Kounodori is a 10 episodes-long 2015 japanese drama, that aired on TBS and stars Ayano Gou as its lead. It’s based on a manga by Suzunoki Yu, and a second season is scheduled to air this year. Its title is a play on its lead character’s name, Kounotori, and also apparently means « Stork », in reference to the tale that babies are delivered by storks (cf Dumbo for ex). It follows a team of ob-gyn doctors and midwives working in the same hospital, and trying their hardest to deliver babies safely, while also protecting the mothers.
When Kounodori aired, although I like Ayano Gou a lot (and Oguri Shun too, but I didn’t know he was in it… and I also like Hoshino Gen now, but didn’t know who he was back then) I wasn’t feeling the poster (I’m shallow this way) and to be honest, the theme and synopsis didn’t really catch my interest either. Rather, I was worried, because I was afraid it would be very preachy, and tell us that family is magical, mothers always love their kid, and there’s this right way to deliver a baby, blah blah blah. But an online friend of mine (hello Ara, if you’re reading this) insisted I watch it, and since I trust her judgement very much, I did watch it, and, yep, really enjoyed it. And really enjoyed Ayagou’s Kounotori-sensei, too. He’s actually my favorite part of the show in a way, although not entirely because of him as a character.
The drama is (kinda) named after him, but Kounotori isn’t actually the focus of the show, or at least I didn’t think so. It doesn’t mean we don’t spend time getting to know him: we do. We learn about his childhood, and we get to see a little bit of his life outside the hospital, as he plays the piano in a bar in the evening (wearing quite a ridiculous wig and calling himself BABY, which is corny af… but that’s kind of endearing really, although his disguise is at a very Clark Kent-y level), but we don’t explore him fully outside of his job either. We get important pieces of him, but we don’t get to see where he lives for example, we don’t know if he’s dated before, what he does with his free time when he’s not in the hospital or playing the piano, stuff like this. And I’m not saying we should, it never feels like we’re missing something, I’m just saying he’s not the true focus of the show. The focus is more “general”, really. It’s on all the people that work with him, and it’s on the families that come to them.
Mostly the women, the mothers, of course. But not only, as men and families are also part of the equation when they’re there (and also when not, sometimes). Whether they’re helpful, foolish, reluctant, etc, they have a part to play, and for example, Oguri Shun plays a father who has to decide between saving his wife’s life or their baby’s, and that’s one of my favorite subplots, even though it broke my heart. Still, it’s mostly about the women delivering, as it should be, and we get different situations in every episode (usually there are two subplots in each episode), while also watching the staff grow and evolve, juniors and seniors alike. Well… ok, some change more than others, as some are pillars for the others to lean on, but still, most of them do grow. And although I loved Sakaguchi Kentaro’s puppy-ism, Shinorin’s (Hoshino Gen) and Shimoya’s (Matsuoka Mayu) growth were probably my favorites.
When we finally see Shinorin smile, I could barely contain my happiness, and it was immensely satisfying to see ex-newbie Shimoya taking charge in a difficult and urgent situation at the end. I really like how her character played out: she’s a good doctor at the start of the series, she’s not written as lacking in skills or knowledge, she clearly became a doctor and got hired because she’s qualified for it. But she’s also inexperienced, which means that in emergencies or difficult situations, she stumbles and doubts herself. But at the end, well, she has more experience now, so she can take charge and make difficult decisions while telling people what to do. As I said: very satisfying (also loved the mentor-mentee thing she had going with midwife Rumiko).
So no Kounotori is not the focus of the show, but there is a reason his name is in the title: he’s the point-of-view character. It’s made obvious by how often he’s used as a narrator, especially at the end of episodes, when he sums up the episode’s theme. But even when he’s not narrating or on screen, his attitude is the drama’s attitude, basically. And I liked Kounotori in the same way I liked the drama’s tone.
Koutonori is kind and non-judgmental, he’s caring, involved, and reassuring. He looks at all his patients with warmth, giving them the facts and helping them make informed decisions without making them feel bad about having doubts, fears, weaknesses, etc. I loved this about him (I also loved Ayagou about him, btw… man, I wanted to hug him so bad: he looks exhausted all the time. Which does fit the character’s way of life, true). And that kindness and respect were also the drama’s. Kounodori has many opportunities to be overly preachy, but it doesn’t grab them. It does not say being a mother always comes easily, it does not say that not being able to take care of your child (because you’re poor, because you’ve never had the right role model, because you have post-partum depression, etc) makes you a monster, it doesn’t paint a teenage mom as an air-headed ““slut””. And it also doesn’t try to paint the mother-child love as something that goes without saying: most moms in the show do end up loving their kids, but abusive parents also exist (the show even starts with that, the first patient being a woman who had an abusive mother growing up). I liked how kind and respectful of its characters the drama was.
Something else I loved: yes, Kounotori is the POV character, and the show’s way of handling its characters mirrors the way he handles his patients, but it’s worth noting that he’s not the only doctor/midwife there treating the patients with respect, patience, and care. Most of them are, really, except for traumatized Shinorin that is harsher on them (while having their well-being always in mind, he’s just less patient, because he’s afraid if he’s not clear and direct, something will go wrong) and the newbies that still have things to learn (but they also are full of goodwill). Still, mostly, the medical staff in Kounodori is kind, understanding, non-judgemental, and respectful. What I love about this, apart from the fact that I just like kind characters to being with, is what the drama makes of it.
In kind of a throw-away line, at the end, a mother trying to get her husband to listen to the doctors, tells him that the doctors here aren’t mean like in the last hospital. It’s a small line, and it flies quickly by, but it’s an important one, I feel. Especially because after that, the father does listen and is finally able to connect with his child.
Why is it important? Well, because first of all, it shows that the doctors’ way of talking to patients makes a real difference, it impacts those patients’ life. It also means that’s this attitude is not a given since in some other hospitals, it’s not like that. And at the same time, the staff is not over-glorified in Kounodori. I mean, sure, Kounotori is (rightfully) liked by his patients, but since the whole staff is presented as competent and thinking of the kids and parents first, there’s no “Yankumi effect”.
Yankumi is the lead character of the drama Gokusen. In that show, all the other teachers are mostly depicted as incompetent, and also selfish, thinking of the school’s reputation and their positions before they think of the students. Yankumi is the One Good Devoted Teacher, and so she becomes this kind of superhero by comparison. But in Kounodori, there’s none of that: the good doctors are not exceptions in the staff, Kounotori is not a superhero (despite having a secret identity at night o.o), he’s just… a really good doctor, with a good attitude towards his job and patients.
So, basically, what the show is saying, without beating you over the head with it, is that respecting your patients is not a superhero thing to do, and it should not be a plus, a favor you do them: it’s being a good doctor, and it should be a given, because it’s an important part of treating people. And it’s also subtly saying that, sadly, it isn’t.
I loved this about the drama.
That said, as a whole, I can’t say I loved Kounodori: I just really liked it.
So : why ? Why did I not love this?
Well, really, I think it’s because of the format. I empathized with the patients, I cried quite a few times, but I’m not so good with the one episode-one case format (or one episode-two cases). I mean, I’m not saying it’s a bad format or anything, but it does kinda refrain the emotion I can feel, because there’s an apparent artificiality to it, in my eyes. I see the cogs, basically, and although there are exceptions to this, the more case(s)-of-the-week a show is, the more I tend to distance myself. I tend to get more emotionally invested in season-long arcs. Here, the doctors have arcs, and I also appreciated that some secondary characters didn’t completely disappear but instead came back a few times in the show (or were mentioned), but still, every episode has a similar construction (although it’s way less formulaic than some shows) and I’m not saying it’s wrong or anything: it’s just not a format that enabled me to get 100% emotionally invested. And well, it also means that, since each episode had different stories, some spoke to me more than others (although I don’t think there was any story I was really uninterested by). Also, it’s true I tend to prioritize characters above all else, so shows I love are usually (again: there are always exceptions) shows with characters I love, and in Kounodori I liked everyone, but maybe because of the multi-focus thing, I did not deeply loved them (well I loved Ayagou, but that’s not specific to that show) and the thing I really enjoyed the most was the drama’s stance.
All this lead to me really liking the drama, but not loving it.
But “really liking” a drama is a positive thing in my book 😀 So really, all is well, and I do encourage you to watch this show !