actually, there are some like that.
i can't remember the titles off the top of my head... but there was one on colors and one weather that were heavy on the vocab. the banking story that's currently running is all function-based and heavy on banking vocab. the notorious "destruction of nature" lesson was also heavily vocab-based. there are others that escape my memory at the moment. but generally speaking, tho, if a lesson is heavily vocab-based we try to keep the vocab in the pdf (and in the review track for the newer lessons). the reason for this is, past experience has shown that just listing related vocab makes for a boring audio lesson. so for those interested in related vocab, we mention some important ones in the podcast and list it in the pdf & review track for those who want to expand their vocab.
as for the stories that I like...
personally, i like funny stories. but i try to tell the writers to keep keep a balance.
i think variety is key.
Personally, I'm fine either way, but a serious, down-to-earth one every now and again is nice. I liked the old 中級 lessons with Chigusa and Yoshi; she was a lawyer and he was a taxi driver, they travel back to Chigusa's hometown, I think there was some mysterious pasts lurking around (I've been meaning to catch up with how that ends).
One thing I was wondering about when listening (wannabe writer's brain gets going at the wrong times), while the subject of stories is up: Are the basics stories thought up first and the lesson's main grammar point added later, or do you pick some aspect of grammar first and write a story around it?
My favorite were the LONG intermediate series: the first set with the college grads taking their trip to Okinawa, ending up in jail, having to hire a lawyer, getting sexually harassed by that lawyer, getting another lawyer to bail them out and then having that second lawyer run away to Hokkaido with her cab driver. That was great. (It got less good later on when it went all syrupy and sappy.)
I also liked the Agnes Murakami series.
There was something of the Soap Opera quality of those series that kept me coming back for more. I wanted to learn Japanese, sure, but part of you actually gets emotionally involved with the characters and then you also kind of want to listen just to find out what happens next.
You don't seem to do many of those lately.
Also, re-listening to those early Intermediate stories, I can't help but feel like the teaching was both more ammateurish and more thorough. Obviously Piitaa-san had less practice, so lessons would often run long or get sidetracked. But grammar sections were more thorough and used more examples.
This could have something to do with Naomi sensei's increasingly prominent role. She is a *great* teacher. But she's also much more professional than Natsuko-san. That's a good and a bad thing. A lot of the slightly manic edge of the early lessons came from the sense that you were making-this-up-as-you-went-along. It was weirdly fun that way.
Recently, lessons are much more polished. Less time is wasted. The instruction is more concise and precise. But it also feels a bit more shrink-wrapped, not as fun.
Oh my, the things you miss when you don't listen to the Bonus Tracks! I totally hadn't heard Agnes's demise until just now! Yow!
Anyway, crazy stories are alright, but variety is the key. Some crazy, some fun, some functional. For instance, it seems like you keep threatening to run a series or two on common news and journalism phrases to help us all with NHK newscasts, but they never come. How about it?
And I really hope the soon-to-die characters are from the Karoushi series...DULL as hell!