We’re caught up in the climb / Love was far behind
(Happy New Year! Let’s start off 2017 with something different. May this year be filled with nubile meido, giant robots, and Code Geass.)
I have watched a lot of anime. I needed a palette cleanser. I started watching Terrance House. Then I started to wonder if Tap was the Japanese version of Milhouse. Then I started to worry if Mako-chan’s baseball career is going anywhere other than Alcoholic’s Anonymous. Then I started to wonder if Minori’s sister could team up with Hansan on a Japanese version of Love Line. Next thing I know, I am rooting for Arman to finally go on a beach date, for Arisa to open her hat store, and for Minori to cook omu rice for her boyfriend. It all leads to me being invested in a skateboarding trip to the convenience store. I got hooked. I felt happiness as each cast member found happiness. I felt sadness as cast members left the house. I felt joy and anguish during Momoka’s competition. I laughed at a “Byrnes Sandwich.” I went on Expedia to see if there were any cheap flights to Tokyo so I could visit the Cupnoodles Musuem. I then realized that I watched twenty-eight episodes over five days.
(I am definitely not stalking cast members on Twitter and Instragram to see if they are still together, definitely not humming “Hoping this would all work out / But I’ve been stealing time” to my puppy, and definitely not replying with “Mmm~” instead of “Yes” to questions. Fashion Czar definitely didn’t ask me fifteen minutes ago if we still had eggs in the fridge. I definitely didn’t answer with an “Mmm~” and a nod. That is the power of Terrace House.)
The boilerplate for each episode of Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City goes like this, “Terrace House is a show about six strangers, men and women, sharing a house and living together. We observe how they interact with each other. All we’ve prepared is a wonderful house and automobile. There is no script at all.” Ehara Yukiko says it at the beginning of each of the forty-six episodes much like how I repeat the intro to thin slicing, and it summarizes the show far better than any Terrace House podcast, article, review, or three thousand word blog post ever did.
Terrace House is like hamburg steak, omu rice, curry, and other youshoku cuisine: it is a decidedly Japanese take on a Western dish. While Europe and America have long had reality TV shows about tossing attractive, young people into a house together, Terrace House does it in a Japanese way. Everyone is polite, wears slippers, washes dishes, and is focused on their careers. It is bizarro Real World. To emphasize the differences between Terrace House and its Western forerunners, I only remember one instance where a cast member went to a club. While there is social drinking, there is a lot of emphasis on career and responsibility. The added twist that Terrace House makes on the traditional Real World-type formula is that each member can leave anytime. Once they leave, they are immediately replaced by someone else. So the dynamic of the show is ever-changing and rarely stale. The last twist is that the cast members, their friends, and their family watch the show as it airs on Netflix, so it leads to uncomfortable moments like one cast member watching himself/herself get rejected in front of everyone else. The show is delayed by a 2-3 weeks in Japan, so while not exactly current, it is interesting to see reaction to the show inside the show itself. It is a weird meta layer that I kind of like.
Each episode is between thirty and forty minutes long (Oharuhi-sama bless Netflix’s ability to defy broadcast runtimes), and each one starts with a typical Japanese panel recapping the previous week’s events. The panel consists of the 52 year old Yukiko (Yu), who is the host. Reina Triendl (Torichan) is the 24 year old eye candy, but she always looks at least ten years older than she actually is. She also constantly stares at an iPad Air, and I have no clue what the iPad Air could possibly show her. The third female panelist is the 35 year old Azusa Babazono, who really enjoys wearing sweaters featuring random English words. She does not get to speak much.
The male panelists start with 39 year old Ryota Yamasato, who encourages drama on the show and openly pines for lovely ladies. I nicknamed him “Bill” because he had no nickname on the panel. 42 year old Yoshimi Tokui (Tokui) pairs a lot with Yuu in coming up with their head canon accounts of events. Tokui previously hosted another Japanese reality TV show where male contestants were given hand jobs by sexy nurses behind a curtain as they tried to sing karaoke. I feel like you should know these things. And last panelist is a rotating pretty boy who hardly speaks and is generally too young to drink.
After the recap, the show goes into the daily lives of everyday, beautiful Japanese people for about seven minutes before they cut to the OP, which I cannot get enough of. It is up there with History Maker as Most Earworm OP of 2016. The Japanese version has a Taylor Swift song for the OP, and it is nowhere as good as the non-Japanese version. A few more minutes of daily life before another cut to the panel. The panelists watch what we watch, and we occasionally get to see their reactions to key scenes. We then get a few more minutes of daily life before the famous Terrace House door closing sound ends the episode.
Terrace House was mildly popular on Fuji TV since 2012, but it was eventually cancelled until Netflix swooped in and helped fund the new season, Boys and Girls in the City. The first few episodes had the panelists continually extol and praise Netflix as a God and savior to the point where it went beyond uncomfortable to funny… much like the “Kristen Schaal is a horse” skit. I am glad Netflix saved the show and brought it to a worldwide audience. Terrace House is fantastic television.
To me, Terrace House really starts after Arman joins. He is the first replacement boy, replacing– well– you’ll have to find out yourself. When a new member comes in, they tease it by showing some B-roll of the new member’s home city as well as the new member talking to a family member or friend about going to Terrace House. Only the new member’s chin is shown to further the mystery and intrigue. When the first boy left the house, the show teased Arman by showing Hawaii and him speaking English to his friends. The panelists exploded, “Hawaii?! Ah! That’s Netflix! That’s Netflix money!” The show then teases Arman’s substantial tattoos, which, if you understand Japanese culture, is still taboo there. As a mild spoiler, Arman ends up being the longest tenured member of Terrace House, and it is clear he becomes the heart of the house.
The best part of Arman’s arrival is that everyone on Terrace House is quite Japanese. They are all perfectly willing to sacrifice their lives, friendships, and relationships for their careers. Arman, being the model Hawaiian, doesn’t give a shit about that and only wants to be “happy.” “Happy” becomes his manta, and it slowly permeates through the house. When he first arrives, many housemates look down on him a little because he is at home a lot and doesn’t have a steady job. At the end of the show, everyone is jealous at how happy is he, want to move to Hawaii, and he ends up being the hardest worker at a landscaping company. It is a fantastical evolution of Terrace House and is a soft jab at the “kill yourself for your career” Japanese mentality. I also think Arman is responsible for the cast wearing so many T-shirts with Hawaiian phrases.
(Or it could just be Japan’s Hawaii fetish. 2016 seems to be an all-time high for it with Pokemon Sun and Moon occurring in an Hawaiian analogue plus the new, upcoming Terrace House season is named “Terrace House: Aloha State.” Guess where Netflix is moving the show. Though I would still love to see more Terrace House in Tokyo… or maybe Yokohama…)
(Arman also brings a date to a show that is the literal Japanese version of “Kristen Schaal is a horse.” None of the panelists seemed to understand what was going on.)
My favorite house member is Hansan, a 27 year old, who is the only person to join the house while already having a steady girlfriend. He is the opposite of Arman when it comes to work. Hansan is always seen building something or architecting something and working late at night chain smoking. But he is extremely kind and witty and charming that all the girls fall for him, and they all get sad when they learn he isn’t on the show to date and hook up. He also gives near perfect relationship advice to everyone else and is the house Buddha. The panelists nickname him “Mr. Perfect” but I refer to him as the Relationship Buddha. If his architecture firm slash interior decorator slash furniture building business doesn’t take off, he can always land a job on Dr. Phil or Love Line.
(Bill notes that no man can be so perfect, so he continuously predicts that Hansan would screw up and make mistakes, only to never make mistakes. Hansan is the anime character that wins and just wins… except for the smoking thing.)
Another interesting male cast member to note is Hayato, a 29 year old (oldest member) actor turned chef. He is one of the last cast members to join and is prominently featured in the final, epic arc that occurs over the final six episodes. Generally, reality TV shows do not have arcs or substantial story lines, but the final six episodes of Terrace House turns it from Japanese Real World with Arman to something quite different. I do not want to spoil the ending, but I want to entice you to watch Terrace House, so I will say this: the ending feels like an ending to a shoujo manga. It feels scripted by a mangaka who is in junior high, and you’re wondering, “Wait, how can twenty-somethings really get themselves into this fucking mess?” Three stories collide in a final run set off by a camping trip where Arman saves a watermelon from floating down a river. For people who have read a lot of romance and relationship-focused manga, the ending feels like the end to one of those manga. It is just weird as the drama is playing out with real people over social media to the point one cast member deleted their Instagram and Twitter due to the backlash of crazy Japanese watchers (I assume Japanese since it occurred before Netflix released the season in the West). It is not Yuri on Ice. It is all the antithesis of Yuri on Ice. If Yuri on Ice is about not falling into anime stereotypes, Terrace House is about embracing and sleeping with anime stereotypes.
Hayato also really likes food dates, as he went on a date to the Cupnoodle Musuem, the Japan Beef Festival, and Tsukiji Market. Watching his dates made me want to go back to Japan again, and I was so happy to see the 100 yen tamago at Tsukiji Market. I think a visit to Tsukiji and eating the tamago as an appetizer before sushi is a must for any visit to Tokyo.
Misaki is the longest tenured female house member and is the most interesting girl on the show. She eventually becomes the older sister character and goes through her own three act character arc with Yokohama prominently featured. She is always cheerful and recovers despite some other cast members doing awful things to her. Misaki is also in an AKB-type group, so we get to see her in awful outfits. Other girls to note are Natsumi, who could be in a Real World series, Arisa, the hat girl, Minori, who has the world’s coolest older sister, and Rikopin, who is a gravure model who likes to wear shirts with phrases like “MILK FED” on them.
One main theme of Terrace House is food. Almost no one can cook outside of Natsumi and Hayato. Whenever Natsumi and Hayato aren’t there, the panelists always joke that the house might starve to death. But food plays a huge part in the bonding experience. Food also creates quite a bit of drama and most of the drama Minori is involved in deals with food, including when she writes “Coward” on omu rice for her boyfriend because he has been approaching their relationship at Belldandy-like speeds. The “Coward” incident is referenced long after she departs the show. And I’ve learned that young Japanese youths really enjoy hamburgs (to the point where it’s the drama pivot for two couples in the same episode). It’s to Japan what sushi rolls are to suburban America.
Sometimes I think the main star of Terrace House is the literal house. The house is incredible for Tokyo, and I think it might be in the $10 million range if it were in Mountain View. The girls’ room on the third floor is large, spacious, and has room for a table. The room also has a knock-off Eames rocker that is only used for clothes storage. They also have a huge bathroom with a tub that can accommodate two people (which sadly is not used often enough for that purpose). The boys’ room on the first floor is tiny, cramped, and has as disgusting sink. The house has an elevator, which isn’t revealed until the final six episodes and plays a crucial role in the final arc. The house has a game room which has Netflix running on a PS4 and eventually becomes a literal junk room with junk and trash everyone. The house also has an outdoor pool, and you get to see Arman’s abs a lot more than any girls in bikinis. Arman’s doggie paddle, though, wow. Just wow.
The house also features a “Japanese-styled” room, which is just an euphemism for “If you want to fuck, do it in this room.” It is also interesting for a reality TV series with so many attractive boys and girls that sex really doesn’t get talked about until the final arc. They tiptoe around the subject, and then boom, you get to see some blankets being tossed and turned.
Terrace House is a fun reality TV series that captures a lot of Japan, and it surprisingly explains where some tropes in manga and anime come from (thankfully there was no erohon discovered under a mattress). Most of the cast members are endearing, and it was sad watching the last few episodes knowing that they will be leaving us. But what the show does best is how it makes us feel for the characters as we share both their sadness and happiness. It is a fantastic forty-six episode run and a great way to steal some time.