This year for our Valentine’s week romance review, we’re looking at Junjou Romantica. This one is based off of the best known work of Nakamura Shungiku. The manga has been going since late 2003. The anime, at least the first series of it, aired in 2008. And that was brought to us by Studio Deen. Yes, the same studio that brought us Gravitation, Twilight Q, & Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. I have a feeling one of those is going to bear far more similarities to this than the others. But maybe I’m just making assumptions based on the genre overlap. Is this one as good as Gravitation was? Let’s take a look at the first series and see.
We start out with Misaki, our protagonist, trying to get into a good university. There’s just one problem. His test scores are pretty bad. In order to better prepare for the entrance exams he enlists the aid of his older brother’s friend who also happens to be a famous author. This is Usami, also called Usagi-san. But things quickly take a strange turn when Usami immediately molests Misaki. We then go through a harrowing narrative as Misaki struggles to cope with the violation and whether or not to involve law enforcement. Or, maybe that’s just the start of a romance. It’s one of those, and not the one that makes more sense.
Therein lies the fundamental flaw with Junjou Romantica. The main romance is completely fucked up. Usami straight up sexually assaults Misaki a lot. With dialogue from Misaki to the effect of “Stop. Let go. Get off of me.” and yet we’re supposed to buy into the idea that this is a good romantic relationship and not a serial rapist who’s chosen a younger victim who happens to be in his power. But it’s actually totally the latter and they never acknowledge the severe problems with it. Give a series like Love Stage some credit, at least when it uncomfortably started with an attempted sexual assault they put some effort into showing redemption and repentance on the part of the guilty party. There’s also a secondary romance between a university professor and a high school boy who wants to go to the university he teaches at. I foresee no ethical problems with that whatsoever. Frankly, both of these romances are super unhealthy & really uncomfortable to watch. Which also adversely affects the attempts at comedy. Because you aren’t getting legitimately funny scenes in a series with an uncomfortable, rapey atmosphere.
The one area where I’ll give the series some credit is that the relationship betwixt Hiroki & Nowaki generally does work. They demonstrate respect for one another’s boundaries, which should go without saying but, in this series, is unique. They also have some compelling relationship issues that do speak to the kinds of real problems that healthy couples face. Like a lack of communication or jealousy.
The characters could almost be pretty typical. Usami is the talented rich boy who has a childish side into adulthood, with a side of being a rapist. Misaki is the youngster with a lot of potential who’s uncertain about himself but will do anything for the one they love. Or, in this case, the one he’s got Stockholm syndrome for. Ultimately, that makes them worse than generic. Because this series is grotty.
Like with the romance in general, the only characters who somewhat redeem the series are Hiroki & Nowaki. Since the problems they deal with are pretty legitimate and they handle their situations in a somewhat realistic fashion.
In terms of artwork, there are some nice backgrounds. The character designs look decent enough. The comedic art shift that you get when the series thinks it’s pulled away from the uncomfortable romance aspects enough to go for a joke look pretty bad and they’re kind of over done in terms of how frequently it happens.
They did get some very talented actors for this. Including our old friend, Sakurai Takahiro. There’s also Itou Kentarou, Canna Nobutoshi & Kishio Daisuke to name a few. That being said, these aren’t their best performances. A lot of it boils down to them having reactions that are really downplayed because “this is a romance. So, your “no, stop” needs to be a soft protest.” It’s almost like that element singularly damages virtually every facet of the series. That’s also why Itou & Canna give, by a good margin, the best performances in the series. Since their characters are allowed to react to their situation in a way that isn’t totally stilted. The music is by MOKA, the same music unit that brought us Elfen Lied‘s average music. This is slightly better than that. It’s okay.
Well, we have three main couples, all of which are gay. Our main couple is really rapey and repulsive. One of our secondary couples is exceedingly unethical excrement. That leaves the Hiroki/ Nowaki couple. Which, to be honest, isn’t worth sitting through the rest of this for. They have some cute moments and if they were in a series by themselves I’d probably be pretty fond of it. Overall, though, this is not a series with a healthy concept of what a romantic relationship between men looks like. You’d be better off with Gravitation or Gakuen Heaven. Even something with a gay couple on the side like Gundam Wing or Voyages of the Cerberus (I know, shameless self plug) would be better if decently handled.
It’s probably pretty plain to see that I did not care for this series. Part of the problem is that it paints sexual assault as an ordinary part of romance. Part of the problem is that it portrays itself as a “pure” romance series while having that kind of shite as a staple. Ultimately, it’s pretty bad and I really don’t recommend it unless you have a fetish for gay rape. Which I won’t judge you for but I may slowly back away from you and only ever be around you in bright, crowded areas. The one redeeming factor is the Hiroki/ Nowaki romance, which is, unfortunately, not the focus. So, the final rating is going to stand at a 3/10. Next week I’ll look at A-Ko the Versus.