Shelf Life Super Lovers
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
Sometimes your day job requires you to work 8-hour shifts on Saturdays (at least mine does), but sometimes you come home from that shift to find the enormous box of manga you ordered has arrived a day early. Life has a way of balancing things out, and now I get to spend my next day off reading comic books on my couch. You know, like a real adult. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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On Shelves This Week
Keijo!!!!!!!! - Complete Collection BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf|$63.74 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Nozomi Kaminashi an elite training school in order to compete in a sport called Keijo, where players battle one another using only their busts and rear ends.
Extra: I listed this fanservice-heavy sports series as the second-best show of its season (no, seriously). For some other opinions, take a look at our episode reviews and this feature article. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
Synopsis: The bond between Ash and Greninja is tested in their final Gym battle and a showdown against Sawyer and Alain.
Extra: You can watch this season (along with about nineteen others) on Pokemon.com.
Synopsis: When humans threaten to take away their home, the tanuki of Tama Hills must unite to drive them away.
Extra: We have a review of this "nature versus urban sprawl" movie from Studio Ghibli here.
Synopsis: With the land of Earthsea descending into chaos, young prince Arren and archmage Sparrowhawk attempt to find the source of the imbalance.
Extra: This movie is sometimes listed as Studio Ghibli's weakest film, and we have a review detailing its unusual origins and its uneven execution.
Yuri!! on Ice - Complete Collection BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $44.96 Amazon|$63.74 Right Stuf
Synopsis: After failing to win the Grand Prix Final, figure skater Yuri Katsuki seeks to put his career back on track with the help of legendary champion Victor Nikiforov.
Extra: Look at that, both of my top two shows from Fall 2016 coming out on disc in the same week. Episode reviews are here, and we also have a feature article and an interview with the production staff. You can stream it on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
Shelf Life Reviews
The beginning of the year can be a slow time for physical anime releases, which means we sometimes end up reviewing some particularly obscure or just plain bad stuff. I got reasonably lucky with a re-release of Ninja Nonsense last week, but Gabriella didn't fare so well with Super Lovers. Here's her review.
I'll assume that you know why this should raise some eyebrows and why I suspected that it was going to be a major stinker. And boy howdy, was I right – Super Lovers stands as perhaps the most infamous fujoshi show to come out of the past few years, at least in terms of stuff that gets anything more than a quiet OVA release. I believe the attention it drew was due in large part to the show's cover and title combo, which smacks you right over the head with exactly what it is.
Super Lovers lives up to expectations by being a show about lovers, although how super they are is dubious, since unfortunately these lovers are also (adoptive) brothers. The setup is that this dude named Haru travels to Canada to find that his mom has adopted a half-feral little boy from the local orphanage. This boy, Ren, hardly knows how to do anything, so Haru takes it upon himself to acclimate him into the family. Of course, this involves sleeping together and Ren sitting on Haru's lap a lot, since this is That Kind of Show. They share a wonderful (ly non-sexual...yet) summer before Haru is forced to return to Japan for several years. During that time, Haru ends up losing all of his memories of Ren along with his father and stepmother in a tragic car accident. So when a teenaged Ren shows up at Haru's doorstep, the elder brother finds himself both confused and strangely intrigued. What follows is both profoundly and predictably uncomfortable for anyone who doesn't possess a very specific BL/shotacon/incest fetish.
So yeah, this show is only meant to appeal to folks who get hot and bothered by a series of very specific boys-love tropes. The audience for this stuff exists, I guess – Super Lovers even managed to get a sequel. Still, this seems like the sort of thing that people tend to enjoy quietly even when it does well. Personally, I shove BL with this level of fetishization into the “ignore” bin alongside equivalent lolicon shows like Prisma Ilya – until their physical releases show up on the review slate and I'm forced to wrestle with their existence because someone on the team's gotta do it.
On the subject of the seme/uke dynamic, it's sort of impossible to criticize this one instance without prying into the problematic elements of the trope as a whole. However, Super Lovers does seem to stand as an especially egregious example of its genre, because it really emphasizes the sibling stuff, as well as Ren's childishness relative to Haru. Even as a teen, Ren looks real young standing next to Haru's towering yaoi-man physique. So while Ren is technically (if only barely) out of his physical childhood by the time romance starts blossoming between them, he still totally acts like one in most respects, beneath even the still-underdeveloped mental age of 15/16. Moreover, the structural proximity of the sexual stuff to the time when Haru was raising Ren makes it clear that you're supposed to be getting off on the lingering remnants of their parent-child dynamic. Now I know that fetishes exist, are largely involuntary, and that the depiction of something in art doesn't equate to a societal approval of it so much as the need to scratch that itch, but did this material really need to be broadcast on TV? Couldn't this have been condemned to a doujin box somewhere?
Overall, Haru's treatment of Ren is especially disturbing for how heavily it smacks of grooming. For instance, Haru repeatedly emphasizes how it's “normal” for them to sleep together (it's not) or help each other get off (super not). In real life, adult predators frequently take advantage of children's naiveté in this way, by telling them that the abuses they inflict are actually normal behavior, which they'd know all this if they were also an adult. Broader cast dynamics do nothing to improve this situation, as Haru's sexual attraction to the boy are treated as the object of friendly ribbing and not a dynamic of potentially life-ruining magnitude.
I will admit that this would all be more disturbing if Ren seemed even a little like an actual person, but he doesn't at all. (Haru, by contrast, is more of a regular anime guy, a seme of the “reticent” rather than the “aggressive” variety.) Ren's contrived trauma (he was sold by his mom for drug money or something and then socialized by dogs?) has resulted in him having bizarrely selective social stupidity, the worst/funniest example being that he hasn't figured out how to jack off by age 15 or so. (Of course, Big Bro has to help him with this, since what else would happen in this show?) Ren is such a creature of narrative convenience that I don't even feel that bad about him getting taken advantage of, just weirded out by seeing the situation romanticized. But on the other hand, I guess it's not that weird, which is actually the bigger problem. With the exception of the same-sex aspect, these types of situations are often way more normalized than they should be in society. “Disappointed” is perhaps the better word, as well as irritated over having to sit through it.
On a purely aesthetic level, Super Lovers looks alright for this sort of thing. I don't get the appeal of yaoi-bodies where you can't quite tell how the seme's body parts would fit together if we got a clear shot of them with all their clothes off, but it's a popular style, and Super Lovers manages to stay pretty consistently on model. There isn't much motion, but there doesn't need to be, and the pleasing color work keeps the show mildly interesting to look at. That's not to say that Super Lovers is an impressive production – it's just that I've seen some real eye-glazey stuff during my tenure on Shelf Life, and this show lands well outside of the tier reserved for truly execrable visuals.
This is all faint praise since Super Lovers goes right in the garbage bin in all other respects. It's a gross, bad, ridiculous, dumb show that exemplifies a lot of the unnecessarily uncomfortable elements that have been popularized in BL anime. There's no (not-counting-statutory) rape in it, but that's about all I can muster in the show's favor. In the end, nobody in the world should be exposed to this if they haven't chosen to be, and I'd prefer that this hadn't gotten a regular anime release and been forced to stink up my Blu-ray player. However, this show did provide me with one moment of joy – when I showed my roommate the Blu-ray cover, he started laughing so hard that he had to sit down on the floor for a while. Tsukiuta. The Animation can't claim to have done that. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to wash my eyes out with something wholesome, like that Cardcaptor Sakura sequel. CLAMP is truly a bastion of responsible romance writing.
That wraps up the review section, and since I still don't have any entries to run for Shelf Obsessed, that's all for this week. Come on, I know y'all got a bunch of new anime stuff over the holidays. Send me photos of your collections at [email protected]. Thanks for reading!
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