I know what you’re thinking – why would I watch a stupid Shounen Ai, where a guy likes/loves another guy, I’m not a sexually insecure teenager after all! Well, I’m not going to convince you. If you don’t shake off that attitude, there’s no reason, really… Me particularly, I’m pretty fond of the psychological approach to anime characters and I thoroughly enjoy a nice romance, no matter the gender. I also have a deep problem with “useless presences” in the plot. What I have in mind is the girl often seen in Shounen anime that is just getting caught and yelling for help, endlessly repeating the name of the lead character (you know at least one example I have in mind). There’s no such girl in Shounen Ai. Just a bunch of characters figuring themselves out.
Before getting into the story, created by Shungiku Nakamura, I would like to stress on the fact that Junjou Romantica is the highest rated Shounen Ai anime everywhere it’s published. How can you ignore that? For me, the reason for the ratings comes with the fact that, unlike most anime focused on same-sex romance, Junjou Romantica actually has full-blooded characters and a charming plot.
What’s all this about? Young Misaki Takahashi is a struggling student, preparing for entrance exams. His brother Takahiro really wants him to succeed, so he contacts his childhood friend, heartthrob, genius and an award-winning writer Akihiko Usami and asks him to be Misaki’s tutor. Later on, we see Akihiko is a serious handful for the 18 year-old boy, being in love with his older brother, a plush toys aficionado and a total spoilt brat, estranged from his family… The funny thing is that you actually believe the characters, their emotions and reactions, because everything comes really natural. The story development never stops as new characters are added to the initial ones. We see Akihiko’s frantic editor Eri Aikawa, Minami (Takahiro’s fiancée), the glamorous women, surrounding the successful writer and many, many more.
The problem with Junjou (at least for me) comes when we switch to the other stories. The series actually present two more couples, which are, even though connected in a way, totally different from each other. The switch takes a bit of the psychological portraits and is quite confusing for me, but it can be easily explained. It’s the first part of the series and it’s normal for the author to be willing to present all characters and start all stories. I also believe that not everyone will like best the same plot out of the three, so the “story switch” might turn out to be a good thing afterall.
One of the other two couples is represented by Kusama Nowaki and Kamijou Hiroki. Kusama is an orphan, who’s used to fight his way in life, working on several jobs and being a student. One day at the university park, he meets Kamijou – a literature professor and a childhood friend of Akihiko, who used to be in love with the now successful author. Nowaki’s really into his new tutor, but the two of them have lots of trouble with their utterly different characters and the ghost of the one-sided love from the past.
The third story in Junjou Romantica also takes place in a university’s literature department. This time it involves “straight as an arrow” divorcee Miyagi You, who used to be married to the dean’s daughter. Ironically enough, this sunk in depression literature professor, meets up with Shinobu Takatsuki – his ex’s younger brother, who develops a deep affection for him.
Finishing up the synopsis, I would like to end the review with some conclusion. That’s exactly what I’ll do by telling you why you would like or hate Junjou Romantica. You can love it because it presents interesting, individual characters and gives you an inside on the life and thoughts of people you might never meet. Because it shows relationships that differ from the ordinary ones, you can ask everyone about, because it makes you laugh and think at the same time. My otaku love also goes to Shungiku Nakamura for the exceptional artwork she created and for the serious amount of bishounen “invading” the screen…
You can hate it because it’s not action packed and it’s really focused on character development. Just like in real life, the story sometimes runs slow and focuses on details that, if you’re not into, will make you skip some minutes. It’s also focused on same sex relationships, so you should definitely avoid it, if homophobic.
Before I go, let me add this, there ARE some moments where the action gets a bit steamy and the moral ones amongst us can get really, really embarrassed. Since it’s not Yaoi, there are no visual sex scenes, though, but be warned – love is not platonic.
Review by guest-writer: Death Scythe (thanks, dear!)