Gravitation, a 13-episode shounen-ai (boys' love), series distributed by online retailer The Right Stuf International, is one of those shows that has a way of creeping into searches for good anime. Curious if the show's giant cult status is due to its somewhat taboo subject (a romantic relationship between two men) or if it really was that good, I added it to my trusty Net Flix queue and waited eagerly for it to arrive.
Shounen-ai anime and manga, as well as its more graphic cousin, yaoi, is for the most part written and drawn by women for women. Because of this, I expected starry-eyed romantic fluff, and I was not disappointed. However, Gravitation has a dark side that I didn't anticipate, and this, along with the endearing characters, really won me over.
The story revolves around rock star Shuichi Shindou and romance novelist Eiri Yuki. As Shuichi's band, Bad Luck, struggles to get to the top, Shuichi finds himself unable to pen any lyrics. One night, Shuichi runs into Yuki, who tells Shuichi he has no talent. When Shuichi decides to seek out Yuki to give him a piece of his mind afterwards, things get interesting.
There are two problems here. First, the plot with the band is, to me, just not that interesting. There's some kind of intrigue going on between Yuki, his sister and her husband, who happens to be the president of Bad Luck's record label. They try to get Shuichi involved, but it never really goes anywhere. It could be that I missed the episodes that explained this because Net Flix didn't have the third disc of the series. I didn't care enough about this part to be upset about it, though.
The second problem I had was with Shuichi's pursuit of Yuki. From the moment they meet, Yuki is cold and mean. He constantly belittles Shuichi, says he doesn't want a boyfriend and refuses to spend time with Shuichi, even after allowing Shuichi to move in with him. Yet Shuichi never once thinks he might be better off with someone who will treat him better, nor do any of his friends tell him to move on. For all that, there is evidence that Yuki does love Shuichi. There's a short, lovely scene where Yuki is trying to work on a novel and glances over at the empty seat where Shuichi usually sits and chatters away while Yuki writes. Yuki simply doesn't know how to handle his feelings and would prefer not to be forced to try to figure things out.
Towards the end, we learn why Yuki is such a bastard. He's still dealing with a horrific tragedy from his youth. It's this haunted past that piqued my interest because it wasn't a twist I was looking for. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that the revelation of the incident was as satisfying as it could have been. I don't think I would have like the series as much if Yuki's past hadn't played into it. Personally, I would have liked to have seen the whole thing from Yuki's point of view.
Most of the characters come across as exaggerated stereotypes. Shuichi is the sensitive awkward artist. Yuki is the ultra cool and reserved writer (because writers are hawt). Shuichi's idol, Ryuichi, is, in a word, insane but highly amusing. The producer is an obsessive worry-wart. You get the idea. Even so, they're all very entertaining, and the balance between slap-stick comedy and serious love story keeps the show from getting too silly or too dark.
The animation is nothing special. Sometimes, not noticing things like that is a good thing. The music isn't quite my thing, but after a while, Bad Luck's song does get stuck in your head. I found it interesting that, in the English dub, the songs were still in Japanese.
This isn't one of those rush-out-and-buy shows for me, but I did enjoy it. It's worth checking out if you're looking for fluff with a bit of backbone.
In addition to the series itself, I rented the OVA (original video animation, basically a direct to video release), Lyrics of Love. The premise in Lyrics of Love is almost identical to that of the series, the difference being that Shuichi and Yuki have been together for a while. Yuki has been cold and mean to Shuichi, so Shuichi finds himself unable to write the lyrics to a highly anticipated ballad for Bad Luck's new album. Hijinks ensue as everyone tries to cheer Shuichi up and make him write, Shuichi tries to figure out what's wrong with Yuki and Yuki quietly agonizes over the whole thing.
While there's no obvious change in the animation quality, the voice acting, the music or the script, Lyrics of Love is disappointing. I think that's because it comes across as a mere rehashing of the series. It isn't supposed to be, but it struggles something awful to present itself as a fresh story. The characters here are not dynamic. The slap-stick feels rote, although it still produced some giggles. The plot, which tries to be a more serious, grown-up kind of plot, is rather inane. It made me want to watch Gravitation again to remind myself what I liked about it in the first place. Lyrics of Love is one to be avoided, especially if you like Gravitation.