I’d be the first to admit that when it first became apparent that Robot Romance was going to be dramaland’s Next Big Trend, I was.. not terribly excited.
I don’t have a pre-existing love for robot stories, for one thing. On top of that, the thought of the potential problems arising from a human-robot romance made the genre feel even less promising. Happily for me, though, neither of these concerns applied in this show, woot!
Not only is the romance in this drama between two very real humans, the two humans are played by Yoo Seung Ho and Chae Soo Bin, who are – for lack of a better word – Super Stinkin’ Cute together. I could watch these two just make googly heart-eyes at each other, all day long. <3
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
STUFF I LIKED
Show is not without its flaws, so this section might look like it’s made up of fewer items than the other sections in this review combined. Let me just state upfront for the record, that even though this is the shorter list, Chae Soo Bin and Yoo Seung Ho, individually and together, made this watch more than worthwhile.
Chae Soo Bin as Ji Ah / Aji3
Chae Soo Bin’s struck me as a solid actress from the first time I laid eyes on her, in 2015’s Sassy Go Go. I mean, she took a Mean Girl character, and made her pop – but not in a hateful way. That takes skillz, and Chae Soo Bin’s got it in spades.
It’s not surprising – but still completely impressive – that in a few short years, Chae Soo Bin’s now firmly in leading lady territory. Well deserved and well done, I say. Not only does Chae Soo Bin make Ji Ah feel warm, relatable and completely real, she’s solidly good as Aji3 too – the real Aji3, I mean.
As a character, I found Ji Ah earnest and likable right off the bat, possibly because our introduction to her is of her being nice to the random schoolgirl next in line, but not hesitating to stand up to the random jerk who then tries to cut in line. She seemed to me, to be genuinely keen to do a good job, and sassy enough to fight for what she feels is rightfully hers.
I liked her even more, when I realized that her hardworking earnestness wasn’t just applied to what looked like a part-time job; I loved how enterprising and creative she was, and I admired her for fighting to achieve her dreams, [MINOR SPOILER] even when her Oppa (Seo Dong Won) was angry with her for not getting a proper job, and threw her out of the house. [END SPOILER]
I loved how Ji Ah never lost her sense of warmth – or her sense of feisty independence – through it all. I also loved that Chae Soo Bin delivered all of Ji Ah’s moments with an emotional resonance that felt real and believable.
I will talk about the more emotional scenes later in the OTP section, but for now, I’d like to highlight two of the more lighthearted moments when Ji Ah shone a little extra, to my eyes.
E9. This episode, Baek Gyun (Uhm Ki Joon) and Min Kyu (Yoo Seung Ho) end up fighting over who should get to take Aji3. The two men go back and forth for a bit, with neither party looking at all ready to back down. I kinda love that Ji Ah decides to take things into her own faux-robotic hands, announces that she’s out of battery, and pretends to go into sleep mode, right there in the middle of the squabble. I thought that was cute, and also, pretty clever, that she was able to find a way to interrupt the petty antics of the boys, without blowing her robot cover.
E11. In episode 11, Min Kyu refrains from patting Aji3 on the head, because of his promise to Baek Gyun to not touch Aji3. I kinda love Ji Ah’s disappointment – because it shows how much she actually is enjoying getting closer to Min Kyu – and even more, I love her annoyance at Baek Gyun for making that decision for her, when it’s her body he’s talking about. I love that Ji Ah is so clear on her right to personal agency, even while role-playing a robot.
Yoo Seung Ho as Min Kyu
I’ve been a fan of Yoo Seung Ho’s expressive broody gaze and impossibly warm smile ever since I saw him in 2012’s Operation Proposal, and I was super pleased to have him cast as our romantic leading man.
As I expected, Yoo Seung Ho did not disappoint. He breathed layers and nuance into Min Kyu, and delivered with such range and depth, that there were more than a few times that I felt completely sucked into Min Kyu’s emotions, even while my brain protested the logic lapses in the drama world that surrounded him. Plus, every time Min Kyu smiled, I felt like the hearts in my eyes were exploding in fireworks made up entirely of pint-sized puppies, rainbows, sparkles and unicorns. <3
It took me a couple of episodes to get a good sense of Min Kyu as a character, because while there were times that Min Kyu seemed super likable and amiable, like when he drives into the grounds of his home and waves to his butler (Kim Ha Kyoon), there were other times when he appeared unnecessarily cold, [MINOR SPOILER] like when he pronounced that the stray employee who’d accidentally appeared in front of him, would get a pay cut. [END SPOILER] Until my sense of Min Kyu settled into something more positive several episodes into my watch, it was Yoo Seung Ho’s personal charm and irresistible smile that buoyed my feelings towards Min Kyu.
Once Show painted in the details of how Min Kyu lost his parents and how he’d developed his first allergic reaction, however, it wasn’t long before my heart completely went out to Min Kyu. Add on the flecks of innocence and fear that Yoo Seung Ho injected into Min Kyu’s gaze, and I was completely drawn in to root for Min Kyu for the long haul.
There are a couple of scenes that Yoo Seung Ho killed it extra, he was just so amazing. Here’s the quick spotlight on my favorites.
E13-14. Min Kyu goes through a rollercoaster of emotions this pair of episodes, from joy, to disbelief, to anger, to peace, back to anger, to fear, to despair. He is so angry that Aji3 can’t seem to remember the kiss, and that leads to other realizations; that for all that Aji3 says and does, it’s all not supposed to be real. The reality of her being a robot is sinking in, and it’s destroying him, because he is so devastated that every emotion that they’ve shared isn’t real.
That last scene, of Min Kyu’s drunken admission, is so raw. His wounds feel so fresh; I feel like I’m gazing at his tattered heart even as I look upon his face. The single tear that runs down his cheek feels like it comes from such a deep place in his heart.
Oof. Poor Min Kyu.
E21. I find myself completely sucked in to Min Kyu’s emotions as he gazes on the face of his beloved Aji3, when he comes face-to-face with Ji Ah. There is wonder at seeing the human inspiration for Aji3, and there is a rising joy, at seeing the face that he never thought he would, again, and there is inner conflict, as his brain struggles to process what is before him. Yoo Seung Ho kills it, and I feel like I’m so in tune with Min Kyu’s emotions, just by watching his eyes.
E24. Yoo Seung Ho truly is the master of the expressive soulful gaze. The scene where Min Kyu finds Ji Ah on the beach is so good. From happy and relieved, he quickly transitions into disbelief and shock, then horror and sorrow, as the realization that Ji Ah had deceived him sinks in. He barely needs to say anything; his face says it all, and so eloquently too. Wow.
Our OTP together
There are times when Shows cast two talented actors opposite each other – only to end up with an OTP that just doesn’t pop, because of a lack of personal chemistry. This is so not one of those times. In fact, Yoo Seung Ho and Chae Soo Bin are so cute separately and together, and share such a warm, easy, natural chemistry, that I feel like Show’s casting director literally hit the jackpot with this pairing.
From the bickery scenes, to the playful teasing scenes, to the meaty emotional moments, and everything in between, there never was a moment when I felt like Yoo Seung Ho and Chae Soo Bin didn’t belong together. I loved having them share my screen, regardless of what their characters were doing, and where we were in our story. I just always looked forward to more of them together, which is a sure sign of a winning OTP.
When you peel away the fancy robot layers, our OTP set-up is essentially one of forced proximity and the resulting connections and feelings, which is simply one of my favorite drama things, ever. I very much enjoyed seeing Min Kyu enjoy Aji3’s company more and more, and Ji Ah growing to care for Min Kyu, in spite of herself.
As our OTP becomes more and more fond of each other, the emotional resonance in their interactions deepen as well. This organic growth, combined with the excellent, nuanced delivery of both actors, made it so easy to get sucked into this OTP journey. These two had me grinning goofy grins and choking back sympathetic tears in turn, and it was altogether pretty glorious.
Here’s the quickish spotlight on my personal top 3 OTP moments.
Min Kyu’s pain at the reset in episode 18 is so well-played and believable. It feels like a truly heartbreaking moment, because to him – to his heart – it’s not just a case of erasing shared memories; it’s basically killing the one that he fell in love with. Aji3 will no longer exist, even though her shell will remain. That’s why he sobs so heartrendingly, and that’s why I can’t swallow away the lump in my throat.
The parting words he and Aji3 say to each other, are so poignant as well. They each thank the other for all that the other has done for them, and how the other has made them feel; they each apologize, and it’s all so poignant and beautiful. Poor Min Kyu. He really believes that he’s causing the love of his life to cease to exist, by the willful action of his hand.
In episode 19, the whole goodbye scene is even more heartrending the second time around because Show paints in more context. The goodbye date is so poignant, and the “I love you” even more heartbreaking, now that I know that Min Kyu had pushed Aji3’s reset button as he’d said it.
Augh. So moving and so painful, in just the best way.
The warehouse lock-in
It is entirely tropey that Min Kyu gets sent to the warehouse with Ji Ah at the end of episode 22, and that they get locked in there without much cell-phone battery left between them to get themselves out. On the upside, though, I really liked what Show did with the time spent.
Instead of the usual rom-com hyperawareness sort of hijinks, we get heart-to-heart conversations and honest confessions, spoken freely as to a stranger who will presumably become a memory with the dawn. I enjoyed the heartfelt words that both Min Kyu and Ji Ah spoke, especially the ones that conveyed veiled gratitude. I particularly love that Min Kyu knows what Aji3 would say – “You did well” – if she saw him now.
So much catharsis and honesty in the air this scene, and I love it.
I freaking love episode 27, it’s so lovely.
I love that the meteor shower announcement triggers in both Min Kyu and Ji Ah the memory of the promise they’d made previously. And I love that we spend pretty much all of this episode in honest conversation between Min Kyu and Ji Ah. For a show where there are so many lies, the level of honest conversation is really impressive. And what a bonus, that Ji Ah is so endearing, while she’s being honest. She’s shy, yet candid, and I love her for it.
Min Kyu relaxing, and allowing himself to enjoy the moment as Ji Ah answered all his questions, was really nice to see as well. And his decision to stop things where they were, before he judged that it would become too intense of a memory for him to handle, is understandable as well. He doesn’t know, in that moment, whether he would ever be able to have a normal relationship with Ji Ah, and that’s why he backs away from the moment. And I appreciate that he’s honest about it. I love that the honesty is reciprocal.
Even more, I love that Ji Ah doesn’t allow him to just walk away. She calls out to him, and tells him what she came to tell him, that she loves him. OMG, the feels, as he walks back to her, holds her face in his hands, and kisses her. All of that context, of emotional honesty and catharsis, really comes together to make the moment truly special, and I flail. <3
Special shout-out: Aji3 herself
Even though Aji3 spends a lot of time being in the background of our story, I found myself growing very affectionate of her, by the later episodes.
I love that Aji3’s a smart robot, which we first see an indication of, in episode 24, when she creates the backup folder as a response to Ji Ah’s promise to Min Kyu, that she will remember everything forever. In episode 28, we see again how smart she is, when she’s able to tell that the people around her are sad, even though they are all saying happy words. Plus, there’s the way she basically breaks out of prison, to go home. How badass and smart is she? <3
When Show spent a lot of time on the corporate machinations in the later episodes, I was most interested in Aji3 being out and about, and interacting with people, in her quirky, clever, robotic way. I felt a little thrill every time Aji3 did well in an interaction, and made the world around her a little bit better.
..Which is why I was so upset when writer-nim wrote the Santa Maria team as retiring Aji3 and making a new robot in her stead. I mean, couldn’t they have kept Aji3 around AND made a new robot? After getting all attached to Aji3, it felt to me like they were killing her. *cries*
STUFF I WAS NEUTRAL ABOUT
Well, perhaps I should say, neutral-tending-towards-positive. Coz while I didn’t love these parts of the show right off the bat, at least one of these things kinda grew on me by Show’s end.
The Santa Maria team
Right from the moment that I met them, I felt that the Santa Maria team seemed kooky and kind of lame. Their bumbling antics didn’t seem to jive with their scientific smarts, in my head, and I found myself zoning into neutral every time we spent time with the team in their lab.
That said, however, these kooks did grow on me by Show’s end. As their relationship with Min Kyu grew, my affection for them grew as well.
In episode 19, it was heartwarming to see this bunch of socially awkward nerds do their best to make Min Kyu feel less alone. Staying up to wait for him, making him porridge, and playing games with him in the middle of the night; it’s all so awkward yet so very sincere.
Perhaps most endearingly poignant of all, is the scene in episode 26, where Hok Tal and Ssan Ip (Song Jae Ryong and Kim Min Kyu – ha, that really is his name, isn’t that the darndest thing?) literally fall over their own feet chasing down Min Kyu’s car, because of the sliver of hope that he would reconcile with them. Aw.
Show’s sense of humor
So I’m not saying that I never found Show funny; it’s just that, whenever Show reached for broad comedy as its idea of funny, I found myself not really laughing alongside, more often than not.
[SPOILER] For example, the extended scenes in episode 8 involving the bumbling Santa Maria team trying – and failing – to deal with the army of tiny crabs that Min Kyu had sent them. We even see Baek Gyun and Jin Bae trying to have a serious conversation while attempting to ignore the critters that are literally crawling over them both. The scenes are played for comedy, but I just wasn’t feeling it. [END SPOILER]
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE
The corporate stuff
I outright disliked the corporate machinations in our story, and whenever any of the scheming conniving characters came on my screen, I found myself zoning out. The corporate politics in this show managed to be both ridiculous and boring at the same time. That’s.. quite a feat, I suppose.
It felt like the scheming people were taking themselves way too seriously, and thinking themselves to be way more important that they actually were. On top of that, the English-speaking characters that these schemers got involved with, were delivered in terribly stilted and stiff fashion (sadly, as usual), and that just added to the unintended comedy and my eye-rolling.
For example, there’s a scene in episode 28 that stood out to me as extra ridiculous. The whole scene where President Hwang (Kang Ki Young) is threatening Jang Doo Sam, makes so little sense. Not only does Kang Ki Young play it OTT, with theatrically large expressions, Jang Doo Sam doesn’t even seem to actually know that the accident was a set-up, and so, in the scene, it’s Hwang who basically informs him of the set-up, while giving him money to go away. I actually laughed out loud, it was so dumb.
The arc with the other human allergy patient
The other thing that made me cringe was the side arc around Johnny Brown and Tilda Morton, the other human allergy patient and his human savior. The entire thing is so stilted, obvious and awkward, in the writing, the acting as well as the overall execution. It was all extremely uncomfortable to watch. Yikes.
For what it’s worth, while I never liked the Johnny Brown arc, I understood its purpose: to give Min Kyu’s case a point of reference. Still, I can’t help thinking that this could’ve been handled in a better, more organic fashion.
JI AH’S HEART LAMPS [SPOILERS]
Shout-out to blog regular Dame Holly, who first mentioned to me in a comment, that she found a lot of meaning and significance in Ji Ah’s hearts, which then made me pay a little extra attention to the heart lamps during my own watch. At around the episode 16 mark, I finally started to see at least some of the lamps’ significance.
It is Ji Ah’s warmth – her human touch – that lights up her own heart lamp. To me, this refers to her passion for life, as well as her kindness to people. Ji Ah’s warmth lights up her own heart, which in turn lights up Min Kyu’s heretofore cold and spark-less heart. And she needs to do it for him, because he can’t do it on his own.
In episode 17, the emphasis on the heart lamps being shared with a special someone – and only one special someone – is brought out, with the add-on that touching the lamp will bring to mind that very special someone. Min Kyu touches the lamp and it brings Aji3 to mind, and his feelings for Aji3 finally shift into focus. In this sense, the lamps help to literally shed light on your heart.
Additionally, it occurs to me that the lamps are different from other ways of creating connection with your loved one because the lamps literally bring warmth as they light up. It warms a heretofore cold heart, and it brings light to a heart that heretofore was in darkness. I find that a very sweet metaphor, and I thought that the heart lamps brought a very nice touch to our characters and their story.
MY TAKE ON THE ALLEGED MISOGYNY IN THIS SHOW
I saw at least one tweet that said that there’s a lot of misogyny in this show, and the writer of the tweet stated that she had issues with the way women are treated in this show.
Having seen the whole drama now, I have to say that I personally don’t quite see the same.
It’s true that Ji Ah gets treated less than well by Min Kyu, but it does make a difference that Min Kyu thinks she’s a robot and therefore not a real human. Therefore how he treats her has nothing to do with how women are treated. She is, to him, basically the same as his other household appliances.
Of course, one could argue that Aji3 didn’t have to be made in the likeness of a cute girl wearing a short skirt, and didn’t have to be programmed to greet her master with “I love you.” The “I love you” thing is a cultural quirk, I believe, coz if I’m not mistaken, even call center employees greet their customers similarly. I can agree with the short skirt thing, but am willing to look past it. And, I guess you could say that Aji3 did have to be made in the likeness of a cute girl, otherwise the entire premise of this show would be shot.
In Show’s defense, the Santa Maria team is pretty fair, since they make their next robot look like a man instead.
Also, the whole, “I’m her master” vs. “I’m her creator” thing at the end of episode 9 can feel problematic if we think of Ji Ah as human, but in the context of our story – and context really is everything here – she is supposed to be a robot, a literal object. And therefore, again, I didn’t take issue with the master vs. creator angle of the scene.
The bottom line, I think, is that if you’re determined to take issue with how Show handles itself in this area, you’re perfectly entitled to do so. But.. if you choose to do so, you’d be missing out on a pretty awesome OTP, in my opinion. 🙂
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Not gonna lie; I found the press conference decidedly cheesy and I also didn’t care too much about the love triangle angst between Hok Tal, Ssan Ip and Sun Hye (Lee Min Ji).
But, on the upside, there is quite a bit of cute, and that made up for just about everything.
I love that Pi (Park Se Wan) asks Baek Gyun if he’d like to date, and I love even more, that she doesn’t flinch even when he laughs nervously and is unable to look her in the eye. They make a cute couple, and I was pretty happy to be able to follow them on their first date. More than actually seeing them together, it was refreshing to see Pi being so much more confident around Baek Gyun.
It’s also really heartwarming to see that Min Kyu and the Santa Maria team have become a found family, with them sharing a dinner table on what appears to be a regular basis, and talking and laughing together, and supporting one another. What struck me most at seeing this unfold on my screen, is how much these people appear to genuinely like one another. Seeing that Min Kyu now has the warmth of a family dinner table to enjoy made me happy.
More than anything, Min Kyu and Ji Ah are just really cute whenever they are together, and seeing them laugh together, and support one another, and hold hands and kiss and generally be the epitome of Couple Cute together, was enough to give me goofy grins for days.
My favorite couple moment these two shared in this finale, is hands-down the moment that Min Kyu surveys all of Ji Ah’s notes on her various inventions, and turns to smile at her, saying, “What should I do? I like you even more.”
Flail. I just love that he loves her inventions, and that this inventive streak in her impresses him so much that it fills him with wonder. And, I love that he’s literally bought every single one of her inventions, before he even knew her. Gah. These two are just meant to be, is what. <3
I usually am not too hot on time skips in finales, but this is one time that I actually found myself rather enjoying Show’s 2-year time skip.
First of all, we see that the Santa Maria team has a new robot to introduce to the world. I’m still sore at them for basically killing off Aji3, but I appreciate that the new robot is a boy. (No but seriously, how cute would it be, if they’d kept Aji3 around, and then made the new robot to look just like Min Kyu? We could have an actual robot romance on our hands, which, in my opinion, would be pretty darn cute.)
Second of all, we see that Min Kyu has completed his military service, which is something that was impossible for him in episode 1. What a nice call-back, to demonstrate just how far he’s come. And what a bonus, that we are reminded of just how dreamy Yoo Seung Ho looks in military fatigues, heh.
Third of all, it’s great to see that almost everyone in this drama world is happily and anxiously looking forward to Min Kyu’s return, and that they all hurry to his house to welcome him home. For someone who started our story so alone in that big ol’ mansion, it’s feels lovely to know that this time, he’s going home to a whole bunch of people who love and appreciate him.
Last – and possibly best – of all, I love this call-back to our OTP’s earlier umbrella moment. It’s so similar, but so different. The way Ji Ah loses her balance; the way Min Kyu catches her in his arms; the way their eyes lock, with the umbrella overhead – that’s all so déjà vu similar. But the teasing smiles they share; the sparkle in their eyes; the familiarity of the way they touch; and the languid, happy, delicious way they drown in kisses, reminds me all over again, of how far these two have come. Love.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Suspension of disbelief is required in pretty big spades, but our OTP is so cute, that for them, it’s easy to throw logic out the window.
FINAL GRADE: B+