[What Mary Thinks] Duty After School: Episodes 1-6

March 31st was a pretty busy day for me. In addition to the weekly episodes of ‘Taxi Driver 2’, there was also the premiere of two new dramas: ‘Joseon Attorney: A Morality’ and ‘Duty After School.’ It also didn’t take me long to finish the available episodes of both dramas as soon as they aired. ‘Joseon Attorney’ turned out to be a pleasant, fun watch while ‘Duty After School’ was also a fun watch.. in a different way.

‘Duty After School’ centers around a group of high school seniors who participate in military training to prepare for battle against strange alien creatures that have suddenly appeared on earth. The drama follows the group of students as they engage in war against the monster creatures and their journey from students to soldiers. Some of the cast members include Shin Hyun-soo as the Platoon Leader of the group Lee Chun-ho, Im Se-mi as the group’s teacher, Kim Ki-hae as Kim Chi-yeol who serves as the main character in the drama, and most importantly (for me) – Lee Yeon as the isolated and reserved No Ae-seol (who some of you might recognize as the younger version of Nam Haeng-seon in ‘Crash Course in Romance.’ EEEEEK!). The drama is divided into two parts with the first part consisting of the first six episodes. The second part will be released on April 28 with the remaining four episodes for a total of ten episodes overall.

So, where exactly do I start with the drama? There were quite a lot of notes, comments, and thoughts that I had about it while watching each episode and I found my opinion towards the first part of the drama to be mostly positive. There were some aspects that stood out to me that I didn’t feel all that great about, but I would summarize my feelings about the show to be a mostly good one overall. What I found the most enjoyable about this drama was its directing and action sequences. There were times where you felt as if you were in a video game as you watched the characters shoot the alien creatures or try to run away and escape from them. Even the set of certain scenes made it seem as if it was from a haunted house or a video game. There was always a level of fear and intensity when the alien creatures appeared and attacked our group of students or any human beings nearby. The scenes that stood out to me the most actually was largely due in part to the intense directing involving the alien creatures as seen at the end of episode 2 and episode 6. It was the most frightening moments when our characters were running away from the alien creatures that was the most thrilling and entertaining. You could tell that there was quite a lot that went into filming and directing these scenes and that was nice to watch.

This then leads me to my next point which is that the drama impressed me a lot more than I thought it would. I was aware of the drama and had already planned on watching it once it came out, but I wasn’t all that confident about it given the premise of the show. A group of high school students engaged in a war against mysterious and strange alien creatures who have to train like military soldiers? Wait, what? Is this just another high school survival drama similar to ‘All Of Us Are Dead’? So I definitely had my doubts about this drama going into it and I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Plus, there are times when webtoons are better off as.. well, webtoons and not live adaptations. But after watching the first two episodes, I realized that I liked the drama a lot more than I thought I would. The premise and plot sounded a little silly and ridiculous for sure, but the production and execution was there and delivered enough to keep me engaged. The drama looked nice, felt nice, and was directed and written in a way where you could follow along pretty easily for the most part. Now granted, I never checked out the webtoon so my opinions are purely based off of the drama, but still, I was pretty impressed with what it showed viewers.

There were two primary things that the drama did well: 1) showcased the human connections, emotions, and bonding of the high school students over time and 2) had a clear theme or idea that it accomplished per episode. The drama never really felt directionless or as if it had no clue as to what it was doing. Again, that could be due in part to the webtoon that it was pulling its content from but I liked that there was something new happening in every episode. The first episode set up the alien creatures plot and the introduction of our characters. The second episode proceeded with the military training and the first attack of the alien creatures on our group of students in the city. The third episode showcased the alien creatures attack their school specifically. And so forth. So you get the idea. Each episode had something going for it so you had an idea as to what that specific episode was going to be about. I liked that you weren’t left hanging and wandering and guessing as to what was going to happen.

If you’re someone who enjoys character-driven dramas than plot-driven dramas, then ‘Duty After School’ is probably more in your lane or area. More so than focusing on the process of defeating and destroying the alien creatures (though they did play a big role throughout the drama), it was rather the group of students who was the primary focus of the show. We followed their journey from the very beginning as just your typical, regular high school seniors worried about the college entrance exam to their transition as military soldiers preparing for war against monster creatures who feast on human beings. We were there to witness the wave of emotions and feelings they experienced throughout their journey. They were petrified, scared, and devastated; there were plenty of moments where they wanted to give up and just go back home to reunite with their parents. It was unfair that they had to compromise and sacrifice their education to participate in the military training and risk their lives to kill these monster creatures. I also really liked the directional choice that the drama did with its first 2 episodes where the episode ended with a specific scene remembering the life of the person who unfortunately died in that episode (it was both heartbreaking and heartwarming watching these scenes).

So this drama really focused on the human connections and emotions and showed the group of students bonding over time. Of course, there were still bumps on the road in the journey; there were times where certain classmates continued to take it out on each other throughout the show. But the drama definitely took its time in honing in on the group of students and made it clear that this was about their story. Forget about the alien creatures, forget about what the rest of the world was doing, forget how other parts of the country was faring. This drama was strictly about the group of classmates who embarked in this unexpected and wild journey and had no idea what they were signing up for.

Adding onto my point about the human element of this drama, the students formed a special connection with their Platoon Leaders, in particular the main leader, Lee Chun-ho. He was another bright spot in this show given that he was the primary leader responsible for the lives of the students. He definitely had character development from when he started off as someone brought in to train the students to getting to know them over time to bonding with them to risking his life to rescue the students to eventually sacrificing his life for their safety. As he got to know the group of students better, he was able to identify who the best shooters were, who the leaders of the group were, what each student’s strengths were, and how each student was. He also became attached to them over time and felt as if he was responsible for their lives. Chun-ho did all that he could to protect the students and took care of them. Whether it was when they were out roaming the streets to kill off the alien creatures or back at their camp site, Chun-ho placed the students first. Even until the very end, in the last remaining moments of his life, he put the students first. He was always a leader and will forever be their leader.

With that being said, ‘Duty After School’ wasn’t perfect by any means. I found that as touching and heartwarming as it was watching the students stay together as a team the whole time, the drama was a bit too slow for my liking. It was too slow-paced for me when the drama should be faster paced given that you’re dealing with alien creatures and that’s something that you could work with and definitely do a whole lot with. The drama knew what it wanted to do with each episode which was great, but that meant that the drama would take its sweet time for the entire 1 hour and 10 minutes to dive deep in exploring that one idea or theme. It was exciting to watch the students enter a new situation every episode, but the behavior of the students felt a little redundant and repetitive. It was nice watching the students spend time together, but I could only take the usual bullying or sulking or fighting or complaining or screaming or crying so many times. I wanted the drama to move at a faster pace and show us more about the alien creatures. How did they appear and originate? Where did they come from? Why did they attack now? And I get that it was something that the drama was exploring and investigating with each passing episode and there were a few hints here and there but a little background and context would have been nice.

I was also curious as to what was happening outside of our group of students. Clearly, there were many people who died and lost their lives because of the alien creatures but what about the evacuation camps? What about the parents and families of our students? What about the other military units also doing the same thing to kill off these creatures? What about the government and their research efforts on the alien creatures? I wanted to know more about what was going on outside in the rest of the country and not just about the group of students. And maybe that was why I felt like the drama was a little too redundant and repetitive for my liking. The drama was just about them and no one or nothing else.

Speaking of the central focus on the group of students, I also think I would have enjoyed this drama a little bit more if there were less students. I think the drama still worked having as many students as it did, but it did get a bit distracting sometimes because there were so many of them. It was especially in the scenes when they were all together and they each had their own line to recite that things got a bit confusing (and this happened often since they moved and traveled as a group together throughout the course of the show). I would have preferred if the drama just started off with about 10 students as its main group with each of them having their own identity and personality that set them apart from one another. It’d make it easier to be invested in the students, their lives and stories, and who they are. This was already pretty much what the drama did anyways but then it sprinkled in an additional ten students who faded pretty easily into the background at times. The amount of students wasn’t that big of an issue at the end of the day, but I’ll admit that there were certain students who stood out more to me than others and that I cared about more than others.

One of those characters being No Ae-seol played by Lee Yeon (AKA the younger version of Nam Haeng-seon in ‘Crash Course in Romance’). I’m a bit biased and will admit that I have a soft spot for the character because of the actress playing her. I’m constantly reminded of ‘Crash Course in Romance’ every time she pops up on the screen so I can’t help but root for her (I’m also genuinely a fan of the actress herself. She’s so talented and even with the limited screen time she got in ‘Crash Course in Romance’, I liked what I saw from her). Ae-seol was one of the characters in the drama who stood out to me. She was perceived as one of the “weaker” students who wasn’t all that great with guns and she’s sort of the person who’s quiet and tends to stay in the background. She follows what everyone else does.

But just like all the other students, Ae-seol contributes in her own ways and gets along with her good friend, Na-ra, or with male classmate Jo Young-shin who looks out for her the most out of the group. Similarly to her acting in ‘Crash Course in Romance’, Lee Yeon shines in this drama as Ae-seol (the two characters are very different from each other so I commend the range in acting that Lee Yeon has). Andddd speaking of ‘Crash Course in Romance’, it took me 5 (!!) episodes in to finally realize that there was another actor in ‘Crash Course in Romance’ who was also in ‘Duty After School’ (this is why I mentioned that the drama should have had less students, haha). It turns out that the actor who played the younger version of Choi Chi-yeol is also in this drama! How funny! So we basically got young Chi-yeol and young Haeng-seon in ‘Duty After School’ (which is funny because ‘Duty After School’ technically came first since filming started back in 2021). What’s even funnier is that the main character in ‘Duty After School’ is named (Kim) Chi-yeol so there’s quite some crossover between this drama and ‘Crash Course in Romance.’ As you can tell, I’m still quite not over ‘Crash Course in Romance’ just yet and just seeing our younger Haeng-seon and Chi-yeol in this drama brought back memories.

So with all of this being said, you might wonder: should you give this drama a try? Like all shows out there, there were both good and not-so-good things about this drama that could have made it better. I lean more on the side where I recommend you give this drama a try. Don’t think too much about the premise even as ridiculous and silly as it may sound because the execution is what makes the show a lot better than it sounds. Even if this drama reminded me of ‘All Of Us Are Dead’ in that both are about high school students in survival mode, there were certain aspects about this drama that I enjoyed more than ‘All Of Us Are Dead’ (and vice versa). The first two episodes is easy to get through with how action-packed and intense it gets and then the drama slows down afterwards. It’s a shame that the drama is divided into two parts with the second part airing at the end of April. I think I can be patient enough to wait a whole month for the second part, but I also hope the wait pays off and is worth it. It’ll be interesting to see how the group of students move forward in their journey with how the first part of the drama concluded. They have exemplified resilience and strength after all that they’ve been through together, but the journey and war isn’t done just quite yet.

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