Guest writer: IIvan#0001
To start out this Aninspire, I first wanted to welcome all of you to a new type of Aninspire that you’ll see cropping up more often; Anime/Japan related show reviews. For our very first review, I’ll be covering an Amazon Prime exclusive show titled “James May: Our Man In Japan”. Now, before I start the review, I’m going to give you some background on who James May is so he isn’t a complete stranger.
James May is a TV personality from England who became famous through his co-hosting of popular car show, Top Gear. He worked on Top Gear alongside Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond from 2003 until 2015, at which point he left the position to take up an offer at Amazon. From there, he and his fellow co-hosts created another car show titled “The Grand Tour” which has been well received by both his fans and critics alike. Aside from being knowledgeable on cars, James May has a wide variety of other interests which include science and exploring the cultures of various countries. Working off his passions, he starred in a new show title “James May: Our Man In Japan” which is the topic of review for this aninspire article.
I bet you thought that was the only history lesson that you’d have to read today. Well, lucky for you there is one more thing I’d like to give you some background on before I get into the review. Hokkaido, the setting for the first episode, is located in the northernmost part of Japan’s main islands. It’s the least developed of Japan’s island, due in part to its volcanoes and frosty environment. However, even with all the snow, it still makes for an amazing travel location due to its natural abundance of Onsen (natural hot springs) which are popular with both tourists and locals alike. Its major city, Sapporo, became known nationally when it hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics and to this day it remains popular due to the snow festivals it hosts for a week every February (2019 had a record 2 million people attend). Now that you have some background on both the star of the show and the location, let us finally get into the review….
The first episode of “James May: Our Man In Japan” does a fantastic job at providing a broad outlook on the major activities and towns within Hokkaido. Some shows struggle to provide a smooth transition between locations, but this one does it in a unique way that makes it almost natural. Each transition involves a small tidbit about some Japanese activity, such as Haikus, which then is followed by beautiful shots of the new location that include details on the town, their traditions, and how a day in the life of a local could look. While only 50 minutes long, which doesn’t sound like a lot of time to cover an entire region, the pacing is reasonable and at no point did I feel as if the story was being rushed.
Providing an information dump but then failing to follow up and give a visual tour of what is being described is a pitfall some adventure shows fall into, except for this one. James May takes you on a tour of each location and offers a unique look into what it’s like to be a local in the area. He makes genuine attempts to learn the culture and language which, at times, provides some comedy but also helps you glimpse the personality of the people he interacts with. In one example, James May visits an enclosed and compact street vendor (shown in the above image) that offers one reasonably sized table where people are very close to one another. While I won’t go into much detail, the friendliness of the locals and their willingness to interact with a stranger almost made me feel as if I was part of the group. If this was a promotional video to boost tourism in Hokkaido…they certainly succeeded.
A Closer Look
There is a wonderful blend between the showcased local activities/sports and the above mentioned local interactions. James May’s enthusiasm to participate in sledding, snowball fights (named Yukigassen), and other local pastimes provides some insight into popular local hobbies. There was one scenario that bothered me however. For one of the days, they had planned to attend a horse race that was unfortunately cancelled due to inclement weather. To fill that gap, which only amounted to a few minutes, they attempted another comedy bit regarding poorly translated words which was filmed in a hotel room…and dragged out for one to many minutes. Aside from that, by participating in the activities, rather than simply observing them, gives James May a unique perspective into each one which he can then better relate back to the audience. After all, you’re more likely to be able to speak on a topic if you’ve actually worked with it first hand, rather than just watched someone else do it.
There are several attempts at humor throughout this episode and while some of them made me chuckle, the majority fell flat. Under the right scenario, James May can pull off a decent joke, but whether it be in part to the writers or seeing the actor in something that isn’t car related, the jokes just don’t work. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t terrible by any means, but some felt a little out of place such as an awkward cut to a massage scene that definitely should not have been included.
Now at this point you’re likely thinking, “Huh, that really doesn’t sound thaaaaat great”. Well, even with its flaws, this show doesn’t cease to entertain. You’re exposed to a wide variety of traditions within the Hakkaido region, one of which you may be surprised to hear is sword making. While some parts of the region are almost definitely cut out, due to time constraints, James May did an amazing job in covering a wide variety of location, topics, and traditions within a 50 minute time frame. You’ll definitely learn a lot from watching this episode and there’s always enough going on to keep you interested. I’d give it a eight out of ten. If you’re interested in watching the show yourself, it’s only available on Amazon Prime so hopefully you or someone you know has a subscription. See you all in the next episode review!