Coming of age stories, no matter the medium, always seem to be terribly popular. The transition from childhood to adulthood is something we all go through. It's a hard enough time in all our lives, but, in order to make a tale worthy of screen or book, there always needs to be more added to it, the ante needs to be raised. Families must be dysfunctional, friends over-the-top, and the teenager's problems superhuman and virtually insurmountable.
Enter ABC Family's miniseries adaptation of Carrie Asai's Samurai Girl novels. Airing this Friday thru Sunday from 8:00 to 10:00, the miniseries follows Heaven Kogo (Jamie Chung) as she learns deep, dark secrets about her family.
It all starts off simply enough, with Heaven being forced to marry a man whom she does not love in order to secure her family's business. When assassins break up the wedding and murder her brother, her quest to find out why leads her to new truths about herself and her family.
If it doesn't sound all that original, that's because it isn't. At the very least, the first two-hour episode of the miniseries progress exactly as one would expect, with nary a misstep. There are training sequences, new friends with abilities that just happen to perfectly mesh with Heaven's needs, and a few "twists and turns."
Much of that is forgivable. Every generation rediscovers the problems of transitioning from child to teenager to adult and every generation wants to see current coming-of-age stories, ones that reflect the specific issues they face. However, the show is not without problems. Most specifically, it fails to create any interesting characters. Everyone that Heaven meets, from the man who becomes her trainer, to a couple of teens who inexplicably become her friends, are barely more than one-dimensional. It is possible that during the final two parts of the miniseries the characters are more fully delved into, but the fact that they can't be established in an interesting manner over the course of two hours is disconcerting to say the least.
At the forefront of Heaven's new found friends is Brendan Fehr as Jake Stanton, a man surprisingly young to be running his own dojo and with a "mysterious" past. It is he who is tasked with watching over Heaven, aiding her in her quest for the truth, and training her to wield a samurai sword. It is unclear whether the fault is Fehr's or the makers of the miniseries, but Stanton is dull, assuredly attractive to many people, but dull.
Heaven is certainly the most fully drawn of the characters, but even she lacks depth. Her motivations from her first moment on screen are obvious, and while she learns new skills along her journey, like how to wield a samurai sword, her perception of the world seems to change very little no matter how many blows it takes. She witnesses death and betrayals, and just keeps plowing straight ahead. It takes her little more than a day or two to discover a way around any new obstacle. Again, maybe in the second and third parts of the miniseries that will change, but one shouldn't hold their breath.
Stories of one's transition from youth to adulthood are, and will always be, relevant. It's something we all go through. Most of us don't have to learn to accept quite as much as Heaven does in Samurai Girl, but we all come to grips with our new reality eventually. The basic problem then with Samurai Girl is that while the obstacles most people have to surmount to become an adult are far fewer than Heaven's, we all struggle far more than she appears to. It may speak well of Heaven that she can overcome so much so easily, but it doesn't make for compelling television.