The teenage years are often referred to as the best years of your life but they can come with their own set of challenges Its the time of life where youre still finding out who you are who you want to be and whats important to you. Even as late as the crucial age of 18 it can be difficult to find your place in the world especially if youre struggling to find the place where you belong. This is even worse for Sena Izumi because in addition to his more normal adolescent woes hes the youngest member of an entire family of entertainers and celebrities His sly father is a stage actor his spoiled mother is a model/actress his doting brother is the lead singer of a popular rock band his family has its own talent manager And he wants to be a manga artist. Naturally this has caused a bit of friction in the family as the excitable and outgoing Sena family is beginning to seriously worry about their youngest son whos locked himself in his room like a hermit and dedicated his life to a passion that they believe he has no talent for the field that he dreams of finding success in and theyve decided to do whatever it takes to get him out of his introverted shell. Fortunately for them an opportunity to do so has just presented itself. When Izumi was only eight years old he was dressed up like a girl for a wedding scene in a commercial and the company wants to do an anniversary commercial A sequel where the children from the original classic have grown up and are marrying themselves. After some creative persuasion from his brother Izumi agrees to don the drag dress one more time but little does he know that his walk down the aisle is leading him into the arms of destiny. His costar the now famous Ryoma Ichijou has been in love with him since the first commercial and this isnt just imprinting The sight of her face has gotten him through ten long years of hardship in the entertainment industry and it was HIS idea to get the original cast back so he could finally make his dreams of seeing her again come true. Will his discovery of his brides true gender bring his longing to a grinding halt or has he come too far to turn back now? And what kind of effect will getting caught up in all of this have on Senas routine lifestyle? They may only be married in fiction but the red string of fate is all too real. Love Stage comes to us from JC Staff who I believe Ive said before has no real consistency in its visual presentation. It goes all over the place in terms of quality but out of the three general camps that I mentioned in my Kill Me Baby review Id say Love Stage fits nicely into Camp 3. This is once again the camp where anime has a modest budget theres no real room for excess and they do whatever they can to make the show look as good as possible without putting themselves into a compromising financial situation. Much like other shows in this camp Love Stage never really goes out of its way to impress you with its animation but it still looks fucking great. The characters use very simple movements whenever motion is needed and it never tries to do more than it needs to while at the same time never feeling like its skimping. There are budget saving tricks at play but the producers were clever enough to make sure it all felt like part of the visual style and tone of the series which they succeeded at. And speaking of the visual style this is a very beautiful show just in terms of its art alone. For about 90 percent of the series the color palette is bright warm and welcoming almost like it knew how intense its kind of subject matter could be and was designed to put viewers at ease right from the early stages. The other ten percent of the time when the show does get a bit darker what with the characters dealing with issues and internal turmoil the palette changes to reflect this but its never for long. The level of detail is also stunning with its depiction every little crack in a shattered marble only being the tip of the iceberg. Just about everything in the background is shown with intricate detail aside from the people who are drawn as colorless silhouettes and while Id normally rag on a show for this RWBY season 1 how ya doing The fact that it only really happens when a character is busy with internal monologues does make it feel like an accurate portrayal of their distracted mindset. While Im not a fan of shiny white halos surrounding a characters hair Ive bitched about it before and sorry but Im not cool with it here either The character designs are otherwise very attractive and tell us a lot about the characters as people. Ryouma and Izumi in particular were designed to fall right in the middle of masculinity and femininity as theyre obviously coded male but they still have the big moe eyes slender bodies and feathery hair thats just long enough to frame their faces and the details that would normally code a character as seme or uke are more than just there theyre ingrained into their personalities. Izumis eyes in particular are multicolored mostly amber but touched by a subtle swirl of blue at the tops giving them a mysterious quality that you can understand someone getting entranced by. The other characters in the cast are fairly generic in design but it doesnt really hurt anything as their looks do inform their personalities. I do feel that the blushing artwork is a little too overpronounced but thats a minor issue. The music is a bit on the generic side but its not bad or anything. I didnt find any of it to be repetitive or annoying like in a lot of shows Ive seen. The character songs are a lot more interesting with LalaLulus song being a delightful parody of the Magical girl genre and Izumis brother Shougo has a really cool song called Love or Die and yeah I can see why the band Crusherz became famous. The opening Lovest by Screen Mode is awesome. Not only is the song catchy upbeat and fun to listen to but the video is just as fun and fits every beat perfectly. The constantly changing visuals are simple enough to grasp what theyre showing you in the time they have and they match the energy and tone of the show. Surprisingly the ending theme is more of the same a catchy song with visuals that are pleasing to the eyes and match the beat of the song and while most of it features posed characters theres an actual burst of expensive animation towards the end. I cant remember another show where I watched all the way through the opening and closing as often as I did with this one. Theres no dub and Im not a good judge of Japanese acting but Id just like to point out that if theres ever a dub for this show I hope they cast Chris Patton as Ryouma and Greg Ayres as Izumi. Moving along. Okay lets just rip this bandaid off right now Love Stage is a yaoi. Its not a shonenai oh no its a full on yaoi. Ive never reviewed a yaoi before but that doesnt mean I havent seen any. While Im no expert on the genre I have dabbled a bit and unfortunately what Ive seen prior to Love Stage wasnt all that impressive. I read the first few volumes of Loveless I saw the first four episodes of Gravitation Ive seen the movie Fake and while its more subtextual than anything else I sat through the first season of Black Butler. In short my exposure to the medium has revealed it to be a minefield of problematic situations and overall just shitty storytelling relying way too heavily on love at first sight people turning queer out of nowhere on a dime because the plot demanded it romanticized sexual assault writers who forgo necessary information and development because seem to just want to get to the action already and way too many couples where the age differences lay on different sides of the law. Ive been told by people far more versed in the genre than I am that most if not all of these observations are persistent from title to title. Now does that mean there are no good Boys Love material out there? No not necessarily. I plan to watch Yuri on Ice and Nabari no Ou in the future and Ive even seen some shows that I thought would have actually been improved if the main male characters went gay for each other Kids on the Slope for example. But alas thank the LGBT gods there is at least one good yaoi anime out there. Ive already praised the art and animation from this show up and down the wall but the number of problems and genre cliches Love Stage avoids subverts or just has fun with is insane. Now keep in mind Im not saying its an accurate portrayal of homosexual people or homosexual couples and Im not saying it presents its gay characters as realistic people or that it exists for reasons outside of tickling the libidoes of ravenous fujoshi but that doesnt mean it cant be good. Yeah I made a big deal about figuring out whether or not Strawberry Panic was faithful to its subject but that show was garbage and needed the extra point. Love Stage doesnt have that problem. Right off the bat were introduced to the main character Sena Izumi the uke of the situation. Oh but we find out much more than that about him. After making sweet promises to us in the form of its animation Love Stage wastes no time establishing Izumis character. We find out who he is what he wants from life what his familys like what his backstory was like what his issue is several possible resolutions to it basically everything you need to know about him and this is expressed without a lick of unnatural dialogue or exposition and even better we learn all of this before the first kiss is even taken. We dont learn quite as much about his seme Ryouma until much later but we know about their shared history and through his actions revolving around his interactions with Izumi and his coworkers we do learn enough about him to not have any lingering questions about him that really need to be answered. I cant say they feel like people Id meet out there in the real world but they still feel like fully developed and fleshed out characters. They also both have personalities that tie directly into their seme/uke coding with Izumi being childish and submissive but still driven by his own interests and possessing a decent level of propriety and agency. Ryouma is tall dark and mysterious quick to anger and somewhat closed off but still struggling with the conflicting feelings inside of him and trying his best to control the parts of himself he doesnt quite understand yet. While it takes them a while to work out their personal hangups and finally come together they do make a really likeable couple. I also really liked the Izumi family as viciously manipulative and backstabbing as they can be and in the most delicious sort of way. Shougo Izumis older brother dotes on him and gets clingy to the point that he honestly can be a little creepy at times but he still has plenty of moments where he redeems himself by showing a genuine concern and protecting him. We dont see much of Izumis parents but despite Dad acting like he knows best and Mom acting selfcentered they both clearly love their children. Perhaps the most nuanced character is the familys manager Rei a cold and calculating character whos not above pulling the strings whenever necessary selling people out to family obligations and looking for every possible advantage in his daytoday dealings but he still cares enough about his employers that hell set aside all of his business concerns if it feels like the right thing to do. Izumis manga club only one of whom kind of registers his presence is designed so that hell look out of place there not that he ever notices. Similarly the fictional character of LalaLulu his fantasy Waifu idol is so far removed from bearing any resemblance to actual girls that its not hard to see how disingenuine his attraction to the fairer sex really is. A few of the characters can get annoying at times the fat otaku feel like an unjust stereotype and Im pretty sure Id have a gripe with Izumis parents if they were given more to do but overall I really liked all of these characters. Ill admit that Ryouma does test me a little but that just leads me to a few other cliches. First of all theres the love at first sight cliche which Ryouma falls neatly into. Hes been in love with a certain girl since they were 8 and while that would normally earn an eyeroll at best from me the fact that his love for her carried him through the entertainment industry A field of work where you NEED to hold onto some form of innocence to survive let alone succeed I can give it a pass. Plus with Izumi turning out to be a guy and Ryouma being unable to shake the feeling anyway it does feel like Love Stage is having fun with this cliche rather than using it straightforwardly. Ryoumas feelings are portrayed as crazy but not the stalker kind of crazy The romantic kind where you know your love for someone makes no sense and is totally out of left field but youll still stay true to who you are and who you love the world be damned if it stands in the way. This is probably the best usage of love at first sight that Ive seen in an anime let alone in a yaoi but unfortunately Ryouma falls into other cliches that are much harder to forgive. A constant occurrence in yaoi is rape. It may not be carried all the way through but its there from gay characters in nonyaoi shows that speak in exaggerated falsetto and frequently make unwelcome advances on straight characters to attempted rape thats played for laughs to actual rape thats romanticized and sparks a new level of romance as a result. And yes there is a point where this show gets Rapey. I wont tell you exactly what happens or the reason that it happens but three episodes in Ryouma does something and he winds up losing control of himself and coming within a hairs breadth of doing something hed never be able to take back before hes interrupted and the unforgivable thing is just barely prevented but heres where Love Stage takes a major step away from the worst of its genre What he does is explicitly considered to be a bad thing. The writers dont try to sweep it under the rug oh no its painted exactly the way it should be and its this turning point that really got me invested in this pairing. After the thing Ryouma feels genuine remorse and he has to apologize and earn Izumis trust back before he can even THINK about pursuing a relationship. Hes accepted his feelings by this point but Izumi is a much harder sell and even though he buries the hatchet with him Mostly out of pity It isnt until Ryouma proves his devotion by getting involved with Izumis lifelong passion helping him along towards his goal and doing everything in his power to encourage him and build him back up when things dont go the way he wanted. He slips back into problematic territory when he kisses Izumi a bunch of times in his sleep I mean come on seriously? But he earns those points back when he refuses a carnal offer that he can tell Izumi doesnt really mean. I wont say whether or not these two wind up together in the end but Isnt that alone a breath of fresh air? The fact that you cant tell? Yeah they have numerous encounters both as friends and as romantic prospects but the outcome of their time together is just as engaging as the journey there. Love Stage is available from Sentai Filmworks. The original manga by Eiki Eiki is available from SuBLime. The original light novel is not available stateside but the series can also be viewed on Crunchyroll. Theres an OVA episode on the DVD that I highly recommend and as for what its about lets just say its more of Ryouma being a pain in the ass. Now after all the time Ive spent talking about how good this title is compared to other titles in the Boys Love genre and how it deconstructs and subverts a bunch of troublesome tropes the reaction Im probably getting from most readers is So what? Even if its a good yaoi its still a yaoi and most of the anime fanbase will have no interest in that kind of content. Well there is one thing about Love Stage that I feel gives it a more universal appeal: This show is fucking hilarious. I was hooked right from the first time that Shougo manipulated Izumi with Lala Lulu merchandise and Ryoumas reaction to Izumis gender reveal was just icing on the cake. Its visual style works extremely well with its comedic timing which follows a healthy combination of gag and characterbased jokes most of which hit their mark. It was almost enough for me to forgive some of the more problematic scenes including Ryoumas missteps and an attempted gangbang towards the end that came right the fuck out of nowhere. Its a yaoi so its going to be a mixed bag but its a bag I wont mind reaching into a few more times. I give Love Stage an 8/10.