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EVA, SWF, WBL & More – 15 Things We're Thankful For in 2021
Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend
As another pandemic-disrupted year approaches its end, we look back on the artists, shows, games and moments that entertained, inspired and gave us something to look forward to in 2021.
In late February, Brave Girls transformed from a "nugu group" on the verge of disbanding to fast-rising stars in K-pop thanks to a viral compilation video of their performances of Rollin', which was released back in 2017. With the skyrocketing popularity of the catchy sleeper hit, Brave Girls scored their first #1 on music charts and shows, garnered trophies from various award ceremonies, landed commercials and endorsements, and experienced many other firsts this year. The continuing success of their summer album Summer Queen showed that Brave Girls are no one-hit wonder, but a hidden gem that finally got their moment to shine bright on stage.
Pitched as the male version of Sisters Who Make Waves, Call Me By Fire rounded up artists of different ages and fields to compete for spots in a male group. Mango TV flexed its deep budget with a randomly jaw-dropping lineup that had the likes of Paul Wong, Terry Lin, Julian Cheung, Jerry Yan, MC Hotdog, Vincent Zhao and Jordan Chan in one place. Rather predictably, the production didn't force the men to dance or to endure the blunt criticism their female counterparts faced, but this also made the show more fun to watch as stress-free entertainment. The Chinese reality program served up memorable performances, unexpected collaborations and friendships, and relaxed laughs over language struggles and competition rules that few understood. It also enabled the rediscovery of underrated performers like Nathan Lee, Black Panther vocalist Zhang Qi and martial arts star Max Zhang, who can apparently do everything.
Before China's idol audition program culture went up in flames via Youth With You 3, Chuang 2021, the fourth season of the Chinese Produce series, actually refreshed the formula to great success. Chuang 2021 invited contestants from Japan, Thailand, Russia, Ukraine and U.S. to join the competition to form a global boy band. The overarching storyline was predictable yet compelling as trainees struggled with – and then transcended – language and cultural barriers. Adding international trainees brought fresh buzz to the show, especially thanks to an Avex contingent that included world-class dancers Santa and Rikimaru. The biggest viral sensation of the show is Lelush, a deadpan Russian contestant who really, really, wanted to be eliminated. Instead he got voted all the way to the top 25 by Chinese netizens, who greatly related to his meme-worthy poker face and firm desire to quit doing a hard thing that he didn't like. Sometimes, we're all Lelush.
From 2013 to 2021, whenever Anno Hideaki participated in a new project – be it directing a Godzilla film, voicing a Miyazaki Hayao film, or acting in an Iwai Shunji film – our gut reaction was always: WHY. Why are you doing anything other than finishing Evangelion? Anno launched the Rebuild of Evangelion series in 2007 as an alternate retelling of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Evangelion: 2.0 and 3.0 arrived reasonably soon after in 2009 and 2012. The final installment of the tetralogy, however, became an elusive mirage. Originally slated for 2015, the film was delayed due to production, financial and personal issues that made it difficult for the director to continue, though he eventually picked it back up. Even after a release date was announced for 2020, the breakout of COVID pushed it back yet again. It seemed like the last Evangelion film would never come out. In 2021, Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time finally provided closure to our nine-year wait.
Dating reality shows like Heart Signal and Terrace House have always been popular, but TVING's EXchange (a.k.a. Transit Love) just hits differently. Five non-celebrity ex-couples live under the same roof, go on romantic dates with one another, and decide whether to reignite a past flame or "transit" to a new love. As gimmicky as it may sound, the Korean reality show ended up being surprisingly heartfelt, resonating with the complex and unsettled feelings of heartbreak and heart-fluttering as exes try to let go and start anew at different pace. It also provided some emotional and dramatic moments worthy of a K-Drama.
How much time did we all spend in 2021 playing this addictive fantasy action RPG? Genshin Impact swept players around the world with its beautiful anime-style visuals, expansive open-world environment, decent action-based combat system, and epic mystical adventures that consume hours and hours of our time. From completing world quests to the constant struggle to level up, Genshin Impact's wealth of content provides lengthy gameplay. And it only gets bigger and better with the 2.3 update that arrives just in time for the holidays!
Akutami Gege's dark fantasy manga is about high school student-turned-sorcerer Itadori Yuji who becomes the host of the supremely evil Curse Sukuna Ryomen after he swallows a cursed finger talisman. He is then tasked by the Jujutsu world to find and swallow Sukuna's other fingers – after which he will be executed. Greatly rising in popularity since last year, Jujutsu Kaisen has edged past Demon Slayer as Japan's top-selling manga of the year thus far, and the anime adaptation, which ended its first season in March, is a big hit both domestically and internationally. Though there's no official word yet on Season 2 of the TV anime, the film prequel Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is opening in Japan on Christmas Eve.
Since their formation in 2018 through an audition program, MIRROR has amassed a growing fandom to become Hong Kong's most popular boy band. This year, their popularity exploded with the general public, elevating MIRROR into unquestionably Hong Kong's biggest idol group in a generation. From the wall-to-wall ads and commercials, to the sold-out One & All concert, to the local craze over the drama Ossan's Love Hong Kong starring members Anson Lo and Edan, MIRROR is everywhere in Hong Kong, and attracting fans across demographics. Besides revitalizing Cantopop, MIRROR's rise has also brought fandom culture back to Hong Kong. Who doesn't appreciate the small joy of getting a photo card with our fast food and seeing our favorite artists on billboards?
Ohtani Shohei made the impossible possible in 2021 with his historic season as a starting pitcher and top-of-batting-order DH. The manga-worthy sports phenom exhausted our abilities to come up with more superlatives to describe each feat he checked off over his full season as MLB's first two-way star in a century. He demonstrated elite numbers across the board in pitching, slugging and running. He batted on days he pitched, and also on days he didn't. He became the first-ever player selected to pitch and hit in the All-Star Game, starting both on the mound and in the leadoff spot. He became the first Japanese-born player since Ichiro to win MVP. And he did it all while sporting a wide smile and impeccable flop of hair. Ohtani gave stat heads a reason to name drop Babe Ruth every time he played, and the rest of us a very good reason to tune in to baseball in 2021.
Squid Game has easily become the most talked-about and internationally recognized show of the year. Hailed as the most-viewed series ever on Netflix, writer-director Hwang Dong Hyuk's survival thriller elevated Korean dramas to the world stage, and brought top actor Lee Jung Jae, Park Hae Soo and newcomer Jung Ho Yeon to programs and events on the other side of the world. Besides top-notch production values and a gripping, unpredictable story, the Squid Game hype offered endless meme material, another stressful dalgona challenge (after last year's dalgona coffee), and easy Halloween costume ideas.
One thing that makes K-pop performances so engaging is the intense choreography, but have we ever paid attention to those who create the dance choreography? Mnet's Street Woman Fighter is a show only for female professional dancers, inviting eight dance crews to face off against each other. Seizing the opportunity to transform from backup dancers to the center of the spotlight, these fierce fighters flexed styles and moves that no amateur could imitate (even the Hey Mama challenge), and became trending names in Korea on the strength of their skills and creativity. Rather than looking at it as a survival program, we appreciate SWF for showcasing the dancers' dedication to their craft and their power to own the stage.
Postponed due to the pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics belatedly arrived in 2021. This year, with more time staying in, we also had more time to cheer for our beloved sports and athletes at home. Asian teams showed record-breaking achievements, like China and Japan ranking in the Top 3 on the medal table, Hong Kong earning its highest medal tally ever, South Korea sweeping Archery golds, and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz winning the Philippines' historic first gold medal. Though the journey was bumpy, the Olympic Games thankfully came through, showing the passion and unity of sports during difficult times, and introducing inspiring new sports heroes to the world.
Another year, another Johnny's farewell… At the start of 2021, V6 was one of the longest-running active groups still on the Johnny's idol roster, having just welcomed the 25th anniversary of their debut. But in March, the group announced they would disband on November 1, exactly 26 years from their debut date. While many other Johnny's departures and endings of recent years have felt sudden, disappointing or incomplete, V6 gave us a clean conclusion that leaves good memories. Before moving on to the next stage of their careers, the members gave a proper send-off to their many years together, releasing a single, a studio album and a best-of album in the months leading up to November. They spent their last day as V6 together on stage with fans for their final concert Live Tour V6 groove. Thank you for 26 years of Music for the People.
After three years of wait, Wanna One is finally reuniting in a ten-member lineup for MAMA 2021! Yoon Ji Sung, Ha Sung Woon, Hwang Min Hyun, Ong Seong Wu, Kim Jae Hwan, Kang Daniel, Park Ji Hoon, Park Woo Jin, Bae Jin Young and Lee Dae Hwi are confirmed to collaborate for a special stage at Mnet's annual award show in December. Though there may not be a new music release from the K-pop group, the rare chance to see the boys performing together again under the name "Wanna One" is something for Wannables to look forward to as the year comes to a close!
The hit We Best Love series consists of two seasons, No. 1 For You and Fighting Mr. 2nd, that aired on WeTV from January to April. A sweet yet angsty love story that carries from Season 1's college campus to Season 2's workplace setting, the romance has been lauded as the apex of Taiwan BL. In a genre that often suffers in the production and acting department, WBL offered better directing and writing – and leads who were committed to their performances #SamYU. Though WBL officially only has 12 episodes, it seems to have been with us all year, what with a Special Edition cut that premiered in June, plenty of behind-the-scenes content, and cast IG lives that are as rewatchable as the drama. The WBL boys even got a spin-off reality show WBL Boys' Vacation that premiered in November.
Published November 23, 2021
CALL ME BY FIRE
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Published November 23, 2021