Junjo Romantica is a yaoi love story following the fresh youngster Misaki and much older pursuer Usami. The anime is based on the manga Junjo Romantica: Pure Romance, written and Illustrated by Shungiku Nakamura. Fans of the genre will be familiar with the name as the manga has spun off several CD Dramas and Light novels over the last few years. Two other couples are also featured from Junjo Egoist and Junjo Terrorist to flesh out the 12 episodes and add some variety.
Misaki and his much older brother Takahiro, have been living together alone after their parents died some years ago. To support them both, Takahiro dropped out of uni to worked so Misaki could have a relatively normal life. In order to help Misaki get into his target college, Takahiro asks a good friend to help him out with his studying. Enter Usami, an oversized man child with a sour temper and unwholesome fantasies. Usami’s nickname is Usagi (rabbit), and he is a well known novelist, regularly churning out books, as well as his own Boy Love (BL) series.
After announcing his engagement to his girlfriend, Takahiro then moves away to Osaka leaving Misaki in Usagi’s care (terrible idea). The main story follows these two as they get to know each other, and Misaki struggles to comprehend his feelings for Usagi. The other two couples have their own side stories, and are connected to Usagi one way or another. There is also a nice flashback episode of Usagi and Kamijou as kids when they first meet and strike up a friendship. This is quite refreshing, as there is some character development and an insight into the two before adulthood. There is really only one woman in the series, and that’s Usagi’s editor Eri. She pops in randomly to check Usagi is still meeting deadlines and hasn’t dropped dead. All the rest are either faceless or not in scenes for very long. Even women who are pivotal to the story are faceless, like the first meeting with Takahiro’s ‘wife to be’ and Miyagi’s flashbacks of his first love. It’s strange, as it disconnect the emotional attachment the characters should have for these women, and also the audience.
Yaoi (love and relationships specifically between men) is not an unusual manga or anime genre in Japan. In fact, it is getting more and more popular in the country, and even overseas. You would think the main consumer would be the LGBT community, however it is clear many of the readers are young women. There is absolutely no issue in this, what I do have an issue with is the message conveyed in the manga and the anime adaption.
Within the first 15 minutes of episode 1, Misaki is sexually assaulted by Usagi. Not only was it clearly a non-consensual interaction, the exchange they shared afterwards seemed to lessen the seriousness of the assault. It turned something very dark and confronting, into a joke along the lines about being ‘too quick’ in bed. If this interaction was between a woman and a man it would have been a very different story, so why Nakamura tried to make it acceptable between two men is beyond my understanding. Misaki is not overly concerned, in fact he doesn’t seem to have any realistic thoughts at all, even after he is jumped by Usagi numerous times. Nothing moves past the basic “do I like him or not?” and “Relationships between men aren’t right” and that’s about as far as the other characters get too.
There were so many opportunities to deepen the characters and discuss some relatable issues that real homosexual men may have, but It just didn’t happen. The characters might as well have been dating women. The only character with any real substance in Junjo Romantica is Miyagi. His past unrequited lost love haunts him, and after divorcing his new wife he is a bit emotionally worn. Of course, he too falls into the same level as the others when an 18 year old boy (Shinobu) pursues him romantically. He also randomly kisses Kamijou (his co-worker) for seemingly no reason in a terrible setup scene.
The sex scenes themselves are more suggestive than full-on, usually half clothed so there is no real nudity. OK maybe a butt or two so it’s pretty clean. Get ready for sexy blushy faces, tears, kissing, sitting on each others laps and lots of shirt lifting. The manga is a bit more graphic, but a bit still less than full hentai. It’s hardy romantic, most are a frenzied ‘in the moment’ scenes that are over pretty quickly. Each couple in Junjo Romantica has a definitive Uke (submissive) and Seme (dominant) position to play in the relationship. All three pairs are very similar that way, so you have a good idea about who is going to initiate the chase.
The animation itself is lacking and changes quality frequently which is not uncommon for long series, but it is pretty obvious over these 12 episodes . Originally airing in 2008, I can appreciate in some areas the art style may be slightly dated, however they have dome most of the important scenes justice.There are some funny moments in the manga, a couple of them have fallen flat in the anime due to mainly bad timing. Overall if you are a fan of the genre you may have a greater appreciation of this series, I was hoping for something a little deeper and thought provoking. I am hoping the continuation deepens the characters as they get more comfortable with each other.
The DVD provides Japanese language only, which is fine for me as I never watch anime in English anyway. The extras are the always welcome textless themes, TV spots and commercials. There are 12 episodes altogether spread over three nicely printed DVD’s and a reversible cover. Junjo Romantica is unique in that it delves into the romances between men which presents a different set of obstacles for the characters. If you enjoyed the likes of Gravitation and even Dramatical Murder then Junjo Romantica may just be your slice of cake.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.