Hibana Spark – 2016 – Japan
It’s always nice to learn that there’s so much more to Japanese culture the Pokemon and sushi that most Americans seem to fixate on. That is why I was so psyched to stumble upon Netflix’s first original program from Japan Hibana-Spark. Not only is it phenomenal, but it shows an aspect of Japanese entertainment and culture that most westerners couldn’t be bothered to understand.
The first thing you learn is that the show’s main characters are two Manzai performers. This is immediately a little confusing because what the fuck is Manzai?. Basically, Manzai is a two-man comedy act like Laurel & Hardy, with one guy being the straight man and the other telling the actual jokes. The first few routines you see in the show are a little rough because the characters are still learning how to be funny, but as the series goes on their comedy and it ends up being legitimately hysterical by the end of the series.
The show focuses on a mentor/mentee relationship between Tokunaga and Kimya, the former a young Manzai comic just getting into the business with his partner, and the latter a more seasoned performer who takes Tokunaga under his wing. It gets complicated because Kimya is a bit of a fuck-up and is seen by some as an outcast in the Manzai world. Tokunaga doesn’t care though and dutifully writes down everything his mentor says.
The other unique aspect of Sparks that makes it interesting is how the story is told. The whole series is 10 episodes and takes place between 2000-2009 with each episode occurring during one year. This makes it so much more compelling to follow these characters as they grow and change and allow for a much more epic feeling story to be told.
The show looks beautiful too, seeing parts of Japan and aspects of Japanese life that are rarely seen in most mainstream offerings. Following the characters through the nighttime Tokyo streets or sitting with them as they eat dinner, it can drift to an almost surreal feeling that works with the overall tone of the show.
I’ll give this one the Dr. Pepper guarantee too. If you watch at least four episodes and don’t want to finish all 10 I’ll buy an ice-cold can of Dr. P.
Hibana-Spark is available on Netflix