Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi - The World's Greatest First Love
Seasons 1 & 2 + OVAs DVD
When he was in high school, Ritsu Onodera was in love with Masamune Saga, an upperclassman. Due to a series of misunderstandings and upheavals in Saga's life, the two went through an ugly breakup. Now ten years later, they're about to meet again – Onodera has just switched jobs to work as a shoujo manga editor and Saga is his new boss, under the family name Takano after his parents' divorce. Together, they realize that neither of them has gotten over the other, even if Onodera isn't willing to admit it. Can Takano convince him that they're still in love? Intertwined with their story is the tale of Shouta Kisa, a fellow editor, and his bookstore clerk would-be boyfriend, along with the efforts of Yoshiyuki Hatori to romance the mangaka he's in charge of, Chiaki Yoshino.
Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi - The World's Greatest First Love, based on the manga of the same name by Shungiku Nakamura, originally aired in 2011, but its 2017 release on DVD is surprisingly well-timed; as of this writing, all of the manga released in English to date has been animated. So when SuBLime releases volume seven of the manga in July, it will give viewers of the show a continuation of this story right from where the anime left off. Granted, of the three storylines represented in the show, only two of them are drawn from the manga – the Hatori/Yoshino plotline comes from a series of spin-off novels that are not currently available in English. Regardless, this is a fun and oftentimes sweet romance series, and though it's still plagued by some of the source material's nonconsensual themes, they are handled more lightly in adaptation, making this a more mainstream effort as yaoi series go.
The plot covers three intertwined storylines, all centering on the editorial department for the fictional shoujo magazine Emerald. Ritsu Onodera has just gotten a new job there – previously he was a literature editor for his family's publishing house, but he left seeking to prove that he was a talented editor on his own merits rather than simply being Daddy's Boy. He quickly learns that editing manga is vastly different from what he's used to, which is further complicated by the realization that his new boss, Masamune Takano, is also his first love, the boy he fell hard for and dated in high school. Since their relationship ended badly, he's less than thrilled to see Takano again, and he's even more dismayed when it becomes clear that Takano wants to start up their relationship again. Meanwhile, fellow editor Yoshiyuki Hatori is vying for the affections of Chiaki Yoshino, one of the mangaka he manages. Hatori and Yoshino are childhood friends (Yoshino publishes shoujo manga under a female pseudonym), and Hatori wants them to be more than that. Unfortunately for him, he's got competition from Yoshino's head assistant, a man named Yuu who has been in love with the increasingly flustered Yoshino since middle school. Finally, the third storyline follows another editor, Shouta Kisa. As the only character to openly identify as gay, Kisa has a cynical outlook on love, which risks souring his budding relationship with Yukina, a bookstore clerk who shares mutual affections with him.
This third storyline is in some ways the most interesting. Where the other men are challenged by rivals (in Takano's case, another woman, Onodera's fiancée) in pursuing their romances, Kisa's greatest rival is just himself. His own cynical attitude and history of one-night stands or purely physical relationships risks sabotaging his feelings for Yukina, as he convinces himself that it can't possibly work or be real, and this also sabotages Yukina's feelings for him, since Yukina has to fight against Kisa's grim outlook and disbelief in true love. Kisa consistently chooses the worst possible interpretation for everything that Yukina says or texts, or even for Yukina's efforts to help sell more of the books Kisa edits. His cynicism is deeply embedded in his personality, even as he recognizes that it's not going to make him happy and may even drive Yukina off. Making this also the most mutual relationship in the show from the start makes it all the more thought-provoking, because it shows a real give-and-take dynamic through mutual care for the other person in the relationship that neither of the other two storylines quite achieves.
This problem is particularly evident in the main coupling. Takano is very physically aggressive with Onodera, and while the anime is far less explicit than the manga (there are implied sex scenes, but nothing more than kissing is shown in detail), it's still apparent that Onodera doesn't want much of what Takano is demanding. This is perhaps best exemplified in the scene where Takano knocks Onodera to the floor, forces a kiss on him while shoving his hand down Onodera's pants, and then asks “Why have you been avoiding me?” Gee, could it be because you keep doing things like this? Takano's total lack of understanding that a past sexual relationship does not give him the right to Onodera's body in perpetuity is one of the key issues with the series in general, although it's worth mentioning that this is a well-worn subgenre of erotic romance, both BL and non. (If this is not your flavor of escapism, The World's Greatest First Love may not be the series for you, since only the Kisa/Yukina romance is truly consensual, with the possible exception of one "surprise kiss".) The idea that a prior sexual relationship gives you rights over the other party is an attitude also espoused by Takano's ex, Yokozawa, who is deeply jealous of Onodera and seems to rely on his “we used to date” status to justify it, rather than the fact that they've been friends since college. Interestingly enough, we see him rebuff former lovers who make this assumption in the Kisa storyline; this is likely intended to show that Onodera doesn't really dislike what Takano is doing, but it really just serves to cement that plot as the less objectionable of the three.
The third plotline is the one manga readers are likely to be the least familiar with, since it originates in (unlicensed) novels. There's a definite disadvantage to this, as it really does feel the least developed of the three, which could be due to a lack of background knowledge allowing viewers to fill in gaps in the story. It's also the most textbook of the three in some ways, since it features a very classic love triangle, with both Yuu and Hatori vying for the affections of Yoshino, who often feels conflicted about the whole thing. This storyline gets one of the two included OVAs to itself, presenting the story from Hatori's point of view, and the final episode of the main series does the same for Takano. This is a nice touch since the perspective is generally restricted to either Kisa, Onodera, or Yoshino's inner monologues; in fact, there's more narration than actual dialogue for most of the series.
Artistically, this series is a mixed bag. Shungiku Nakamura isn't a particularly strong artist, and while the anime does try to clean up some of her issues, such as bug eyes and enormous hands, the basics of her style remain, which allows those problems to creep in. The largest issue is that most of the characters look basically the same, with hair and eye color being their only distinguishing features. More entertainingly, all of the taller men (usually the semes) have squared chins, while the shorter men (typically ukes) have pointed chins, which can serve as an easy guide for who will ultimately end up with who. There are some moments of beautiful animation that help to mitigate this problem, such as one early scene where Takano runs his hand through Onodera's hair, but the animation is otherwise just serviceable, with one of its most notable features being “chomp kisses” where it honestly looks like one of the guys is trying to take a big bite out of the other's face. The translation does make a few odd choices, such as writing “Rittie” for “Ricchan” and an overuse of the F-bomb where it isn't really needed, but it otherwise works fine.
Despite some problematic issues, including the good old standby of Takano blaming Onodera for his own predations, Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi - The World's Greatest First Love is an enjoyable romance. It's a bit like the anime version of beach reading – mostly light and fluffy, a bit sexy, and ultimately designed to be watched without having to expend much brainpower. There's definitely a place for this kind of show, and if that's what you're in the mood for, this should fit the bill.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : C
Music : B
+ Kisa/Yukina storyline is a heartening mutual romance, some episodes let us into the perspectives of underexplored characters
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