By David Yamaguchi, The North American Post
VIKI RAKUTEN is a streaming TV channel featuring Asian dramas that I have been watching of late. As readers know, I spend a fair amount of time watching Japanese “dorama” on YouTube. Ostensibly,as an activity I pursue for “maintaining and improving my Japanese,” it doubles as my end-of-day “veg out” time. I believe that if we, as humans, don’t get to spend the last hour of the day “goofing off,” then why bother with going through its motions at all?
Yet, one problem with watching streaming Asian video on YouTube is the vintage of the Japanese content available. The dramas and films can be 10-20 years old, or more. Thus, I have added Viki Rakuten, which one peruses by merely “clicking” it on a wired desktop or laptop. On a mobile phone, one must first download a small app (~1 mb).
Among various “free” Asian streaming sites for watching Japanese dramas, I find Viki Rakuten the most intriguing as a business model. The reasons include:
(a) The number of dramas on offer. At this writing, 56 J-dramas are available.
(b) The writing of English subtitles is done by international viewers working in teams of volunteers. This is why Viki uses the byline, “Global TV powered by fans.”
The approach reduces the translation time. Thus, dramas are first posted unsubtitled.
(c) The viewer has the option to enter timed commentary into dramas, which then appear as top-of-screen supertitles to later viewers.
The viewer comments are commonly funny and witty. They provide a broad perspective on Japanese behavior that might not be obvious to us, who are too close to it. They also reveal the worldwide distribution of J-drama fans.
Such viewers also point out details that the viewer may miss. For example, one pointed out that the “bad girl” in one episode of “Time Taxi” (below) is the same guest actress as in the preceding episode. The second time, she is disguised in a wig.
The above notwithstanding, Viki Rakuten comes across as an imperfect work in progress. Its repetitive local advertising can be annoying. How many times do I need to see the commercial of a local siding, roofing, and windows company? Similarly, there is the occasional overly verbose individual commentator. Of course, paid subscriptions provide an opt-out for the ads.
I close with three example dramas that I have found amusing on Viki.
“Time Taxi” (“Suteki na Sen Taxi,” 2014).
This features Yutaka Takenouchi, from “Shin Godzilla.” He is the driver of a time-traveling taxi that passengers can hire to go back in time to a point when they made a key life mistake, and fix it. Commonly, several tries are necessary, as changing one past action commonly alters the sequence of later events.
“Caution, Hazardous Wife” (“Okusama wa Tori Atsukai Chui,” 2017).
The romantic comedy features lovely yet athletic A-list actress Haruka Ayase (“Our Little Sister).” The plot is that a suburban stay-at-home housewife has a secret past as a government special agent, for which she developed various skills that occasionally come in handy in her present life. These include karate, knife fighting, and the like. Notably, Ms. Ayase does her own stunt-work.
Especially notable is how the comedy uses its lighthearted venue to raise societal issues in Japan, including domestic violence, adult bullying, and how one goes about maintaining the spark of marriages.
Incidentally, a movie based on this, which begins at the cliffhanger where the first series ends, is scheduled for release in Japan this month.
“Wedding Bells for the Otaku?” (“Demo Kekkon Shitai!,” 2017).
This single-episode rom-com stars Chiaki Kuriyama, formerly the “ball and chain” bad girl of “Kill Bill.” This time she is a successful manga artist whose shyness and work-at-home lifestyle make it difficult for her to find a mate. The drama pokes fun at the real-life issues that keep many young Japanese from marrying. The story is based on an autobiographical manga by Haruki Fujimoto (2015).