Love – the one force that simply won’t be denied.
Shuichi Shindo, the pink-haired vocalist of the up-and-coming band Bad Luck, has fallen in love with Eiri Yuki, the charismatic but cold-hearted bestselling romance novelist. But the enigmatic Yuki has many secrets in his life and when a young woman appears on the scene, announcing that she is Yuki’s fiancée, Shuichi begins to wonder how much he can trust his lover. In a concert, the irrepressible Shuichi can’t hold back and lets the world know, “Yuki is mine!” The media scents a juicy story and the hunt for ‘Yuki’ is on. The novelist can’t handle the intrusive press attention and tells Shuichi bluntly as he shows him the door, “This is the end of the lovers’ game. I simply hate the sight of you.”
To make matters worse, Bad Luck are pitted against another new band ASK in the battle for fame, fortune and that elusive no. 1 slot. Taki Aizawa, the jealous lead singer with ASK, is determined to get rid of his rivals in any way possible. He has Shuichi beaten up, threatening to ruin the novelist’s reputation with incriminating photographs unless Shuichi quits Bad Luck. If this sounds a little unconvincing as an effective piece of blackmail, that’s because this episode in the original manga was ‘cleaned up’ for the anime; Taki fixes a far more unpleasant attack on Shuichi, paying to have him gang-raped.
When Yuki gets to hear of this from Hiro, Shuichi’s best friend and guitarist in Bad Luck, it stirs up bitter and disturbing memories from his past. He goes round to sort out Taki who is terrified, telling him, “You have the eyes of a murderer” as he hands over the negatives.
So what dark secret is hidden in Yuki’s past? Why has it stopped him from ever having a long-lasting relationship? Why has he become so cold and rejecting towards Shuichi? Shuichi is determined to persuade the evasive Yuki to confide in him – and he’s such a stubborn personality that he doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. But whereas he’s able to bounce back from the attack by Taki’s paid thugs, he finds it much harder to handle rejection. Yuki hadn’t mentioned his fiancée to him. What else has he kept hidden?
Just as Bad Luck are recording their first CD, the news breaks on the music scene that Nittle Grasper, the band that inspired Shuichi to be a singer in the first place, are getting back together. His idol, Ryuichi Sakuma, is back in business – and Touma Seguchi, the big boss of NG Productions is back on keyboards, accompanying him. In spite of his pretty, boyish features, it seems that he goes way back with Yuki. What exactly is Touma up to?
Although ‘Gravitation’ only offers brief snapshots of the day-to-day realities of the pop world: spats (creative differences?) between artists; the boredom of long recording sessions, the pre-performance anxieties; the media’s intrusive hunger for gossip; the portrayal is convincing. And if the keyboard/synthesizer sound world of Bad Luck and Nittle Grasper sounds a little dated, the songs (mostly performed by J-pop idol Kinya Kotani and composed by Daisuke Asakura) are genuinely attractive, especially the ending title ‘Glaring Dream’ with its wistful, nostalgic riffs and unusual key shifts. The full significance of this song will become more apparent as the series continues. But then, effective music is a must for a series about a singer – and as long as you’re not expecting to hear something resembling the latest tracks from Versailles or Miyavi, you won’t be disappointed.
On the acting front, I was surprised to be impressed by the US dub actors. The original cast, with Kazuhiko Inoue as Shuichi and Tomokazu Seki as Eiri Yuki, are – of course – really good. But their US counterparts, Rich McNanna and Rome Elliott (relative newcomers to the anime dub world) manage to capture some subtle nuances in the interchanges between the couple.
Much as I love all twelve volumes of Maki Murakami’s original manga, I have to admit that the anime series does a far more sympathetic job of telling the story of the dysfunctional couple. Much of the extraneous and wacky humour has been (thankfully) omitted (no giant panda robots, for example) although K, the band’s American manager, still conducts most of his business at the point of a gun and Shuichi is often portrayed bouncing around in chibi form. (Cute or annoying? It’s up to you to decide.) Shuichi’s predilection for dressing up in bizarre outfits is still there too (check out the scene at the temple of Yuki’s father) although the schoolgirl outfit that pisses Yuki off so royally is partly due to Shuichi’s confused belief that Yuki might like him better if he were a girl…
‘Gravitation’ is the first (correct me if I’m wrong, please) Boys Love anime to make it to a Region 2 DVD release. It’s not the newest BL title by any means but it’s still looking good for its age. Why? Because the on/off love affair at the heart of the story is touchingly and believably portrayed. Shuichi can be annoying – but his devotion to the remote, sarcastic Yuki is utterly sincere and you can’t help rooting for it all to work out in the end.
If you feel like trying a bitter-sweet tale of love and J-pop, then ‘Gravitation’ makes perfect viewing. Even though the animation is a little rough in places, the strength of the story makes this series addictively watchable.