Love Stage started as a romantic comedy manga by Eiki Eiki and Zaou Taishi. In 2014 our old friends at J.C. Staff, behind such titles as Yami no Matsuei, Hachimitsu to Clover, Shakugan no Shana, Toradora and a bunch of other anime I’ve reviewed, started releasing an anime adaptation. Is it a romance that’s worth your time? Let’s examine it and find out. As it was Valentine’s yesterday and this seems like a good week for some romance.
Sena Izumi comes from a show business family. His mother is an actress. His father is in theatre and his elder brother is the lead singer of a band. Izumi, however, doesn’t want to be in show business. He wants to be a manga writer and artist. In spite of not being good at drawing. I know how he feels. That’s why all my writing just uses words. Things change for Izumi when he receives an offer to be the bride in an advert that’s a follow up to one he was in a decade ago. He initially refuses but finds out that the other intended star, Ichijou Ryouma, won’t take part unless the casting is the same as it was a decade ago. Reluctantly, Izumi agrees to take part for the sake of his family’s business. Little does he realise that Ichijou’s insistence has to do with the feelings he’s harboured for a decade and little does Ichijou realise that the co-star he’s been pining for is actually a boy. I detect incoming hijinks.
The biggest flaw with this series is that a lot of the early stuff involving the romance is questionable, at best. Ichijou carries around a picture of eight year old Izumi and he’s been obsessing over him. That’s pretty creepy. You’d think a mentally stable person would have gotten over their first crush given a decade. There’s also a scene where Ichijou actively tries to force himself on Izumi which begs the question of why a light-hearted comedic romance involves attempted rape. That’s not remotely suitable for the tone. To its credit, the series does acknowledge the atrocious nature of Ryouma’s actions and spends a good amount of time having him try to redeem himself but it’s still really tonally awkward and poor form for the start of a romance. There’s also some awkwardness involving Izumi’s brother harbouring a complex for him that borders on incestuous.
On the positive side, the romance does get pretty decent once its past the initial awkwardness. The comedic elements of the series also generally work pretty well. It’s not uproariously funny comedy, but it is pretty good.
This series has two types of characters. The first are the major characters who are a step or two above archetypes. They develop, albeit in kind of shallow ways, over the course of the series. The second are the side characters who are pretty much the epitome of generic. The interactions vary a bit. Izumi is unrealistically quick to forgive Ryouma but their latter interactions after that whole plot point dies down are pretty decent and develop almost naturally. My favourite interactions by far are between Izumi & Rei, a gent who acts as a guardian and parental figure towards him. It’s a multi-faceted dynamic that can be genuinely heart-warming at times. Then we have the brotherly relationship which is far too clingy and a bit creepy.
The artwork is, as a whole, pretty decent. The series does suffer a bit from the whole comedic undetailed moments that you get in a lot of series. The mouths are also a bit awkward both in how they move and in their appearance. I do quite like the way they do the eyes in the series, although the spectacles look awkward, and the regular scenes where they aren’t doing something odd for comedic effect look quite nice. I also do like that Izumi’s drawings are realistically amateurish. They don’t make them look exaggeratedly bad like a lot of series that have a character who’s supposed to be bad at artwork do.
The cast in this is pretty good. Eguchi Takuya, Hirakawa Daisuke & Yonaga Tsubasa all deliver nice performances and the rest of the cast are all competent. The music was handled by Nakanishi Ryosuke and he did a decent enough job. It’s not a soundtrack I’ll be listening to on its own but it does get the job done.
I’ve already talked about Izumi And Ryouma quite a bit but there’s more homo-eroticism in the series than just the two of them. Towards the end it’s heavily implied that Izumi’s brother and Rei are in a sexual relationship. I don’t know why they didn’t do more that instead of focusing on the kind of creepy brother complex.
Ultimately, Love Stage is a series that has a massive shadow hanging over it. The shadow of the messed up way the main romance starts. And while the series does markedly improve over that very poor first impression, it never quite breaks away from it. Ultimately, those things it does well kind of strike a balance with those it does poorly. Is it a bad series? No. It has quite a few funny moments and the latter stuff with the romance is decent enough. Is it a good one? Also no. It’s simply hurt too much by the tonal awkwardness in the beginning and by the whole brother complex aspect. In the end, it’s pretty average. My final rating is going to be a 5/10. If you like romances and can forgive the whole way things open, you’ll probably get some enjoyment from it. Next week I’ll look at JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Stardust Crusaders series 2.