First Impressions – Love Stage!!

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This one looks like it’s shaping up to be a pretty good tolerance meter.

As anyone in the industry knows, if you want to attract female fans the most surefire method is two (it must be two, not one or three) exclamation points in your title.  And I don’t think there’s much question that Love Stage!! is going to do quite well with that demographic, but will it have any crossover appeal with male anime fans who aren’t into shounen-ai – and should it?  I think the answer to the second question is certainly “yes”, but I’m not going to hazard a guess about the first.

As I’ve said many times about anime, always trust the pedigree.  And for me, there was one big reason why this show was on my radar (that’s the second J.C. Staff series today I’ve said that about) – Kasai Kenichi.  Best known for Hachimitsu to Clover and Nodame Cantabile, Kasai-sensei has a long and varied track record of outstanding work (including the first season of Major).  I admit my initial reaction when I saw him attached to this series was a bit of a shocked one, but I realize that’s my own prejudice talking.  I’d be lying if I said I’d likely have previewed Love Stage (as with Haikyuu, I refuse to type out the damn exclamation points every time) if Kasai wasn’t on-board, but that it was as good as it was is no surprise given that he is.

This show is definitely a good old-fashioned shounen-ai, which is a term we don’t hear much these days.  I think the best definition is something like a shoujo romance except with two male leads, and that’s very much the feel of this premiere.  Though many hostile viewers will group Love Stage and any shounen-ai under the BL umbrella, make no mistake, those terms are far from interchangeable.  I haven’t read this manga – I know it’s very well-reviewed – but I don’t believe this is a BL series in the sense of centering around sex between guys.  It’s a romantic comedy with same-sex subtext (and not necessarily just same-sex, or subtext) and while that’s surely going to be enough to turn a lot of viewers off, it shouldn’t be.  While shounen-ai isn’t a genre I tend to favor, good comedy and good romance is a good thing in any form.

So far, the focus in Love Stage is on the comedy side of the equation.  The premiere works because it’s just plain funny, very over-the-top and absurd.  The family at the center of Love Stage is a group of old-school showbiz eccentrics, starting with 18 year-old otaku college student Sena Izumi (Yonaga Tsubasa).  He’s shy and totally disinterested in following his family into the business, much to their dismay – he’r rather obsess over his favorite anime/manga “Magical Girl LalaLulu” and chase his dream of becoming a mangaka (his horrific art skills are a wellspring of many laughs in the episode, including the “LalaLulu” mangaka telling him the best part of his black-and-white sketch was “the coloring”).  Father Seiya (Okiayu Ryotarou) is a former stage actor now president of his own agency; mother Nagisa (Oohara Sayaka) is a successful actor and a classic spoiled drama queen. And big brother Shougo (DAIGO) is the vocalist of the boffo rock band Crusherz.  Rounding out the household is manager Sagara Rei (Hirakawa Daisuke), blunt, responsible, and seemingly quite paternal towards Izumi.

All of those actors camp it up big-time, and that’s exactly what’s required by the script – this is a story that isn’t aiming for realism.  Things get even sillier when an offer to film a 10th Anniversary follow-up to a commercial the family starred in arrives – one which found the 8 year-old Izumi posing as a girl and apparently winning the heart of co-star Ichijou Ryouma, now a successful model and actor played by Eguchi Takuya.  His condition to appear is that all of the original cast reassemble, which is fine for Nagisa as she’s desperate to be reunited with Ichijou, but not so much with Izumi – who’d rather die than appear on camera again (after wetting himself the first time, who can blame him?).  To get him to agree Rei has Shougo bribe him with an alarm clock featuring a personalized greeting from the star of “LalaLulu”.  And with Ichijou’s help Izumi even manages once again to make it through the shooting – though the final moment in the commercial comes as something of a shock.

In a sense, I suppose the first episode is the easy part – at least as it applies to appealing to people who don’t normally follow this sort of series.  The one real warning bell in the premiere for me is the sense that Love Stage could come off as a bit cruel towards Izumi.  I really don’t want to see him portrayed mainly as a helpless innocent being manipulated – romantically and otherwise – by the cannier and more forceful people all around him, which would get old pretty fast.  That may not happen, though, and apart from that worry there’s not too much else here not to like – apart from the elephant in the room, which will of course drive off a good chunk of potential viewers by default.  My hope is that Love Stage will continue to focus mostly on the comedy side of the equation, because it’s that which it proves most adept at in the premiere.

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  1. m

    I'm not into the BL or shounen-ai genre (just a little uncomfortable with it) but this show is looking pretty fun, which is a surprise (I admit I'm prejudiced and that I grouped this show into BL). I hope this show can win me over, and not delve into obvious gender roles. That is, Izumi being the weak "shoujo" lead.

  2. k

    This is BL. There's no such thing as "shounen ai" as a separate genre – well there is, but it's used for shotacon. The shounen ai vs yaoi divide has never existed in Japan, only in the English language fandom where it probably originated in people noticing the difference between dirty doujinshi and back-in-the-day "shounen ai" (actually a subset of shoujo) like Kaze to ki no uta, and jumping to conclusions. BL is an umbrella term encompassing pretty much everything male-on-male for a primarily female audience.

    This show, though, seems pretty stereotypical and not in a nice way, and the art isn't appealing to me, so I'm going to skip this.

  3. S

    You are mistaken that Shounen ai is not a genre usend in Japan. It is true that the term Shoujo ai which is a western term but not for Shounen ai.

    The term Shoujo ai was actually invented in the west as a copy of Shounen ai, but unfortunately in Japan shoujo ai means pedophilia love towards young girls.

  4. k

    "well there is, but it's used for shotacon."

    "Shounen ai" literally means pederasty, which is why, for quite a long time now, it's been used for a certain subgenre of shotacon, and why the term BL (Boy's Love) exists, as a kind of "no, we mean love between the 'boys', not that other icky stuff". (Of course there's shotakon BL but that's not the same thing.)

    A very long time ago "shounen ai" existed as a subgenre of shoujo manga, then they very quickly realized that the name was icky and misleading so it faded out of usage and has been, in this meaning, obsolete for like 30 years or so. After a period of of "what shall we call this? and this? and THIS?" (there are also tanbi, june, etc.) the umbrella term BL was born which encompasses the whole "m/m for a female audience" thing.

    The last time I looked "shoujo ai" didn't exist in the Japanese fandom, not as a genre and not as lolicon (that's called… lolicon). If it exists now it's because of Western fans bringing it with themselves when they venture into Japanese fandoms. As you said, "shoujo ai" is an entirely Western invention (much like "GL" for "girl's love", actually I have a pretty good hunch as to which section of the English speaking fandom coined it), along with the usage of "yuri" as a f/f equivalent of "yaoi" (that is how the Western fandom has been interpreting "yaoi").

  5. Actually, shounen ai literally means "boys love". And it does still exist as a sub-genre of shoujo (though the term is indeed out of fashion in that context), which at least the first episode of Love Stage matches up with almost perfectly. As to what happens later I really have no idea.

  6. R

    I don't know about labels, per se, but anyone with any experience with BL/shounen-ai- whatever you want to call it- can tell you that something like Kaze to Ki no Uta, or A Cruel God Reigns is pretty much in a completely different genre from things like Junjou Romantica.

    I'm not quite sure where I'd put old school stuff like Yami no Matsuei, but the point is, labels aside, there IS indeed a difference between the two groups. For me, I've always considered series like A Cruel God Reigns shounen-ai, drive mainly by character development and strong plot with the romantic leads both happening to be male (though there are a considerable number of heterosexual couples as well, which just enforces the fact that it's story and characters and drama first, sexy time later). I also usually use that term for non-explicit or mainly subtext series. Er, like the difference between ecchi and hentai? XD That's one broader way of categorizing if you'd like.

    Regardless of what people call it, I'm still pretty positive I can find you an obvious divide.

    Just like with shoujo. If you want to tell me that Soredemo is the same type of beast as Hapi Mari I will throw you out the window. (that's not a dig at Hapi Mari…too much XD)

  7. k

    "Actually, shounen ai literally means "boys love"

    Yes, that's why it means pederasty. Look it up if you don't believe me. You can try going into a bookstore/manga store and ask for "shounen ai", but don't be surprised if they look at you funny and hand you something you'd rather not be seen with..

    "And it does still exist as a sub-genre of shoujo (though the term is indeed out of fashion in that context)"

    It exists as far as the works themselves still exist (Kaze to ki, etc.), but the "shounen ai = focuses on romance and the characters" vs "yaoi = focuses on sex" divide has never existed, then or now.

    "I'm not quite sure where I'd put old school stuff like Yami no Matsuei,"

    Yami no matsuei is all shoujo, it's always been serialized in Hana to yume.

    For that matter, the Love Stage! manga is serialized in CIEL, which Kadokawa officially describes as a Boys Love mag. (

  8. S

    Just like how Kenichi Kasai turned Aoi Hana into semi-gold/one of the best yuri shows, I have faith he will turn this into something magical.

    Comparing with the manga, he has already made many changes in terms of framing and plot details to make the shows more realistic and the characters more relatable.

    Edit: accidentally dragged the publish link into the post

  9. S

    I was going to skip this one but when I saw that it had the same director as Aoi Hana my mind was changed completely. BTW, I'm loving the Aoi Hana style character designs in Aldnoah.Zero :)

  10. A

    I really liked it. There were some really funny moments and the comic timing was superb.
    I'm definitely interested to see how the story continues next week.

  11. R

    I practically spat out my drink and ruined my computer when Shougo opened his mouth because DAIGO IS THAT YOU WHAT THE HELL (I'm a cardfight vanguard fan, which is basically where all of his previous roles were in SO IT WAS WEIRD). It just came so far out of left field.

    Then I found out that he's the author's brother, so that makes sense BUT STILL. IT WAS WEIRD (in a good way)

  12. ROFL, Daigo is the author's brother?

  13. b

    Yes, DAIGO is Eiki's brother and the character he's voicing is based on himself. He started to get noticed last year when in one of his videos he wore a butterfly suit and his fans and sister commented the outfit resembled the one Rei from Free!! used in an episode.
    DAIGO says his performance is quite underwhelming until episode 8, which according to him he made a big improvement in that episode that even Kasai asked him if he wanted to record the previous episodes again.

    About the plot, I read the manga out of curiosity and despite its good start, after the main characters become a couple it starts using ridiculous drama and clich├ęs which don't work. It doesn't help Ryoma is an awful character.

    I have to agree with kuromitsu, I wouldn't call this shounen-ai either, in fact I haven't seen the term used in a long time in neither the West or in Japan. Asuka Ciel is a magazine with BL titles, Nakamura's yaoi manga get published there.

  14. R

    I wasn't planning on trying this one out, but after reading your post and the comments here, I gave it shot. Turned out, it was okay, but I didn't laugh as much as I thought I would. I think I'm going to take this one off the list.

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