The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Super Lovers ?
What is this?
16-year old Haru didn't want to travel out to the wilderness to see his estranged mother (although he has missed her pack of therapy wolf-dogs), but his father assured him that he's the only one who can help in her time of need. Fearing the worst, he rushes hundreds of miles to her forest cabin and runs smack into the source of her woes: his new little brother Ren. The feral 8-year old was adopted from an orphanage where Haru's mother takes her therapy animals, being almost completely non-verbal with a suspected history of severe abuse. What little he does speak is Japanese, so it's up to Haru to try and civilize the bitey little brat. He can't spend his whole life with a family of dogs in the woods, after all! As the summer months pass by, Ren gradually warms to Haru until they're even comfortable snuggling together in the same bed. Of course, once the new semester rolls around, Haru will have to go back to Japan, but even as time passes, he can't get his wild yet kindhearted new brother out of his head. Super Lovers is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Wednesdays at 2:05 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Super Lovers caused some anime fans to collectively throw their hands up the moment legal English streaming was announced. The key artwork showing a full-grown male protagonist and his elementary-aged adoptive brother with the title SUPER LOVERS emblazoned across the front raised its fair share of eyebrows. I've been told, and the episode preview seems to suggest, that the young Ren will age up in future episodes to 16. This doesn't really matter to me, because the romantic relationship pushed in the show is founded in childhood grooming, purposefully looking at what would otherwise be normal male familial affection through a subverted sexual lens.
To draw a well-known comparison: there's a reason a large contingent of readers didn't like the ending of the Usagi Drop manga. The idea that a character is raising their future sexual partner strikes a nerve. It also colors all of Haru's actions in a poor light. When he makes Ren's lunch, or takes him fishing, or shows him any kind of genuine concern that would usually be endearing, the back of my brain says “yeah but as soon as he's post-pubescent, he's going to have sex with him.” Similarly, any time Haru does something nice for Ren to build his trust, the camera switches to a romantically charged gaze from the young boy. The entire episode feels disingenuous with these obvious undertones. Pair that with a child-abuse subplot and the entire thing has a disconnected, grimy feel to it.
The amount of animated yaoi, especially television series, is sorely lacking. There's certainly an active market, made all the more obvious by the number of technically sexless shows (especially sports) that explicitly cater to fujoshi. It's even more disappointing when the options are so slim that fans have to choose between something as uncomfortable as this or nothing at all. Personally, I can't abide something that sexualizes male familial affection, something that's already a huge problem outside of fiction. The central relationship here is built on something that would continue to bother me over the course of the entire show, so I'd rather simply go without yaoi for another season.
Ahhhhh. AHHHHHHH. AHHHHHHHHH.
Alright, I think that covers my sequence of reactions to SUPER LOVERS. We are very, very far into the deep end of fujoshi fetish-pandering here. We have arrived at the stories that actually fetishize child abuse. I'm frankly a little surprised this one got licensed for streaming, since I'm not sure the western market has fallen far enough down that hole to support this one. But we're here, we're watching it, and we're just going to have to deal with that.
SUPER LOVERS is a story about Haru and Ren, two “brothers” separated only by the bounds of society and maybe fifteen years of age, give or take. The episode's first half could possibly imply that this is going to be a show about found families and learning to trust and all that jazz, but the opening song gives the game away - this is a story where Haru and Ren's relationship is actually going to be played for romance, massive child-adult age gap and crazy relational power differential notwithstanding.
So. Your ability to handle or even jive with that will pretty much dictate your reaction to this first episode, because it moves pretty swiftly from “they're just bonding” to Haru stealing kisses and licking cream off his little bro's face. The show doesn't look particularly good, and the first episode doesn't really offer any narrative hooks, so that's pretty much what you're getting. As far as actual characterization goes, it's basically impossible to parse any of this episode's “brotherly” moments as emotionally true - I mean, the premise of the show is that Haru is essentially grooming a child for abuse. Any potentially endearing moments can't possibly hope to overcome the weight of that overwhelming fact; both knowledge of the premise and the ways these scenes play out make SUPER LOVERS legitimately uncomfortable to watch.
If your particular kink is “adult man becomes the keeper and eventual lover of an unwitting child,” then I suppose SUPER LOVERS scratches that particular itch, complete with occasional shoujo sparkles and murmurings about the beauty of Haru's eyes. I cannot imagine anyone else finding anything to watch here.
Jacob Hope Chapman
Alright, let's all calm down and breathe for a second. Despite the above rating (which I'll get into later), this isn't quite as bad as you're probably imagining. Honestly, Super Lovers is pretty boilerplate for yaoi standards. If the plot summary, character designs, and recent bouts of internet outrage didn't already tip you off, yes this is a yaoi anime about two not-blood-related brothers who meet when the younger one is eight years old and eventually become a couple when that little brother turns 16. Yes, the levels of ick get deeper and deeper the more you think about the ramifications of that whole situation.
But that aside, the execution of this first episode (and I've sadly seen enough yaoi to guess at every plot point going forward with alarming certainty) is about as conventional for yaoi as you can possibly get. Of the two stock uke types we could have gotten for an age gap this size, Super Lovers draws the tormented wild boy version, which means the seme will be paternal and caring, if a little foppish and exuberant. (If the uke was the slightly more common super-feminine-worrywart archetype, we would probably have a more emotionally damaged, stern, and dominating seme instead.) It's a tale as old as shonen-ai, and the only reason Super Lovers has drawn so much ire while its equally uncomfortable peers go unnoticed is because of the title being juxtaposed with the key art: "Super Lovers" next to an 8-year old in a 16-year old's lap is pretty damn ill-advised.
For those familiar with yaoi tropes however, nothing untoward is gonna happen to Ren while he's still a child. The idea is that the two brothers will bond when he's a wild boy, and he'll go out of his way to "choose" Haru when he becomes a civilized "adult" (16). Seriously, I'll eat my shoe if Ren doesn't pursue Haru relentlessly despite the older one's misgivings because Super Lovers's schtick is indeed much older and more rote than you might believe if you haven't seen much yaoi. Going into the psychology of why this fantasy appeals to girls is a fascinating topic all on its own, but I won't bother going into it here, just rest assured that while Super Lovers is gross, it's not really much worse than other yaoi titles like last year's three-quel to Junjou Romantica: the "50 Shades of Grey" of yaoi, which adopts that other more common seme-uke dynamic I described above.
Anyway, this first episode of brotherly bonding is mostly inoffensive, but of course it doesn't work as a story about two boys healing each other's familial wounds either. Just like most other yaoi titles, the leads act like weird puppified fetishes for girls instead of real men, gay, straight, or otherwise. Even ignoring that you know these two are gonna bone eventually, these characters are too plasticine and romanticized to get invested in, for the same reason that otaku shows with super-moe high school girls that hug each other just a little too much don't tend to work for broader audiences either. These weird facsimiles of how repressed teens see the opposite sex just don't cut the mustard for anyone but their target audience. But like I said, this wasn't really offensive by yaoi standards despite its premise, so I was about to give Super Lovers a pass...
...And then 16-year old Haru kissed 8-year old Ren right on the mouth (under the guise of it being a "greeting" in Canada, no really). Never mind, this is the very worst, avoid at all costs unless you're really committed to yaoi entertainment at a level some might describe as "in too deep."
Welcome to the show that takes two of the most uncomfortable romance plots and combines them! Yes, Super Lovers manages to take both the (pseudo) incest and the spouse-raising tropes and adds in a big age gap for good measure, presenting it as the start of a presumably super romance. If none of these are your preferred romance settings, this may not be the show for you. Not that this first episode does much beyond hint at what's to come – Ren and Haru's first meeting in beautiful Canada (home of Welgreens Pharmacy, which I found really funny for some reason) takes place after Haru's presumably biological mother has adopted Ren and invited Haru to visit for the summer. Ren's basically an enfant sauvage, spending all of his time outside with the family huskies and sleeping in the garage with them while his new mother basically has given him up for lost, making me wonder how child services hasn't taken him back to the group home already. Haru, of course, is the only one who can tame the savage child, tempting him with decent food and kindness.
If this were setting up to be a father/child story, the set-up of this episode would be really sweet. Ren has clearly been abused at probably one than one point in his life, and Haru is the first adult who appears to be kind without ulterior motive – at one point Ren thinks that the nice ones always turn out to be the scariest, which certainly would imply that he was lured into something sometime in his past. This makes the fact that the story is BL and that Ren and Haru will eventually become a couple instantly uncomfortable. Will Ren feel somehow obliged to Haru and try to “repay” him? The fact that Haru is the one taking care of Ren in his basic everyday needs throughout the episode already sets any romantic relationship up as unequal, and that looks to be exacerbated by the fact that this episode ends in what appears to be a horrific car wreck right after Haru's dad and stepmother make veiled references to bringing Ren to live with them. Haru stands to become the parent figure for Ren and the other two stepbrothers who live at home in Japan, so I'm having a really hard time seeing how this story is going to pull off “romantic.”
Projections of the future aside, this episode itself is just sort of mediocre, with the highlight for me being the sheer amount of dogs in it, and it's pretty sad if that's the best part of a story that's not about dogs. Haru doesn't get much character development or backstory, so we don't know how he ended up living apart from his mother or why she's so insistent on being called by her first name. He just sort of wanders around the episode, taking care of Ren and having a grand total of one slightly important flashback about how kids used to make fun of his eyes in school. He takes things to a creepy level towards the end of the episode when he gets sick and asks Ren to snuggle in bed with him, later kissing him on the mouth. He brushes it off with “that's how they show affection in America!” and Ren rightly points out that you don't do that to a sibling by smooching them on the mouth. Apparently Ren isn't too freaked out, because he does crawl into bed with Haru, but the whole thing just feels uncomfortable.
It is entirely possible that Super Lovers will manage to convert all of these uneasy and vaguely icky feelings into something much nicer – I've read enough uncomfortable romances that have won me over in the end to totally rule that out. But the combination of the three factors I mentioned at the beginning may make this one harder to shut off your sensibilities for than if just one of them was in play. Add in the fairly bland character designs, standard scenery, and unremarkable animation, and this isn't quite worth the effort to get past the things that make it uncomfortable.
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