Representation of LGBT+ people in Japanese animation and comics has a strange history. If you’re briefly looking from the outset, you’ll think that that media is overflowing with it, considering that yaoi (Boys’ Love genre) is extremely popular and there’s lots of anime from as early as the 90s that were not afraid to show gender-queer characters (like several villains and the Sailor Stars in the Sailor Moon franchise) or even happy same-sex relationships (Cardcaptor Sakura having a developing male-on-male relationship on screen, with a happy ending no less, for Toya and Yuki). However, if you look deeper into it and happen to know Japan’s history, you’ll realise that most of these examples are either anomalies or not exactly what they seem. For example, Boys’ Love is a lucrative genre, but it’s made with women, not gay men in mind, and most of the same sex couples we’ve seen were mostly created by (presumably) heterosexual males and females. Also, Japan itself is a very conservative country, with a mindset that homosexuality is ‘a phase’ that one goes through. So, its media portraying such relationships seems to play more into Japan’s history of not being afraid to explore unconventional or controversial subjects in its material, from incest to age-gap relationships. Luckily, with the increase of rights and voices heard from Japanese’s LGBT+ community, there’s also been an increase in more positive presentation. Yuri on Ice!!! paved the way for it in 2016, with a sports show portraying a happy, developing relationship between two males, and since then we’ve had more and more representation, such as a transgender character in Zombie Land Saga and more compelling romances in the BL genre offers such as Given. And now we have Bloom into You, which debuted in 2018 to positive reception, but what is it actually about?
Based upon the manga series by Nio Nakatani, Bloom into You follows Yuu Koito, who is all about romance, she loves hearing and reading about it, longing to have her moment of ‘fireworks’ when the spark of first love blooms. When a boy confesses his love to her at middle school graduation however, she feels nothing, and is unable to respond. At the start of high school, she meets Touko Nanami, who seems to be very much like Yuu; she has many suitors confess their love to her and yet she feels nothing in return either. With Touko’s guidance, Yuu rejects the boy gently, and in turn Touko begins in fall in love with Yuu, experiencing her own ‘fireworks’ for the first time. But Yuu, again, feels nothing, is something wrong with her? Or is love a lot more complicated than that?
When it comes to the romance genre, the lingering question is normally ‘will they or won’t they?’ with the answer most likely being ‘they will’ and it ends with the couple getting together, with all the build-up of romantic and sexual tension being the driving force of the series. Bloom Into You has a very different kind of tension though; there’s definitely romantic moments, but unlike many other shows where there’s tons of passionate scenes, long glances and both parties feeling the blossoming of love, it’s mostly one-sided from Touko’s point of view with Yuu struggling to put her own feelings and securities into words and context. A lot of her frustrations and feelings can be interpreted as ‘asexual’ but it’s not confirmed in the text or by the author; nevertheless those who happen to identify as such, or those who aren’t fans of the whole ‘sweeping romance’ aspect of these shows in general, may find a lot to identify with within Yuu. Anyone who does love the romance but dislikes really slow burns may find Yuu’s development a little frustrating as there’s a lot of internal dialogue that, admittedly, made me flip back and forth between wanting to hug or shake the girl to her senses. However, as the series approaches its finale (that ends on a non-conclusive note, obviously hoping for a Season 2, which has yet to be confirmed) it makes you realise that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Yuu and Touko are both teenage girls, and as everyone knows who’s old enough to look back on their teenage years, being a teenager sucks. Your hormones are all over the place and you’re expected to grow and mature whilst not knowing what or who you are. That’s not even taking relationships and sexuality into the equation which also has its own issues to figure out: what you identify as, who you are attracted to, figuring out your own sexual desires, etc. Bloom Into You explores these deeply personal dramas very well through its characters. Touko is not only falling in love for the first time, but is also exploring her sexual desires, and her drive is much higher than Yuu’s, who in turn finds herself being not entirely uncomfortable with Touko’s advances but feels unable to return them and is unsure what she wants from the relationship, if she wants it at all. It all feels incredibly authentic, and personal, something that anyone can identify with. Not everyone discovers their sexuality and identity at the same time, and these two girls have their own issues outside of their blossoming relationship. So, even though the romance side is very slow and lacking heat, you can see that the both of them individually are not complete people; they have to figure out their own issues with themselves, by helping and growing together, before they can become a healthy, happy couple. Which makes the journey not only unique but also very fitting of the title, ‘Bloom Into You’.
Outside of the main couple however, there’s also a very mature exploration of what living as an LGBT+ person can be in Japan, but a lot of the text will resonate with anyone. Unlike most yaoi or yuri media, which tend to set their stories in a world where homophobia doesn’t seem to exist, Bloom Into You is set in the real world, and the prejudices that comes with it. It’s not shown in a comical or over-the-top way either, it’s easily recognisable and heartbreakingly true to life. From the off-hand comments made by Yuu’s father about hoping she’s not gay, to an adult lesbian couple being very private about their living situation, and then there’s to one male student who gets very excited about two females playing lovers in a play to the point where he wants a kissing scene added into it. It’s all examples of small, but authentic ways that lesbians are treated in real life and that’s what makes this feel not only a great show for LGBT+ people, but all the more captivating that Yuu and Touko are growing together despite all these obstacles. Obviously, if you prefer more of the fantasy that most yaoi/yuri anime have with the world not bringing up these prejudices, you’ll likely find this not to your tastes, but it’s so nice to see this portrayed in an anime when it’s usually ignored.
The Blu-ray set contains all 13 episodes of the series so far, as well as English and Japanese audio track. The English dub is very good, with veterans Tia Ballard and Luci Christian voicing the two leads, who are both compelling and deliver the complex emotions incredibly well within the roles. In terms of the script however, there are a lot of leeways with the translation; most of it is providing Western phrases and expressions in place of Japanese ones, but the one that will most likely cause debate is one episode where Touko makes a big deal of calling Yuu by her first name. In Japanese this makes sense as they often address each other by their surnames, but in the English dub Touko calls her Yuu from the beginning. They try to make it work by having Yuu call her ‘dear’ back and such but it doesn’t save the lost context of the original.
The soundtrack is provided by veteran composer Michiru Ōshima, who provides an emotional yet restrained score that fits the material perfectly. Animation is produced by Troyca, who don’t have any romance anime experience but they do a fab job here; lot of well framed tender scenes, soft colours and making even the simipliest of movements very smooth. And last, but not least, the on-disc extras include clean opening and closing, Japanese promos, and Sentai Filmwork trailers.
Bloom Into You is an exceptional yuri anime that portrays many LGBT+ themes in a unique, authentic, and compelling way. Its slow nature and non-conclusive ending may turn off those who prefer a complete and sweeping romance, but if you want something different, this is a good one to settle down and binge watch with a warm blanket and cup of tea on the sofa, and maybe a pack of tissues if you’re a big softie at heart.