Review: No Dropping Out – Back to School at 35

Like everyone who reviewed this on Crunchyroll said, the title of this Japanese Drama is very misleading. The 11-episode drama runs for 45 to 50 minutes each save the final episode, which is 90 minutes.

No Dropping Out is about 35 -year old Ayako Baba (Baba Ayako if we’re talking proper Japanese grammar), who enrolls in high school after dropping out 18 years earlier. As for how a clearly 35 year-old woman is allowed to enroll in high school–they don’t gloss over this detail–the district Superintendant was her teacher in High School. As for why she’s “doing it again”, we’ll get to that in a bit but first let’s talk about the show itself.

The show debuted in Japan sometime last year though it looks like filming was done between 2011 and 2013. Yonekura Ryoko plays Ayako Baba, affectionately called Baba-chan or Granny Baba by classmates. Baba’s story aside, I made alot of connections as an Educator with the real-life problems confronted head-on in this powerful series. From the way the show was written, I have the feeling the writers put it together knowing Crunchyroll would pick it up. It has a universal appeal and I think that’s why it scored 4.5 Stars on the site.

The main premise of the show is the caste system students use to segregate themselves: Upper Class (The Leaders), Middle Class (Average) and Lower Class (Lowly). When Baba joins the class she helps her classmates and helps solve some tough problems that arise. As time goes on, secrets are revealed and the walls the students of class 3-A put around themselves begin to fall. While it’s true Baba’s presence has a profound transformative effect on her classmates, the opposite is also true. This becomes all the more clear in Episode 9 when the Lower Class and Middle Class finally stand up to the Upper Class boys and decide they don’t want to be victims anymore.

This next part I decided to leave out of my review on Crunchyroll out of respect for those who don’t want to be spoiled. That said, we’re now going to talk about Baba’s past and connections she makes with some of her classmates.

So, when Ayako was in High School, she stood up for a friend in class who was being bullied. On her mother’s advice, she decides to help her friend. As a result, the bullies target her instead. Things came to a head when she was forced to shoplift at a store her mother worked at. Ayako becomes withdrawns and lashes out at her mother, blaming her for telling her to stand up to the bullies, making her a target in turn. Distraught, Ayako’s mother tries to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of her school. She survives the fall but due to the head trauma, she now has amnesia. Ayako’s mother dies just before she goes back to school without ever recovering her memories.

Fast forward to the present. As is revealed in the final two episodes, Ayako decides to repeat her senior year at 35 for the sake of closure. Luckily for her, the teacher she had the last time she was in high school-Kuroda–is now the district superintendant. She enters Kunikida High School at the same time as her new homeroom teacher Koizumi, who has a dark secret of his own. Throughout the first 8 episodes, every classmate she helps out becomes a friend and ally.

Now, at the end of almost evey episode you see Akutsu (the kid with the headphones) working behind the scenes after a problem’s been solved watching Baba from the shadows. The writers did a masterful job setting him up but came up short at the end. You knew he was involved with all of the stuff that came up and you knew he was manipulating EVERYONE. You just didn’t know why. You get a pretty good idea when he asks Baba at the end of Episode 9 “I consider you an ally”.

It’s revealed in Episode 10 that like Baba, Akutsu had a problem with bullies only in his case, it drove his sister to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of the school. Outraged and Angered the School Caste System claimed the life of his sister, Akutsu vows to destroy the caste system. The arrival of Baba was the final piece he needed to make it happen.

Even the class leader Masamitsu figured out after a certain point someone was pulling their strings but he just didn’t know who. You could easily say his actions in Episode 10 and the first third of Episode 11 were his way of finding out who that person was. Basically taking a page out of Akutsu’s playbook even though he didn’t know about his involvement until the reveal. Like I said, Akutsu’s character mirrors Baba’s to a certain extent. He hid in plain sight and in the two instances he spoke prior to the end of Episode 9, he abstained from participating in a class activity. On the one hand yes he stabbed someone so he had to be punished for that. I get that. At the same time, given he was the one who set everything in motion you’d think he’d be given closure in the finale. While I also get it’s Baba’s story everyone else underwent alot of growth in comparison.

Overall, I give No Dropping Out a 10/10. 

It’s easily a must-watch for anyone even remotely interested in Education. Unlike the majority of the stuff on Crunchyroll, episodes are 45 to 50 minutes long on average so even though it’s an 11-episode series, you won’t be able to watch it all in one sitting. As I said at the top, many of the issues and problems exploresd in the series would resonate with an American audience. Each episode encourages discussion so it’s highly reccommended you watch No Dropping Out with a group of friends ^_^


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