There may be plenty of releases in the boys love genre in Japan, but gay romance stories rarely emerge so prominently from the mainstream realm of network television like the way Ossan's Love
did this year. The workplace romantic comedy about a 30-something real estate agent who suddenly receives love confessions from two male colleagues – his middle-aged boss and a younger colleague – first appeared on TV Asahi in December 2016 as a one-episode special. The late-night broadcast earned decent response, enough so that TV Asahi brought it back in spring 2018 as a seven-episode series that turned into a surprise hit.
Tanaka Kei and Yoshida Kotaro returned to play the hapless protagonist Haruta Soichi and lovelorn boss Musashi Kurosawa, respectively, and Hayashi Kento took over the role of Haruta's new co-worker and roommate, Ryota Maki. Though Ossan's Love still aired in a late-night slot (Saturday at 11:15pm) where riskier content usually gets assigned, it became one of the most buzzed-about Japanese TV dramas of 2018, and even won Best Drama, Actor and Supporting Actor in the 97th Television Drama Academy Awards.
Well over a decade into a consistent but stagnant acting career, Tanaka Kei gets a breakthrough in the role of the clumsy and wishy-washy yet likeably doofy and decent protagonist. Tanaka rolls out an expressive variety of reaction shots as he panics, flounders and struggles to figure out how to deal with his two suitors without hurting their feelings – or misreading his own. Hayashi Kento is quietly affecting as the reasonable and understanding Maki, while Yoshida Kotaro is a total champ as the "ossan" who puts everything on the line, including his marriage, to confront and confess his feelings in blatantly upfront manner. The veteran actor comfortably and hilariously slides between holding down the fort as a very competent superior and making lovey-dovey eyes at "Harutan" like an infatuated teenage girl.
Ossan's Love is consistently engaging and funny as both a romantic comedy and a workplace drama. The professional challenges that Haruta encounters are typical of Japanese dramas, and one could easily imagine a non-romantic version of this series that just involves a sloppy but sincere realtor finding the right home for different clients each episode. The way the series connects the characters' work lives in with Haruta's relationship and orientation uncertainties makes Ossan's Love more realistic and relatable than if it was just a chaotic romance.
Even though Haruta's crazy love triangle is often played for over-the-top romcom laughs, the drama is sensitive and respectful in its depiction of same-sex relationships. The story steers clear of overwrought melodrama and typical devices like tragedy or disapproving families to drive the narrative. Instead, the series just rolls with Haruta's zany dilemma, confused feelings and muddled relationships, because life can be messy and unclear like that. At the same time, each character's coming out is as simple as realizing and acknowledging that they like someone who just happens to be of the same gender.