Episodes 1-2 (Streaming on Crunchyroll)
Eighteen-year-old Izumi has it tough. His mother, Nagisa Sena, is a famous actress, his father is a famous singer-turned-impresario, and his older brother Shougo is the lead singer in the popular group CRUSHERZ. But Izumi’s only brush with the entertainment world came ten years ago, when as an unwilling extra in a prestigious wedding company commercial starring his parents, he was forced to take on the role of the littlest bridesmaid on set, opposite a cute little page boy. Traumatized by the whole experience, he has hidden away behind huge glasses ever since, taking refuge in his otaku dreams of becoming a mangaka one day.
And now – guess what? The wedding company want to make a ‘Ten Years Later’ commercial starring the little couple, now grown up, at their own wedding. The little boy turns out to be none other than Ryouma Ichijou, now a popular teenage idol – and he refuses to take the job unless the original adorable little girl agrees to play opposite him as his bride. Cue much begging, scheming, and eventual blatant bribery from the Sena household (Shougo even jets back from London) to persuade the slender Izumi to pretend to be a girl one more time. There is a problem, however – apart, of course, from Izumi’s overwhelming stage fright and the fact that he is an eighteen-year-old boy. Ryouma is so smitten with his long-lost boyhood crush that he blurts out his feelings to Izumi, utterly unaware that he is not a girl…
It’s been a while since a Japanese company has made a Boys Love TV series (the last of any length being Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi) and it’s good to see a manga by someone other than Shungiku Nakamura (good though she is) getting its chance in the spotlight. (True, there have been OVAs etc., but not anything really substantial.) So yes, this is Boys Love, but given the set-up, the light-hearted tone of voice, the cute chibi figures of teddy and black cat that pop up on screen from time to time with little placards commenting on the action, and the bright candy-coloured backgrounds, this is first and foremost a romantic comedy. It’s light-hearted, funny, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and flirts amusingly with many of the tropes of shoujo romance (as well as BL). It’s also remarkably faithful to the popular ongoing manga written by Eiki Eiki and drawn by Taishi Zaou (available in French from Taifu Comics). The distinctive character designs (which won’t appeal to everyone, especially Sena Senior’s creepy moustache, another example of how many mangaka find it difficult to represent parents/older folk convincingly) are also remarkably faithful to Taishi Zaou’s originals in the manga. It’s also something of a family affair, as Izumi’s possessive Big Brother Shougo is played by the writer’s younger brother DAIGO, a popular singer and heartthrob in his own right.
Tsubasa Yonaga is endearing as shy Izumi, the lightness of his voice making Ryouma’s misapprehension all the more understandable and Takuya Eguchi convinces as the baffled – but good-hearted – Ryouma. I’m not quite so convinced by DAIGO yet… but the off-stage relationship between the singer and the scrupulously conscientious (uptight) Rei Sagara, manager of Sena-Pro, Sena Senior’s talent agency (well portrayed here by Daisuke Hirakawa) has already been hinted at (there’s also an ongoing light novel series about this pair).
Love Stage!! revels in boy-girl gender confusion. Such ambiguities are a strong element of Shakespeare’s comedies (Twelfth Night in particular comes to mind) but when Izumi is depicted as fixated on LalaLulu, a moe anime magical girl, and Ryouma is equally fixated on ‘female’ Izumi, any possibility of a relationship developing seems somewhat unlikely. However, the lively Opening and Ending animations leave the viewer in little doubt as to the eventual outcome of the story. (Opening Theme “LΦVEST” is by SCREEN mode and catchy synth-pop Ending Theme: “CLICK YOUR HEART!!” is sung by Kazutomi Yamamoto.)
This is as fluffy and fun a watch as was promised by the promotional material (if you’re not allergic to mxm romance) enhanced by fluent storytelling from Director Kenichi Kasai (Bakuman, Nodame Cantabile).
Ideal candyfloss entertainment for the summer months – sweet and light and entertaining.