Monday, January 21, 2019

The Bloom Into You anime is a subtle improvement on the manga (Anime Review)

Nanami and Yuu
I've had very mixed feelings about the Bloom Into You manga (although generally I like it, I just haven't felt settled with it or enthralled by it). So I was pleasantly surprised by how much more I enjoyed the Bloom into You anime. It isn't perfect, but it was a subtle improvement, and most importantly, it helped me sort out my feelings about the manga.

For those living in a yuri cave, here's the quick synopsis. Yuu is a first year high-school student at a co-ed high-school. She was on the softball team in middle school but isn't really passionate about things and hasn't decided what to do extracurricularly in high-school. Her teacher asks her to help with a student council project and she meets the likely candidate for the next student council president, second-year student Nanami Touko. In talking to Nanami, Yuu believes that they might be similar, that Nanami might understand something fundamental to Yuu that she is struggling with. Yuu has friends, but has never felt the ability to fall in love, never to be swept away, and is worried she's alone in this aromantic state. But she thinks Nanami is the same, that is, until Nanami suddenly confesses that she's in love with Yuu.

Thus begins the friendship, and perhaps more, of Yuu and Nanami. Yuu likes Nanami as a friend, is intrigued by her, and ultimately wants to protect her as she gets to know that the seemingly strong and confident Nanami is actually scared and insecure and delicate and emotional. Yuu wants to lend this fragile creature her strength, feeling honored that Nanami has opened up so completely to her when she is so guarded around everyone else.

But Nanami wants more. She is in love with Yuu and is sexually attracted to her as well. She goes so far as to kiss Yuu as a train passes (in a very well animated scene). Although Yuu doesn't feel any spark, and hates herself for that lack of feeling, she doesn't mind the feeling of the kiss and over time, she and Nanami continue to blend friendship with benefits, but in a clearly uneven exchange of needs. Nanami worries that she's getting more out of it than Yuu, but Yuu assures her she wants to spend the time together, and doesn't mind the physical contact. Yuu continues to struggle with her aromantic nature, but also begins to develop some comfort from just being close with Nanami.

First, and foremost, it is incredible to have a series that clearly depicts an aromantic lead character. I felt the anime actually does a much better job of making this the clear and central focus of the series than the manga did. It felt a bit more implied in the manga, whereas the focus was laser sharp in the anime. This was a huge improvement for me over the manga.

I love the pacing of this anime. I loved that when taking notes, I could summarize each episode in a single sentence. My favorite shows (live action and anime) are those where nothing plot-wise really happens, where it is more about the characters interacting in low-stakes, every-day situations (think Gilmore Girls). This show had great pacing for that. It was character driven, with no big dramatics. There is also some great use of music cues throughout the series, further adding to an overall well done presentation.

The art is a mixed bag in this series. There are some great moments, such as in the first episode when Yuu first thinks that Nanami might understand her, there is a hand movement that is simply amazingly animated. But there are also some strange choices. Throughout the first episode, and intermittently throughout the rest of the series there are some POV moments where our vantage point is presented as if we are looking through a character's eyes. This is so odd given the rest of the series in traditional third person presentation. It doesn't add anything, and the forced giggly camera movement and the move to first person is jarring.

The backgrounds are lushly painted, with classic soft lighting and pastel hues but with some wonderful detail. The detail in the student council room is incredible. They are using an old out-building with cracked and painted wood paneling, and it is some of the best background art I've seen in ages.

But on the other hand, the actual character animation art is very very simple and ends up not fitting in well with the backgrounds. It stays true to the aesthetic of the manga, but can't quite decide whether to be angular or rounded at different parts. Further, I really don't like the way the eyes are animated. They are very flat with simple coloring and just a slit of a pupil. They don't resonate with the viewer, they aren't windows into the characters' souls.

Episode two contains the first kiss, with the passing train, and as I mentioned, this was done with far greater intimacy and emotion than the manga. There was also an interesting use of desaturated gray coloring to signal to the viewer that Yuu isn't feeling anything while Nanami is blushing. However, they also added TV-style static which felt unnecessarily visually aggressive in attempting to drive the point home. It was gimmicky.

And the voice acting. I struggled with this. Yuu's voice actress is the same woman who voices Aoba in New Game! I love New Game! and Aoba, and I loved the sound of the actress's voice for that character. However, it is such a distinct voice that every time Yuu spoke, I just heard Aoba and it consistently, for the whole series, took me out of the moment. That won't be a problem for many people, but for me it was tough. This isn't meant as a criticism of the voice actress because I love her voice and acting, it was simply tough for me to not hear Aoba when Yuu was speaking.

Talking more about characters, I struggled with Nanami's best friend Sayaka who feels more like a stock character than a fully realized person. This is too bad because she could add value, but feels superfluous given the complexity of the Yuu/Nanami pairing.

Yuu's depiction is spot on. I love that Yuu's sense of fashion is not classically feminine. Her hair is done in two low short pig-tails, just enough to keep it off her neck, but nothing overtly pretty. She wears long Bermuda shorts on her time off, with random t-shirts and it adds to our overall understanding of her character.

Touko Nanami's arc is a bit of a sticking point for me. I don't want to give it all away in case you haven't seen the show. But I'm not convinced by her motivation and the extreme lengths she goes to fulfill that motivation. However, it does set up some interesting baggage for her to work through with Yuu and deciding whether she really wants Yuu to ultimately reciprocate or if she's content with loving on Yuu and getting little intimate affection in return (although she is getting support and friendship). Some of Nanami's internal thoughts in later episodes just seem a bit extreme and overly-dramatic, even by teenage standards. This is a challenge in the original manga as well as the anime.

Putting this all together, we have a show that improves on the manga, tackles a very important and underrepresented theme, that of aromanticism, and is overall well done technically despite some questionable animation choices. It distills the manga down to its purest and clearest form really focusing on Yuu's internal struggles with her identity. 

And yet, as much as I enjoyed it and preferred it to the manga, I still wasn't enraptured. BUT, the clarity of the anime presentation helped me to better understand this detachment. Normally, I love shows with tons of wistful glances, blushing cheeks, will-they-won't-they moments, and all the sweet drama of first love. So of course, a show based on an aromantic lead character will be bereft of this! I don't know why I hadn't made that connection when reading the manga, but it seems so clear now. What I want from a show is explicitly the opposite of why this show exists.

That being said, I can reevaluate the series' value in light of it opening a new world of understanding to me about aromanticism and appreciate it on those grounds even though it doesn't make my heart swell the way I would normally want an anime to. We are ultimately held at a distance from the two leads much like they hold each other at a distance. Due to this, there is a flatness and a detached quality to the writing. Yet, stylistically, this makes complete sense and when taken as a tonal choice to match the aromantic lead character's arc, actually improves the audience's capacity to relate to Yuu. 

In summary, this is a very well done show that adds a critical representation in media of an aromantic lead character. The animation is hit and miss, but there is more to like with it than to not like. The writing is more focused in the anime than the manga, and overall it is a well done show. Refocusing my expectations from yuri to exploration of another person's way of understanding the world, one that is very different than mine, made me appreciate the show much more. I give it a solid 8/10. If the animation were a bit better, it would probably rank a bit higher. This is an important show and deserves its place in the canon.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3