Review for Junjo Romantica Season 1
Good golly! There are so many manga and anime sub-genres that it’s almost impossible to keep up. Some I get, like ‘Mecha’ and ‘Harem’ but what on earth is ‘Josei’ or ‘Isekai’ for example? No – don’t answer. It was a rhetorical question, but you get the point. So when I expressed some confusion about whether I liked ‘Juno Romantica’ or not (primarily as it seemed to involve an older, bigger man forcing his affections on a younger, smaller, schoolboy-ish one) , My Reviewer’s Animeister, Jitendar Canth’s reply was “You have to remember that the Yaoi /Boy Love genre is aimed at women, and conforms to certain stereotypes and clichés, one of them the Uke / Seme dynamic” (Uke being a smaller, younger male and Seme an older, taller one).
Hold on, I thought. Are you suggesting that male on male romance in manga and anime is principally aimed at women? What next? Heterosexual men getting pleasure from watching lady lovers together? Ah. Possibly time to move on.
So ‘Junjo Romantica’ was my first watch of a ‘Yaoi’ anime and I must confess, I was intrigued. Having anime reflect gay relationships in a fun, entertaining way is absolutely a good thing of course and should be applauded. But hailing from 2008, now a full decade ago, its conceit is, however, slightly unnerving. It kicks off with the seduction of a youngster by an older man, and some of the scenes stray from normal definitions of consensual. That said, it’s entirely possible that I’m in danger of missing the point with an overly uptight point of view. After all, it transpires that both sides of the relationship are very attracted to one another. But I’m digressing without giving you a clue as to what the series is about.
The anime series is based on a very popular ‘Boy Love’ manga Shungiku Nakamura that preceded the series by 5 years and still goes strong to this day. It traces the ongoing relationship between a naïve young (18 year old?) student, Misaki Takahashi, and a 28 year old novelist, Akihiko “Usagi” Usami.
The story starts with Misaki arriving at Akhiko’s for some tutoring to help him pass the exams necessary to get a placement at University. It turns out that this was at his older brother’s (Takahiro) request. Akhiko has unrequited feelings for Takahiro and agrees to help the youngster as he knows that it’s important to him. After all, Takahiro raised Misaki himself after their parents died in a car crash a decade earlier and was himself unable to attend University.
Misaki’s grades improve and he gets his place but when Takahiro suddenly announces his engagement to a young lady, he sees that it is a terrible blow to Akhiko who can scarcely hide his upset.
Misaki senses his disappointment and bursts into tears, showing the older man a caring side that he finds attractive. He invites the youngster to live with him in his luxury apartment, and eat all their meals together, in order to continue his tutorship. He also wastes no time in trying to seduce Misaki in a most persuasive manner.
For his part, despite his protestations and fears, Misaki is attracted to Akhiko and before long, allows himself to be ‘seduced’.
It also turns out that Misaki is ‘inspiring’ Akhiko’s sideline in erotic fiction, finding the narrative running a parallel to their real-life together. He is both flattered and outraged, an on-going state of affairs in these first episodes of the series and the source of most of its humour.
The narrative thereafter loosely follows three key themes, based around three gay relationships. The first is the continuation of the romance between Misaki and Akhiko (Junjo Romantica).
The second (‘Junjo Egoist’) follows a childhood friend, and former lover of Akhiko, Hiroki Kamijou, now a University Professor in literature. After he and Akhiko broke up, he started a relationship with a younger man, Nowaki Kusama, who was also orphaned as a child. As a result, Nowaki is keen to ‘give something back’ to the orphanage that saved him, and studies Medicine as a result.
The third theme (‘Junjo Terrorist’) follows a university colleague of Hiroki’s, You Miyagi, who is subject to unwanted affections from his younger ex-brother-in-law, Shinobu Takatsuki.
There is a modest, ‘slice of life’ style overlap between these entwined stories but in truth, they remain pretty autonomous for the most part, making them easy to watch and follow – somewhat like a soap opera, which would be a not unreasonable descriptor for the programme.
Once you get used to its style and humour, it becomes very watchable and it's easy to see how it became so popular. That said, for me, the show was a little slow moving for my tastes and, as an almost action-free zone, may not be to everyone’s tastes.
I also tend to watch anime with the English dub when one is available (sorry Jitendar) but no such purist worry here as there is no English option. It’s Japanese all the way, with optional English subs which, to be fair, are easy to follow.
Having watched the series hot on the heels of ‘K – Return of Kings’, which looked spectacular in HD, ‘Junjo Romantica’ was a visual disappointment. When I groaned about the image quality, which falls way short of HD Blu-Ray, Jitendar explained: “…it's a show that comes from the HD gap, those few years when anime stopped being animated with cel and paint, and instead on computer for SD resolution. Hence the Blu-rays are upscales of an 480 line source at 60Hz interlaced format.” Which explains why, despite this being a Blu-ray release, it looks little better than a decent DVD at best. It’s also not the most sophisticated animation you’re going to see this year either. Even by 2008 standards, this is unspectacular, if passable.
There are no extra features worth getting excited about either. Just a few trailers for other shows and textless opening and closing sequences which always seem a bit pointless to me.
Overall, ‘Junjo Romantica’ is a decent enough slice of life, romantic soap that just happens to be about two men in love. Or maybe make that six. But it’s also a series that fails on a few counts, some of which may be attributed to it now being a decade old (although some of the tech is cute to see – were we really still using floppy discs just ten short years ago?). These first 12 episodes were certainly easy viewing, if, for me, not the most exciting release of the year.
However, I also applaud the fact that a gay subgenre exists at all in the world of manga, albeit intended for heterosexual females, which has got to be a good thing in terms of universal acceptability and normalisation. This show may not be for everybody but if it sounds like something you’d probably enjoy, then you most probably will.