Japanese Drama Review: Atelier

I have been looking for light and fun Japanese dramas to watch on the legal sites while avoiding the overacted slapsticky ones – of which there are a lot! What I found recently was Atelier (pronounced a-tel-yay) which was a new one to me. It is like an office drama only set in a lingerie company. The twist is that they added in the mean boss lady from The Devil Wears Prada.

The Japanese title of Underwear (pronounced ahn-da-weh-ah) gives a good idea of what goes on: making and selling beautiful custom-made underwear, complete with models and fashions shows, but very matter-of-factly presented and not really sexy. Because after all, it’s just underwear, and everyone has underwear. Here you can see the Japanese title poster with the word Underwear written in English and in Japanese katakana underneath. On the top it reads Netflix Original Work.

The Lead Characters

Mayuko, a specialist in developing new fabrics, thinks she was hired to modernize the company. Watching her check off the corners of her sleekly made bed, straightening the little jars on her desk, and pausing under the huge red lantern of Asakusa shrine, reminds us of the beginning of Date: What’s It Like To Be In Love? and is our clue that this is a comedy. Mayuko seems to be a typical comedy heroine who makes lots of mistakes and overacts when she is excited. (Don’t worry; the show grows out of its comedy stage and she grows out of overacting!)

Ms. Nanjo, the head designer, and owner of the company, is basically the boss from The Devil Wears Prada, who was modeled on Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue. You can see here how closely styled she is, Ms. Nanjo is on the left, Ms. Wintour is on the right. As you would expect, she is arrogant and demanding and thinks nothing of changing designs a week before a big show or canceling products her assistants have worked hard on. She is the spark of energy in this show.

The Plot

Ms. Nanjo runs her company the old-fashioned way. The title, Atelier, describes her workshop where she personally designs and sews the lingerie. However, the company is in difficulties and losing customers. Mayuko’s growth in becoming more competent and confident is set against the company’s financial troubles, conflict among the employees, competition from other stores, and a big fashion show that everyone agonizes over. The storyline then gets into Ms. Nanjo’s personal conflicts and backstory, which turn out to affect Mayuko’s goals and career choices.

The Secondary Characters

There are several well-drawn characters with side stories who not only enrich the story as we go along but greatly impact the big plot points at the end. Among the employees, we have the financial guy and the assistant designers, who struggle with being casually dismissed by the boss. There is the man who runs the nearby cafe, the model who keeps getting dropped from jobs, the elderly lady who is found wandering the streets, and clerks from other stores that Mayuko meets when running errands. She befriends all these people and the way their storylines come together at the end is my favorite part of the drama.

If you have been watching thrillers or revenge dramas and need a change of pace,  this is a good one to try.  There are conflicts enough to keep you interested, but, and this is what I was really looking for, there are no murders! Like most office dramas, there really isn’t a romance, but it is a fun watch, with good characters. I should warn you though, anything Mayuko designs is really ugly!

Telzeytalks of Dramas With a Side of Kimchi

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