Pending Train is a science fiction J-drama by Tokyo Broadcasting System that has just been added to Netflix’s increasing library of original Asian content. The plot follows a group of individuals aboard a particular coach of a train that mysteriously travels into a post-apocalyptic future. While Pending Train is filled with J-drama elements, its focus on an unnecessarily complicated love plot and stretched use of the melodramatic form mar the watching experience a lot. By the end of its ten hour-long episodes, one might be left contemplating how stretched the show is rather than the thoughts and emotions that Pending Train actually wants its viewers to have.
‘Pending Train’ Plot Summary: What Is The J-Drama About?
Season 1 of Pending Train begins on a sunny morning in the present year of 2023, when we see a set of characters rush to board a specific train in Tokyo. A young woman, Sae Hatano, is in focus as she reaches the platform and also notices her crush, Yuto Shirahama, at the same place. As the train starts, other characters are also gradually introduced, although we do not know any of their names yet. A middle-aged woman is happy to connect with a man on a dating site only because he is willing to date older women. A young man excitedly plays games on his phone and also looks forward to a session with friends later in the day. While a woman in her twenties shows no regard for anyone around her and goes about her own routine, another man is concerned about his current doctoral research in biology. Odd matters start to take place gradually inside the train, and most notably, a bottle cap mysteriously disappears from existence. An earthquake alert rings on everyone’s phones, and soon the train seems to crash against something.
When the passengers regain consciousness, they realize that their surroundings have starkly changed, as there is no sign of the Tokyo cityscape. It is only their coach that has come into this strange place, which is just barren forests and landscapes with no human beings anywhere at all. Gradually, as the passengers make acquaintances and then go out to explore the place, they realize that their train coach has somehow traveled into some alternate time and space. Meanwhile, in Tokyo in 2023, the authorities found that the entire train coach got detached from the train and then mysteriously disappeared somewhere since no trace of it was found in any of the underground tunnels.
What Do We Learn About The Different Characters In The Train Coach?
Pending Train spends a significant portion of its duration establishing its characters and the emerging bonds between them as the group of survivors spends struggling days in the strange land together. As this place later turns out to be the dystopian future, more about their backgrounds and their lives before the train incident gets revealed. At the center of the show’s narrative are three characters: Sae Hatano, Yuto Shirahama, and Naoya Kayashima. Sae is the same woman first introduced on her way to the train station, and she works as a PE teacher at a local school. As a character, Sae is quite positive and helpful to everyone around her, as she is hardly deterred by any negative situation. Over time, it is revealed that Sae does not actually feel the most comfortable at her workplace because nobody acknowledges her existence there. She regularly tried to communicate and be closer to her students, but nobody seemed to like her. Despite such a situation, Sae did not give up trying, and at present, she also reminisced about her students and her workplace at the school.
Yuto Shirahama is a fireman by profession, and he is the most confident and positive person in the whole group of survivors. It is Yuto who encourages people to find solutions to their situation, and he is the one to first discover the source of drinking water at the place. Even more so than Sae, Yuto does not ever consider the negatives around him and is always excited to find new ways to help people. It is his utmost concern in life to help those around him, particularly to save them from danger, and it is this concern that drives Yuto in life. However, there is a serious reason for the man being this way, as a horrific truth from his past is revealed. While dealing with a deadly fire in a building, Yuto made a misjudgment, and his decision to open a door would have engulfed him in flames. In order to save him, a senior colleague named Takakura pushed him aside and got burned himself. Because of this incident, Takakura lost his ability to walk, and the man then asked Yuto to save everyone he could in his life from then on. Yuto had carried around the guilt of having caused another man such a serious injury, and it is to honor the elder colleague that Yuto is so determined to save others. The man’s resolve is such that he does not mind putting himself in trouble in order to save other people. At the very end of Pending Train, Yuto has an emotional meeting with Takakura too.
The third character, Naoya Kayashima, is undoubtedly the most interesting, for he is haunted by a feeling of abandonment and distrust. Unlike the other two, Naoya is extremely skeptical of everyone around him, and he can hardly ever notice the positive in any situation. From a young age, Naoya knew what it felt like to be abandoned, for his mother had left him and his young brother alone with their abusive father. Naoya then moved away from his father’s house with his beloved brother Tatsuya and raised the young boy by himself. As expected, the elder brother had to work very hard as a hairstylist to earn money for the two boys, and because of this, Tatsuya spent most of his days alone. This, in turn, resulted in the younger brother getting mixed up with a bad crowd, and Tatsuya committed a major crime as a teenager and was sent to juvenile prison. Although Naoya still loved his brother and wanted to reunite with him, he could not do so as he got transported to the future on that very day when Tatsuya was being released from prison. Naoya always believes that he will let people down if he promises to stay by them, and this is the reason why he hesitates to express his interest in Sae, despite knowing that the woman likes him.
Along with these three, a set of other characters are also introduced in Pending Train. Rena Watanabe, the young woman who acted rather selfishly at the beginning, is a nail artist by profession. She was also very used to the pains and negatives of life, and for this reason, she never wanted to return to her original reality. Daichi Yonezawa is a young man obsessed with video games and illustrations, for he is genuinely passionate about both arts. Despite his parents believing him to be a loser for making video games his profession, Daichi wants to become an illustrator and graphic designer in the industry. Shodai Kato is a graduate student in a doctoral course, and his expertise in biology and botany helps the group of survivors massively throughout the time. Koharu Sato and Kazuma Eguchi are high school lovers who mostly stick with each other throughout their time together, and Koharu is then also revealed to be pregnant with Kazuma’s child. Kayoko Terasaki is the CEO of a successful company, but she can hardly ever give time to her family, particularly her young daughter, for which she has many regrets. The group also contains Yaichi Tanaka, an office worker who gradually seems to lose his mind in the future, and the man seemingly gives up hope of safely returning to his original life. Among all the people, Tanaka is the only one to stay in the future and not attempt to return to the past.
What Had Actually Happened To The Group Of Survivors?
The whole extent of what exactly had happened to the two particular coaches of the train is later revealed in Pending Train through the character of a physics professor in Tokyo named Hasumi. On the day of the mysterious disappearance, there had actually been an earthquake, which resulted in the creation of a very strong gravitational force. This force triggered numerous small rocks that were parts of a fallen meteor, and this, in turn, opened up a time portal inside the underground tunnel through which the train was passing. This portal was open for a very short period of time, and only coaches 5 and 6 of the train passed through it during this time. Although the rest of the train remained unaffected, these two coach cars had warped into different time and space realities.
As the barren land is explored more by the survivors, they learn that they have actually traveled into the future, and it is now the year 2060. The world is so barren and empty because an apocalypse had taken place on Earth, wiping out every civilization and human life. In the year 2026, private space satellite programs had become a commonplace matter, and every developed nation was competing with each other in this regard too. But this excessive exploration of cosmic space was also leaving behind a lot of debris and waste from the satellites and rockets. One such piece of waste hit a falling meteor, and as a result of this, the meteor changed its course toward the Earth, plummeting down towards the planet. It was the strike of this meteor that wiped out all countries by the Pacific Ocean, and Japan was obviously decimated. While the train coaches had traveled forward in time, they were still in the same space, and the empty, barren landscape was Tokyo of 2060.
After much experimentation and findings, the group of survivors managed to realize that the small fragments of the meteor, which are similar to those in 2023, were the key to returning to their past. During a wild storm at the place, the small rocks managed to open up the time portal for a very short time, and the survivors took a clue from this. When the next storm hits and opens up the portal again, they manage to charge up the train coach with electricity from a nearby power grid and push the coach into the portal. This inevitably brings them back into the past again, but not exactly to their earlier lives in 2023. Instead, the group is transported back to 2026, a few months before the apparent meteor strike was about to hit Earth.
‘Pending Train’ Ending Explained: Can The Survivors Save The World In 2026?
After their return to 2026, the survivors are initially extremely relieved and happy to reunite with their family members. Pending Train spends nearly an entire episode presenting this reunion, and rightly so. But eventually, the survivors also decide to come together and warn the planet about the meteor that would destroy Earth in only a few months’ time. Although all of them explain to the authorities what they have learned from the future, nobody takes them seriously. It was initially considered that the group had gone through some shared delusion.
But a major breakthrough comes through a specific plant that Yoshihiro Kato brought back with him from 2060. The plant had been an experimental project, and it was supposed to grow many years into the future. A proper carbon dating procedure for this plant is done, and it is revealed that there was no chance it was from 2026 or any prior year. The procedure makes it certain that the plant is definitely from the future, giving a lot of credibility to the survivors’ story. Along with this, Daichi Yonezawa also publicly releases a video in which he talks about what exactly he and the rest of the group had witnessed in the future. This video becomes very popular on the internet, and gradually, as more people talk about it, the government is forced to take measures.
During this time, Professor Hasumi had also spotted a collision between space debris and a meteor, which had changed the gigantic rock’s direction towards the Earth. As a response, he and the government secretly shoot rockets toward the meteor to destroy it and avoid the apocalypse. However, it is probably not too clear whether this mission is successful in the end. Two scenes play out during Pending Train‘s ending, with the first showing Hasumi receiving a call from the government and looking very relieved, which suggests that the meteor has been destroyed and the world has been saved.
The next scene shows Yaichi Tanaka in 2060, finding a letter that Daichi had left for him in 2026. But as explained earlier in Pending Train, if the meteor crash could be avoided, then the world would take on a different path of reality from 2026, which would not have any connection with the reality seen in 2060. This was mentioned with regard to how anybody who stayed back in the future could very well not be contacted by anyone ever again if the apocalypse could be avoided. Therefore, Tanaka finding the letter must suggest that the apocalypse did take place, and as the world was destroyed in 2026, the letter left behind by Daichi ultimately reached Tanaka.
Therefore, in my personal opinion, Pending Train just shows the two different possibilities that could happen in the next few minutes as Naoya and Yuto discuss it on their way to the train station. Pending Train intentionally leaves its ending with uncertainty and instead focuses on the sure fact that Naoya and Yuto are now close friends who look forward to a life together.