Junjou Romantica Season 1 Establishes Conflicted Couples (Review)

Anime: Junjou Romatica (Season 1 Blu-Ray)

Released By: Right Stuf / Nozomi Entertainment

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Retail Price: $54.99

Anime series often cover a variety of relationships with no boundaries, (heterosexual, homosexual, young, old, etc) but the anime series Junjou Romantica manages to cover a few topics: age gap relationships and same-sex dating. The series is technically a Yaoi genre series which means it’s primarily an anime that in essence focuses specifically on gay men (also famously known for garnering a serious female fan-following.) Junjou Romantica is a prime example of one of these anime with a dedicated following, earning itself the rare third season benchmark after years of being one of the most discussed and widely known Yaoi titles.

Junjou Romantica (created by Shungiku Nakamura) begins with the story of three “couples” that the series focuses in on for it’s entirety, all representing different relationships in a spectrum of personality types and relationship viewpoints. The primary couple focused on in the first season (and in general) is comprised of Misaki Takahashi and Akihiko Usami. When we meet Misaki, he’s in preparation for college, very eclectic and in need of some help. His brother enlists the mind of Usami to tutor Misaki and a connection between the pair begins to blossom – but not your traditional relationship most definitely. With nearly a 10 year age gap, Usami begins to show an interest in Misaki (who is unsure of his feelings initially) and before you know it, Misaki and Usami are navigating through their peculiar relationship while trying to deal with their own baggage.

Misaki’s past is faintly explored in the first season, informing us that at the age of eight, he had lost both of his parents in an accident and only had the family tie of his brother, who he respects tremendously. Dealing with the guilt of his parents death (he had felt responsible because of rushing them home) he witnessed his brother decline his dream school to raise his younger brother – making Misaki want to prove himself as some useful (cleaning, cooking, etc.) As a young adult, Misaki decided he wanted to attend the school his brother was supposed to, but with the help of his brother’s friend Usami, a complication arises that could cause conflict with the three despite the brother not being majorly present in the series. Usami (a famous author for BL) is questioned when his feelings for Misaki’s brother are brought up, even through the medium of his work. That begins another major aspect of Junjou Romantica’s plot – is Misaki just the second best to Usami because of his family ties?

Though Junjou Romatica is the title given to Usami and Misaki, there are two other pairings that make up the series and offer a more stable dynamic to some capacity. There is the first, being Nowaki and Hiroki are called Junjou Egoist. Hiroki is a professor in his late 20’s who tends to be blunt, and a little on the tsundere side. Opposite him is Nowaki, mid 20’s who grew up in an orphanage and is probably the most genuine, kindhearted and cumulatively the best character the series has to offer. He has instances where he feels insecure about Hiroki’s relationships with others, which adds to a crossover with Usami – whom Hiroki once had a feelings for. Despite the tension and vast differences in personalities, this pairing is one to watch for as the most real life-like couples that face struggles that can surface in two very different individuals.

Lastly, the third pairing the first season introduces us to is known as Junjou Terrorist, made up of a young man named Shinobu and a much older (actually nearly double his age) Miyagi. When Miyagi divorced his wife (Shinobu’s sister) Shinobu was certain it was the time to act on feelings he had felt for his former brother in law for several years. First of all – major betrayal to a sibling, just saying. He is positive that they are meant to be together although Miyagi doesn’t have that same reaction. With Shinobu going above and beyond to prove his love, Miyagi begins to open up to the chance of something between them – creating another complex relationship that the series offers up for its viewers.

Junjou Romatica gives gay men a chance to be at the front of a story in anime (not often done) but a major part of that is for the fan-service sexuality attributes that the usual audience hopes for. There are some deeper themes that include insecurities, morality and if love truly does conquer, making Junjou a series that dabbles in expanding a Yaoi’s expectation – as best seen in the less adult based series Sekaiichi Hatsukoi. The animation and voice acting are taken seriously, meeting the expectations set by fans and now being a Blu-Ray, Right Stuf and Nozomi Entertainment have given the series a new visual peak for all die-hard fans and those who might just want to give Junjou Romantica a chance. Check out the series on DVD and Blu-Ray from Right Stuf!

Overall Score: 7/10

Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

– All for a Nowaki centered spin-off series.

– I like the formula of depicting multiple couples in different episode installments to space out the storytelling.

– The more “adult” parts to Junjou are my biggest gripe, as one of the rare few who are in it for the storyline.

The Betrayal Knows My Name Is An Anime With Drama, Romance and Supernatural Fun

Image result for the betrayal knows my name hotsuma

Anime: The Betrayal Knows My Name

Relased By: Funimation

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Retail Price: $59.99

Once in awhile, an anime series comes along that is full of surprises, and the series The Betrayal Knows My Name is certainly one of those rare instances. Originally based on manga by Odagiri Hotaru, the genre-bending series brings drama, gothic/supernatural and romance into one with sprinkles of action to add even more variety in the series makeup. The Betrayal Knows My Name starts off by introducing us to the meek and “kind hearted” Yuki Sakurai who is a young man who was abandoned at an orphanage and developed a mysterious ability that made him tuned to other emotions via physical contact. It takes a toll on the protagonist, who doesn’t have any recollection of his family or prior life (past lives are an important part of the plot), but his life begins to change after encountering a stranger shrouded in mystery.

Yuki begins to become hunted by “Duras” or evil entities, showing him a side of the world he wasn’t aware existed. With Yuki thrown into new danger and a power that is still growing, the mystery man by the name of Luka becomes Yuki’s best bet to survive whatever is coming and discover what his past life entailed. Shortly after, Yuki discovers he’s one of the Zweilt Guardians intended to protect humanity and demolish the duras. The other guardians have been watching over him, but Yuki is the only one who can’t recall the past — but is viewed as their beacon of hope in the battle against evil. Even though Yuki wants to stay alive and piece his past together, his former childhood friend Kanata has a past that will pit friend against friend.

Now that you have a grasp on the general storyline of The Betrayal Knows My Name, it’s time to elaborate on the series’ recurring elements. The anime definitely caters to an audience that would appreciate two anime directions; the first is drama and or angst. There is plenty of time spent on conversations that may or may not happen — for example, if portions of the past should be divulged or emotions laid bare. The second aspect that would be worth mentioning is the overarching Shounen Ai genre (with innuendos on same-sex romance that sometimes are in the open). It doesn’t teeter into the graphic series that some would be considered (Freezing, Junjou Romantica) but tries to showcase an importance of the bonds between two male characters in multiple pairings. By using Luca as someone who loves by soul/essence, the series tries to abandon concepts of designated sexuality and embrace love in general.

 In a series with many interesting characters, Yuki is probably the least interesting to focus on. He requires consistent saving, makes poor decisions and often endangers individuals without even realizing it. He additionally fulfills cliches and stereotypes, but, despite Yuki’s occasional annoyance, there are actually plenty of others who carry the extra weight with more positive attributes. His romantic interest (though still considered subtext, they say), Luca, plays the opposite bad-boy role because he’s a leather-clad Duras who more than anything and was madly in love with Yuki in his former life as a woman. Even if Yuki is reborn a man (just as female Yuki wished before dying), Luca will do whatever is necessary to stay by his side creating an undying love and respectable loyalty.

 Of the other Zweilt Guardians, the two that could easily receive a spinoff series of their own would be Hotsuma Renjou and Shusei Usui. Hotsuma was abandoned young and viewed as a monster for his fire-starting ability, often disagreeing with Yuki, who has an opposite persona. Being left behind and feeling cut-off, Hotsuma decided he would end his own life feeling completely alone. At that moment, Shusei stopped him from killing himself and was left with a drastic burn scar in return. Feeling entirely connected to Shusei after seeing his feelings, he dedicates his life to protecting his ally and soulmate without deviation. With Hotsuma finally abandoning his feelings of being a monster, a decision is made that adds true drama and suspense that was arguably the best storyline in the anime. As far as the resolve goes, I won’t give anything away, but I will say that Hotsuma and Shusei together are all around the best aspect of The Betrayal Knows My Name.

The animation quality from The Betrayal Knows My Name is striking while welcoming dark atmospheres. The character designs are above average, with the only oddity being the fashion choices for select characters (looking at you, Luca). The Japanese voice cast does their best work in those moments that capture highs and lows of emotions, so there aren’t any gripes with the production value of the anime series. The plot of Betrayal may not have too much invested, and the lead isn’t the best example of the series, but there are enough avenues to explore with memory and particular characters that make The Betrayal Knows My Name an anime that is more than meets the eye.

Overall Score: 8/10

Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

  • I genuinely admired the relationship dynamic between Shusei & Hotsuma; they felt like crucial puzzle pieces to one another and the anime’s success.
  • I would say Luca and Kanata (who were arguably evil by nature) were more interesting than Yuki.
  • Tsukumo and Toko (sibling Zweilt Guardians) didn’t get mentioned above, but I did want to acknowledge the brother and sister were other supporting roles that filled contributed to positive reception from Betrayal.

World’s Greatest First Love Embraces Different Depictions Of Love

Anime: World’s Greatest First Love (Complete Series)

Released By: Funimation

Release Date: March 7, 2017

Retail Price: $59.99

Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi, also known as World’s Greatest First Love, is a “boy’s love” yaoi series that shares a universe with the precursor manga/series Junjou Romantica. Both originally began in the early 2000s but went on to be incredibly different series. While Junjou had taken a more explicit turn towards the genre, Sekai tried to keep things filled with romance and make a name for itself outside the shadow of Junjou. World’s Greatest First Love focuses on Ritsu Onondera, a 25-year-old editor for Marukawa Publishing under the Emerald branch opposite a 27-year-old Masamune Takano, the tough editor-in-chief of the publishing company. The major twist between the pair — they actually have more history than meets the eye.

As we begin to learn about Ritsu, we watch his flashbacks that show he fell in love during high school with an upperclassman that seemed unlikely to begin with. The man actually turns out to be Takano, but that is something that Ritsu doesn’t immediately realize from this encounter years later. When Ritsu does recall the brief relationship between them, his old feelings come rushing back and Ritsu has to sort out his take on what they had then and how to move forward. It begins to take a stroll down a path that asks if one’s first love can be true enough to stand the test of time and the changes accompanying it. The series doesn’t only follow the love story of Ritsu and Takano but brings a group of characters in (including two pairs) that have relationship dilemmas or complications to deal with, too.

The dynamic between Ritsu and Takano is certainly the primary struggle of the series, often proposing the infamous ‘will they, won’t they’ shaky ground love stories explore. There may be occasions where it can appear to be repetitious, but with each internal debate comes some growth and recognition — just through slower motion given the two seasons eloted. Of the pair, Takano seems to be the more grounded one, offering fair explanations on past doubts or conflicts with Ritsu usually misunderstanding situations or jumping to conclusions. Some of the issues can spark a variety of thoughts and opinions on what the two have, but the chemistry was something World’s Greatest First Love lived up to crafting for a series that makes a bold title claim. An episode that gives us an idea of Takano’s perspective on a critical moment brings the series full-circle and resolves any questions viewer’s might have about Takano after many chapters covering their journey.

The anime tackles other same-sex relationships, as well, and the most notable is actually between 28-year-old Yoshiyuki Hatori, who is an editor with a secret admiration for childhood friend and manga artist, Chiaki Yoshino. Hatori isn’t as predictable as the other trope-ish characters the genre can contain, and, even though Chiaki is flawed, oblivious and overly flirtatious with multiple people, he can’t help but feel what he feels for the artist. The love triangle may be something that has been covered relentlessly, but this particular trio tends to steal the spotlight from the focal couple. In many ways, Hatori is one of the best inclusions of World’s Greatest First Love, but, with so many characters, there isn’t always enough time to divide between everyone.

The final pairing that plays a big role in the two-season love series is Shouta Kisa, a 30-year-old editor with a reputation for attracting men and a manga salesman by the name of Kou Yukina, who is 21 and a large fan of Kisa’s work. At first, he seems to think Kisa is younger based on appearance, but the two form an unconventional bond where they quickly develop strong feelings that confuse Kisa regularly. The anime series utilizes three very different examples of love that fit the boy’s love genre and (mostly) avoids delving into anything too graphic. Sure, the anime is still a romance/genre at its core, but there are enough roles to have one resonate with you.

The animation includes strong similarities between their characters provided, but the eyes seem to have specified focus with larger attributes and changing through emotional moments. The general art ranges from pastels and spring colors in their offices to more bland settings in the everyday life. Overall, the animation doesn’t disappoint during the two seasons, with a select number of scenes that still stand out as memorable for writing and art combined. The opening and end themes for World’s Greatest First Love become engrained in your memory for creating catchy tunes, and, finally, the Japanese audio of the anime fits uniquely well — with the exception of some awkward moments because of the occasional adult nature. I would definitely recommend World’s Greatest First Love to anime fans who can appreciate drama, love, or open-minded depictions of love stories that don’t generally come from Japanese animation. If you’re willing to check it out for yourself, both seasons are finally available from Funimation on DVD.

Overall Score: 8/10

Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

  • I liked that it strayed from Junjou Romantica and surpassed the source material.
  • The lack of spotlight on being provocative should be appreciated.
  • Sekai will probably be the best example of a same-sex relationship (as the central plot in a series so far).