Spiritpact – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: You Keika is from a long line of exorcists but his generation is nothing more than fortune tellers who repair computers on the side. He’s also a bit of a lazy asshole who offhandedly trash talks anyone who talks to him. One night, while rummaging through a dump for spare computer parts, our hero witnesses a real exorcist fighting a spirit.

The Verdict: While visually sub-par, what really kills Spiritpact is its reliance on a sitcom style of humor. Characters slide-pan into the scene to fling one liners as if there was a laugh-track, which there isn’t but even that would have made it more interesting.

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The soundtrack is similarly cliche or out of place. Ironically, it works well with the pacing, in so far as it emphasizes how terrible the pacing is. Here’s some dialog, accompanied with ‘thoughtful’ piano music:

“Who the heck are you?” squints Keika, who is lying on the ground of the junk yard, awash in red sparkles.

“I am Tanmoku Ki, a Youmeishi.” a gray haired man in your dad’s vision of cool clothes you can find at Nordstrom replies. He’s standing on a pile of trash, with You in the background and this static shot remains un-animated as he continues talking. “I purify the wold that has been defiled by evil spirits.”

“In other words, an exorcist.”

This is followed by You being a proud asshole about how great his ancestors were and how much better that makes him than Ki, which is animated like Charlie Brown and the Peanuts, the piano still plodding away…

You have no reason to watch this anime.

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Gakuen Handsome – 01 (First Impressions)

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THE PROTAGONIST HAS NO FACE!

The Gist: the protagonist’s parents have changed jobs so he and his sister are going to new schools. His school is an all male private academy and his homeroom teacher immediately takes a pass at him.

Later, he meets a friend from grade school and they walk home with his 3rd grade sister, who’s had 3 guys ask her out on the first day. She also thinks her brother, the protagonist, is homosexual. A stranger watches them from afar.

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The verdict: calling Gakuen Handsome profoundly ugly is an understatement. The character designs are freakish and there is nearly no animation. (characters walk by hopping, their waists unseen below the frame) It may be the cheapest show I’ve ever seen.

While this show may eventually blossom into a boy love piece eventually, maybe showing romance or humor along the way, the first episode gives no indication as to who or what audience would actually enjoy watching it. It felt long at 4 minutes, didn’t even make an attempt at being funny, and…

THE PROTAGONIST HAS NO FACE!

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Super Lovers – 01 (First Impressions)

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Ren is a physically abused, emotionally damaged boy who was literally raised by wolves. The protagonist is half-Canadian/half-Japanese and an older brother type who’s father remarried and added 2 younger brothers into the mix.

Protagonist quickly befriends Ren, via the pack of Wolves they have both grown up with and lunch making/humanization ensues.

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Yeah…so I’m bisexual, have been married-hetero for 11 years, and have a 4 year old child. Even I’m not in the mood to watch an adult make out with an adolescent in what is sure to be a romance/drama. This first episode is tame by industry standards but…no thanks?

By film-making standards, nothing interesting or exciting really happened outside of the make-out session. No drama, no animation quality, no humor. I’ll take a pass.

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Love Stage!! – 07

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The opening romance is cut short by Ryouma, who’s furious with despondent Izumi and storms out. Izumi goes back to sleep and dreams of Lala-lulu’s world.

There, he’s about to join Evil Lala-lulu’s side — he even gives the good guy gone bad speech — but is saved at the last moment by Good Lala-lulu.

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Izumi wakes and reads hundreds of missed calls and texts from Rei. Izumi realizes Rei really cares about him, and that he’s always known this but been too stupid to admit it.

Ryouma returns with a surprise: he had Izumi’s manga reviewed by no one other than Lala-lulu’s creator (and Izumi’s idol)! Izumi’s mind is blown, both by Ryouma’s ability to get such a thing and by the kind words from Lala’s creator, which amount to “you suck now but have passion — keep that passion and gain experience.”

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Izumi comes to terms with tackling life’s challenges and resolves to go back home and enter show biz.

Rei is happy to see him and collapses in exhaustion (having been awake for 60 hours straight) and all is well.

Izumi tells Ryouma that he’s like a brother to him and Ryouma kisses him good night. “take a good look. i’m not your older brother” (end episode)

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“Dreams and Hope are nothing but Illusions” – Evil’zumi

And with that, Love Stage!! slams the ball out of the park. I can not stress how well this episode works as a closer for the series. The actors are all clearly introduced and their roles have a natural direction to follow — and if you omit the rapey-part of episode 3, all the relationships make plenty of sense.

Yes! the show will continue on to a happier ending a few episodes down the line but, for me, I’m taking this as a great stopping point. Everyone is happy. Everyone is hopeful and there’s nothing to look forward to but some serious BL from here on out.

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“Dont you dare mock my feels for you” – Ryouma

Was Love Stage!! worth a watch? Yes! I’m glad i took a chance on it. (at least for this long) However, so many elements of the show either don’t work due to my own gender biases OR don’t work because of the show’s.

Seriously! There’s no way Izumi’s mom would be considered funny for not caring where he is if he were female. (and recently raped and missing for 60 hours) No more than any of the weird yuk-yuk jokes make by Rei over the rape itself. The results just come off creepy and are so consistent that I don’t feel the studio would agree.

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Still, at the end of the day, Love Stage!! delivered a decent drama — and one in a genre I would not usually have watched. It held my attention with decently above average annimation, solid voice work and a deeply desturbing early season twist. For that, all I can say is Thumbs up!

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Love Stage!! – 06

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Ryouma is finally confronted by his Agency about his relationship with Izumi. Except, everyone assumes Izumi is female. 

Rei takes this opportunity to launch Izumi’s show bix career. Except they have an angry fight because Izumi wants to become a manga artist.

A deal is struck: If Izumi’s submission is accepted in the manga contest, Rei will support him and, if not, Izumi will dive into show biz without hesitation. (end act 1)

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Izumi’s work is rejected. Izumi is rejected. Izumi stumbles through the rain to Ryouma, the only person he feels cares about him.

Izumi spends the night, barely unmolested, only to end up there early the next morning. Cliffhanger sexy time! (end episode)

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“Mister President, Please dont stand on your desk.” – unnamed assistant.

Love Stage’s sixth outing was not exactly the height of drama, but it kept itself sincere (mostly) and had several good lines of dialog. That said, its sincerity was all over the place in tone and I found it a little jarring to bounce from Izumi’s teen-angst life drama to Ryouma’s sex-angst drama. Sure, LS went out of its way to establish a reason for these two characters to have a post rape connection — even a reliance on each other — but the script can’t escape how different the two characters’ stories are in tone.

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Oh! Haha! Rei wasn’t worried about Izumi getting raped. Je was worried Ryouma would see Izumi’s manga. Good joke!

Addressing the juxtaposition of those scripts appears to be a frequent stumbling point. In fact, I’d argue most of the awkward/horrifying humor (see above) stems from the script’s attempt to blend a happy go luck ‘loser comedy’ with the hard edge of sex drama and social messaging. Why else would it present a mega nose-bleed scene for Ryouma as he oggle’s Izumi’s sleeping body? Why else would he fantasize about Izumi not wearing ‘panties’?

Even when the humor works, it feels out of place. Especially from the Lala-lulu break out segments, where Izumi fantasizes about his favorite Anime character roughly contextualizing an aspect of his own narrative. Lala pokes decent, if not cheap fun at the magic girl genre and she works — but only for “Izumi’s Show.”

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“I know I have rational thought in me, somewhere…” – Ryouma.

You’re probably wondering why, despite my criticisms, episode six is rated 8 this week? Well… it all comes down to the closing scene:

Ryouma and Izumi have a lovely morning but Ryouma wants Izumi to do the right thing and call home. Izumi, still being childish and upset, flippantly says he wants to stay with Ryouma forever instead and hides under the covers. Ryouma, calmly but forcefully rips off the covers, mounts a now startled Izumi and asks him if he’s forgotten who he’s talking to. Izumi turns away and says:

“Just do it. I don’t care anymore.”

Then we get a sailor moon style sex scene and the episode is over…

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This reminder that Ryouma is a rapist and that Izumi has been playing with napalm is the thread seriously missing from the past 2 episodes. Maybe it needed to be missing to make this scene as strong as it was. Regardless, and regardless of how you feel about the subject matter, the scene was powerful, thought provoking and well delivered.

Is Izumi now onboard with BL? (at least in a completely apathetic way) Will Rei and Izumi’s family handle the fall out? Where will next week take us?

Have to wait and see!

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Love Stage!! – 05

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Texting, Texting, Texting, Messages, Messages and Messages, Everybody has something to say to each other, especially when they aren’t in the same room. Also bad manga…

This week starts off with another Izumi daydream of achieving success as a manga artist and this time it’s actually pretty funny: Izumi’s imagined ‘break out comic’ is presented as it is in the real world—hilariously crude and nigh incoherent.

Meanwhile, Ryouma has transitioned into full-on-fem style over-bearing girlfriend and texts Izumi constantly. (He sent 27 while Izumi slept in class) Why doesn’t Izumi block the number, you ask? Well…he tried, and Ryouma convinced everyone he needed to be on suicide watch.

Nice.

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Moving along, Ryouma drops by Izumi’s college for a visit and invades the manga club. What follows is a mostly innocuous string of nerds talking about nerdy things that Ryouma ignores, marked by moments of Ryouma flattering Izumi’s (lack of) talent like a doting girlfriend.

It’s an interesting role reversal, in a way, since Ryouma filled the raging masculine bull/rapist role only 2 weeks previous. Now it’s Izumi’s turn to keep Ryouma in line and make sure the day runs smoothly.

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Izumi’s manga is awesome and I don’t understand the kind of person who wouldn’t enjoy reading it! No Seriously! Someone has to print this!

Partly due to Ryouma’s flattery and partly due to a looming deadline, Izumi makes a crazy decision to invite Ryouma over to help ink. Thankfully, the scene is tame and Ryouma turns out to be a good helper. He’s arguably a better artist than Izumi and helps draw a solid background.

They finish the work in record time and Izumi falls asleep. Then Ryouma kisses him in his sleep, which is a mellow return to rape-town, but, now that Ryouma’s in the fem role, it’s not quite as horrible. Still creepy though.

Then Ryouma gets a call from his manager before he can land a second kiss. He’s in trouble for the voyeur’s photos we assumed were taken last week. Before he goes, he lands some more Sleeping Beauty kisses…maybe more than a few.

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Love Stage!! got its pacing right, at least during the opening this week. It was charming and a lot of it unfolds in bursts as Izumi reads on his phone. Rather good comedic timing, really.

However, by the time we get to the manga club…meh? Ryouma and Izumi’s love story just feels mushy, if not unterrible as romance slice-of-lifes go. The manga-drawing-marathon session offered a little reprieve and the opportunity for Ryouma to find a non-physical attribute to like about Izumi was needed but…still meh?

Truth be told, I’m running out of steam for Love Stage!!—and it’s worth noting that I’d be just as low on juice if this were a hetero-romance show. In some ways, I see why the rape mayhem was needed two weeks ago. Without that, sincere or not, I’m not sure LS has much to get all that excited about. Not for 13 episodes, at least…

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Love Stage!! – 03

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Izumi discovers he broke Ryouma’s ‘special lucky marble’ and freaks out but can’t find a replacement. Ryouma, who doesn’t care, uses this as an excuse to ‘confront’ Izumi and get over his gender confused lust. Confrontation turns into date rape and wuwWWWHUUUUUUUUTTTTTTTTTTT????!?!?!??!

This week’s Love Stage!! presented more of what we’ve come to expect: cute characters, charm and a little embarrassment humor over that little gender confusion from so long ago. Then Ryouma sexually assaults Izumi when they are along at Izumi’s house and is only stopped because Shouga was secretly watching them.

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The whole assault scene is treated with the same whimsical style Love Stage!! treats everything, which certainly made it more jarring/surprising/uncomfortable. Think old school ‘sailor moon’ transformation sequence, except with 2 guys and 1 of them is begging the other to stop and the other is in a passionate gonna rape your orally mode.

Yeah…I don’t know how to respond to this.

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What makes this week’s episode so difficult to comprehend is how indifferent Shouga and Rei are about the attack. It’s all so ‘oh, that explains things’ in a way that I think more people would be repulsed by if Izumi was actually a woman. The show doesn’t even address it as an assault. Just that Ryouma has serious issues ‘yuk-yuk’ because the woman he fell in love with is a guy.

For goodness sake Love Stage!!—if Izumi was really a woman, would the rest of your show tell the happy, charming tale of how she falls in love with her first RAPIST?? Boy, that would be worth some cute chuckles wouldn’t it??

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