So I don’t usually write anime reviews here, but, after watching season 1 of Junjou Romantica I have some strong feelings about the series as a whole, none of them good. I should clarify that I rather enjoy problematic BL/yaoi, hell, I absolutely adore Yamane Ayano’s Finder Series, it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. But, the infinitely lighter BL classic Junjou Romantica just rubs me the wrong way. So why am I “okay” with Finder, but not okay with Junjou? Well, part of it has to do with when I started both series.
I started Finder rather early on in my BL/yaoi journey, at a time when I was still figuring what I liked and didn’t like from the genre. The steamy smut, was definitely appealing, but upon subsequent readings (especially those first few volumes) I find myself actively cringing at how… problematic the whole thing is.
On the other hand, I started Junjou long after I’d been in the BL fandom, so I just don’t have any nostalgia for the series the same way I do with Finder. To make matters worse, I have read and watched some truly amazing BL/yaoi over the years, and it has spoiled me a bit for some of the older much more flawed “classics” the genre has to offer. So, when I finally sat down to watch Junjou Romantica, a series people have been recommending to me for years, lets just say I had high hopes.
Spoiler Alert: I was not amused, in fact I was horrified to discover that this was the series that sparked many a BL journey! This is the BL anime that people fondly celebrate and praise… Junjou Romantica is problematic as hell! But, does that really make it a bad anime? Or is it a seriously flawed, but ultimately salvageable anime?
Eh, that’s still up for debate. So, in a rather unprecedented turn of events I’m actually going to attempt to write a proper anime review here on Nice Job Breaking It, Hero (I already write reviews over at MANGA.TOKYO, so don’t get used to it)… Also, y’all can thank Kat over at GrimmGirl.com for this, this is purely for her… Let’s get this review on the road, shall we?
A Brief Synopsis of Junjou Romantica
So, before I get into my gripes about the first season of Junjou Romantica, I should first give a bit of background about the series… *ahem*
Junjou Romantica (roughly translates to Pure Romance) is based on an ongoing BL (boys’ love) manga series of the same name by Shungiku Nakamura that is currently sitting pretty with 21 volumes since it’s 2003 release. It is by far Nakamura’s longest and most popular series, spawning a number of other media, including: Drama CDs, an anime with three seasons, OVAs and specials, a light novel series, and a spin-off manga, Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi. But, for the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus solely on the first season of the 2008 anime, and not so much the source material or any of the supplemental media.
The first season of the anime aired during the Spring 2008 comprises of 12 episodes, all animated by Studio Deen… yeah… let that sink in… Like the manga, the anime follows the romantic exploits of three (later four) couples, with the bulk of the story focusing on the relationship between popular novelist, Misaki Takahashi and Akihiko Usami.
Misaki Takahashi is a regular high school student who is preparing for his university entrance exams. In order to reduce the stress of studying, or so he hopes, he accepts the help of his older brother’s best friend, and famous author, Akihiko Usami. However, Masaki is about to find out that Usami’s books are of a very naughty genre, and that there may be something naughty waking up inside Masaki as well.
Junjou Romantica also follows the story of two other couples loosely connected to Masaki and Usami’s “Romantica.”
Egoist shows the very passionate, but often complicated, relationship between university professor Hiroki Kamijou (whose life has reached an all time low) and pediatrician Nowaki Kusama, who falls for Hiroki at first sight and would do anything to make him happy.
The third story, “Terrorist,” shows just how obsessive love can become when rich eighteen-year-old Shinobu Takatsuki finally discovers something that he cannot have so easily—the literature professor You Miyagi.
There is passion abound as these three couples try to achieve their goals in life while also falling into temptation and anguish with their partners.
Ain’t Nothin’ Pure About This: The Couples of Junjou Romantica
I saw this anime rather recently, so I don’t have any of the nostalgia most folks have for the series and to be honest, I am still trying to wrap my mind around what I just watched, because THAT was not what I was expecting from a series as beloved as Junjou Romantica. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some good aspects of the first season, but as a whole… it hurt my soul.
Now, in this series, romance is a term I use lightly, because some of the “relationships” depicted in the show are downright horrifying. Out of the three couples introduced this season, only one of them depicts a healthy loving relationship, the other two *inhales* are literally one “no” away from being Law and Order: SVU episodes.
Junjou Romantica: Usami and Misaki
First up are the main couple, Usami and Misaki… Where do I begin?! Usami aka Usagi-san is famous novelist and BFFLs with Misaki’s brother Takahiro, with whom he also harbors a one-sided crush for. One day after school, Misaki, catches the two of them in a compromising position and he is rightfully wary of Usami, but when the novelist becomes his new tutor the two become close, developing a romantic relationship. Again I use the term lightly, because there is nothing romantic about their “relationship”, Usagi wastes no time getting into Misaki’s pants despite being in love with his OLDER BROTHER, but when the love of your life isn’t interested, his younger brother is the next best thing…amiright? No, just no!
What follows is a twisted liaison between an older much more experienced man and a naive, impressionable student. Early on there’s this whole, does Usami really love Misaki or is he just a replacement for his brother plot point, but that becomes increasingly obvious that the latter is not the case, before the credits roll on the second episode.
There are a number of things wrong with this couple, chief among them is the fact that over the course of two, maybe three episodes, Usami successfully grooms Misaki to be his lover, despite him strongly objecting to his sexual advances. But does that stop Usami? No, because in Junjou Romantica no means yes and sex = love! Usami is a controlling bastard, who does the following:
- Molests Misaki, culminating in sex that may or may not have been 100% consensual, as Misaki was still trying to work out his feelings for Usami at the time.
- He keeps Misaki from interacting with a friend from school, because he sees him as a potential rival; forcibly restraining Misaki when he refuses to leave with him
- When Misaki doesn’t immediately bend to his will, he uses his brother as a form of blackmail to get the kid to comply
But, because Usami loves Misaki, all of this is written off as Usami just being a possessive lover, rather than a manipulative bastard. He gets better, but as a whole, their relationship is downright unhealthy. Even when they try to make it seem wholesome, about halfway through it’s too late because we just spent the first several episodes watching Usami participate in a lot of unwanted touching. To make matters worse, after his brother gets married and moves away, Usami becomes Misaki’s guardian, benefactor, and landlord in the blink of an eye. He is completely reliant on the older man, to the point that he can’t really object to his advances… It’s like Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey. Usami has money, power, and control on his side, and Misaki gets swept up in the “allure” of it all…
Love Egoist: Nowaki and Hiroki
The second pair, the Love Egoist couple, Hiroki (Hiro) and Nowaki were infinitely better, unlike the main pair their relationship was built on mutual consent from the very beginning. Nowaki is a college student that falls head over heels in love with Hiro an assistant professor in the Literary, who up until recently harbored a one-sided crush on Usami (seeing a pattern yet?). Now, what sets this pair apart from the first one is that Nowaki (the seme) doesn’t just start groping Hiro because he loves him and “can’t hold back”, he woos Hiro like a normal human being and waits until the other man accepts him before engaging in any frisky business. They serve as a nice foil to the main pair and their romance was downright precious and Nowaki is best boyfriend ever… just saying… Honestly this is the only redeeming quality of the first season…
Love Terrorist: Miyagi and Shinobu
The third pair, the Love Terrorist couple, features a love affair between a college professor, You Miyagi and a high school student, Shinobu Takatsuki, with a whopping 17 year age gap between them. First, I should clarify that, Nakamura-sensei’s specializes in age gap romances, so I wasn’t surprised to see it here, however, that doesn’t make the fact that Shinobu is the ex-brother in law of the You any less cringy. Thankfully, we’re only subjected to two episodes featuring the pair, but I shit you not, those two episodes manage to be the most horrifying of the twelve. Not only does Shinobu go out of his way to corner and molest You throughout, yes, you read that right, in a rather unusual turn of events, the uke molests the seme, despite being rejected at every turn. But, wait it gets better, after pushing the poor guy to his limits, You finally loses it and attempts to have his way with Shinobu, while he is crying and begging him to stop, to make matters worse, the music during that scene becomes noticeably more ominous and the camera angles much more sharp. This is not meant to be seen as a wholesome event…
Why Season One is So Damn Problematic
Junjou Romantica at the very least season one, is a product of it’s time, it perpetuates the sex=love narrative inherent in most early yaoi media, and for the most part it is either played for laughs or completely glossed over altogether. Misaki while, rather vocal, does little to distance himself from Usami, instead he becomes enamored with him from the very beginning. I’d liken it to Stockholm Syndrome, but he’s literally DTF before he really gets to know much about him, and that’s one of the biggest shortcomings of season one, we are just expected to accept the relationships between each of the couples with little or no context for them.
Misaki despite “hating him” at first, seemingly falls for Usami overnight with little to no justification for doing so, other than the fact that he is handsome and loaded. They try to make it seem sweet, because Misaki helps Usami move on from his one-sided love of Takahiro, but really he’s just transferring his affections from one brother to the other, without actually dealing with the loss. Regardless of how they sugarcoat it, Usami is using Misaki as an outlet for his pent up emotions, and that is not healthy. They also offer a bit of insight into Usami’s character with a one episode flashback that delves into his childhood and friendship with Hiroki. Now, even Misaki makes a passing mention of Usami having a less than stellar childhood, but ultimately it is just brushed under the rug. Perhaps, if they had taken the time to flesh out that bit of Usami’s story, I might have been more sympathetic towards him, but NOOOOOOOO, God forbid we do that…
I’ll skip over the second pair because like I mentioned earlier, they have the most stable relationship out of the three and I wish we could have spent more time with them… but alas.
The third pair… there are no words for how awful they are, it almost makes the teacher student relationship in Cardcaptor Sakura look tame by comparison… and that relationship comes with at max a lifetime jail sentence. And the age gap isn’t even the real issue, it’s the fucking consent! They literally have forced sex twice… *weakly* I just can’t… I’m sorry…
As a whole the characters are cliche and the individual stories like the romance is at best, tenuous. The comedic moments were alright and the “serious” moments were meh, I just wasn’t as invested in the characters as I thought I’d be… scratch that, the Love Egoist couple was both compelling and well fleshed out, so there’s the silverlining.
The Aesthetics: Pointy Chins and Yaoi Hands
Nakamura-sensei has a rather distinctive art style and Studio Deen did a fabulous job of capturing that aspect of the original work, however that isn’t exactly for the best. Nakamura’s works are known for their wide eyed ukes and angular jawed semes and aesthetically, it’s ugly. Yeah, I’m usually pretty forgiving of art if the story is good, but with season one, that is just not the case, so the art style was also a bit of a let down. Some characters fared better than others, but as a whole it was just meh. Oh and let’s not forget those large yaoi hands all the semes have, you know what I mean, those face swallowing hands mangaka like to give their semes. I always assumed that bigger hands correlated with more power or smaller dicks, but, who really knows…
There were also moments, mostly for comedic effect, when the style would shift from the usual angular style to a much softer, rounded art style… but, those were few and far between.
The music was pretty good, I quite liked the opening “Kimi = Hana” by pigstar it’s a song you can really bop to and the ending theme “Baby Romantica” by SCRIPT was also rather enjoyable. Most of the insert songs were just instrumental versions of the opening theme and those only cropped up during the super dramatic LUV LUV scenes, if there were any other background tracks, they were easily forgettable, because I literally just finished watching season one and I can’t for the life of me think of any other songs besides the ones I mentioned.
Overall, I was not impressed with season one of Junjou Romantica. I guess I expected this to be some grand BL classic like Kizuna or hell, Gravitation, but, what I got, just kind of broke my heart. The romance was non-existent, unless sex=love constitutes a stable relationship and the story was at best there in name only. The characters were cliche and embody many of the dated yaoi tropes I have come to despise in my old age (mind you I’m still in my 20s so that says a lot).
I hear the series gets better, especially in season 3, and since each season is only 12 episodes long, I’m going to continue watching if only to see more of Nowaki and Hiro (the only saving grace of season one). For what it’s worth, Junjou Romantica is not the worst yaoi anime I have ever seen, it just happens to be the most recent, which is a shame, because I feel like if I had watched Junjou earlier in my yaoi journey, I might have actually liked it… but, who knows…
Well, there it is a rare anime review! But enough of my yammering, I want to hear from you guys! Have you seen Junjou Romantica? What do you think of the series? Does it still hold up pretty well? Let me know down in the comments section and as always THANK YOU FOR READING!