Bloom Into You
Episode 5

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Bloom Into You ?

One of the best moments of this episode of Bloom Into You was when it suddenly became Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san. It opens with Yuu working at her family's bookstore and recalling all her friends' book-buying habits. One loves manga; others are more "serious" and prefer literary magazines or academic journals. It culminates in Touko approaching the counter with a lesbian romance title, with Yuu worrying that Touko is judging her reaction. While we knew that Yuu's family worked at a bookstore before, this really digs into how working there has shaped her as a person. This scene finally does a little something I wish Bloom Into You had done episodes ago: give Yuu a personality.

I think that's key to why I've struggled to connect to Bloom Into You's central romance so far. Yuri anime characters can sometimes feel more like ciphers than real people. Arguably, that's part of the appeal; as with BL, the reader needs to be able to project onto the protagonist to a certain degree, which is harder to do the more distinctive you make their personalities. But Bloom Into You feels like it wants to challenge itself with a more realistic slow-burn romance, where its characters struggle with a different set of teenage feelings than the usual "BUT WE ARE BOTH GIRLS!" melodrama. The problem is that slow-burns require both characters having interesting personalities. Both Touko and especially Yuu just feel like too-perfect archetypes. Thankfully, that's starting to change; on Touko's end, with the slow reveal of how nervous and hollow she feels outside of her Type A class president role, and with Yuu, smaller touches like her love of reading and connections to other friends are beginning to show. I hope Koyomi's writing aspirations go beyond this episode, since that's definitely a way we can see Yuu outside of who she is with Touko.

We also get more and more clues that Yuu does indeed return Touko's feelings on some level. Maki's continued role is the most obvious one; there's no trope quite like the "friend who sees what's happening before you do" to put wind in the sails of a romance. Even if Yuu hasn't realized what she feels yet, Maki's observations ensure that the audience does. The fact that Maki seems totally disinterested in romance, still insisting that's not really who Yuu is, pushes this point further. I think what Yuu struggles with is is related to "love languages"—affecting how she feels love as well as how she expresses it. Not everything will feel like the pounding, doki-doki, passionate love, but it's clear the way that Yuu is always thinking of Touko means something. I wish at this point she'd realize what that is though, because five episodes in, this particular plot is starting to drag.

I also struggle with if I'd find Touko's behavior creepier were she a boy. She seems to have accepted that Yuu feels differently than she does, but she continues to push for the possibility of a relationship. At the same time, there's also an aspect of her that feels achingly familiar if you were ever a crushing teenager, especially this week, when she goes to Yuu's house and gets to sigh over her crush's pillows. When Yuu says her sister bringing her boyfriend over shows how serious they are, you can feel Touko's excitement at the implications for her and Yuu. This is a lot of what sells Touko as a character, since she's been a bit of a cipher so far too—even if that's changing faster than it seems to be with Yuu. At least Bloom Into You gets the feelings right, even if I sometimes wish I cared more about the result.

I talked a little about the music last week, but I really want to discuss it further, since it's a key part of what makes this show work so well. Also, its absence from the first part of the episode gave it a weird over-seriousness, while its bouncy, playful return made the second half feel all the more fun and refreshing. Bloom Into You has a pretty prolific anime composer working on it: Michiru Oshima. Oshima is likely best known to anime fans for her work on the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, possibly her most eclectic anime score, and more recently for the Little Witch Academia soundtrack. She also worked on the recent Masaaki Yuasa film The Night is Short, Walk On Girl and its TV predecessor The Tatami Galaxy, which are the scores that Bloom Into You's music reminds me of most. For someone with an extensive catalog in both anime and live-action Japanese film, Oshima's scores often sound similar across different shows (again, with Fullmetal Alchemist being a notable exception). Despite that, she shapes them to each individual show's world. It makes sense that Bloom Into You would sound like another slice-of-life series with a slight romance focus, but Oshima's music still fits into the show's gentle world more than Tatami Galaxy's madcap one. She varies it just enough to fit it in, and the result is a score that elevates what could be a more pedestrian yuri series into something more special.

Still, Bloom Into You has a long way to go before it can be truly great. It needs to do more to develop its main characters, especially Yuu, beyond genre archetypes. That will make the moments when they do get more affectionate all the more satisfying. Yuu and Touko already feel like far more realistic teenagers than many other yuri characters, but the story just needs to go that extra mile to become a great romance in its own right.

Rating: B+

Bloom Into You is currently streaming on HIDIVE.

Rose is a Ph.D. student in musicology, who recently released a book about the music of Cowboy Bebop. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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