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Sunday, April 5, 2009


Gender-bender drama, 'Three Kingdoms' spinoff anime, little-known big biz

In Japan, the term "new half" usually refers to a man who becomes a woman through some sort of medical procedure, but on the new daytime drama series, "Mama wa New Half" ("Mom is a New Half") (TV Tokyo, Mon.-Fri., 1 p.m.) it simply describes a man who performs in drag at a special "new-half pub" in Tokyo.

Iwataro (Noboru Kaneko) isn't a transsexual, and he doesn't seem to be homosexual, either. During the day, he's a "normal" salaryman working for an "elite" company and warding off female admirers, who consider him quite a catch. At night, he changes into Runa, a female entertainer, but he keeps this second life a secret from his acquaintances.

The secret becomes a little more difficult to keep when a little boy named Kiyoto enters his life and claims that Iwataro is his father. Iwataro doesn't argue with the kid. He knows perfectly well that he could be telling the truth.

The Three Kingdoms period (190-280) has been the source of much great literature in China, and its culminating military battle is the subject of the two "Red Cliff" movies by John Woo. Cao Cao, who ruled the Kingdom of Wei during this period, is often portrayed as being cruel and tyrannical.

The new animation series "Soten Koro" ("Blue Sky Voyage") (Nihon TV, Tues., 1:14 a.m.) takes a more sympathetic view of Cao Cao (called So So in Japanese) during his formative years. Based on a popular manga, the cartoon presents the Three Kingdoms saga in a flashy style that has little regard for historical accuracy.

In the first episode, 16-year-old Cao Cao and two friends are running to catch up with some other friends when they are waylaid by a group of bandits. The three comrades defend themselves bravely but only Cao Cao survives the battle.

It hardly seems possible in our information age that some corners of the commercial world remain unexplored, but that is the idea behind "Shiru Shiru Mishiru" ("Know, Know, Find Out") (TV Asahi, Wed., 11:15 p.m.), a variety-cum-documentary series hosted by the comedy duo Cream Stew.

Accompanied by other comedians, Cream Stew visits small- and medium-size companies in order to discover the secrets behind successes that many people may not be aware of. This week, for instance, they go to a dairy processing plant that produced more than 25 million packages of pudding in 2008 alone. An executive of the company describes how his collaboration with another business should create another big hit product.

Among the other businesses visited are an apparel maker whose specialty is producing dresses for ballroom dancers and a cosmetics company that has cornered the market on fake eyebrows.

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