What They Say:
Three very different couples caught up in a storm of pure romance!
Romantica: Misaki is struggling to prepare for his college entrance exams, so his brother arranges for a private tutor. But Misaki’s nightmare is just beginning when his tutor, Usami, comes on to him! How will Misaki ever manage to pass his exam? And why does he feel so mysteriously drawn to Usami?
Egoist: Just when Kamijou’s life is at its lowest, he has a chance meeting with a man who never lets anything hold him back: Nowaki. His name means “typhoon,” and he’s about to take Kamijou on a whirlwind ride that will turn everything upside-down.
Terrorist: Miyagi always seems to shrug off the cares of the world with a joke and a smile, but even he has problems, although he doesn’t let them show. Foremost is Shinobu, a relentless young man who’s adamant that they’re destined to be together.
This release contains a single language track on it with the original Japanese track presented in in stereo encoded at 192kbps. With this primarily being a dialogue driven show outside of some music cues here and there and the opening and closing sequences, this isn’t a show that stretches itself all that much. A lot of the dialogue is basically center channel based but it’s a solid and clean track with a good presentation that fits the material well. The heightened moments of dialogue don’t go over the top thankfully and everything is clean and clear. This is a problem free language track that works well for what it’s intended to do.
Originally airing throughout 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This release is a re-packaging of the previous release that came out in 2010, so the authoring is the same. The series is split across two discs with six discs on each giving it a good bit of space to work with. The show has a very nice look to it with a lot of bold colors throughout and a very clean look to it. Like a lot of shows of this nature, it isn’t exactly high on active animation that moves a lot as it tends to focus on the characters talking and the like. The character animation is good though and it comes across very well here with a solid feel outside of some backgrounds here and there and a few touches of visible gradients in a few scenes. Cross coloration is non-existent and aliasing is very minimal during the numerous panning sequences. The show has a very good look here and is pretty appealing visually.
The litebox packaging presentation for this release gives us a standard sized case that holds the three discs snugly against the interior walls. The cover is framed with lots of cute elements to make it light and flowery while using yellows and greens for the overall border. The front of the box has a really nice image of Misaki and Akihiko together as Masaki tries to push some stuffed animals between them as Akihiko is feeling very affectionate. I do like the cursive logo for the series as it adds a little bit of extra charm to it. The back paper cover uses the same framing while the white space is filled up with some nice artwork of Hiroki and Nowaki together, though Hiroki is trying to push him away a bit. It’s also got the nice full set of stuffed animals here which is very cute. A lot of the cover is given over to text which breaks down the three relationships before delving into the lengthy features list. The technical grid is laid out clearly along the bottom in a small and tight but legible form that makes it easy to see what the release is about.
The menus take their cue from the front covers of their respective thinpak cases as it uses the character artwork from there as its central piece. The layout is standard for a Nozomi release with its selections that’s quick and easy to use with quick load times. The menu does a good job of setting the overall mood with a bit of a flirty atmosphere to it and good clean looking character pieces that are even more striking here than on the thinpak covers. Submenus load quickly and everything has a smooth feel to it. Since there’s only one language on here, player presets are a non-issue but you can select a subtitle track that also has honroifics included with it or just a standard subtitle track.
The extras for this release are spread across all three discs and there’s some nice stuff here, though it’s fairly average overall. The main extra carried across all three of them are the liner notes which have some mildly interesting pieces for the more experienced viewers and a lot for the newer viewers who aren’t as fluent in the conventions of anime. In addition to that we’ve got the norms in the clean opening and closing sequence and the trailer made for the US release. After that we get a series of DVD commercials promoting that release in Japan as well as a TV spot.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Shungiku Nakamura which began back in 2002 and is still ongoing, Junjou Romantica is a twenty-four episode series about three couples and the trials and tribulations of their relationships, both from the start of them to the place beyond. Most shows tend to focus on the will they or won’t they aspect with the potential couples possibly not even kissing sometimes, or even holding hands with an awkward moment. Junjou Romantica deals with the jealousy, the sex and the uncertainty of being in a relationship and all it entails.
The show works through three main relationships across it, though the third one only shows toward the end of the set. Each of the couples has a tangent that leads them to the other one so they come across each other in some mild way to add that extra little connection. The opening couple goes for the most shock value of them all as we’re introduced to a famous author named Akihiko who is very good friends with Takahiro. Akihiko writes some big award winning novels but also dabbles on the side in writing yaoi for a very different audience. Akihiko is carrying a deep love for Takahiro, but he knows it can never be, especially now that Takahiro is getting married and moving away. What’s changed though is that he’s been tutoring Akihiko’s younger brother, Misaki, and the two have managed to get pretty close.
Akihiko finds himself able to be more at ease with Misaki than anyone else in a long time, if not ever, and begins to do what he can to make things work there. Misaki, for his part, is entirely convinced that he wants nothing to do with guys but can’t help but to be rather attracted to him in ways that he can’t understand. At the tender age of eighteen and in college now, someone like Akihiko is very enticing. Even more so when circumstances force him to live with him as his brother and new wife are moving elsewhere for work. With the two living together, it’s a very adversarial relationship, one where Akihiko takes advantage of him on a regular basis and Misaki pushes back against it halfheartedly as it’s what he really wants.
The story of Hiroki and Nowaki is different to be sure and a bit more interesting in a way. The connection is that Hiroki is an old friend of Akihiko’s as well as being an associate professor at the college where Misaki is attending, though the two aren’t on screen together for more than a few frames really. It’s more that there’s an occasional mention that Misaki has to deal with a tough teacher. Hiroki’s conflicted about his feelings with Nowaki, an orphan who ends up at the college that he finds himself in a relationship with, but it’s the kind of relationship where Hiroki is so disconnected from it at times that he doesn’t realize what’s happening. The most blunt moment is when he’s completely hurt that Nowaki has gone to study abroad in America and seemingly told everyone by Hiroki. Yet it’s just that Hiroki was never paying attention to Nowaki and missed all of it. It’s a complicated relationship where Hiroki hasn’t really figured himself out and isn’t ready for a relationship, but needs one in order to put him on the right path.
Also tied into the show is a fellow professor of Hiroki’s named Yo Miyagi who has just divorced his wife of three years, who also happens to be the daughter of the dean of the school. It was a pretty loveless marriage for awhile and he’s done well afterward, particularly as the dean apologized about the whole thing which gave him a bit of security. Where it takes an unusual turn is in that his ex-wife’s younger brother, a young man who has never liked Miyagi, is even unhappier with with Miyagi now, but it’s a different kind of anger as he’s very interested in Miyagi. There’s no indication that Miyagi swings that way, but the two start to explore a relationship together through some adversarial moments and misunderstandings.
Shounen-ai shows and yaoi shows continue to fascinate me overall and I wish more were made. It’s not that I find the male/male relationships titillating or anything, though I’m certainly not bothered by them in the slightest, but it’s that the shows dealing with these relationships tend to do things very differently. So many of the usual series out there focus on the entire will they or won’t they angle with the characters sometimes only barely able to gain a kiss if they’re lucky. With these shows the general premise is that there may be some chase, but the acquisition of the partner and the difficulties afterward tends to be the focus. That’s a very welcome change and Junjou Romantica plays well in that realm across all three relationships as they play about in all different aspects of it. The challenges of a relationship are far more interesting and complicated than the whole will they or won’t they angle.
Junjou Romantica doesn’t stray far when it comes to its visual design, though what we do have is quite nice. The characters are typically pretty angular, though there are some softer and rounder faces in the mix as well for certain characters. Each of them is distinctive enough, though I do like that they all keep to pretty much real world colors for their hair, another trait of the shounen-ai shows in general. The cliches of the genre are there, such as the youngest characters being softer and rounder in their faces, but all of it comes together well. The show has some very detailed backgrounds to it that helps to give the world a very lived in feeling and I loved the sheer number of books that were often on display, since it all fit in well with the cultures that these characters inhabit for their professions.
I’ve revisited this series a few times since its debut and each time there’s always a conflicted feeling about it because of the power dynamics that exist within here that would be called out more often than not if it was in heterosexual relationships. But I like that we explore these other sides to how relationships work, as heterosexual relationships can follow these models as well, as they bring something different to the forefront and work it in a way that a more standard male/female show would shy away from While there isn’t anything groundbreaking here, it is a series that plays in a familiar area but has far more time to work through it than the usual OVAs or shorter shows that have been made. The sexuality is fun to watch because it’s blunt, though not graphic, and the conflict for some of the guys has its moments. There’s also the amusing aspect that playing for the same team seems to be a norm, but it’s just the circles these guys run in. This first half of the series is good clean fun that deals with relationship truths that are free of gender that most other series never get the chance to touch.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, U.S. Season 1 trailer, clean opening and closing, TV spot, DVD commercials, 24-page booklet featuring character bios, artwork and behind-the-scenes information
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: September 2nd, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.