In 2008, the staff at Studio Deen, the producers of such anime series as Rurouni Kenshin (1997-1998) and Fruits Basket (2001), adapted Shungiku Nakamura’s “Boys’ Love” manga, Junjo Romantica, into a wonderful, 24-episode anime. As a Boys’ Love series, Junjo focuses specifically on interconnected homosexual relationships among six Tokyo men. With a perfect balance of comedy and romance, the series stays fresh throughout, ensuring that every melodramatic moment appropriately pulls at the ole heart strings.
The series opens with the blossoming of a romantic relationship between 18-year-old Misaki and his 28-year-old tutor and older brother’s best friend, Usami. Their relationship serves as the central focus of Junjo, which later branches off to explore two additional relationships, each certainly unique from Misaki and Usami’s in many ways, and yet bearing striking similarities. The series carefully highlights key parallels and patterns among the three relationships, found primarily in repeated phrases and recurring scenarios. This points to and ultimately emphasizes the nuances of each of the three romances that make these individual relationships so special.
Since the series focuses so closely on the relationships themselves and the nuances therein, little plot develops outside the three romances. After all, the title of the series translates roughly as “pure romance” in English. As such, it appropriately relates a purely romantic narrative, and if that’s not your thing, you’d do well to avoid Junjo. The exclusively romantic nature of the narrative lends Junjo a distinctly melodramatic, soap opera air. The convoluted exposition foregrounding the series’ third relationship, between college professor Miyagi and high schooler Shinobu, underscores the soap opera-quality of the overall narrative. Episode 10, which introduces their affair, opens with recent divorcee Miyagi entertaining a declaration of love from his 17-year-younger, ex-brother-in-law Shinobu, who has apparently harbored feelings for Miyagi for years. Now that’s a complicated scenario!
Junjo does, I should note, contain some sexual content. Although certainly not pornographic in its depiction of the characters’ sexual entanglements, Junjo includes a number of highly-erotic sex scenes that are completely intelligible without ever being graphic. In other words, you’ll find no frontal nudity here. (Now, I can’t recall for certain whether or not the animators depicted any rear nudity, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t any of that either. I suppose I’ll come back to that point after taking in Season 2.)
The 3-disc DVD release of “Season 1” from Nozomi Entertainment collects the first 12 episodes of this thoroughly terrific, romanticomic series. Make sure to stay tuned after the credits of each episode as the animators situated a brief, comedic epilogue just prior to the preview of the next episode. The epilogues may seem insignificant from a narrative perspective (although they provide welcome bits of additional character development), but they serve a very important function overall. They allow you to walk away from every episode with a smile on your face, even if the episode proper ended in tragedy. The set wraps up in a nice place for all three of the relationships with no cliffhangers to speak of, but if you’re like me (a born romantic who gets highly invested in a well-written, human narrative), you’ll be chomping at the proverbial bit to find out where they go from there. But more on that next time!
Nozomi’s presentation of Junjo Romantica includes only the Japanese audio-track accompanied by thorough English subtitles (i.e. no English dub here). This release of the first half of the series includes a 24-page booklet, which features character bios, extensive examples of both preliminary and finalized series artwork, and behind-the-scenes information. Special features on the set include a U.S. Season 1 trailer, clean opening and closing sequences, a TV Spot, three DVD commercials, liner notes featuring information on the translation among other things, and trailers for other Nozomi releases.