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.

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Love Stage!! The Complete Series Review

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Anime: Love Stage!! (Complete Series)

Released By: Sentai Filmworks

Release Date: June 14, 2016

Retail Price: $59.98

Once in awhile, much like a prophecy – an LGBTQ themed anime comes along and is met with overwhelming love, which was directed at the anime and manga series Love Stage, licensed for a home release by the selective anime distribution company Sentai Filmworks. Love Stage was created as a yaoi series (boys love) that attracts endless fangirls to root for a romantic relationship between two men, but Love Stage tries to add an different element to this one, being fame and a gender mix-up that is also the biggest introductory plot points that kicks off the comedic romantic drama. Enter Izumi Sena and Ryoma Ichijo, the two central characters in Love Stage that play love interests with a childhood connection.

Izumi Sena comes from a coveted family with deep roots into the entertainment industry (his older brother is a singer/songwriter who also benefitted from the parents fame) however after Izumi’s stint with child acting, he no longer sought out to be involved in the business directly. The incident that made him shy away from the limelight was an embarrassing moment while filming a commercial (the gender mix up mentioned earlier.) Now as an adult, Izumi places his passions into manga where Izumi hopes he can find his niche as an author/artist of his own manga. Izumi lacks the motivation to maintain steady grades in college and isn’t sure if his hopes will pan out, but things change as Izumi is approached to reprise his role in partnership with a mega-star to Japan. That very commerical happens to be the experience Izumi hated, having been mixed up with a girl – and the man who played the young boy in the original still is under the impression that Izumi is indeed a female.

Opposite Izumi is Ryoma, who took a slightly different path after the commerical many years ago. Ryoma pursued a career in entertainment which eventually paid off and solidified Ryoma as one of the biggest stars around, but he always maintained that soft spot in his heart for the “girl” he encountered all those years ago in a small commercial. When Ryoma strikes at the opportunity to cross paths again, he can’t help but eventually find out the girl of his dreams is none other than a guy – hence the yaoi genre of Love Stage. The initial reaction is realistically confusing for a seemingly heterosexual man, but Ryoma has to start questioning his feelings and the possibility that he may have just fallen for Izumi the person, regardless of the gender.

Now that you know the bigger aspects of who they are individually along with the decision to see what is possible for the pair – you might think it’s a touch of romance already, but many times it is suggested to be a more physical attraction on behalf of Ryoma. It’s a new sensation for both, but it does tend to gravitate towards less of a bond and more of a manifestation of physical intimacy. It wouldn’t be appropriate to say they didn’t bond or have deep moments, because there was certainly growth between the two – such as the support for one another’s passions and persistence of considering the other’s feelings, so it does tend to balance out when they add something more than the traditional yaoi storylines. Realistically I couldn’t necessarily see this playing out as a genuine relationship, but taking it for an unconventional romance and some comedic threads in its makeup makes it a journey that will have something genre fans will enjoy or induce nose-bleeds.

Love Stage is an anime series that from strictly a visual aid – one could assume plays into stereotypes (which it sometimes can) but it is also a ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ situation that has more to offer. When talking about LGBTQ themed anime series, there are more negative representations than positive, but Love Stage finds some genuine fun and bond building in the midst of the female catered fanservice. The animation of the series has plenty of colors to make it feel like a lively production, with character designs rising above the average series for it’s entirety of 10 episodes. Though there is no english voice cast, the Japanese produced series has a cohesive relationship to solidify it as a careful series with plenty of fun to be had visually, comically, and sometimes even romantically.

Overall Score 7/10
Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

– The comedy behind the manga creator storyline was by far my favorite recurring joke throughout the series.

– Ryoma made a few choices that concurrently made it difficult to see him succeed, but the pairing did make more sense by the end of the series.

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

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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.