OP: 「LΦVEST」 by SCREEN mode
「ユメヘノトビラ」 (Yume He no Tobira)
“The Door To My Dreams”
I came into intro’ing this show with low expectations. Even with all the good signs, I came in with the intention, “this isn’t for me.” Twenty-two minutes later though, I feel both absolutely happy and slightly confused at the same time. Let me tell you guys about LOVE STAGE!!, the show that you just might have to try.
Before we begin, let’s remove any ambiguities out of the way. LOVE STAGE!! is a BL show. There will be guys who are physically close and there will be kissing between males. It’s called Boys Love for a reason. If you cannot get over that fact due to homophobia or personal distaste, then the time to exit is now. However, ironically and slightly hypocritically, I don’t consider myself a BL fan in the slightest. In fact, I’m probably so ill-equipped to really introduce this show that I’m afraid I’ll offend the BL lovers with my inexperience. However, I hope that in doing so, I can provide a unique perspective into what makes this show great.
To summarize quickly, the show revolves around Sena Izumi (Yonaga Tsubasa), a college student who cannot see himself entering his family’s long heritage of acting and performance. Due to his nervous tendencies in front of the camera, Izumi instead is interested in becoming a mangaka, despite his terrible skills at it. However, Izumi finds himself participating in a commercial for a bridal magazine as a girl, thanks to his mother’s casting of him in a similar commercial (as a girl) ten years ago. Here, Izumi meets superstar Ichijou Ryouma (Eguchi Takuya), who also acted in that commercial ten years ago. Ryouma, who still thinks Izumi is a girl, is excited to meet Izumi’s pretty face and stellar eyes after ten years. What follows next…well you’ll just have to watch.
Normally, this would just be another Shounen Ai show that appeals to an increasingly lucrative BL fan audience, yet there are two hints that are promising. First, the manga itself is highly rated material, where people praise just how darn funny and cute the scenes are, as well as the interesting focus on a more youthful shoujo focus rather than a more mature Josei art style. Second, Kasai Kinichi is the director. I can say without a doubt, this guy is more than qualified to lead this project. Among his more popular directed works are all three seasons of Bakuman., Honey and Clover, Major, and Nodame Cantabile. The guy isn’t even new to same-sex romance either, having directed Aoi Hana just a few years ago. Considering his success and experience both in romances and comedies, one can only wonder what kind of work he’ll shape LOVE STAGE!! into. With the scriptwriting power of Yokote Michiko, this duo-team may surprise us with their efforts.
Now that the first episode is out, how did it fair?
Hilarious. Balanced. Likeable. To top it all off, a trap Izumi that made me question myself, just as Hideyoshi in Baka to Test did many years ago.
The reviews weren’t lying. This stuff is funny, so much so that I was in disbelief that Shounen Ai could tickle my funny bone this much. Some romantic comedies only use comedy as a lazy counterbalance to the drama; LOVE STAGE!! does not fall into this camp. Fans of mistake-driven comedy, rejoice! Izumi’s failure to draw straight lines, his religious otaku worship of Lala-Lulu, and his clumsiness in a skirt make for cute and laugh out loud moments. These jokes are timed and executed well, while often employing the use of mascot bears for humorous exaggeration.
The art is nice and vibrant, with cleanly drawn lines and excellent use of exaggerated drawings. There are only a few animation errors here and there, with every other close-up a pleasant vibrant sight. The only concern should be from the angular faces and defined lips; a small barrier for the uninitiated. The first episode sets a high benchmark for the potential of the show–let’s cross our fingers that it stays that way.
Pacing and plot are done well, focusing more on Izumi through a light-hearted comedy with a splash of dramatic setup. Though Izumi gets the most exposure, his actions throughout the episode exposure the side characters nicely; so far, most have established themselves as likeable. It was pleasant to see a rich family portrayed without much negative connotation–Izumi’s family is good-natured and wants the best for him. The wealth they have is utilized more for establishing the setting than anything else. Sagara Rei as the manager (Hirakawa Daisuke, the same Rei from Free!) does a good job in providing the counter-balance to the lighthearted nature of the family, though he is slightly stereotypical in his role. In conclusion, the show finds a nice beginning balance to the romantic comedy formula; it makes us laugh while laying down the bricks for later.
However, what can we look forward to from here and why should ‘outsiders’ care to watch?
To answer the second part, there’s a simple answer–it’s funny and not overly BL. That’s clearly a subjective and personal measure that varies for everyone, but in my experience, the BL wasn’t all in-your-face, at least for this episode. In comparison to some of the more popular and highly rated Shounen Ai series out there, this is much more tame. The love plays a balanced part within the story for sake of progression and emphasizing Izumi’s cute nature. Most of the time the focus is on creating funny scenarios that often involve Izumi’s adorable suffering in scenarios he unwittingly gets himself stuck into. Eventually we’re going to see moments where Izumi and Ryouma bond, but more for the sake of character development rather than outright physical intimacy. This ends up striking a ‘BL’ anime that is more accessible outside of its target audience, for those who can appreciate its comedic style and sweeter romantic themes.
As for what we can expect from LOVE STAGE!! on a plot-wide level, there are already hints on taking the ‘forbidden love’ route. This is a common theme within the sub-genre, no doubt about it. Despite that, what makes LOVE STAGE!! different is its introduction of the trap element. For what we can guess right now, Ryouma is attracted to Izumi the girl, rather than Izumi the guy, which will eventually result for one rude awakening at some point in the show. Seeing how Ryouma and Izumi navigate through their conflicted feelings as well as the stigmas against same-sex relations may be old hat for the intended audience, though for newcomers such as myself, LOVE STAGE!! provides a moderate foray into this less tread on path.
In the case that I do take up this show for blogging, it’ll be a struggle to interpret what’s a standard trick in the genre book and what new concepts it cooks up. However, no matter what, I think I’ll be following this show from here on out, just to clarify what keeps me on the boat. Is it because I like joking about being a trap? Is it the absolutely cute elements? Only more episodes will tell at this point, but I hope many of you from both sides of the gender aisle will join me in watching this possibly underrated gem of the season.
So what will you do, dear reader? Will you open the door?
All homophobic trolling will be promptly deleted. Thank you for your future consideration–let people watch what they want to watch. 🙂
ED: 「CLICK YOUR HEART!!」 by 山本和臣 (Kazutomi Yamamoto)