, please, have faith in me. Okay?” And Riko nods firmly and gives him her trademark smile. So, this particular scene played out really well and had a happy ending as I’d hoped it would, which made me delirious with joy. For about 7 minutes, anyway, since this is how long the entire thing lasted.
The next scene, unfortunately, stars our favourite bad girl, Natsuki. What happens is that during practice, as Naoki is running to grab the basketball, his ankle gives out and he crashes to the floor grunting and sweating in pain, clutching his ankle. The camera then pans to the hospital and we see Natsuki and Naoki in the doctor’s office. The doctor advises Naoki to go for surgery in order to cure his ankle once and for all, telling him he should recover in time for the later half of the season and wouldn’t miss the season entirely.
As Natsuki walks out of the doctor’s office, Naoki scrambling behind to follow her on crutches, Naoki asks her, “Why did you make the decision for me?” Natsuki snaps back, “If this happens again in a match, can you imagine the trouble it would bring to the team? I know this season is important to you, but because it is, you can’t go out fighting in your current condition.” She adds, “Sorry. If I were by your side, I would have stepped in to help you make the decision earlier.” And Naoki watches her back as she walks away again. I have to say, no matter how much of a bitch Natsuki is, she’s terribly responsible and capable, and I can see why she rose so fast in the ranks of the company. However, the woman also does emotional blackmail really well, and I can almost see the guilt welling in Naoki as he realises he should have taken the surgery earlier, if only for his team-mates. Still, here you can see genuine concern for Naoki in Natsuki’s eyes, once again making the point that in her own selfish way, she does love the boy (not that we really care, but oh well, good try anyway scriptwriters).
In the meantime, good news descends for Riko, who finally picked up that unknown number that she keeps receiving on her phone. Turns out, of course, that the guest who reprimanded her in the lounge in the previous episode is actually the Director of a company that drafts and operates concerts (as far as I can tell, it seems akin to some concert-specific event management company).
Ryusuke then tells her, “Can you give me your next week?” To which Riko is flabbergasted, until Ryusuke explains, “In a week’s time, we have an opening for a violinist in one of our concerts. We can consider you for the position, depending on the amount of effort you invest in the next week.” As Riko picks up the brochure they give her, he ends off with, “Give it some thought, and then call us.” Riko can’t believe her luck in this turn of events, and as she leaves, she dials Naoki, who is lounging in the boys’ locker room, and tells him everything that has happened. Naoki is delighted for Riko, and Riko tells him, “This is all thanks to Naoki. You were the one who told me, ‘Someone will always listen to you.'” and Naoki replies, “Work hard, okay?” And as he sets down the phone, Naoki lifts his injured ankle, grimacing.
Upon seeing his despondence at home, Naoki’s mother decides that she will go watch his basketball matches when he recovers from the surgery, which she previously hadn’t due to a superstition that if she goes she would cause him to lose his match (which he had in the high school matches that she goes to watch. It’s a kind of silly superstition, but I can see where she’s coming from, because I’ve felt like that before, which is why I adamantly refuse to take sides in a match). Naoki is cheered by this, and the camera snaps to Naoki and Riko sitting by the river at night. (What I don’t quite understand is how Naoki and Riko managed to get there without Naoki giving away the fact that he was on crutches and would definitely be going for surgery – where the hell did he hide them and how did he get there if it wasn’t on crutches since he can’t walk by himself?! …okay, okay, yes, I get it, it’s called suspension of disbelief.)
Riko tells him that practice is hard, and that she gets very depressed thinking that she’s not very good since her bad habits are picked on every day. She has the additional stress of knowing that she hasn’t been officially selected to fill in the role yet either, and then she decides to confess to Naoki that she originally planned on going back home and giving up violin since she hasn’t had a real job in the two years since she’s graduated (this just gets worse and worse, woman you are not looking at your boy and his eyes properly because he’s becoming more and more worried for you and thus refusing to tell you about his ankle injury!) but decided she would press on a little more. Naoki suppresses his own worries and tells her, “Even if there is only a single ray of hope, please work hard.” Riko nods and adds, “And you are by my side.”
What I find important is that all the underlying things that aren’t being said by Naoki here…things that I think undermine Riko’s trust and faith in him. Not very smart of the boy, since her faith and all that has already been eroded from all the little manipulations Natsuki has pulled. Still, it’s very consistent with his character, so I can’t fault the scriptwriters, director OR actor. Can only gnaw on my fist, shake it at the screen and go, “Naoki, you FOOL!”
He then starts telling Yoyogi about his team-mates’ idiosyncrasies during the games, and tells Yoyogi to trust them more. In return, Yoyogi asks, “Why are you telling me all this?” Naoki replies, “Because to win, the Arcs need you. So please, trust your team-mates more.” You can tell this actually moves Yoyogi, perhaps because he’s always been slated as an outsider of the team, and now to have a pillar of the team tell him that he is needed for the team to go all the way to success…not to mention all the emotional baggage and rivalry between them; it probably really hits home for Yoyogi because the man actually says, as Naoki is leaving, “Your ankle injury isn’t a big deal right? So stop nagging here. Just get better sooner and come back.” (Kaneko is really improving in his acting, because he’s starting to look less stiff in his later scenes, and it comes out really well here because there’s a careful balance of rivalry and yet camaraderie in his words and in his facial expression. You can tell he’s started to convert to being a real part of the team, and is starting to trust in Naoki, treating him like a comrade)
Naoki is in turn touched by this, as he retorts, “You’d better play well before I return.” and smiles. As he is really about to leave (I almost wish he would leave already, there’s way too much “about to leave” bits here), the whole manly-bond-touching-scene is taken in by the rest of his crazy team-mates, who cheer and whoop at the sight.
With the support of his whole team behind him, Naoki leaves in peace for the surgery. This whole scene was really quite heartwarming (oh, manly love!) and I’m quite glad Naoki and Yoyogi seem to be over Natsuki now (since the woman is really not worth fighting over, in my opinion). At the end, Yoyogi smiles and and sighs, “He’s really a good guy.” after which he casually throws a ball that goes into the hoop (the first one he’s thrown recently that’s gone in!…symbolism here, anyone?).
Riko reaches home and shares her good news with Mai, and both of them squeal in delight. Mai is genuinely delighted for Riko, as good friends are wont to be, but realises that Riko doesn’t know that Naoki is in surgery, so of course, Mai spills the beans about everything.
Natsuki asks Naoki if there’s anything he wants so she can buy it for him (taking on responsibilities Riko should have been taking!) and when he replies in the negative, she tells him, “Then I’ll go home. Oh, but before I do…” and she pulls out a bag with (as far as I can tell) a couple of computer games (I gather they’re the latest editions from what Naoki says). As Natsuki makes to leave, Naoki calls out, “Thank you. If not for Natsuki, I would not have had the determination to go through with the surgery. I’m feeling a little sleepy now.” When Riko hears this, she’s even more dismayed than when she first saw Natsuki in the room. Our dear boy is always honest with the wrong person at the wrong moments. So, anyway, Natsuki rushes over to Naoki’s side to pull the blankets over him.
Unfortunately, as they come fully into the room and Natsuki looks up, she spots Riko peering into the room, which immediately spurs her (again!) into action (I don’t quite know why she doesn’t take no for an answer, but I suppose it’s the same reason why she’s so successful at work). She apologises to Naoki’s mother, bowing, “It’s all because I broke up with Naoki so rashly. I didn’t take good care of him…so…I shouldn’t have broken up with him.” At this point Riko, who had been about to leave, immediately comes back and leans in to eavesdrop (and I would scold her for this, except I would probably do the same in her shoes).
Of course, Naoki’s mother being the soft-hearted creature she is (the whole family faults on the side of being too nice and gentle) immediately steps up to comfort Natsuki and rubs her back in concern. Meanwhile, Riko’s face grows increasingly despondent. Natsuki seemingly rallies and smiles through her tears saying, “I will stay by his side and protect him. One day, he will need me.” and Naoki’s mother replies, “Indeed. I’m on your side.” (Which is possibly the worst comment one’s mother can make in front of one’s new and ex-girlfriends! Meanwhile Naoki is happily SNOOZING through all this unfolding drama?! I want to knock the boy out myself – through traditional means.) Riko leaves in grief as Naoki’s mother embraces Natsuki, and Natsuki’s eyes reveal a hint of insecurity – she’s not quite sure if she’s done the right thing, but she’s done it. (Man I can anticipate that this is going to lead to some awkwardness, to say the least, when Naoki finally gets around to introducing Riko to his family.) As Riko is on her way home, she passes by the empty basketball court, looks up and sees the sign “Love Makes Me Strong” (which has been a running motto throughout the show) and scrunches her brows further. (Lots of dramatic irony and symbolism in this episode, which I am more or less loving.)
“Dear Riko,” says Naoki’s text message, “Congratulations on passing the audition! I’m as happy for you as I would have felt if it was something I was doing. Perhaps you’re still in practice now, but I just wanted to tell you…Actually, I had surgery on my ankle today. I didn’t want you to worry about me at this important point in time, so I could only tell you after the fact, but everything went smoothly and the operation was a success. From now on, all that is left is recovery. I won’t be able to participate in matches for now, I would really like you to see me in a match soon, but due to this period that I’ve been given to rest and recuperate, I’m able to view the team’s strengths and weaknesses through new eyes. I think this is also a kind of reward. So, don’t worry about me. I’m looking forward to your concert, please work hard.” (In the meantime they have flashes of Riko’s practice, Naoki sitting on the bench cheering his team-mates during practice, Natsuki looking at Naoki fondly, and Toru looking, in turn, at Natsuki…ARG! The love triangle!…that, well, doesn’t technically exist anymore since Naoki’s made it very clear to Natsuki that he’s moved on, the good boy.)
When Riko sees the text message, she smiles, and replies, “Naoki. Thank you. Is your ankle alright? Don’t force yourself too much. I will work doubly hard from tomorrow onwards, I love you.”
As Riko is tuning her violin, she pauses to look up into the audience. At first, she’s a little disappointed she can’t see Naoki at all. Then, the heavy double doors swing open, and…
Riko tells Naoki, “Just now, I had an offer from the Director to join the leading orchestra for his company; it’s an orchestra that gathers youthful talents from Karuizawa.” Naoki, “Isn’t that great?” Riko, “Yeah, but if I go, it’ll be really hard. I’ll have to practise 10 hours a day, and there will be slated concerts to perform at, and… (at this point she glances over at Naoki before looking away) if I accept the offer, I’ll have to go to Karuizawa for a year, next week.”
Naoki, “…Next week?”
Riko turns back to Naoki and offers him a brilliant smile, “That’s why I’m not going. If I go, I won’t be able to see you, and I won’t be able to support you at your matches.” Naoki tries to protest with a, “But…” Riko cuts in, “I want to remain by Naoki’s side. I want to stay in the place closest to you. I don’t want to be apart from you.” It’s Naoki’s turn to be worried, as he watches Riko go on about how wonderful it is to play in the orchestra, even if only for one day, under a famous conductor, while letting Naoki hear her playing. Riko finishes with, “I’m happy enough, like this. From now on, I will remain by Naoki’s side, and continue working hard, and auditioning for more violin positions, and working hard at my violin.”
Naoki can only nod at this point and smile encouragingly back at her, but of course, everyone can sense here that he’s feeling very uneasy about her decision to (sort of) give up her dream to follow him (in a way). As Riko gets called back in by the Director’s assistant, Naoki watches her go and you can almost follow his thought processes here as he thinks about all the things that Riko hasn’t said. (The boy’s quite perceptive when he wants to be!) Back at the basketball court, he stands there with a ball under his arm, gazing into air (I think at the same signboard that says, Love Makes Me Strong)…so we all know what’s going to happen next, don’t we?
Naoki admits that it was Riko who had changed him, when he met her at his lowest point in life, and she supported him and his dreams. “Which is why…(he takes a deep breath)…I wish for you to go to Karuizawa. I hope that Riko will also be able to pursue her own dreams.” When Riko stands up in protest and says, “I don’t want to split up with Naoki – ” He steps forth and pulls her into his arms, telling her, “It will be fine. Even if we are apart, I will always be your strongest armour, because I am your number one fan. Let’s work hard together. Although we are at the age where we can’t live on dreams alone, and it’s about time to face reality, but the two of us, let’s never give up even at the very last second, and work hard together.” (This all sounds very awkward in English but is very heartmelting in Japanese!) Poor Riko is about to weep buckets of tears now, and Naoki pats her gently on the head. “Go to Karuizawa.”
Turns out the girl collected enough stickers to redeem a cup for him and wanted to give it to him tonight to celebrate her concert. Riko adds wryly, “If I’d known you were going to say all that, I would’ve prepared a cooler present for you tonight.” Naoki smiles, “I’m glad.” Riko nods and replies, “You’re right. Until the very last second of the very last second, we shouldn’t give up. It’s a promise I made with you.” Naoki: “Even if we’re not together, just thinking of you makes me braver.” With tear trail marks showing clearly against her cheek, Riko tells Naoki, “Me too. Thinking of you makes me stronger.”
Naoki nods and Riko finishes off with a smile saying, “Let’s not meet any more. If we meet again, it will only make the parting harder to bear. Goodbye.” Naoki, “Goodbye.” (Argh! This is the part from the teaser! The reason why the sadness is compounded here is because they use the formal version of “Goodbye” in Japanese i.e. sayonara which most people don’t use unless it’s a very formal or significant occasion…in other words, an official goodbye. It feels like they’re biding each other farewell forever!…well, but since it’s a drama, they still have one episode left to ties things up properly.)
And the episode ends off Riko crying as she walks away from Naoki (a scene which Keiko does really well you almost can see her heart breaking) and Naoki follows her out the court and looks at her retreating back (here you can see he almost regrets saying what he said, and he opens his mouth to call out to her, but he doesn’t. VERY WELL DONE YAMAPI! I knew there was a reason I liked you so much) and he recollects moments of them being together in happier times (their first meeting, the sparklers, their first kiss, her confession, her waiting in the rain for him, her smile as she learns how to play basketball for the first time) and tears well up in his eyes before he drops his head and turns away.
Next is the last episode and the special’s going to be 75 minutes long apparently. (I think the last episode and the special will be 2 different episodes because that’s how it’s usually done, but I could be wrong.) There are quite a few loose threads to wrap up i.e. the whole Natsuki thing, and of course, if Riko will be able to come support Naoki in his most important match (which I think she will) and whether he will introduce her to his family (please do!) and what happens to poor Toru who still appears to be pining over Natsuki. Sadly, there are no cute Mai and Shuji moments in this episode, but there are enough tension-filled moments to make you forget that. While I’m looking forward to the last episode, I’m also a bit reluctant for the drama to end, since it’s been a great 11 weeks. I’m probably going to have to look for something new to stoop the gap. If you have any dramas you’d like to recommend, now’s the time!