Bloom Into You
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Bloom Into You ?
Bloom Into You is at its best when it blooms beyond yuri genre clichés, and episode 7 is one of the strongest examples of this yet. It does what even a lot of other realistic anime romances don't, by deepening a romantic rival. I think some anime romances are hesitant to do this because it might potentially make the false lead more sympathetic than the intended canon couple, but it's always more satisfying when stories refuse to reduce everyone to genre stereotypes. With this episode, Sayaka may now be the most relatable character—or at least, the most relatable to the disaster lesbian writing these reviews. It's a huge jump from the two-dimensional mean girl she was before.
Sayaka had a previous lesbian relationship when she was in middle school at an all-girls' academy for wealthy girls. A senpai approached her and confessed her feelings, and they became girlfriends. The relationship fell apart when the senpai graduated, and Sayaka pined away for her, hoping that her girlfriend felt as lonely as she did. Unfortunately, her senpai has "moved on" from "fake relationships" with other girls, insisting that it's all "just a phase." Even as she stumbles out a confession that her senpai was responsible for making her believe it wasn't just a phase, she seems determined that the same must be true for her. She chose a co-ed high school in hopes of forcing this, but she just ended up falling for Touko instead. Sayaka is gay, and nothing is going to change that. Her senpai might also like boys and be able to "move on," but she can't.
So far, Bloom Into You's world has felt like a relatively accepting one. It's still fairly realistic, but the characters come off as more modern-day progressive teens rather than the homophobic stereotypes you see in most yuri and BL or the kinds of kids I went to high school with a decade ago. They aren't too fazed by Touko and Yuu's obvious developing romance, and characters treat the possibility of two girls falling in love as just as plausible as a boy and a girl. At the same time, there's some real-world homophobia creeping in from the sidelines, like Yuu's dad's hesitancy over her dating another girl. Sayaka's story feels like a way to deepen that realism in a way that's both true to the history of the genre and also seems like it could be true for Japanese teenagers.
Even as the world becomes more accepting of LGBT people and same-sex relationships, there's still a lingering belief—even in ostensibly progressive circles—that a same-sex relationship is less "real" or "adult" than a boy/girl relationship. Lesbians in particular struggle with the idea that they just haven't "found the right man," and far too much popular media still backs this up. I myself struggled with the idea that even for people who accepted it, being gay still wasn't "normal," and I wanted to be normal. This is why Sayaka's struggle still rings so true for us today.
Of course, the "just a phase" belief also has a particular resonance and history within the yuri genre. There's a whole anime (Yuri Kuma Arashi) specifically about deconstructing this idea, and the harmful impact it has on young queer women—especially when coupled with the stereotype of out lesbians being "predatory." In the past, it was a way for "Class S" stories, as they were called, to sell well enough and avoid the furor of censors, just as it was with lesbian pulp novels in the U.S. Either the lesbians die tragically or they "get over it" to find "proper" heterosexual relationships. It reinforces the idea that gay people don't get happy endings, except by renouncing their queerness.
So it's really important that Bloom Into You specifically sets out to debunk this. It goes beyond Sayaka's own story to show us something that Class S stories deny exists: happy adult lesbians. Teacher Riko Hakozaki turns out to be in a relationship with Miyako, the owner of the café that's so popular with students at their school (or at least the student council members). Hakozaki-sensei likes to keep the relationship hidden though, calling Miyako a "college classmate" in front of the students and scolding her at home about revealing too much when she said "welcome back." But then they show us the two openly kissing, and Miyako admits to Sayaka that Riko is her girlfriend when Sayaka comes in with her own gay woes.
Bloom Into You presents this "girlfriend" name drop pretty naturally, not as something especially momentous or revealing. (It comes after the kiss, which does get some soft romantic lighting.) Still, it struck me as a bold choice, because of how rare it is to see happy grown-up lesbians in yuri. While BL shows male/male couples from a variety of ages, the Class S stigma—plus the increased marketing toward moe-loving male audiences—still hovers over anime lesbians enough that most yuri still focuses on teens. I kind of want a spin-off about Riko and Miyako's relationship now. Their presence feels like a clue that the author of Bloom Into You has real-world LGBT concerns in mind.
Actually, quite a lot of Bloom Into You suggests this. The struggles Yuu has with her level of explicit sexual desire and the difficulty she and Touko have in defining what kind of relationship they want feel like struggles real kids may go through. But having sympathy for her rival takes this the extra mile. Sayaka is in the tragic position of finally finding another girl who she finds attractive and shares her sexuality—but who doesn't return her feelings. She remains in denial about this, continuing to believe that Touko doesn't love anyone and denying the developing romance right in front of her. Sayaka's heart will be in free-fall once she figures this out, and now I trust this show to be there to help her pick up the pieces.
Yuu and Touko's relationship receives comparatively less development and focus, other than the momentous decision to refer to each other openly by first names—which puts the club in a tizzy. (Sayaka's denial is on full display when she suggests doing the same for Yuu, earning her a weirded-out face from Touko.) The most important detail about them this week is what Yuu reveals during her conversations with Koyomi about Touko. Koyomi wants to know Touko's faults, but Yuu can't find anything she can tell her. They're all either secrets or things Yuu wants to keep to herself for her own reasons. She even mentions that while they're not "officially" girlfriends, they already have so many secrets between them that it often feels like they are.
Bloom Into You has been slow and meandering in its build-up, in keeping with the title. That's made it hard to get into sometimes, since Yuu and Touko just don't have the burning passion between them that makes other fictional couples pull at your heartstrings. They're getting there though, from the new first-name basis to Yuu's gentle teasing this week. And the show earns even more investment by deepening its other major characters. I really hope this isn't the last we see of Miyako the Lesbian Mentor, because these girls need her.
Bloom Into You is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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