Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 2nd 2008
Step Up Love Story
Sub.DVD 2 - To Have and To Hold
NOTE: Certain aspects of this review may get a little too graphic for younger or more prurient readers.
Being married and now getting sex on a regular basis has not tamed Makoto's libido at all, as he still finds himself fantasizing on a regular basis about Yura and other women, while Makoto and Yura's single neighbor, who also happens to be Makoto's second cousin, has fantasies of her own. An invite to join a neighboring couple on a trip they won via a lottery offers new concerns, opportunities, and inspiration for expanding the sex life of the newlyweds, which in the process indirectly helps their neighbors overcome an intimacy issue. Later, Yura's desire to go to work as a waitress gets Makoto all hot and bothered in more ways than one, especially when he sees the enticingly short outfit she wears on the job. Meanwhile, Yura's little sister Rika finds herself unwillingly caught in one of her own sex games.
A 2001 survey of 28 countries by a prominent condom maker found that Japan ranks dead last – and by a wide margin – in terms of the frequency with which its citizens have sex. The same survey indicates that Americans, by comparison, have sex 3½ times as often, which should explain why a series like this one, which dates to the time of that survey, will play out differently for American audiences than Japanese audiences. While most American viewers will regard this series purely as a sex comedy, to the Japanese it may play out more as a humorous look at actual social issues.
Suggestions of that can be seen in the first volume but become more prominent in the second, where episode 3 begins with the declaration that the neighboring married couple on one side of Makoto and Yura's apartment has not had sex in over a year (and when they finally do it's for “old time's sake”) and the single woman on the other side is a 30-year-old virgin who apparently dedicated herself to her career. The sexual status of all three plays prominently into the plot of that episode, which also deals with the frankness with which adults discuss sex in a casual setting and Makoto and Yura's efforts (or lack thereof) to have sex without drawing outside attention to themselves. Episode 4 also addresses social issues probably much more common to Japan than current America, such as the dynamics of a young married woman working vs. purely being a housewife and what effect that has on both her husband and their sex life; Makoto's mortification at his wife being too tired to have sex with him in one scene is priceless, but his concerns about his wife being exposed to temptation are a serious issue. Some American viewers may also find the power dynamics in Makoto and Yura's household, where Makoto is almost always the initiator of sex, to be a bit uncomfortable.
For all their issue-oriented subtext, episodes 3 and 4 still have their share of humor. Much of it centers on Makoto's vivid and elaborate fantasies and how much he still has to learn about how young women think, although the sexual learning curve he and Yura are on has them spying on another couple for pointers. The way Rika and her boyfriend interact in episode 4, and how she got herself stuck being his “love slave” for a day due entirely to her own lack of carefully considering a gift she gave, is also good for a few laughs. And how can you ignore a line like, “why do I prematurely ejaculate in my fantasies?”
Of course the series would not be what it is without the sex. Clothed sex, unclothed sex, blow jobs, fellatio, fingering, cosplay fetish, numerous different positions, orgasm scenes – you get the whole boatload, but thankfully no S&M content. Toss in a good amount of nudity, panty shots, sexy costumes, adult language, and the occasional “banana representing penis” reference and you have a wealth of explicit content. It never shows quite enough to warrant a Hentai classification but certainly deserves a Mature/Adult rating or the equivalent. That the second volume still only carries a 16+ rating continues to boggle the mind, as the content goes well beyond the frequent nudity that normally earns such a rating.
Character designs arguably look best in the cosplay segments and always seem to put a little extra effort into portraying nudity. Designs for established characters remain constant with the previous volume, while new cast members look good and offer a wide diversity of looks. Background art and coloring has improved slightly, but exterior renditions of planes and trains look weak and stand out too distinctly when animated. Passable animation is usually at its best in the sex scenes, showing clearly where the series' priorities lie. The breakdowns in rendering quality occasionally seen in the first volume do not recur here, which may have something to do with a different director for episodes 3 and 4. The musical score also works a little better in this volume, as it even manages to help make one of the late Makoto-Yura sex scenes feel more endearing than exploitive.
Extras are even sparser on this volume than on the first one, as nothing beyond company trailers are included this time. The inclusion of a “Setup” option on the main menu which has no options seems rather pointless since Anime Works' release of the series has no English dub.
Overall, the second volume displays a slight improvement over the first. Its production values have upgraded a bit, it continues to be more frank than any non-hentai title in its talk and treatment of sex, and it actually deals with some issues while still delivering lots of fan service. The sex is too integral to its make-up for it to be worth watching without it, but mature viewers may appreciate the title also known as Futari Ecchi for more than just that.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Minor across-the-board improvements, lots of fan-pleasing content.
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