by Rebecca Silverman,
Wait...is this the end? Ridiculous as that might seem, particularly given that episode eight was essentially a clip show, this appears to have been the final episode of Love Stage. It is a good one, but that doesn't quite take the sting out of the fact that we don't get more of the story.
In any event, this is a packed half hour. Fortunately for our hearts, the cliff hanger is resolved quickly, but not before things get very tense and uncomfortable. It does say a lot that the fact that Izumi is feminine in appearance makes the thugs feel that they have the right to assault him – and assault him they do. This is actually the absolute most uncomfortable moment in the entire show, with the thugs getting turned on by Izumi's look of girlish helplessness and plenty of bad touches. That it is meant to be a catalyst for Izumi to realize his true feelings for Ryouma doesn't excuse it, although watching Izumi ultimately save himself because of his newly realized love is pretty great.
Also excellent is the lack of the mysterious Blue Sky of Censorship, which definitely helps the episode to have a more romantic tone. Not that anything is really shown, of course – basically one foreplay scene that's fairly tame – but in some ways it's better to let your imagination do the work rather than contend with black bars of doom, sparkly mist, or the aforementioned blue sky. (Although I'm not sure how shots of Ryouma's kitchen help.) The aftermath is also pretty great, albeit for different reasons, as is Shougo's overactive “brother complex radar.” (We do get confirmation of the implied relationship between Shougo and Rei, which is a nice treat.)
Apart from the opening scene, most of the action takes place internally for Izumi. There's a wonderful moment where he has a brief conversation with Lala-Lulu, essentially telling her that he can stand on his own now and doesn't need to hide behind her. It's kind of a bittersweet moment, as he's giving up his fanatical love for her, but it also nicely illustrates the power that fiction has in our lives – she was there when he needed her, and if he needs her again, she'll still be there. But now he's ready to try standing on his own two feet and to love someone real. I've consistently enjoyed Izumi's interactions with the magical girl, and this small moment really brings it to a satisfactory and believable close as the otaku steps out of his comfort zone.
It really is a shame that Love Stage didn't run longer, but on the other hand, the brevity did make for a story told, for the most part, without unnecessary additions or drawn-out melodrama. Nicely animated, both sweet and funny, this episode, like the rest of the show, has its moments of discomfort, but overall is a fun and romantic story that brings things to a satisfactory close.
Love Stage!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rebecca Silverman writes ANN's manga review column Right Turn Only and teaches writing and literature at the university level.
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