This is coming a little late, since the (raw) last episode of Buzzer Beat has been out since last Tuesday, but I really loved the ending of this drama (and yes, apparently the scriptwriters here understand the meaning of closure!) and felt I needed to mull over it a little.
I thought there might be a special episode after this, that would run for 75 mins long, but according to honeydew, this is the last of it, which I must say, wouldn’t be a bad thing since everything’s been very nicely finished, and I’m not keen to open up anything else to continue the story. (Although I felt a little cheated since the actual episode length was about 60 minutes as opposed to the advertised 75 mins long, so I was like…does that mean 15 minutes went to advertisements??).
Back to the drama – the only flaw, I felt, marring the ending is that, somehow, in this particular episode, there seemed to be an overplay of symbology – it felt like the scriptwriters weren’t quite sure we were getting it at the end, and decided to throw in plenty of hints. Nonetheless, it’s a small price to pay, to see everything wrap up so nicely – and I was right about deciding that Natsuki, despite the fact that she seemed like a bitch from the start, was really only human. Her worst vice is her pride – ah, hubris, there is a saying that goes, “But a man’s pride cometh before the fall”.
Since dramas all work within the premise of coincidences, coincidentally, on Riko’s last day at the bookstore, she meets her boss’s wife (he’s a remarried man), who just happens to be – Naoki’s older sister. (I wanted to say that these things don’t happen in real life, but forget that – I know too many people who know other people who know people I know. It’s all very bizarre, so let’s just put it this way: I’m just not surprised things turned out this way!)
When Riko hears this, she immediately rushes out of the shop, only to remember that she’s abandoned her phone and doesn’t have Naoki’s number any longer. Just as Mai follows her out and is about to ask Shuji for Naoki’s number, Riko stops her and tells her that if the sunflower was really given to her by Naoki, then she has to work even harder to accomplish her dream for him, since he was the one who supported her even from then, and had given her the courage to pursue her dreams.
Later that night, we see Riko packing up to go to Karuizawa, and Mai and Shuji helping her. As they finish off the packing and prepare to spend their last night together, Mai fetches out a time-line that she’s drawn, detailing their history together – from university days, to moving in together, and most especially, falling in love over this summer. As they reminisce over the good old days, Mai figured out that everything that happened, happened after the two of them moved in together into the apartment they were renting now.
Despite the fact that it’s only been half a year (of summer??…well, I suppose that’s possible in some places, but I never realised summer was so long in Japan), the two girls have bonded and grown even closer, what with all they’ve had to go through. Riko muses that all that blank time they’ve had in the past 2 years seems to have exploded this summer – everything that could have possibly happened did happen. Mai, in turn, gives Riko a bear hug, half-joking (although I do think the sentiment she expressed was genuine) as she tells Riko not to go, while Riko admits that she almost can’t bear to. Shuji brings over a box of tissue, and I died when he was the first one to draw from it as he wiped tears away (he’s so adorable!!) – the three spend a few moments blowing their respective noses and wiping their eyes.
Naoki’s mother and sister don’t understand why they broke up (since the boy didn’t tell them Natsuki cheated on him), and Naoki’s mother even tells him that she hopes they’d get back together, whereupon Naoki lets out this sigh and goes all broody asking, “What’s love?” (I burst out at that; it’s very 问世间情为何物，直教人生死相许 if you understand Mandarin – or “What is this thing called love, that compels people to promise their lives to each other til death do them part?”…it’s very Romeo and Juliet, if you ask me.) He reflects that once upon a time, his mother must have loved his father, and yet, they still broke up. (His mother looked a little confused and amused at the same time while she tried her best to parry the conversational sword by telling him she never regretted a single moment in any of her relationships since she threw herself whole-heartedly into it – a point of view I have never quite managed to wholly comprehend either.)
After that, Naoki tells his mother, “…I’ve found it. The girl that Mother described long ago – someone who makes my heart feel at peace. (Both his mother and sister look delighted at this) But she has a dream. I want to be her pillar of strength, but I don’t want to be separated from her, and yet I can’t expect her to abandon her dreams to follow me.” Just as he sinks back into gloominess, his mother plonks a cup of water in front of him and answers, “She’s an important person isn’t she? …Well then, just trust your heart, and follow it. It’s easy to give up and say that love is tiring, but for those who manage to hold on to it in the face of adversity, I think only they (the persistent) will be able to see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (that’s my own translation. Literally she says something like they will see something sparkling and shining). Hasn’t Naoki always believed that you should never give up until after the very last second?” (I think it’s hilarious how the writers are trying to dish out important advice to the audiences via the mouthpiece of their characters)
The camera then pans to Naoki at South Park basketball court again, and he gazes longingly at Riko’s window (I thought it was funny that it was Mai’s silhouette that appeared first).
The drama then moves in, finally, on some proper basketball action scenes, when the basketball season officially begins. Commentators raise the heat by pondering on the kind of performance that JCArcs would give this season, considering that Naoki’s being put out of action, and they have a new member on the team.
More action scenes of Naoki and the rest of the JCArcs on court. After the game, we see Naoki and Natsuki walking alongside each other as they make their way to the traditional celebratory party after the hard fought win to get to the finals. As they are on their way, Natsuki comments that it feels like as though nothing has changed from last year (replay memories of Naoki proposing to her and all their happy moments together) and yet…Naoki smiles ruefully, since he’s actually thinking of Riko, and he halts when he hears the tune that Riko always used to play. Meantime, at the bar/eatery where the party’s being held, rumours are flying around that they will reconcile, since Natsuki has been faithfully following Naoki around everywhere. Shuji, who hears this, immediately thinks of reporting this to Mai (so cute!).
After this, Mai receives a call from Riko, who is calling from a train station, telling Mai that she’ll be back in Tokyo for a short while to help her senior with something, and wanted to stay with Mai for a few days. Mai immediately agrees, but adds that it’s unfortunate that Shuji (and therefore, by implication, Naoki?) would be away for a game. When Riko hangs up and is walking up the stairs with her senior (the guy eating her French toast in the picture above), she hears a familiar voice talking about basketball, and turns around. She catches a glimpse of Naoki and Shuji as they leave the train station (Shuji talking about Mai’s curry again! The boy either loves his curry, or Mai cooks nothing else LOL.) and immediately dashes out after them.
Obvious replay of the first episode where Naoki and Riko meet, really. (Like I said, lots of mirroring and symbolism going on in this episode) Back at the apartment with Mai, Riko finds out that Shuji finally gets to play in a game (for about 5 minutes; Mai manages a delicate balance between being proud of Shuji while knowing he still has far to go) and that the team has done very well this season, especially Naoki, after he recovered from his ankle injury. Riko seems comforted upon knowing that Naoki is working hard at achieving his dream as well, and Mai hands her the schedule for the team’s (final) game. Unfortunately, Riko’s orchestra has an upcoming concert they have to practise for, and she can’t take the time off to go for the game, but wishes aloud that she could cheer alongside Mai.
After the short talk with Mai, Riko visits the South Park basketball court, with the “Love Makes Me Strong” sign that still has Naoki’s message on it. As she stares at the message, good memories of happy times with Naoki wash over her (again with the replay thing! It feels like about 10 minutes in this drama is being taken up by replays, in my opinion).
As Riko leaves the park, she brushes past a familiar shoulder – Coach Kanzaki. The two halt abruptly and turn back to look at each other in belated recognition, and off they go for another chat, where Riko admits to Coach Kanzaki that Naoki’s support has meant a lot to her, because she originally thought she could give up the violin for him (that was how much she liked him) but after she’s been to Karuizawa, she realised all over again exactly how much she loves the violin. The fact that Naoki was able to let her go to pursue her own dreams was something she really appreciated, and Coach Kanzaki confesses as well that he would never have been able to do that; instead he would have asked her to give up her violin and stay by his side.
In response to Riko’s bewilderment, he explains that a buzzer beat is a shot that is made just as the bell buzzes (thus the coined term). HAHA. So cheesy to stick this at the end of the drama, as if audiences would never have figured this out by now. Anyway, I thought Naoki explained what a buzzer beat was to Riko before, but it could just be my memory failing me, which is entirely possible. At the end of their conversation, just as Coach Kanzaki turns away after thanking her for a most delightful catching up session, he comes to a sudden stop (as if an afterthought) and turns back to add, “Since we promised not to lie, I’ll tell you one last thing. Naoki still remembers you.” Riko is left with a mix of emotions – yearning, gladness, sadness? (Keiko does this really well, I have to say. She’s going up on my list of Class A actors/actresses.)
Of course, since the story needs to tie up the plot between Naoki and Natsuki, we see them next, with Natsuki watching Naoki practising his hoops. It’s here that I would like to applaud Saki for doing such a fabulous job, and let me explain why:
Naoki: “Natsuki, you’ll be happy. But the person who will make you happy isn’t me.” Ouch. He goes on to tell her she’s a good girl (double whammy), and that he hopes his image in her heart will always be that of a cool guy, and that it was basically his fault because he was so insistent on acting cool all the time that he lost touch with what she was really looking for – when Natsuki cuts in with a “tsk”-ing sound (it’s meant to show your annoyance, and it does, here).
Natsuki then seemingly reverts back to her “bad girl” side where she tells him, “You’re being overly kind again. It’s because you’re always like that, that you’re always being cheated on. Oh well. She (referring to Riko) won’t do that to you. I was told off by her. She told me that your dream was definitely achievable. So go. Go to her.” When Naoki nods his head, Natsuki adds with a throwaway smile, “Next time, please teach me how to make French toast.”
She turns her back here, and you can see the sorrow in her eyes. “That’s the one thing that, no matter how hard I try, I can never get right.” (What, so now the French toast is becoming a symbol too?) I thought it was really touching because you could tell she really does love him, from this particular scene. When she hears Naoki say, “Okay, if it’s Natsuki, you can definitely do it (referring to the French toast).” a bittersweet smile appears on her face and she replies, “That goes without saying. Ah yes, I was lying just now, when I said I liked you. I don’t think about you anymore.” (This line is killer! Her eyes! Her eyes are totally denying everything she’s telling Naoki! She’s letting him go…at last. About time, girl.)
You can tell where Natsuki’s thoughts deviate from Naoki’s and Riko’s. The latter two think of love as their strength, while Natsuki holds on for pride. Like I said, ah…hubris…she’s holding on right now to it too, denying her last feelings for her ex-boyfriend. As Naoki nods and walks out of the room (I thought it was hilarious how he leaves so abruptly while she stays in the room, but it has to be directed that way), Natsuki finally lets her tears flow.
The tears overwhelms her and she slumps to the floor in distress. As she is crying her heart out, a shadow falls over her, and a familiar voice calls out, “Natsuki. What’s wrong?” LOL and this would be our dearest Toru, of course, since he’s been watching over Natsuki for…oh…I don’t know…3 years now?
I laughed like a hyena at Natsuki’s taken aback expression as she went, “Eh??” At her shocked look, Toru quickly tacks on at the end, “To eat cake together.” ARGH! Great opportunity lost here, Toru! No! I do think they make a sweet couple though, mostly because I think Natsuki is at her most real when she’s together with Toru – she doesn’t feel like she needs to put on a mask, either to be overtly good/bad like she did with Naoki/Yoyogi respectively. In a sense, Toru’s her fulcrum. Since he knows the ‘real’ her, and is still in love with her, I really wish she’d give him a chance. I think she’d find herself surprisingly blissful if she did, since Toru’s a great catch (team captain and star shooter and all that).
There’s a really cute moment after this whole emotionally draining scene for Natsuki, with Shuji and Mai. Mai’s cooking her Katsu-don (fried pork with rice) for Shuji, so that their team will win the game (since “Katsu” sounds very similar to win in Japanese). Shuji watches her and at the same time is practising his speech – he wants to propose to Mai that if they win the game, she’d marry him (similar to Naoki and Natsuki in Ep1) but at the same time, he’s afraid to jinx it since Naoki did so badly with Natsuki last year! This moment was soooo cute. As they eat, Mai tells him, “If you win…I’ll marry you.” Shuji almost chokes on his food, and his wide-eyed look was supremely mirth-inducing. I probably almost fell off my bed laughing at this point.
I have to fast-forward things a little, since I’m running out of space and time. Coach Kanzaki and Naoki are on their daily run, and Kanzaki tells Naoki not to push it too much since the final match was approaching. Naoki tells Kanzaki, in turn, that he was going to Karuizawa to fetch Riko, which Kanzaki approves of. Naoki leaves the train station holding a sunflower, and makes his way to Riko’s dorm, only to be told that she wasn’t in since she was in practice for the upcoming concert. The landlady praises Riko for being so capable, at such a young age, to participate in such a large-scale concert, thus making Naoki feel guilty for coming all the way out here to bring her to watch him play when she needed to be focused on her concert practices. He leaves the sunflower with her landlady, instructing her to give it to Riko, only telling her that it was from “a fan”.
There’s a man to man bonding session at South Park basketball court where Naoki and Shuji start shooting hoops and exchanging words of worry and encouragement (Naoki will continue to strive to achieve his dream), and then the scene cuts to and fro between the JCArcs’ match and Riko’s violin practice. There’s a really funny bit before the match starts, where a row of school girls, along with Naoki’s sister, file in behind Mai, and recognise her as that older woman who was ragging Shuji out for his date with the school girls the other time. Then Naoki’s older sister, and her husband (the bookstore owner) arrives, and he immediately picks out Mai as well. The poor girl’s just like, “…All the people you don’t want to meet…”, which was a super laugh out loud moment. Then the match starts, and Riko’s still in practice so audiences agonise over that…for about 10 seconds. Until Riko blanks out, thinking about Naoki’s upcoming game, during rehearsal.
Mr Conductor asks, “Do you love him?” and Riko replies, “Yes. I do.” and Mr Conductor states firmly. “It’s alright. Love makes one strong.” (HOW DO THEY COME UP WITH CHEESY LINES LIKE THIS?! On the other hand, it’s actually strangely comforting…even if it’s a line they throw at you about 10,000 times in this last episode.) Riko thanks Mr Conductor and immediately sets off for Tokyo at a run.
Naoki manages to throw in a shot while a player from the opposing team fouls him – which means he has an extra chance to gain points by throwing in a foul shot.
Her nod of support gives Naoki strength, and he mutters to himself, “I’m strong, I’m strong.” (which, frankly, looks a little psychotic to me, but I talk to myself all the time so I shouldn’t complain really) before he throws the ball – and makes a perfect shot. Everyone, including Mai and Naoki’s entire family, squeal, jump up and down delightedly and hug each other fervently. With seconds left on the clock, Yoyogi intercepts an opponent’s pass, and throws it towards Naoki, who…
The whole team goes insane, cheering, and the crowd goes wild. As they exchange sweaty hugs, and manly grunts of victory, throwing Coach Kanzaki and Naoki in the air, Naoki looks over to Riko, and leaves the team as soon as he can, to run up to her.
At the end, as they pull apart, they lean their foreheads against each other and smile blissfully. Finito.
I thought the ending was sweet, if a tad overly so. I’m a little bereft now that it’s finally all over, even though I pretty much expected the ending. There are some people who may find this drama a little boring, since…well…nothing terribly antagonistic ever happens, but for a Japanese drama, this is actually pretty unusual. Japanese people are big on open endings. I’m not sure if they’ll ever do a special, but if they do, I don’t know what avenue they’ll explore, since they’ve pretty much tied everything up – Toru with Natsuki (I hope!), Shuji and Mai, and Naoki and Riko.
…I have a big problem. Now what am I going to watch?!