Izumi comes from a long line of entertainers, and his parents would love nothing more than to see him get into show biz. The problem? He’s a closeted otaku who’s only interested in making a name for himself as a manga artist while at the same time being terrible at drawing. His lack of interest in entertainment can be traced back to his childhood when he was forced to crossdress in a commercial and thoroughly embarrassed himself. But when he is forced to star in the 10th anniversary edition of the commercial that scarred him, he will have to come face-to-face with potential embarrassment once again. To make matters worse, his childhood costar Ryouma – who has become one of the most popular television stars in all of Japan – still believes he is a girl and confesses his love for him. Now Ryouma and Izumi will have to decide if being a man really matters to either of them when it comes to love.
Love Stage was one of the more popular Boys Love that came out in the past two years. It ties some convoluted issues in with general anime tropes to produce a semi-serious look at being gay, the entertainment industry, and otaku culture. I say semi-serious in this case because most of the characters are pretty stereotypical in nature and its look at the entertainment industry is not as deep as I would like, leaving a lot of room for comedy and pot-shots at otaku culture. One of the great things about this anime though is that it moves away from using the typical yaoi and BL character designs, giving us instead an incredibly colorful and expressive anime.
Love Stage is brought to you by JC Staff who also worked on Azumanga Daioh, Bakuman, and Food Wars. I honestly have to commend them on their work with this series. When you compare it to the manga, the character designs are on point, the plot follows very closely to the original, and the animation helps produce an extremely vibrant and expressive series. The show follows the lives of a family of entertainers, so it seems pretty fitting that Love Stage would be full of color and expressive characters. I will say that the art style leads to some awkwardness around the mouth area that threw me off a few times, but in general I like the fact that this BL moves away from of the more typical art styles in the genre. Series like Junjou Romantica have kind of made large, awkward hands and angular faces a semi-norm among the genre, and this anime provides a nice change from that. With the addition of a solid opening that has both a great song (“Lovest” by Screen Mode) and backing animation that actually speaks to the plot and characters of the series, Love Stage is a great choice for people looking for maybe a more non-traditional BL to watch.
Within its Boys Love romance, this anime manages to say many interesting things about the nature of love and talent. Izumi’s family consists of an opera star father, a famous actress mother, and a lead singer older brother. Talent seems to flow through the family bloodline and through their genes, except for, it seems, Izumi. Instead of following the rest of his family into the entertainment industry, Izumi looks to manga to express his need for creativity. Having been captivated by a magical girl anime at a young age, he sets out to get closer to his idol, the creator “Lala-Lulu”. The only problem is he lacks the talent for art. All his drawings come out awful and he has no idea just how awful they are. But when he takes part in the commercial, we get to see that he does actually have the talent for acting, he was just too scarred by childhood trauma to ever think about setting foot in front of a camera again. When we bring Ryouma into the mix, a talented actor who worked his way up from his child-star past, we see this divide between hard work and genetic talent. Ryouma’s experiences are the quintessential “worked your way to success” story. (We don’t get to see the full extent of the conflict in the anime, but it does come up later in the manga.) It becomes more understandable then when Ryouma whole-heartedly begins to support Izumi’s mangaka dream. He’s experienced first-hand the success that can come from never giving up on your dream. In this way, their relationship evolves into one of mutual support.
Just as Ryouma was there for Izumi when he was about to give up on his dream, Izumi has always been there for him through his journey from child star to the present, if only in spirit. They both come to lean on and rely on each other as the series goes on, creating a relationship founded on support. And, it seems, this is enough to help Ryouma over the hurdle of their relationship that is gender. He believed that Izumi was a girl for the whole 10 years between meetings, and had fallen terribly in love with him. Like he admits, his 10 years of feelings weren’t going to go away overnight, and it’s only through this realization that he comes to accept that Izumi is man and he is still very much in love with him. This brings me to something else this series does better. As Ryouma struggles with his feelings, he decides to sear into his mind that Izumi is in fact a man by getting him to strip. But his emotions get the best of him and he winds up pretty much assaulting Izumi. Some BL and yaoi would gloss over this incident to the point where it seems like neither character was actually affected by it, but Love Stage seems to take it more seriously, showing how much Izumi was troubled by it and just how much Ryouma regrets his actions to the point where he can’t work. While I do think the handling of this incident isn’t quite where it should be at this point, I do think showing the aftermath and the regret is a good place to start. Additionally, Love Stage takes a look at inexperienced gay love in a more technical sense than I think most series go into. The manga gets a lot more into it after the anime’s cut-off, but the anime does show at least Izumi researching how to have sex with a man in his own way.
The series does have its weak points though. The characters, for instance, pretty much all subscribe to some trope or another. The mother is the spoiled actress who always gets her way, the father is the doting husband that sees no problem in giving his wife everything, and the brother is the the over-protective sibling and over-confident musician. Izumi himself is a classic otaku trope. He is practically a NEET who over-obsesses over his anime “waifu” to the point that his brother bribes him with merchandise multiple times to get him to do something. As I was saying at the beginning as well, this anime loves to take pot-shots at Izumi’s otaku nature. Multiple times he is told his mangaka dream is stupid and he should just give up and get into entertainment like everyone else in the family, and each time I’ve felt these instances were a key facet of the comedy. But they also make up how Izumi comes to relate to the world. He is absorbed by obsession and that begins to bleed over into other aspects of his life including his relationship. When he realizes he’s in love with Ryouma, he buys all his merch. When he wants to figure out sex, he turns to yaoi manga. Anime and obsession are the big things that has given him the most support, and it’s only through the addition of Ryouma that he begins to move away from it. Though he may have just migrated his obsession.
But Love Stage also has a lot of room to grow. It stops at a pretty big point in Izumi’s story: his introduction to the entertainment world. If they ever decide to pick up this series for a second season, I think they’ll have a lot of great story to play with. And if the mangaka ever goes further, she has a lot a room to expand even to additional characters. While Ryouma’s and Izumi’s romance takes the forefront of the series, we are also introduced to Rei and Izumi’s brother’s romance, a possible romance between Ryouma’s boss and secretary, and maybe (a huge maybe) some sort of connection between Izumi’s friend and the creator of “Lala-Lulu”. I think these would all be good choices if the mangaka ever wants to branch off in the future. But for now, I would definitely suggest checking out the manga. The anime follows pretty closely until the cut-off, but it is definitely more explicit and delves deeper into Izumi’s experiences as an actor/entertainer. Overall, I definitely think this is a solid BL series if a little stereotypical or ridiculous at times.
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