Who knew that an anthology class assignment would be one of the most cherished items for a 17-year old feisty, stubborn, and haughty girl who just wants to be loved by her mother and more importantly, to be heard? In this coming-of-age life drama part of the special tVN Drama Stage series, Anthology stars Shin Eun-Soo and rapper ONE as two lost, scared, and vulnerable students who learns to reveal their true selves while with each other.
Bittersweet, warm, and light, this hour long episode contains everything you need in any drama and so much more.
**Author’s note: I apologize for the low quality and smaller size screenshots than usual. I watched this on a site with low quality so I tried the best that I could with this recap. Hope you don’t mind!
tVN Drama Stage: Anthology
The drama starts off with our main character – Ms. Shin – going about her daily routine: teaching English to a classroom full of distracted and misbehaved students. She’s disrespected and humiliated in front of all her students when one of the students talks down to her and exits the classroom in anger. A meeting with the principal of the academy doesn’t help either. There are many people who would die to be in her teaching position. Plus, if she had just graduated from say – a top school like Harvard – she wouldn’t be in the position she is in now.
While heading home that night, Ms. Shin finds a bunch of flyers and advertisements taped outside her front door. She questions what’s the point of living before entering her apartment. She calls her aunt to thank her for the different food products and items that her aunt had sent her. Ms. Shin unpacks the rest of the box when she comes across an anthology book that she made back in high school. It brings back memories as she opens the book.
And so we return 16 years ago to Ms. Shin’s (whose full name is Shin So-Yi played by Shin Eun-soo) high school days. She moves in to stay with her uncle and grandma for a few months in the countryside. While her grandma does her best to accommodate So-yi, So-yi familiarizes herself with the farm and living environment. While watching her uncle take care of his two precious goats, her uncle suggests that they go to the market to buy her a school uniform. She should get ready for school. So-yi is reluctant, but has no other choice. Grandma cheers her up by cooking her some sweet potatoes and noting that So-yi takes after her. Grandma knows best.
Later on that night, So-yi calls her mother, complaining about the living environment at the countryside. She wishes to see her mother and to move away from the dirty place. Her mother reminds So-yi to remain patient though and to just endure everything for a little bit longer. So-yi’s mom ends the call in a hurry, leaving So-yi in disappointment and anger. While reflecting on the phone call, she notices something blazing across from her: a young man nearby has set some hay on fire. They glance at each other for a bit before he walks away.
It’s the first day of school for So-yi. She introduces herself to the class and makes a note to everyone to not pay any attention to her. She’ll be leaving for America in a few months anyways so they shouldn’t mind her. She drags her feet to her desk and the teacher resumes class. So-yi’s classmate – who also happens to be the same guy that set the hay on fire the night before – steals a glance at her and notices her.
It’s break time at school. Some of So-yi’s curious classmates go over to her to get to know her better. Since she’s going to America in a few months, she must be good at English then. Maybe she listens to pop songs only? So-yi is clearly irritated and uninterested in talking to the classmates. One of her classmates in particular get annoyed at So-yi. She should stop talking like she’s someone special and amazing. The two are about to get into a fight when Jin-hyun (One/Jung Jae-won) — the fire guy — stops the two. Break time is over and class is about to resume so they should get back to their seats. I love me a peacemaker (
Libras ftw!). As their teacher enters the classroom, So-yi takes a good look at Jin-hyun. So it is him – the guy she saw the night before setting the hay on fire.
Before school ends, their homeroom teacher reminds them of the class anthology project that she wants her students to work on. It’ll serve as good memories once they graduate from high school. As already decided, Jin-hyun is the lead on the project, but someone else also needs to help support him. When the same girl who almost fought with So-yi earlier gets rejected, Jin-hyun volunteers So-yi to help him with the project. And so So-yi it is.
So-yi tries to talk her way out of doing the anthology project to Jin-hyun. She’s not going to do it. She’s leaving for America in a few months anyways there’s no point. But Jin-hyun doesn’t listen to her and argues that she can just work on it before leaving for America.
Jin-hyun continues to ramble when she gets back home from school that day. She didn’t like it at all and doesn’t want to go back. But uncle reminds her that just because she’s from Seoul and is going to America in a few months doesn’t mean she can brag and act like she’s better than everyone else (uhh Uncle, it’s kind of too late because she already did that on her first day of school asdkfjd). Grandma defends So-yi at any cost and continues to accommodate to So-yi’s high needs. She cares for her grand daughter. Aww. I love Grandma already.
The next day at school, So-yi’s enemy threatens her to not work on the anthology project, but this threat only motivates So-yi even more. She walks up to Jin-hyun while her enemy is watching and confesses that she’ll work on the anthology project with him.
So-yi’s enemy isn’t too happy with So-yi so they head out to the far and empty countryside to fight each other. OMG, WHAT IS HAPPENING. Can’t we all just get along? ASDKJFD. The two go at each other, rolling around in the mud and dirt and pulling onto each other’s hair and getting dirty. So-yi warns her enemy to never say another word about her mom to her. In return, So-yi better not talk to Jin-hyun. He’s different from all those other guys and So-yi’s enemy wants him to herself. They eventually stop fighting and go their own ways.
So-yi returns home after the fight. Her grandma worries for her while her uncle isn’t surprised that she came home from school looking like she just went through military training. ASDKJFD. With her attitude and mentality, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Grandma remains protective of So-yi and defends her.
The next day at school, Jin-hyun updates So-yi on the contents of the anthology project. So-yi’s enemy isn’t too fond of this and disturbs the two by inviting everyone to eat lunch with the three of them. So-yi and Jin-hyun are swarmed by classmates which irritates So-yi. She goes back on her word and yells that she’s not going to help out with the anthology project anymore. She leaves the room followed by Jin-hyun.
It’s P.E. time and all the students gather out in the field. Their gym teacher is a bit exhausted today, so he uses Jin-hyun and So-yi as examples to explain the rules to the game he has arranged for them to play and then heads off to rest. The game the students play is like dodgeball but the students are in pairs instead of teams. Of course, So-yi and Jin-hyun are paired up together and the whole premise of the game is for the boys to protect their female partner from getting hit by the ball.
But So-yi doesn’t need Jin-hyun’s protection; she walks about freely and engages in the game by both throwing and dodging the ball (OMG SHE’S SO COOL!!). There are a few times where Jin-hyun protects her and uses his body as a shield and it’s one throw in particular that throws everyone off. Jin-hyun – in his attempt to help So-yi dodge the ball – pulls her towards him and they both fall down onto the floor, his body a little over hers. OMG OMG OMG. Everybody freezes at the unexpected sight and So-yi’s enemy cries, not because she lost the game but because of what she saw.
The incident clearly affects So-yi and she can’t seem to stop thinking about it. She flails and she wails and blames herself for what happened. Uncle notices her odd behavior and teases her. Meanwhile, Grandma remains the loving and caring grandma she is and gifts So-yi with a new blanket she got her. Grandma is the best! So-yi lies down with the blanket that Grandma got her and squeals thinking about the incident with Jin-hyun. Maybe.. maybe she liked it.
The next day at school, Jin-hyun reminds the class about their assignment for the anthology project. After his announcement, their homeroom teacher reminds them of the parent-teacher conference taking place soon. She also congratulates Jin-hyun for coming in first out of the entire class again.
Jin-hyun brings the good results home to his stepfather, but he’s not too happy with Jin-hyun’s top grades (WHAAAT?). It’s the opposite: his stepfather reminds Jin-hyun that he doesn’t need to study so well because he won’t be able to support Jin-hyun anyways after graduation. They don’t have enough money to send Jin-hyun off to college.
Jin-hyun is heart-broken over the response and rides his bike to get some fresh air. He stumbles and he falls and he rides his bike carelessly, evident that he’s overwhelmed and stressed with his academics and his future.
Before heading to sleep that night, So-yi is reminded of the assignment that Jin-hyun assigned the rest of the class for the anthology project: think of what your dream is and make sure it’s a genuine and real dream of yours that you have. But So-yi struggles to translate her dreams into words. How is she going to share what her dream is with the rest of the class?
In science class the next day, So-yi and Jin-hyun are paired together as partners for the lab experiment. They’re responsible for testing to see what their blood type is. While working together, one of their classmates goes over to them to share with them a rumor that he had heard about the school: the lab they’re in is apparently haunted.
So that night, the two go to check it out for themselves. While waiting in the same lab room they were in earlier that day, they engage in a heartfelt and honest conversation with each other. From Jin-hyun’s good grades to the first time they met at the farm to their dreams, they share with each other their honest thoughts. So what are So-yi’s dreams? She shares that it’d be nice to be able to sleep forever and not have to wake up the next morning.. but of course, she can’t write something like that as her dream. So if that’s her current dream, what was her dream when she was younger? So-yi isn’t that opened to sharing that much yet and doesn’t answer Jin-hyun’s question. In response, he admits that she inspires him to be honest with her too just like how she is with him (omg, I’m gonna cry. This is honestly so cute and genuine between them).
The moment is interrupted by some noise and lights that the two notice outside of the lab room. The footsteps they hear get closer and closer to them and the doors to the closet that Jin-hyun and So-yi are hiding in gets opened. But instead of ghosts like the two students were expecting to see, there’s two human beings standing in front of them: their homeroom teacher as well as So-yi’s uncle. OMG. This is too funny.
So-yi has a conversation about it later on that night with her uncle. The uncle (who I assume is like the school security guard or patrol) reveals that he and the homeroom teacher were patrolling the school and just wanted to have some fun, hence, the lights and the noise. It also seems like he and the teacher have some romantic feelings towards each other. Uncle then changes the subject to So-yi. She seems to have gotten settled to life at the countryside thanks to Jin-hyun, but she denies it of course and keeps quiet.
Jin-hyun returns home to find his stepparents arguing about him. His stepmother yells that she can’t afford to support him anymore so he should just return to live with his biological mother. But his stepfather argues that they’ve already tried that, but he only ended up coming back to live with them again. There’s nothing they can do about it. Jin-hyun leaves his house before he can say a word to his parents.
So-yi – curious about Jin-hyun – wants to know what Jin-hyun’s parents are like. Uncle shares that based on what he’s heard, they generally seem like nice people. Is Jin-hyun her first love or something? Why does she keep asking about him? So-yi is quick to deny the allegations, but that does prompt her to question the idea of the so-called “first love.” What does that even mean anyways? Uncle answers her question as simple as possible. One’s first love is just that: your first love.
Jin-hyun – clearly upset and stressed – rides his bike furiously and carelessly, falling down onto a patch of dead grass. Meanwhile, So-yi’s conversation about first loves continue. Since this is her first experience ever with having a first love, she’s not sure what to think or how to feel about it. Aww, little girl just wants some love advice from her uncle.
The next day, the two head together to school. They read some of the dreams that their classmates wrote for the anthology project and then worry about what they’re going to put down as their dream for the project. They push the thought to the back of their mind. Jin-hyun offers So-yi a ride on his bike, but she denies the offer. She doesn’t know how to ride a bike mainly because she never had a dad around who could teach her. Oof, that was hard. No ride on the bike, but walking is just fine for So-yi.
At school, Jin-hyun announces the last and remaining assignment for the anthology project: everyone will finish once they write their dreams down onto a piece of paper. While it seems like all their other classmates complete the assignment easily, So-yi and Jin-hyun struggle to finish theirs.
After class, they continue to work on the anthology project together. With everyone’s piece of paper that has their dreams listed on it, the two decide how they should decorate the project together. While looking over the papers, So-yi reads Jin-hyun’s while he reads her. So-yi’s final description for her dream: she hopes that her dream will not be achieved. Meanwhile, Jin-hyun’s… well, Jin-hyun didn’t write anything. He just marked a dot on his paper. So-yi is obviously disappointed with Jin-hyun and wants to change her answer, but he doesn’t let. Omg, they’re too cute. I can’t stop smiling and squealing.
That night, So-yi asks her uncle if she should buy the official school uniform which shocks him. Is she actually considering staying at the school a little longer? Uncle doesn’t say much and then asks her to take care of his kids from now on. He’s going to be busy with work so he won’t have time to feed his two goats. I love how he refers to them as his kids. ASDKJFD.
The next morning at school, So-yi almost gets in trouble by a teacher for not wearing the official school uniform despite having been at the school for a while. The teacher escalates the situation by bringing up So-yi’s mother who the teacher personally knows himself. He mentions how her mother abandoned her just so her mother could get re-married and move to the United States with her new husband. Hurt and embarrassed, So-yi runs away and Jin-hyun – who had tried defending So-yi from the teacher – chases after her. But she doesn’t want his sympathy nor comfort. She warns him to stop following her and leaves.
Later on that day, So-yi locks herself in the bedroom. She’s visited by Uncle who has a gift for her. It’s the official school uniform. But So-yi only takes this as a sign of permanence and grows angry at her uncle. The school uniform means she’s staying permanently with Uncle and Grandma right? Her mother is never going to come back for her right? Grandma and Uncle try to calm So-yi down and explain her mom’s side of the story. Her mom has been suffering from a disease the past ten years and they feel like it’s only right she should enjoys what’s left of her life. So-yi is still upset over the news and feels like a burden. Plus, she obviously wasn’t important enough which is why her mother left her. She cries in her room.
So-yi runs away from home early the next morning. She takes one of Uncle’s goats for companionship and they set off together. The search for both So-yi and the goat begins, but luckily Jin-hyun discovers her taking shelter under a tree from the rain. He pleads for her to come back home. What does she plan on doing after she gets her revenge on her mother? But Jin-hyun doesn’t understand. Her situation is different from Jin-hyun and his unfortunate experiences.
But Jin-hyun begs to differ. From the very first time they met on that night when he had set the field on fire, he felt this connection between the two of them. He then shares with her his story and his challenges of growing up without a mother figure as well. Just like So-yi, he’s grown up acknowledging that his biological mother doesn’t love him. It was his religion and practice in faith that kept him together.
So-yi breaks down from hearing his story and apologizes. She proceeds to sharing with him what her dream was when she was younger: she wanted to become the rainbow. Aww. She finally opened up to him.
So-yi eventually returns back home to her grandma and uncle without Uncle’s goat. Uncle runs out of the house in tears, relieved that she’s home but sad that his goat isn’t. Haha, so much for So-yi taking care of Uncle’s goats for him.
But everything is okay as he eventually finds his goat safe and sound. Meanwhile, that night So-yi and Jin-hyun talk on the phone for a few minutes before they head to sleep. Aww, it seems like they’re heads over heels for each other. How cuuute.
The next morning, So-yi attends school wearing the official school uniform. OH HO HO, looking nice So-yi. But then everyone quickly notices that Jin-hyun’s not at school like he usually is. That’s when the news spread throughout the school: Jin-hyun and his parents ran away using the money and investment that their neighbors in the village had given them.
So-yi rushes to Jin-hyun’s house to check for herself and true enough, he and his parents are gone and all that’s left are angry neighbors. She immediately walks back to her house after and finally encounters the one person she had been longing for this entire time: her mother. She breaks down into tears upon finally reuniting with her mother again and receives some answers to why her mother did what she did. Mom apologizes for leaving So-yi and shares that she never had any plans to leave So-yi completely. Mom acknowledges her mistake and the mother-daughter pair make up.
Early the next morning, So-yi runs to school to check for any traces of Jin-hyun. But there’s nothing at his desk nor inside his locker. And that was the moment when So-yi knew that he had disappeared from her universe forever; she would never see him again. So-yi would eventually return to America with her mother after reuniting with her.
We then return to the present adult So-yi who flips through the anthology book on the bus. There are pictures of different events included in it as well as the papers that had everybody’s dreams written on it. So-yi smiles while reading the comments, reminiscing the good old times of high school.
It’s another day of teaching English at the private academy. Like shown earlier, none of the students pay attention to So-yi while she teaches, but she sets things straight this time. She manages to capture the class’s attention and shares with them the dreams she had as a young adult. She also adds in the challenges she’s faced living in America and finding a job. So to all the students in the classroom, it’s important to have a dream and to know what you want to do. The class surprisingly approves of So-yi’s speech and finds it relatable. Class is a little bit more enjoyable.
And so we see So-yi riding a bicycle (SHE’S RIDING A BIKE Y’ALL) on a bike trial while a voiceover of So-yi plays in the background, saying:
Life is not as easy as you imagine it to be. It’s uneven everywhere, with bumps and pot-holes. You’ll waver each day and even shake a bit.
If the 17-year old me saw the me now, she would be reassured. I used to think that the 17th year of my life was the darkest time in the world, but on that one autumn day, he became my rainbow.
If I could go back in time again, I’d tell the me today: that life right now is not that bad.
She rests at a bench and pulls out the anthology book again, reading all the dreams that her classmates had written inside. She comes across Jin-hyun’s which he had written in at the last minute before placing it in the library and leaving once and for all.
In the anthology he writes, “You are the rainbow of my life. It’s not like I don’t like you.”
The episode ends with adult So-yi staring fondly and warmly at the anthology book. What had once been a source of stress for her back then has now transformed into a source of comfort many years later. She stares off into the sunset after reading his message.
*UGLY CRIES* I’M OKAY I SWEAR, I’M OKAY.
Okay, no but seriously, this one-episode drama had a fairly nice, light, fluffy, and warm touch to it the entire hour and consisted of many great life lessons as well — some that I think I could definitely relate to and definitely needed.
This drama was essentially about our 17-year old So-yi who was at a very vulnerable moment in her life and just wanted someone to show that they cared about her. I loved her feisty and sassy attitude (though it got her into trouble at times) and the way that she presented herself to everyone. She was so naive and so young and so childish and went through the same emotions that as many other 17 year old’s also do. She couldn’t understand where her mother was coming from and immediately reached conclusions about her and her family because she couldn’t understand the concept of a struggling mother needing a small break from everything for herself. You felt pitiful and sympathetic for So-yi and I never questioned any of the decisions that she made, such as the decision to run away (with the goat I might say). She was yearning for the attention and love and care that her mother suddenly stopped giving her and the new living situation that So-yi was thrown into suddenly definitely didn’t help either. She was young, she was a teenager, and she was longing for the love of the only person she’s known her entire life (since she basically grew up without a father figure).
As we see, So-yi’s changed many years later when she transforms into a private academy teacher and uses her wisdom to help her students who are probably in the same situation she was in when she was in high school. I absolutely loved and agreed with So-yi’s ending reflections: everything will turn out fine in time. There’s no need to stress or worry about the future; everything will fall into place as it should be and it’s even better if you have dreams. It’s such nice words of encouragement that I think many can relate to.
This drama was charming in so many ways. It never took itself too seriously and always maintained a level of lightness and warmth and tenderness. Although I was not expecting Jin-hyun’s story to suddenly end like that, I also think that it was realistic and bring’s So-yi’s message full circle. Would I have loved to see Jin-hyun and So-yi remain together as high school crushes and lovers? Of course. But would that have been possible? Probably not. For the short time that they were in each other’s lives and got to know each other, they made every moment impactful and intimate. They opened up to each other details and experiences that they’ve probably never told anyone else. This is what makes their relationship so powerful and so strong and so loving that even after many years later, their relationship is one that adult So-yi still hasn’t forgotten about. The abrupt ending to their relationship doesn’t upset her as much because she’s well aware of the role and impact that they played in each other’s lives when they were younger: they were each other’s rainbows. They were essentially each other’s dream and I think that’s more than enough for her to live with. Even if she’s no longer in his life and he’s no longer in hers, she’s received the closure that she seeked and wanted.
The small anthology project that student So-yi had no interest in working on eventually became one that provided immense support for her as an adult. As So-yi states, life is full of unexpected turns, and student So-yi would have never known how big of a role this anthology would play in her life years later either. The anthology played a big role in helping So-yi and Jin-hyun become closer, but it also represented an important chapter in So-yi’s life. When she’s seen flipping the pages throughout the anthology as an adult and reading the dreams of her high school classmates, she’s reminded of how crucial this chapter was in aiding her in her personal growth. Any doubts that she faced at the very beginning of the episode whether that was being humiliated in front of the class to being criticized by her boss became nonexistent once she read the anthology. The anthology has served as a catalyst for So-yi to remind herself of how far she’s come and how much more she needs to go. It’s a powerful source of hope in her life.
The drama was primarily relationship-based so a lot of the narrative was told through the relationships. I found So-yi’s relationship with Grandma so endearing and loving and wholesome; Grandma will always care for So-yi despite her snappy attitude and stubbornness. But more so, So-yi’s love-hate relationship with Uncle was just as great. Although they would take jabs at each other and poke fun at each other sometimes, it was Uncle who So-yi went to for advice. It was Uncle she relied on and talked to when she had questions or were curious about things. So-yi’s relationship with her mother was complicated but sincere and there were many layers behind it that the drama showed us.
Last but definitely not least, So-yi and Jin-hyun’s relationship was so.. different. So genuine. So real. When they had no one else, they had each other. Of course, there were bumps along the way because they each had their own struggles they were going through, but they never forgot about each other. They put the other first even. Jin-hyun and So-yi’s relationship eventually taught viewers that everyone might be going through their own struggles, but they’re all struggling regardless and that’s okay. There’s nothing to be ashamed of and instead of using this to push people further apart, why don’t people use this commonality of struggling to bridge the gaps? So-yi and Jin-hyun showed us that anything is possible within a relationship and sometimes, there are no clear-cut answers as to what’s going to happen with your relationship. Though So-yi (and maybe to an extent Jin-hyun) never expected their relationship to end so soon, she knew that what they had was rare but genuine and real.
I think what made their relationship even more interesting was just how similar but different they were. She’s feisty and haughty and aggressive while he’s more quiet, calm, and poised. But they were also going through similar struggles and hardships in life and that was what brought them together. A part of me would have loved to see what it would had been like had Jin-hyun been a similar character as So-yi (omg imagine the two just arguing it out), but I’m also glad that the drama decided to focus on the two as opposites. I think that’s why they balanced each other out and had such a trusting and genuine relationship with each other the way they did. Ultimately, I love that the relationships in this drama were sweet, loving, and forgiving — as all relationships should be.
I think a reason as to why this drama made me so sad during the sad scenes and so gushy during the cute little love scenes was because of the cast. Shin Eun-soo was so cute, charming, and great as teenager So-yi and I felt that she expressed the pains and struggles of her character greatly. Though One/Jung Jae Won was a little green as Jin-hyun, I think his ability to act as the calm, reserved, hidden, and lost Jin-hyun was amazing. You never really felt like the two were acting; I think they both did a wonderful job portraying their vulnerable characters and impacting us viewers in the process.
It’s weird that these one-episode dramas that are a part of a series turn out to be some of the most enjoyable, realistic, fun, and quirky dramas to watch. More so, they also have the potential to extend to the typical 16-episode drama. I think it would be nice to see the original narrative and storyline of this drama expanded into a 12-episode show. I just really love how genuine and warm everything was and also how relatable our characters were that then made the drama relatable. I think Jin-hyun’s background story was something that I would have loved to see more of if we had more time. My heart felt for him when we discovered that his achievements in school would go to waste because his step parents wouldn’t be able to support him. It’s contrasts what we often see in Korean dramas where it’s usually the parents pushing their children to excel in school, but here it’s different because Jin-hyun is doing exactly that but his step-parents don’t necessarily find it useful. I think this was just one aspect out of the many components in this drama that stood out to me that made me want to see more. For once, I want to see the student doing well in school for themselves and for their family rather than the parents controlling the lives of their children instead. So-yi’s “dream” to die but also really not wanting to die was so interesting to me. She’s in this dark, bleak, and vulnerable place in her life as a young teenager and she’s not sure if she wants to keep going. But at the same time, she’s afraid of death and this is what compels her to keep existing. These two narratives alone were so interesting to me and they’d be great narratives to continue.
Even though this was just a one-episode drama that lasted only a hour, I already felt this sense of emotional attachment to it. It was so bittersweet, but it also reminds us of life and love and all the great small things in between that we should never take for granted. Just like So-yi did when she was 17 years old, we will too eventually find and form our own anthology book in our own respective lives one day.