I certainly enjoyed the first episode of Love Stage quite a lot. I’d give an educational series on canine oral hygiene a couple of episodes to win me over if Kasai Kenichi or Nagai Tatusyuki were directing it, so it’s hardly a surprise that the premiere was as entertaining as it was. But staying power is another matter, and there were a couple of things I noted in my post last week which concerned me going forward. And I don’t think those concerns were allayed by this episode, which wasn’t quite as entertaining as the first for me.
The success of the premiere was pretty much all attributable to the simple fact that it made me laugh quite a bit, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. This episode was a lot less focused on the comedy side of the equation and as such, didn’t reach the same heights for me. Humor is humor and it either works of it doesn’t – romance and drama require a sales job on behalf of the characters involved. This ep had some funny moments but it was mostly concerned with light drama and potential romance, and in that respect the sale hasn’t been closed.
The more specific concern I had was with the way Izumi was going to be treated by the story. Series that are basically decent but weak-willed main characters being manipulated romantically (be it yaoi, yuri or mixed-gender) and otherwise tend to have a pretty short shelf-life for me, and I’m not convinced that’s not what we’re going to see here. I don’t really care whether Izumi is a boy or a girl – or Ryouma either for that matter – if he didn’t want to be kissed in the commercial, his family and Rei ought to have been standing up for him, not trying to think of ways to cajole and harangue him into doing it anyway. The fact that it was Ryouma who had to stand up in the end and put a stop to it is sort of broken if you ask me, though it does speak well of his character if you believe he didn’t do it strictly to try and score points with who he thought was his dream girl.
This is a bit of a catch-22 really, since the wellspring of humor for Love Stage basically seems to be a bunch of selfish showbiz types acting selfishly and that worked well in the premiere, and not badly here either. How successfully Kasai (and indeed the mangaka) balances those conflicting elements will likely determine how invested I am in this series long-term. So far I’m still pretty hopeful, but I’m definitely in wait and see mode.
Majimoji Rurumo – 02
In contrast to the above, I actually liked the second episode of Majimoji Rurumo a good deal better than the first. What one might have taken as limitations of the series after the premiere seem to me to be revealing themselves as strengths.
Pedigree is a funny thing. Here we have a series that could hardly be more thematically different that Watanabe Wataru’s Yowamushi Pedal, by a different studio and using a different character designer. Yet there’s an unmistakable Watanabe quality to it that goes well beyond a vague facial similarity with a few of the characters, and that’s part of Majimoji’s charm. There’s a kind of innocent schoolboy cheekiness to it (if this makes any sense, I’m betting Watanabe-sensei’s favorite Python is Eric Idle) and an undercurrent of heart that belies the subject matter.
No question about it, this feels like a very old-fashioned series almost to the point of being quaint. The ecchi is utterly harmless, there’s no great navel-gazing about the magic (just the fact that it’s magic is enough to be cool) and the look of the series is pure 90’s. It’s just a goofy school comedy with a bit of supernatural mystery and very cleverly staged situation comedy, all for its own sake. And what’s more, the comedy works – it’s actually funny almost every time it tries to be. The timing is spot-on, the sight gags are clever, and the side characters are agreeable eccentric. Shibaki’s school friends are all over-the-top horndogs, and I especially like the always superb Fukuen Masato at the Osaka-ben spouting cat familiar Chiro and the delightful addition of Mamiko Noto as Shibaki’s suspicious and possibly psychotic mother (I’ve always loved that “Jiii” gag, which is as old-school anime comedy as it gets).
The cherry on top is that there’s just enough plot to make things interesting, and the main pairing are good together. The conceit of the 666 magic tickets – use them all and Shibaki dies, but until he does Ruruomo can never go home – is a clever one, though the tone of the series never lets it feel too ominous. Rurumo is very cute and does the airhead thing with charm and conviction, and there’s an unassuming comfort level with who he is that makes Shjbaki quite likeable. The whole bit with him hiding Ruruomo in his room was a winner from start to finish, very solid situation comedy executed flawlessly.
It’s not as if Majimoji Rurumo is aiming especially high, I suppose, but I’m fine with that. It’s keeping things very simple and traditional and executing them well, and because it’s free of the self-aware smugness that permeates more contemporary iterations of this genre these days, it feels positively refreshing. It’s only two weeks in, but I’m far more upbeat about the prospects for this series than I ever would have believed after the premiere.