Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Super Lovers

Seasons 1 & 2 Streaming

Synopsis:
Super Lovers Seasons 1 & 2 Streaming
Haru Kaidou first met Ren when his biological mother Haruko summoned him to visit her in Canada. Haru quickly learned that his mother wanted him to help her take care of Ren, a little boy she'd taken in from an orphanage who seemed to feel more at home with her pack of huskies than with people. Haru eventually manages to civilize Ren and plans to return later to take his new brother back to Japan, but on the way home from the airport, his family gets in a terrible car accident, resulting in the death of his parents and Haru losing most of his memories from that time. Five years later, Haru is working as a host in Tokyo when a teenage Ren shows up on his doorstep. Eventually, the two renew their bond as it deepens into something more. Haru quits the host business and opens up a café called White Fang, inviting his younger brothers Aki and Shima, along with Ren, to live with him. Will the four of them be able to form a family? Or will Haru's and Ren's attraction to one another get in the way?
Review:

Super Lovers is not an inherently terrible show. As with all romances, it's important to remember that this is a type of fantasy, and what one consumer finds appealing on that level is liable to turn another off, just as some people prefer dark fantasies featuring gruesomely tragic vampires while others prefer lighter badass sword-slinging fare. Even Super Lovers' subgenre of pseudo-incest with a taboo age gap is an established romance subgenre outside of yaoi. (Historical romance novels often followed the trope with an older guardian seducing his younger ward/stepchild.) The issue comes more from the way that the anime handles the story, primarily in its first season when Ren is younger and has even less agency in his situation.

Haru is a naturally demonstrative person, which we see more in the flashbacks during season two, with a fierce sense of devotion to his family. In part we can see this coming from the fact that he lives with his biological father and stepmother, while his birth mother lives in Canada, having left him to the primary custody of his Japanese family. This creates a sense of not quite belonging in Haru that leaves him feeling threatened by his young twin half-brothers, Aki and Shima, worrying that his parents would love them more as their “real” children. While he eventually gets over this fear, arriving in Canada only to find that his biological mother also has another child comes as a blow to his self-esteem. When it quickly becomes apparent that Haruko has little to no time for Ren, Haru steps in as more of a surrogate parent than an older brother. Ren, who had previously only bonded with Haruko's pack of huskies, comes to love Haru, and Haru promises to come back and get Ren when they're both older. Unfortunately, on his way home from the airport, Haru and his parents are in a terrible car accident that leaves Haru with amnesia and both adults dead. Among the memories lost are those of his time with Ren, arguably erasing some of Haru's parental feelings for the boy.

When Ren later shows up in Haru's life, he's a young teen, not sure that he's looking for a parental figure or even a brother in Haru. For most of the show's two seasons, Ren is the aggressor, with Haru actively fighting his attraction to the boy he keeps trying to see as his youngest brother. Although Ren ultimately prevails, season one focuses more on Haru's feelings, which can make things uncomfortable. Haru clearly sees Ren as a child, albeit one he's attracted to, which puts him in an awkward position for Ren to manipulate, such as in the “I don't know how to masturbate” scene, which feels particularly calculated. By season two, when we spend more time in Ren's head, things feel less creepy if only because we're more privy to Ren's thoughts. It has also become fairly evident that while Aki and Shima – who at this point are also living with Ren and Haru – care about Ren, they don't necessarily see him as a brother, suggesting that the distance Haru tries to put between himself and Rin by claiming a family relationship is a dynamic that no one else wants or believes in.

Despite its title, Super Lovers is fairly innocuous on the sexual front. There are implied scenes of sexual intimacy but none of it is shown explicitly beyond kissing and not-really-heavy petting. Haru and Ren sleep in the same bed, but we don't see much happen there besides sleeping and talking, despite conversations implying that more goes on offscreen. Overall, the first season is about Haru coming to love and remember Ren, while the second season is more focused on Ren trying to make Haru commit to their mutual relationship. All of this operates within the ongoing plot of Haru trying to recapture his memories and work through his trauma over his parents' deaths (and the blame that Aki and Shima once placed on him for the incident). For him, a large part of this process is reclaiming the idea of having a family, which leads him to quit his job as a host and open a café, named White Fang in honor of Jack London's novel and Ren's link to sled dogs. Haru gathers Ren, Aki, and Shima under his roof to create the atmosphere that's important to him.

Haru's trauma is just one of the issues not handled adroitly by the series, although this may be a factor of length; with only ten episodes per season rather than the usual twelve or thirteen, the original manga had to be cherry-picked for scenes, and clearly the romance plot took priority. We are given just enough to understand where Haru's coming from, but not enough to make him feel like a developed character. Ren fares a little better, due to his incessant questioning of his friends and school doctor, as well as his general bluntness; “social skills” were clearly not a major factor in his childhood education. More troubling is the way the series treats Kiyoka, its trans character. Haru knew her in high school as “Seiji,” but she has since transitioned to living as a woman full-time. Super Lovers treats her like a joke, a man who for inexplicable reasons thinks he should pretend to be a woman all the time. To say that we should be over this attitude by now is an understatement, but even with attitudes slow to catch up to reality, it is particularly troubling to see Kiyoka's treatment in a gay romance story. (That's not that BL is a bastion of excellent attitudes or even intended for the audience it depicts in its romances, but still.)

The major issue with this show is all in the execution. The animation is truly subpar and the art somehow worse, with foreshortening and other perspective issues in abundance. In the final episode of season two, there is an entire scene where the characters lack noses for no apparent reason, and whenever someone sits on the couch, it looks as if they're just hovering over the furniture with their legs chopped down. In one scene from season one, Haru appears to simply walk through the couch when he's meant to climb over it, and while everything at least remains in the same place in their house, the sizes of beds, chairs, and that damn couch change from scene to scene, much less episode to episode. Background characters look fairly identical – there are maybe three women who frequent White Fang as recolored models over and over again – and even the main characters are often off-model. Performances are either over or under-acted with Tomoaki Maeno's Haru feeling particularly hammy most of the time. Junko Minagawa's Ren is more solid, but her tendency to under-emote in an effort to communicate Ren's introverted nature can shoot itself in the foot. Added to all this is an odd reliance on showing weird animals or plants in the backgrounds, possibly intended to add cuteness or quirkiness to the story, but it ultimately just feel distracting, drawing further attention to the lackluster production values.

Over the course of its two seasons, Super Lovers does manage to be interesting, although given the way the show looks and sometimes sounds, that interest might be more akin to watching a slow-moving disaster. The storyline isn't inherently terrible, and things do improve in the second season as Ren takes over the main perspective. It isn't the strongest entry in even its subgenre of romance, but it's not the worst show ever either. The problem lies more with poor production values and underdeveloped characters than anything.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : D+
Art : D
Music : C

+ Improves in season two as Ren gets more development, Aki and Shima are stable characters who balance out Haru
Looks terrible, performances are often over-played or under-played, poor treatment of Kiyoka, skims over major character developments

Director: Shinji Ishihira
Series Composition: Yoshiko Nakamura
Original creator: Miyuki Abe
Character Design: Miki Takihara

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Super Lovers (TV)

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