The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide Love Stage!!
Jul 9th 2014
Rating: 2 (of 5)
Review: 18-year-old Izumi Sena comes from a long-entrenched showbiz family, but his only experience in the ‘biz was a bit part he played in a wedding commercial as a child – as a girl. Despite pressure from his parents and their agent, he is actually an otaku with aspirations of being a manga-ka, though he doesn't want to admit that he has no talent for it. When a call to make a 10 year anniversary of the original commercial, featuring the original actors, comes up, he flatly refuses, partly because it would mean dressing up as a girl again and partly because the original experience was what discouraged him from pursuing show biz in the first place. But he gets bribed into it, and as it turns out, the other boy his age from that commercial, one Ryouma Ichijou, has gone on to become both quite the stud and quite the hot actor but has always had a thing for that little girl he co-starred with. Naturally he doesn't know that Izumi is a girl, and no one (as of the end of the episode, anyway) seems inclined to reveal the truth of Izumi's actual gender.
The premise here actually has some amusing possibilities, and the first episode does generate at least an occasional mild laugh, but that is about all that it accomplishes. While Izumi does convincingly look like a girl once made up, he certainly doesn't sound like one (if his male seiyuu was trying to sound feminine, he utterly failed), and his character design in both male and female form is distractingly unattractive. In fact, that is a general problem in the series for both male and female characters; features are too angular or just look odd, such as that bizarre thing that is supposed to pass for a moustache on Izumi's father. Overall story execution feels like it is more concerned with pandering to its audience than actually involving itself in compelling – or even vaguely interesting – storytelling, and the point where the episode cuts off is very awkward. The episode does do a few things right, as it sets up the background for where Izumi is coming from reasonably well, but in the end it isn't a promising start to either a BL series specifically or a romantic series in general.
Love Stage!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review:After sitting through my fair share of yaoi and shonen-ai romance anime, I'm convinced that the genre's biggest stumbling point is that too many of the stories lack a compelling hook. The problem is twofold here. The yaoi manga that have more bizarre, unique, or high-stakes romance are often too weird or sexually explicit to get mainstream anime adaptations. The ones that are more milquetoast do get adapted, resulting in bland, passable fare that only boys' love diehards will take an interest in.
Love Stage!! does not have this problem, and it's much better for it. Poor destined-to-be-uke Izumi was born into a showbiz family and is terrified of the limelight, preferring to hole up in his room and draw comics. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, however, he is forced to take center stage in a commercial for a bridal magazine, and he has to play the bride! (It makes perfect sense in context, I promise.) The groom for the ad is supermodel and TV actor Ryoma, who has already taken a shine to Izumi, and has just the right personality to calm his nerves on camera. There's just one problem: Ryoma is developing feelings for Izumi, and has no idea that he's a guy. The premise is simple, weird, fun to watch, both leads are already likable, and the show has a good sense of humor in a genre often rife with self-serious melodrama.
Another problem Love Stage!! doesn't really have is the no-budget problem. It's a pretty cheap show, but in comparison to its shonen-ai peers, it looks like a million bucks. (Those boys' love designs are still kinda weird and ropey and they always have been, though.) Having largely stepped over those two biggest hurdles of the genre, Love Stage!! is shaping up to be a cute little romance with maybe a broader potential audience and a little naughtiness on the horizon for later.
Uh oh, that reminds me. All the sexual assault that pops up in yaoi isn't great, either. After doing some research, it looks like the source manga for Love Stage!! has exactly one non-consensual scene in it, that is followed up on with consequences and framed as A Bad Thing, which sounds like damning praise, but when it comes to yaoi, the pickings for assault-free content can be slim. The best-written yaoi anime I've yet seen still opened with a rape scene and was built on a largely non-consensual relationship. (Junjou Romantica. The main relationship, and half the show, is terrible, but the two side relationships are unique, consensual, and compelling.) So Love Stage!! may be better than its peers in this regard, but audience should still be warned about what they're getting into.
If you consider yourself a fan of romance but not necessarily yaoi or shonen-ai, I would still recommend giving Love Stage!! a chance, provided you can get past the art design and the possibility that there might be one rapey scene in the show's run. It may not have the good looks of Blue Spring Ride for instance, but the content is already miles more entertaining, and the cute couple much easier to root for.
Love Stage!! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: The reviewerly cliché in this situation would be that “Love Stage isn't just a good BL romance but rather a good romance, period.” It'd be nice to use the cliché, but also untrue. Take away the BL, and really, Love Stage isn't terribly special. Its strength is in using same-sex love to add interesting complications to what is essentially a very standard showbiz romance. The central couple meets while filming a commercial for a wedding boutique. In it the young boy and young girl catch a bouquet at a wedding, implying they'll be a couple when they get older. The boy, an actor, goes on to some fame and fortune. The girl grows up to be an otaku and aspiring mangaka. The boy is, and remains, in love with the girl. They are reunited years later when the boutique invites them to do a ten-year anniversary commercial. Love blossoms. Yawn.
Now, change that girl into a little boy whose high-powered showbiz family “volunteered” him for the girl part. Suddenly there are some interesting tensions in the formerly blah tale. The boy, Ryoma, has no idea that the girl he's thought about all these years is really a boy. The “girl,” Izumi, is understandably clueless about Ryoma's intentions. What will Ryoma do when the masculine truth hits? What will Izumi do when Ryoma's affections become obvious? Those are developments we'll tune in to see. It doesn't hurt, of course, that the series has a fine sense of humor (Izumi's manga-drawing skills are a hoot, and his stage fright is hilariously handled) or that the series shows a certain amount of grace and restraint in revealing Ryoma's feelings. On the other hand, Stage has yet to stage a single emotion that isn't either flat or undermined by its sense of humor, and the character designs are often too self-consciously pretty. It'll still do to stick with though.
Love Stage is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Ten years ago, Ryouma and Izumi were in a commercial for a new wedding magazine. Izumi remembers it with dread – not only did they make him dress up like a girl, but he also made a total mess of things and he recalls it as the moment he decided against following the rest of his family into show business. Ryouma, on the other hand, still has a picture of the “girl” who was in the commercial with him. He hasn't said anything about it yet, but it's clear that he's been harboring a crush on “her” for all of this time, so when the opportunity comes to see her again, he makes sure that it will happen. (He has no idea that Izumi had to be bribed to appear in another commercial...) It may not be an auspicious start to a romance, but it sure is a good way to start the BL series Love Stage!
Probably the most impressive part of this introductory episode is the way that we can infer Ryouma's interest in Izumi without him saying a single word about it. His body language, his actions, and the way Takuma Eguchi delivers his lines all do a terrific job of implying everything. Likewise Izumi's body language helps to convey his general discomfort. There isn't a lot of fancy animation, but Izumi's posture and the way Ryouma leans towards him give us the implied information we need to get the romance started. Watching Izumi in relation to the rest of his family is also quite interesting – he shrinks into himself while they sparkle, stand out, and just generally use bigger gestures. His mother comes off as annoyingly ditzy, but that's the only major sour note.
There's something a little off-putting about the character designs, although I'm having a hard time putting my finger on precisely what that is. Thick lines seem to be used where they don't need to be, but it goes beyond that. The most obvious problem is Izumi's father's mustache, which looks like it's been stuck on with glue...and that it's slipping. That aside, this is looking like the most promising romance of the season with a more likeable couple than in Blue Spring Ride and a generally more charming feel. If it can keep it up, we may have a winner.
Love Stage!! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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