Hello, Everyone. Valentine’s is this week so let’s look at a romance. In this case, Gakuen Heaven a shounen-ai series based on a video game from Spray. The adaptation was handled by Spray, Visual Art’s and Tokyo Kids. Let’s dive right in and see if the love is in the air or if this is one of those painful romances.
The tale opens with Keita getting an acceptance letter to Bell Liberty Academy, a prestigious boys’ school where the most elite of elite students attend classes. Keita wonders why he’s been accepted since he can’t think of anything that makes him special, but he goes because it’s a great opportunity. At the Academy he meets a bunch of kind, attractive guys who readily accept him in spite of his own doubts. Everything seems to be going well, particularly with Kazuki who is always by his side, when Keita finds his qualifications suddenly challenged and has to prove himself worthy.
The biggest issue with the story is that the series doesn’t take a lot of risks in its story-telling. As such, a lot of the events and turns are really predictable. If you’ve seen or read a decent number of romance stories then you’ve probably seen every turn the story takes used enough times that you know the pattern it’s going to follow. Gakuen Heaven tries to compensate for that with its humour, which does work to an extent, but even that isn’t always well done. To give a concrete example, the story uses the joke where characters sound like they’re doing something naughty and the camera shows things in the background to imply that there may be something naughty going on that they can’t show you until, big surprise, it shows the characters doing something completely innocuous. It’s a setup that can work and that can be really funny, but it loses all its impact when you keep using it at the beginning of episodes.
Now, the plot being standard and predictable doesn’t make it bad. There are a lot of good things about the story too. The foreshadowing is really good, although I’m, not sure if that’s because they expected the plot to be hard to follow or because they knew it was going to be predictable but still didn’t want to have anything happen in the climax that introduced new elements and wouldn’t make much sense. Either way, I will give them credit for establishing everything early. There are also some really cute romantic moments that work well and the humour, even with those moments that don’t work, is generally funny and entertaining.
The characters in this are pretty archetypical. You’ve got the twins who have the same personality, the hyper flirtatious guy, the sensitive artist, the kind athletic guy who takes care of everyone, and so on. None of them are bad characters but they don’t have much depth to them. My only real complaint is that Hideaki is kind of creepy in a way that doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the series. To be fair, he doesn’t do much in terms of things that are actually creepy, but those few scenes where he does are just strange and a little uncomfortable. I will also give the series credit, though. I do like that Keita has a pretty subtle character arc that demonstrates exactly what makes him worthy and even remarkable in spite of his own uncertainty. The character dynamics are also really well done, in spite of most of the characters being pretty standard.
The art is pretty good. The backgrounds can be a bit sparse, but the character designs are really good and the animation flows really well, particularly in those scenes where there’s some kind of action. The series is also really good about using art to set up atmosphere, which it does do in several scenes and there are some really nice details for objects that are actually going to be important.
Gakuen Heaven has an amazing vocal cast. Our main couple is voiced by Sakurai Takahiro (the voice of Cloud Strife and Kururugi Suzaku) and Fukuyama Jun (the voice of Lelouch Lamperouge and Albert de Morcerf.) Incidentally, I now understand why Code Geass has so many shounen-ai fans. They aren’t the only big name actors either. We’ve got Morikawa Toshiyuki (Sephiroth,) Konishi Katsuyuki (Lloyd Irving,) Miki Shinichiro (Kudou Youji,) Kawakami Tomoko (Utena,) Suzumura Kenichi (Kokutou Mikiya,) Kamiya Hiroshi (Levi) and many others. They all deliver really spectacular performances in this too. The music is really good. Yoshikawa Mei does a good job delivering a suitable score.
As surprising as it may be, this shounen-ai romance has a lot of ho-yay in it. The ho-yay factor is a 10/10.
Gakuen Heaven is a simple, light-hearted romance. A lot of it is pretty standard stuff, but it manages to have some really good aspects too. A lot of the humour works, the cutesy moments are absolutely adorable, the vocal cast is amazing, the character dynamics are good and it is consistently entertaining throughout. If you’re in the mood for a cutesy romance, check it out. If that isn’t your thing then you aren’t going to be into this series. For myself, I give it a solid 7/10. Next week I’ll take a look at Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka. There won’t be a review of yesteryear this Saturday, since it’s the 14th it’ll be time to do the annual awards for all of the things I’ve reviewed this year. We’ll see which anime win in the positive categories and which ones “win” in the negative categories.