Frankenstein’s Love is a rather adorable, touching, innocently-loving 10-episode Japanese TV show that revolves around Tsugaru Tsugumi (Fumi Nikaido) and a 120 year-old, immortal man the heroine names Fukashi Ken (Gou Ayano), after his “father”.
Above everything else, this is a near-perfect story for viewers who enjoy tragic love, the tragic hero, and much intermingled drama, sadness, happiness, and bittersweet endings. No one dies of any viewer investment and no one, besides Ken-san, has a deeply tragic backstory. Albeit, don’t expect believable science by any stretch to this show.
Before I go into my review, I must first warn you that there are some spoilers
“I am part of the forest. My father told me to live like the forest.” – Ken-san
A hundred and twenty years ago, a young man was “reborn”, but the process caused him to lose his memories (no kidding, what with brain death). He lived in the small, rundown “lab” his “father” (a professor of medicine, Fukashi Kentaro) had built out in the forest. The “monster” was overly innocent in nature. His body would emit bacteria and he’d grow mushrooms on his skin that would harm humans, if he came into physical contact with them. However, unlike the classic Frankenstein, our monster wasn’t a near brainless, grunting hulk of disjointed body parts sewn together. He was a whole, single person and he hadn’t been some form of criminal, originally, either. In his simple mind, he thought it was best to keep away from humans, though he still longed to learn what it meant to live among them. All he wanted to do was something good for humanity that would help cure “all illnesses”.
Then, one day, he happens across Tsugumi-san, a university student aspiring to be a scientist. Some nasty men had kidnapped her and were going to have their way with her. They were in the process of finding the right place to do so–that place happening to be in the forest. Ken-san saves her and, curious, she returns to the forest to pester him with questions from his clothing to his odd “house” in the woods. Thus begins their strange adventure, and their slow progression of falling in love.
OVERALL SCORE: 7/10
What’s the Point or Moral?
The morals or exploratory, multi-layered points of Frankenstein’s Love seem to be questions (much less concrete answers) such as,
- what is a human,
- what makes a person a human,
- and how to love yourself to move forward in your life
Along the narrative, other parts of being human are touched on or explored through the innocent eyes of the hero Ken-san, a useful tool to discuss the contradictions, evil, deception, and other negative things that seem to be part of and plague humanity. At a later point, Professor Tsurumaru (Tsugumi’s senior) (Akira Emoto) says that “Ken-san’s heart is human”. In contrast, Seiya Inaniwa (Yuya Yagira), Tsugumi’s colleague, who fills the role of the jealous, wanna-be lover and antagonist, confesses his evils with, “Ken-san’s not the monster. I am.”
As is usual in most Asian dramas, there’s a supporting cast with their own unique situations. Most of the supporting cast don’t disappoint in Frankenstein’s Love to examine their own contradictions, form friendships, and try to improve as humans.
Emotions Impact Scientific Reaction?
Very differently from the original Frankenstein story, while Ken-san was revived partially with electricity, it was special “new”or “unknown” fungus (mushrooms) that seemed to have special, magical regenerating properties that had been required to bring Ken-san back to life. In essence, what seemed to make Ken-san a monster was in fact a beautiful, life-giving property that, in an unstated way, reflected the purity, love, selflessness, and hope of his heart to do good for humanity–regardless of what others thought of him or of any pain he experienced from his personal tragedies.
This was the primary (rather large) stretch Frankenstein’s Love insisted the viewer accept in order to gel the entire show together. Ken-san’s body excretes fungus and pretty, glittery-looking bacteria into the air when he’s emotionally charged (any emotion). The combined properties of his altered genetic makeup seem to create completely new bacteria and mushrooms that could potentially have useful properties to improve medicine.
How could this make sense? Even Professor Tsurumaru, more than once, tries to explain it as a “cause and effect” situation: when Ken-san becomes emotional, his body excretes the bacteria. Then, later, the theory that love can change DNA and genetics is discussed. Of course, how that’s exactly done, the scientists cannot say. They take it quite seriously, but it sounds like emotional fantasy fluff to square a circle. This is where the viewer must remind themselves that this entire show is about the (current) impossibility of a dead person coming back to life, so I guess the further scientific discussion of love actually affecting or altering DNA isn’t too far further to travel.
Inconsistencies and Plot Holes
There are some inconsistencies in the plot that were a little hard for me to overlook, but that aside, this show was touching, adorable, and in some areas, surprisingly deep. Here is a by no means exhaustive list:
- After Ken-san was revived, Fukashi Kentaro hugged him tightly and was unharmed. Was that because his “father” didn’t touch his skin? If so, this contradicts the scene were Ken-san defends himself against one of Tsugumi’s would-be attackers. The would-be attacker tries to hit Ken-san with a thick stick, but Ken-san puts his arm up to block it. Ken-san’s bacteria overcomes the thick stick and it gets on the would-be attacker, causing the would-be attacker to pass out. This type of thing happens more than once through the show, with the receiving person not being harmed.
- After Ken-san saves Tsugumi-san, he must have picked her up and walked all the way into town, for she awoke some hours later laying down at a bus stop. Frankenstein’s Love expects me to believe Ken-san was extremely careful not to touch her in any way, and that he walked miles out of the forest, into town (which he probably had never gone to), and knew what a bus stop was and to drop her off there. It’s a stretch, for his innocence through the show’s progression showed he didn’t know what many simple things were. But he knew about bus stops? Also, how come his bacteria didn’t bleed through her clothing and kill her, like the stick did to the would-be attacker?
- In Ken-san’s first life, he was in love with Tsugumi’s great great grandmother’s (Kiku-san’s) younger sister, Saki-san. But after he was revived and touched Saki-san, he effectively killed her. However, later, Professor Tsurumaru states that, though he isn’t completely sure, it seems Saki-san’s genes were passed down to Tsugumi-san. That was how Tsugumi-san was able to touch Ken-san after her illness and wasn’t harmed. If this is so, how did Saki-san, who never married and had no children that was ever stated, pass on her genes to her descendants? Also, since Saki-san isn’t even Tsugumi-san’s direct ancestor, how would that even work? Did Kiku-san absorb some of the latent genes from Saki-san, after she’d been touched by Ken-san, just by sitting near her as she lay dying? Or were the women in this family already generically special in this way to begin with for “reasons”? Did I miss some huge part of the plot?
- After Ken-san saves Tsugumi-san and he can touch her all he likes, he can also then hug and touch others indiscriminately. This wasn’t clearly explained (to make sense for me) why this was. Frankenstein’s Love first implied that because of Saki-san’s (and/or Kiku-san’s) latent genes, Tsugumi and Ken-san could touch anytime. But then, because of their bacterial reaction, I guess his “poisonousness” was cured all around and he could touch anyone afterward. I wish this had been better explained.
- Ken-san was told that when the red mushrooms (Akanari-Kamitake) pop out on the sides of his neck, that’s when his body’s toxicity to humans is purified and he can safely touch others. How come later, then, he holds hands with Tsugumi-san when the mushrooms aren’t on his neck?
- Ken-san’s personality from his first life vs. second life were so different. I can grasp that, having no memories, and all the things he went through, he’d be quite altered. However, after he recovered all his memories, he still was very little like he originally was. Wouldn’t the memories impact his personality at least a little? Or am I to assume his personality was always the same? The flashbacks showed quite a different personality.
- How come Ken-san could wear the same outfit for, at least, a few decades, and it show no signs of dirt, filth, or wear? His outfit is comprised of patched clothing, implying wear and tear over time and patching pieces together. But the patches themselves to me look fresh and clean. Then, decades after the time of the show, he still wears the same clothing and it looks fresh and clean (he lives in a forest again, too).
These types of things, and other nit-picking items like the obvious wearing of wigs and clothing that looks too cheap or historically inaccurate to be called “costumes” bothers me off and on in JDramas. However, I shouldn’t judge those things purely on my aesthetic preferences. After all, Frankenstein’s Love was produced for a Japanese audience with specific cultural preferences. What one culture likes, another doesn’t, and one is not better than the other.
Inconsistencies and stretches aside, Frankenstein’s Love is a charming, feel-good story with some surprising depth concerning love and humanity. I also thought it was a clever way to reinterpret the Frankenstein story. Not only was “Frankenstein” not a monster, but he was more human than many people. So if you want to relax, feel good, maybe cry a little, but watch something sweet, this is a good story for that. Just don’t expect solid science or every plot hole to get filled up! I’ve re-watched some scenes already, and probably will do so again!
Genres: Romance, drama, sci-fi
“Appropriateness”: Safe for children 10+
Language: Next to none
Nudity: Next to none
Sexual Themes: Very Low