There be spoilers in this post, which is both analysis & recommendation for a Taiwanese drama, Gloomy Salad Days
. If you're worried about the subjects tackled by the drama, I'll be going into length, so at least you'll know what you're in for (with the cost of not being surprised).
First thing to realize: the entire series (twenty episodes, now fully fansubbed by SUBlimes -- google it) is inundated with pop-idols. You've got your current pretty-face stars, your rising stars, even bit-parts populated by various winners of various reality-show-idol-competition whatsahoosies. The entire cast list (outside of the few adult roles) is, well, mostly pop idols -- and it does seem that this may be the first major acting many of them have done. If you keep that in mind, you may find yourself not irritated at the low level of acting ability, but instead impressed at just how well
many of the young cast members pull off some damn
hard roles and storylines.
Second thing: the series is loosely based on a Japanese anime, Jigoku Shoujo
(Hell Girl). The Taiwanese version was originally to be titled, "Death Girl" (and that right there is an important distinction); I think the final title is because of the song used as the opening, which fits the dark and often hopeless mood of the interior stories rather well.
I make note of the Hell Girl vs Death Girl, because if the Japanese version is strongly Buddhist, the Taiwanese version has major Taoist leanings instead... so a large chunk of the story has been shifted for the difference in world-view. ( Comparing the two versions, and overviews of some of the storylines, especially the one revolving around a transgender student, and the one tackling the issue of bullying. )
Much shorter version: the series is dark, melancholy, at times hampered by inexperienced acting (but not nearly as much as you might expect given the relative inexperience of the cast overall), but the script is solid and thoughtful writing, and it keeps its sympathetic focus entirely on the outcast characters, whatever their role. Transgender, gay, lesbian, abandoned child, child-prostitute, and so on. Some of the episodes are stronger than others, but that's to be expected with such a large and continually changing cast. All in all, though, this isn't your usual candy-fluffy pop-idol drama where someone's making sure the camera always gets the good sides, and the fact that this was marketed for and broadcast to 10-14 year olds just boggles me... and impresses me mightily. Overall, it's a damn gutsy television show.
Lastly: the final four episodes attempt to tie up the connection between Shen Qi and Death Girl, a la the original Jigoku Shoujo
... but it's too much at once. The previous episodes had kept a better balance of how much melodrama was piled on, mostly because each storyline focused on a specific part/type of dramatic incident. The final four episodes throw in everything and the kitchen sink, including the dreaded "inappropriate feelings between siblings" (with the nearly-throwaway line to alert you to fake-out, that both siblings were adopted) -- and frankly, even the two experienced leads don't have the chops to keep the melodrama from crushing them. I've mostly browsed through the episodes, only stopping randomly.
You may enjoy the final four, or you may MST3K it out the wazoo, but if it helps, the final four episodes are not really required for any overall understanding. Each two-episode storyline could be considered reasonably standalone (with the possible exception of episodes 7-10, since Li You's story comes into play in Xiao Ju's story).
ps: I guess the wiki entry
got un-reverted, because every change I made is now in there. *whistles*