Atelier: Netflix Original’s Lingerie Drama Series
Welcome to our newest series featuring reviews on Japanese TV shows and movies that are readily available overseas to those with a Netflix, Amazon or Hulu subscription. These reviews will each contain the suggested level of Japanese you should know if you want to try watching without the subtitles, along with a brief synopsis and review!
Our first show is the coming-of-age workplace drama series known as “Atelier” outside of Japan or “Underwear” in Japan. The show was developed by Fuji TV as a Netflix Original drama in September and then went overseas in December 2015.
Atelier tells the story of a recent graduate and self-professed fabric-geek, Mayuko Tokita (Mirei Kiritani), as she begins working in a high-class lingerie store, Emotion. She’s not fashionable and her co-workers and boss are quick to point out how her typical Japanese businesswoman clothes (gray suit and white blouse with flat shoes) are not considered appropriate dress at their workplace.
Emotion is run by the serious Mayumi Nanjo (Mao Daichi) who believes that lingerie is more than sex appeal; it’s about empowering women and making them feel confident in themselves by wearing something no one but they can see. As Mayuko continues to work at Emotion, she begins to gain an understanding of fashion and an appreciation for lingerie, but she struggles to accept that all lingerie must be beautiful. Conflicts arise from Mayuko’s suggestions that lingerie should also be about functionality and not all women feel comfortable in something made of lace and adorned with beautiful flowers or designs. In the end, Mayuko is left with two choices: to give up her dreams for functional lingerie and remain at Emotion or leave to begin her own path through the world of fashion.
Atelier tells a familiar Devil Wears Prada-esque story where a girl lacking in fashion sense enters the fashion industry to work under a stony-faced boss. However, that’s where the similarities stop.
In a Western show, you would expect the main character to show resentment for how she’s treated. She’s called frumpy and lacking in beauty. But from the beginning, Mayuko shows nothing but respect for her boss, and to all the other employees as well. In turn, they help Mayuko learn the business and succeed. This keeping to the senpai-kohai relationship firmly cements this story as one based in Japan.
For a show established around the lingerie industry, every episode is surprisingly never about sex. Even as a “will they or won’t they?” romance arises between two of the employees, the end result is… they won’t. The show isn’t about sex. Instead, the focus is on empowering one’s self through the ‘you’ that others cannot see. Women visit Emotion to purchase lingerie not to get a lover; but, rather to give them the extra boost of courage to return to work after maternity leave or to celebrate a daughter’s violin recital. Here, lingerie represents one’s inner strength. And just as these articles of clothing are things that cannot be seen by most of the world, neither can one’s own inner power be seen by most.
The show’s message feels refreshing coming from Japan and shows a changing in attitude toward the Japanese workplace. The cast is almost entirely made of women and there are no male characters who steal the show, or even attempt to steal it. A male love interest never swoops in to cause bickering among the women. As far as the Bechdel test goes (which judges if two female characters are capable of having a conversation about something other than a man), Atelier passes with blind colors.
The show reveals a growing trend in Japan of the career woman who doesn’t want a family and isn’t concerned with getting a boyfriend but instead wants to focus on furthering her career, reaching her goals, and living the life she wants. And what’s important here is that none of the characters are criticized for their decisions to choose work over settling down.
However, the lack of sexuality and hard conflicts may drive some viewers away. Be warned: Atelier is a purely feel-good type of show with most episodes wrapping up on a happy note. It’s the ideal show for someone who already loves Japanese dramas as it doesn’t stray from the normal formula, containing a doe-eyed protagonist, plenty of inspirational monologues and the occasional touch of over-acting. But for those who already love the formula, it’s a show you must add to your Netflix queue.
|Language||Japanese (English, Spanish, French and German subtitles)|
|Length||1 Season (13 episodes)|
3.5/5 : The show’s not compelling enough to binge-watch, but it’s perfect for those who already love Japanese dramas or those wanting a taste of what a ‘typical’ Japanese drama is like.
Atelier takes place in Tokyo’s Ginza district and doesn’t really move away from there. Most of the filming takes place within the Emotion office so there are few Tokyo sights shown, but the show still gives viewers a taste of what fashion-conscious and upscale Ginza is all about.
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The language used in Atelier isn’t overly complex, and the way the main characters (especially Mayuko and Mayumi) speak is ideal for those who haven’t been learning Japanese for too long. They enunciate their words clearly and often slowly enough to easily do some Shadowing.
This show is perfect for anyone studying in the JLPT N4 to N3 range, providing enough recognizable and new words with rather basic grammar to make it easy to understand most of what’s happening.