What They Say:
In Love Stage, as a child actor, Izumi Sena was following the rest of his family into the entertainment business until he quit after a humiliating incident while shooting a certain commercial.
Now, ten years later, Izumi’s trying to juggle college and becoming a manga author, but nothing seems to be working out for him. Until he’s asked to reprise his part in that infamous commercial opposite one of Japan’s most popular up-and-coming actors! Which wouldn’t be so bad… except for the fact that Izumi was dressed as young girl in the ad, and everyone, including his infatuated potential co-star Ryoma Ichijo, still thinks that he’s a she!
Is Izumi going to have to kiss a guy and will he like it? And what will Ryoma think when the girl of his dreams turns out to be a guy in jeans? Get ready for a tale of crossed stars and shifting alignments as a completely unexpected drama unfolds in prime time across the LOVE STAGE!!
Contains episodes 1-11.
The audio presentation for this release is done in its original Japanese language only in stereo and is encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show is one that’s really character based and full of dialogue with only a few outlandish moments here and there through dream sequences and the like. We get some fun bigger moments from those areas with concert type stuff or various dramas and the like, but most of the show is focused on the simple one on on character interactions. And that comes across well here as we get the core players going at it with all their fears and worries alongside their joys and surprises. The mix is standard forward soundstage stuff but it has a clean and clear design to it that works it well without revealing any problems such as dropouts, distortions, or other issues.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The ten episodes plus OVA are spread across two discs here with nine on the first and two on the second, the second is also where the extras are. Animated by JC Staff, the show definitely has an appealing look about it with some great color design and pop to it as well as lots of detail to the characters and the backgrounds. Often the boys-love shows can be more wispy in a way without the same kind of higher quality, but Love Stage!! delivers a very appealing looking show that doesn’t feel like it’s getting the short end of the stick compared to other non-boys-love shows. The transfer brings it all across really well here with a clean, bright, and vibrant look that’s attractive across the board and helps to deliver the right kind of atmosphere.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover has Izumi and Ryouma in a close embrace that’s almost like dancing and it’s very appealing in terms of the actual quality of the designs, the artwork, and the color. Unfortunately, it makes it look like a darker show than it is with Ryouma’s expression, though the power imbalance is certainly there to some degree. It’s an interesting cover with its mix of dark tone and bright colors that captures the opposing aspects better than I expected. The back cover works better with a white backgruond that blends in some yellows across it and pink text. The two rows of shots from the show deliver some good looks at what’s inside while the premise is kept very easy to read and covers the bases very well. The remainder has the standard layout with the extras listed accurately, the production credits breaking down the basics, and a solid technical grid that fills you in on what’s involved. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this release feels a little bit lighter than usual just for the fact that there are no language selection options, which means the first disc is just episode selection while the second disc adds the special features submenu. The layout for both are pretty nice as we get character artwork on the left that brings our leads together with a nice pairing through really detailed artwork and great color design.They’re bright and colorful in all the right ways, setting the mood perfectly. The navigation piece itself goes for lots of color with white text that has a pink border amid a blue background bar. Highlighted, it goes pink and just flips the text color which is cute. Everything is very easy to navigate considering how little is here and it’s a functional and largely appealing if simple menu design.
The extras for this release are a bit more than the norm and definitely welcome. We get the usual and always appreciated clean versions of the opening and closing sequences but we also get some fun promos. There’s a cute selection of the home video release ones and the promos prior to the series debut. We also get the short little character bumpers included as well, which are cute.
Based on the manga written by Eiki Eiki and illustrated by Taishi Zao, Love Stage is a ten episode anime series that was animated by JC Staff. Debuting in the summer 2014 season, it generated an OVA that landed that fall as well with the same production team that had Ken’ichi KAsai directing and Michiko Yokote on the scripts. The original manga series is still ongoing but what works the best about this property, and a lot of boys-love properties, is that what we do get is a fairly solid and complete story here. But it’s also one that like life has a lot more that can be told. Being able to dig into this show and work through the arc and come away with a sense of closure and completeness is one of the things that draws me to the boys-love stuff.
The premise for this works an area that I dislike to some degree as we get events from ten years prior making a big play in the present. Back when he was eight years old, Izumi Sena was involved in a Happy Wedding video that was made for a promotion. His family are all big in the entertainment industry with his parents – both well-adjusted and nice folks as opposed to absentee parents – are actors and the like while Izumi’s older brother ends up leading a rock band that takes him around the world. Izumi, for his part, just wants to draw manga as he’s not a public performing arts type. He wants to create and share the worlds he comes up with while having the anonymity to it so that he can live his life. The problem is that he’s actually not all that good at manga, at least the illustration side. But he really puts everything into it.
So, the positive that we get is an earnest young man that’s in college and a member of the manga club there who does his best to avoid the pressure of his parents. He’s a nice kid that’s a wallflower type that’s hamstrung by actually being quite pretty and effeminate, but hides it well enough with dowdy clothes, large glasses, and tousled hair. The downside is that the Happy Wedding video that he did ten years ago haunts him to some degree because he played a young bride in it, complete with elegant dress. He actually had a lot of fun with it at the time, the innocence of youth, but in the years since he’s just shied away from it for a range of reasons. But since there’s an anniversary, the company behind it wants to do a new one with the same people as they are now to show how they’ve grown as there’s a lot of fans of the original.
Naturally, he wants nothing to do with it not to meet up with the young boy Ryouma that was the groom. Ryouma was a young model/actor at the time and has embraced it heavily since, taking every job possible and doing all the bad things you have to do in order to get ahead. But that video ten years ago made a big impression on him and he fell in love with the girl Izumi, not realizing it was a boy in the dress. His crush has grown over the years so when the new shoot comes up he’s ever so hopeful to reconnect with her. Not surprisingly, he’s a darkly handsome young man that’s unattached and very into her, but works so hard to ensure Izumi is happy with the difficulty of the shoot after he realizes that Izumi hasn’t worked at all since that video all those years ago. A perfect gentleman, through and through.
At least until he learns that izumi is actually a boy and that crush is shattered. It’s at this point that the show becomes a lot more interesting because we get to see Ryouma struggling with his feelings as his crush was for the girl, and it was something that was mostly physical, but he also had an emotional connection as well that he had built up over the years. Something that had inspired him throughout all the jobs he took and all the rough times. So when we get Izumi coming around later to apologize for things, Ryouma realizes that his feelings go beyond the gender and is just the person themself and he really wants to explore that. It’s expanded upon a bit more in the show with some usual humor, but it doesn’t get weird or creepy or anything else. It’s simply Ryouma realizing that he doesn’t care that she’s a he, he just loves Izumi on a different level and is more than willing to explore it.
Izumi, for his part, is obviously a lot more reticent about all of this. He’s not looking for that, and we get the feeling he’s never dated anyone, boy or girl, and just wants to focus on his manga since there’s a submission campaign coming up. This goes exactly as you’d expect with Ryouma wanting to learn all about him, getting involved in its creation, and being oblivious or polite about the quality of it because he wants to encourage the person that he loves. It’s all normal but really well done stuff that doesn’t work any of the usual darker angles we get from these kinds of shows with severe power imbalances. It’s more just that Izumi doesn’t think of anyone in this way and is nowhere near used to the idea or concept of being pursued. But the more that Ryouma does, the more that Izumi realizes he’s growing with his feelings a well. And it’s spaced so well across the ten episodes that when they do consummate their relationship, it feels utterly natural. Though Izumi does complain that his butt’s hurt. You gotta ease into these things, dude!
I really like that the show doesn’t focus on the sex for the most part, though Ryouma makes it clear about the halfway mark that he does want Izumi in that way and that he’s looking for more than friendship. Ryouma has a bad moment along the way while helping Izumi out with his manga as Izumi passes out from exhaustion and that leads to Ryouma taking advantage of him with some kisses that Izumi sleeps through. Depending on your views of how far is too far in these situations, it’s either mildly acceptable, typical rom-com material, or something that goes too far. It’s something that stood out for me just in knowing that it will find some minor level of controversy or at least a tsk tsk. But beyond that, the show plays things well without any darkness, without Ryouma truly trying to dominate Izumi’s life, and instead playing like a normal romantic comedy series.
While I enjoy the boys-love genre as a whole because there are some very fun things with it, there’s also a lot of dark material that’s given a very light look that can be deceptive. Love Stage has a moment or two where you might cringe a bit but mostly it works as a fairly positive and quite enjoyable romp that has a beginning, middle, and end. You can easily see it being reworked and tightened up as a mainstream film that would be a lot of fun and catch a few eyebrows. The actors have fun with it, the story is crisp and moves at a good pace, and JC Staff gave it the same kind of attention they do every other series – not something a lot of boys-love shows can say the same about. The end result is a very enjoyable show that leaves me curious to see what they’d do with it next.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promos, Character Bumpers, Japanese Disc Promos, Clean Opening and Closing Animations
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 14th, 2016
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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.