Bloom Into You
Episodes 1-3

by Rose Bridges,

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Bloom Into You ?

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Bloom Into You ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Bloom Into You ?

It's hardly a new observation that yuri anime and manga rarely have much to do with an authentic lesbian experience. More often than not, the characters either jump at each other without any build-up or they never go beyond longing stares and hand-holding. Bloom Into You might not set the world on fire, but it already feels a lot more true-to-life than the average yuri adaptation. This starts with the story implied by its title, as our main character Yuu takes a while to return her senpai Touko's feelings. Bloom Into You is what fanfiction writers like to call a "slow burn," which is more rare in LGBT romance anime.

I've seen the heterosexual version of this story about a hundred dozen times: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, but girl needs to get to know him before she can finally return his feelings. But it still seems rare within the confines of same-sex romance. Still, we fall in love or lust the same way straight people do; it may have as much or as little to do with someone's personality vs. looks, but it usually involves getting to know the person at least a little before we can get there. The instant-love stories always felt as unrelatable to me as they apparently do to Yuu, even if she has yet to realize that this is normal to other people as well.

Lots of gay people do experience the "late bloomer" feelings Yuu contends with throughout these first few episodes. That wasn't my experience, but it's happened to more friends than I can count on both hands. They thought they couldn't experience any kind of attraction until that one fated friendship in their late teens that slowly evolved into something more. Seeing that specific side of romantic awakening in an anime is a gift. In a world where teens seem increasingly focused on labeling themselves rather than letting themselves experience things without jumping to conclusions, it's nice to see a show tell them that it's fine if they aren't where the other kids are yet. You might get there or you might not, but you'll figure things out in time. And not all great romance comes down like a lightning bolt from the sky. Love takes time.

Despite her insistence that she doesn't think she'll ever get feelings, to me it's clear that Yuu is already starting to catch them. She doesn't express it in the same desperate way as Touko, where she can't bear not to at least touch Yuu—but those feelings are still clearly there. Yuu is always thinking about Touko and looking out for her in ways that even Touko's closest friends do not. She finds herself hesitating as she does physical things like run her hands through Touko's hair(!) or blushing when Touko talks about what she wants to do together. She might not be totally on board with all this yet, but she is indeed "blooming into" her. Whether you want to wait forever for her to fully come to terms with those feelings will determine if you'll be on board for this particular love story.

Despite that, Bloom Into You is losing me a bit in what should be the cornerstone of any good slow-burn: the Unresolved Sexual Tension. Think of your favorite anime couple—Lawrence and Holo, or Tamaki and Haruhi, or Victor and Yuuri—who take time to get together across several episodes or even a whole series. What makes them tug at my heartstrings is all the little ways they inch closer and closer together, making that final push—if it ever comes—feel so satisfying. What frustrates me about Bloom Into You is that across three episodes full of that supposed tension (and the two volumes of the manga I've read), I've yet to feel that pull between them. I think that side of things comes less from Yuu's hesitance and more from Touko's end. Touko does have that instant love connection to her kouhai that makes so much yuri feel strange. We see by episode 3 why Touko likes her so much, given the way that Yuu listens to her without the expectations her other friends (like Sayaka, clearly harboring her own one-sided crush) put on her. But in the first episode, when Touko barely knows her yet? I guess it could be explained by "she's a teenager and teens be impulsive and horny," but even that doesn't answer the question of why Yuu specifically? It's something Yuu herself asks, and unfortunately, I don't have an answer for her yet.

Touko's insistence on pushing for a relationship with Yuu despite her lack of interest is also kinda creepy. I love when two people have to grow to love each other, but writers have to be careful not to imply that this is to be expected from someone who initially rejected them. There should be some genuine growth for these characters or a real misunderstanding between them. (Think Pride and Prejudice.) But Bloom Into You leans into this stumbling block instead.

In the scene between Yuu and her friends, where one of them recounts being rejected by her senpai, all of them encourage her to try asking him again when he gets "less busy with basketball." Yuu is the only one to protest, and the show frames it as just being because of her "late bloomer" status. She doesn't understand romance! But Yuu has a point. First of all, "too busy with basketball" is exactly the kind of bullshit excuse you give someone when you don't know how to tell them you just don't return their feelings (and excuses are especially common for 16-year olds in this position). A rejection is a rejection, and if you really love that person so much, it may be wise to accept it at face value. Lingering around waiting for them to return your feelings will just destroy whatever friendship you do have. Touko seems like she'll be the rare person who gets lucky, as Yuu does sincerely want to return her feelings (even if she seems so hesitant to acknowledge that she already does). But the fact that Bloom Into You seems to endorse that as a general attitude toward romance is worrisome.

I think that's why I feel such a mix of feelings about Bloom Into You. There's a lot of it that feels like a genuine kick in the pants to the yuri genre, which can feel unrealistic and fantastical at times. It feels like it genuinely wants to explore that there are more sides to love than what we see in shoujo manga. So I do have some worries about this story going forward, but there's a lot to be hopeful about too. I guess I'll just have to bloom into it and see where things go over time.

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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