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Embracing Love: A Cicada in Winter Anime DVD Review

8 min read
Pretty boys in love... or denying it while doing adult film performances that are tame beyond words.

Pretty boys in love… or denying it while doing adult film performances that are tame beyond words.

What They Say:
Kyousuke Iwakai and Youji Katou are two of the hottest stars of Japan’s all-male adult film industry. They share the dream of shedding the bonds of their trade and emerging as true actors. The two share many sordid encounters on and off the set, until the pair is pitted against one another for a mainstream role.

Kyousuke lands the part, but drives a wedge between himself and Youji. Their relationship may not survive Kyousuke’s success – or Youji’s new co-star in the adult film world: a handsome but rough returning star who will stoop to anything to have Youji to himself.

The Review:
Audio: 
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track only and it’s a stereo mix encoded at 192kbps. Which is about all it really needs for as basic as the show itself is. Embracing Love is really just a dialogue piece with some music accents here and there so it comes across well enough and is essentially problem free. There isn’t much to say about it other than we had no problems with the single audio track on here during regular playback.

Video: 
Originally released in 2004, the transfer for this two-episode OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. While not a lavish OVA production, the general animation quality is rather solid here and Kitty uses some decent bitrates for it which gives it a very smooth and solid feel overall. The series uses the time period well so there are a lot of great looking backgrounds to look at. While the animation is somewhat par for the course for a boys-love show, the overall visual quality of the show is rather solid and the widescreen presentation helps give it a bit more of an epic romantic feel. The three episodes are generally problem free outside of a bit of noise here and there so fans of the franchise will definitely enjoy this release.

Packaging: 
Covers like this are interesting when they’re done since you have to wonder if they go too far in one direction or another. This release is a bit too soft for my tastes with the colors as there’s a lot of purples to it, but I’m not exactly the main audience either. The pairing of Akizuki and Kusaka together certainly isn’t a surprise nor that Akizuki has a strong feminine feel to him with the outfit he has as well as the umbrella. The back cover has much the same feel, with a few more shots to show that there’s some man love going on here, but still retaining the purple hues where appropriate to let Akizuki come across as the more effeminate of the two. The summary runs through the basics of the pairing and there’s a clean listing of the disc extras alongside the production credits. The technical grid is solid as always with a very clear listing of what to expect from the release. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu: 
The menu is laid out similar to the front cover but has different pieces of artwork, mainly the one from the back cover of the two leads. Unlike that piece, this one is done to just their headshots and a bit of covered chests where they’re looking directly out at the audience. The logo and navigation along the bottom has the same angled feel that the logo does on the front cover. The navigation is fairly straightforward though I’m surprised they offered a setup menu since it doesn’t really have anything to select. Submenus load quickly and we had no problems navigating around with what’s here.

Extras:
This release bucks the trend of most adult releases by having a few extras included in it. There are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, which run about ninety seconds each, and there’s also five minutes worth of promotional videos for the show. These are amusing if only for the kinds of extras that they list as being included with the Japanese DVD releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally known as Haru o Daiteita and conceived as a manga by Youka Nitta, Embracing Love is a little two part OVA series that really has many of the same problems so many boys love anime adaptations do. Or at least in the eyes of this straight male who isn’t the target audience for the show. One of the more popular books out there in the boys love world, it wasn’t a surprise to see it adapted into anime form a few years ago, though it is more of a surprise that it took so long to finally get brought over. I mean, we did have that Blue Wolves anime show already…

Embracing Love revolves around an interesting idea in that a popular book has been adapted into an adult movie. The two leads from it are now being considered for a weekly TV drama version of it which will give them far more credibility in the eyes of the mainstream audiences. The difficulty of transitioning from adult star to mainstream star isn’t always an easy one and even more so in Japan where past attempts by it have caused certain stars to flee to America for work. The show revolves around the two leads, Kato and Iwaki. Kato is a fairly young and handsome man who is looking to make his mark by all of this while Iwaki is a bit older and more jaded. He’s also a bit more unsure about this whole endeavor and transition to the mainstream because he knows what’s gone on in the past. Times have changed but some things take even longer.

Iwaki is also having the problem of dealing with Kato’s emotions throughout all of this. Kato is the kind of actor who loses himself in the role and takes on too many of the feelings of those he portrays, or at least that’s his defense about why he’s so intense with Iwaki. Iwaki isn’t returning those feelings, at least on the surface, since so many actors who get involved while filming tend to break up not long afterward when they depart from their characters. Kato doesn’t see it that way and believes his feelings are real, regardless of the characters they’re playing. He’s far more outgoing and aggressive in trying to get Iwaki to return his love and even goes so far as to move into his apartment without permission since he wants to be together with him.

Will the two find love? That’s ostensibly the question, but it’s all fairly muddled throughout. The structure of the two OVAs leaves a lot to be desired as there are many times where it’s not exactly clear what time period we’re watching. Are we seeing scenes from when they were in the movie together? Is this the actual TV series filming? Where in their relationship does this scene take place? It’s a bit haphazard at times which really throw off the balance of the relationship since it’s hard to tell where they’re really at. With that coming into play, it becomes harder to really care about what’s going on since you’re spending more time just trying to figure out the placement of the scene.

Embracing Love does have what a lot of the boys love shows have though and that’s some rather pretty boys. The two leads and some of the others that filter in throughout are all well designed and animated. Though there are a lot of the slower moments where it’s mostly just intent looks and very small movements, it has a really good look and feel to all of it. The lack of constant heavy motion of course lets them stretch the budget out a bit more but it really does fit what most boys love shows are about, and that’s atmosphere and mood. That atmosphere and mood is also something that’s a bit more problematic for my male side as this barely qualifies as softcore porn, and certainly not an 18+ rating considering that Step Up Love Story was rated less. There isn’t any genitalia visible during the show and only barely a pair of naked buttocks at the very end. It’s all quite tame beyond the kissing and nipple licking that’s going on here. Any hands-on moments are done with nothing actually shown, which is admittedly disappointing. The lack of money shots in this regard is fairly standard with the boys love genre, unfortunately.

In Summary: 
Embracing Love isn’t good nor is it bad. It’s simply another in a fairly predictable line of boys-love shows that all operate from the same playbook. The plot is poorly structured throughout, there are some great character designs and the production values overall are solid considering they it isn’t a busily animated show. It doesn’t carry through on what it implies but it does work within the regular constraints of the boys-love world when it comes to the actual sexuality. The mood and atmosphere likely works far better for the female audience it’s intended for but it left me feeling rather disinterested on top of feeling out of place in the overall continuity of the show. It’s easy to see why this is appealing to the fans, but it’s not one that I found appealing overall.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Promotional Videos

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Kitty Media
Release Date: May 27th, 2008
MSRP: $29.99
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
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.

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