Netflix once again smartly expand their international programming with Switched, a well-meaning and engaging metaphor for teenage social anxieties.
First impressions aren’t everything, but Switched, the new Japanese Netflix Original Series, makes some good ones. It quickly and shockingly establishes a compelling premise, introduces likable, sympathetic characters, and makes clear that it’s taking itself and its themes pretty seriously. This is a trend that continues throughout, bolstered by charming performances and evergreen social subtexts, even when the gradually-complicating plot threatens to overshadow the character-based drama at the show’s core.
Based on the 2014-15 manga series Sora wo Kakeru Yodaka by Shiki Kawabata, Switched introduces popular, pretty high-school girl Ayumi (Kaya Kiyohara) in a sun-dappled dining room tinkling with piano music. She has everything: perfect home, perfect parents, perfect life. And now she has the perfect boyfriend. But her morning is complicated when she witnesses the suicide of a chubby, unpopular classmate, Zenko (Miu Tomita), who tosses herself from a building right in front of her.
The rather unconvincing slow-motion fall and the comically cartoonish squelch sound effect do threaten to undermine the seriousness of Zenko’s suicide, but you can’t really hold that against Switched any more than you can Japanese media in general, which tends to veer into decidedly over-the-top territory whenever possible. It’s the first instance of the show’s presentation clashing with its tone and thematic underpinnings, and it isn’t the last, but Switched manages to maintain an air of comparative seriousness when held up against a lot of other live-action manga adaptations.
Given the title, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Zenko and Ayumi somehow switch bodies; this is a plot that involves a mysterious red moon and six 40-ish-minute episodes of development. But it’s really a not entirely original metaphor for walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, particularly ones belonging to someone on the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum. And this is where Switched really feels like an important and well-meaning drama pitched pretty squarely at a target audience of similarly-aged girls who have likely experienced – or are experiencing – similar anxieties in their social lives.
It doesn’t take a magical body-swap to realise that being good-looking and popular isn’t everything, and likewise that those who struggle with the things you find easy often do so for a reason. But it certainly helps to make things clearer. It only takes Ayumi a day of being ostracised, bullied, discredited and disliked to see Zenko from a different perspective; to see how their families and homes compare, and to be able to look at herself and her privilege from a remove. Switched is very good at this, even if it is occasionally a little overwrought and heavy-handed.
The performances help. Kaya Kiyohara is absurdly charming, and Miu Tomita, who shoulders most of the emotional responsibility, does a very respectable job with a demanding role. Daiki Shigeoka also strikes a likeable figure as Kaga, the only person who believes Ayumi about the body-swap.
As far as on-the-nose metaphors for high-school anxieties go, Switched doesn’t offer anything new. But it does offer a very refined and respectable exploration of the topic, and with Netflix’s marketing might, the show, like Mob Psycho 100, will likely find an appreciative audience who perhaps need to hear a story a little bit like this one.