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Score: 7.96/10

Yagate Kimi ni Naru

Synopsis

Yuu Koito has always been entranced with romantic shoujo manga and the lyrics of love songs. She patiently waits for the wings of love to sprout and send her heart aflutter on the day that she finally receives a confession. Yet, when her classmate from junior high declares his love for her during their graduation, she feels unexpectedly hollow. The realization hits her: she understands romance as a concept, but she is incapable of experiencing the feeling first-hand. Now, having enrolled in high school, Yuu, disconcerted and dispirited, is still ruminating over how to respond to her suitor. There, she happens upon the seemingly flawless student council president, Touko Nanami, maturely rejecting a confession of her own. Stirred by Touko's elegant manner, Yuu approaches her for advice, only to be bewildered when the president confesses to her! Yuu quickly finds herself in the palm of Touko's hand, and unknowingly sets herself on a path to find the emotion which has long eluded her. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

Love takes shape that the universe may never have a precise answer on. Can we all agree that human emotions can never be truly understood? What does it mean to be in love? Why do people fall for each other? In our world of imperfection, we will never know the truth to this question. Humans are imperfect and we were built that way in the eyes of our creator.

The art of anime adaptations is a fascinating subject that takes many forms. I’m very open minded with just about any genre although when it comes to yuri and shoujo-ai, I’m rather indifferent about it. Recent adaptations of the shoujo-ai genre hardly made an impression on me such as Citrus or Netsuzou Trap. Both of those shows let me down big time with their aggressive stance on relationships. I wanted to see a softer side of the shoujo-ai genre without subscribing to sexual same gender relationships that relies on shock service. Thankfully, Yagate Kimi no Naru is the answer.

I’m not too familiar with the community related to shoujo-ai works but it’s clear that the manga has popularity. The series was launched in April 2015 from the Monthly Comic Dengeki Daioh and in the present, it has over 500k printing copies and ongoing. However, I was also curious about the anime adaptation after seeing the staff involved. Director Makoto Katou made a rather interesting impression back in 2015 when they directed a mystery light novel adaptation called “Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation”. While this series doesn’t contain much mystery, it definitely made me wonder if it has a similar mystique. Indeed, watching Yagate Kimi ni Naru (Bloom Into You) finally gave me a shoujo-ai that I desired.

Right off the bat, we meet Yuu Koito, a first-year high school student who has a love for shoujo manga. From her perspective, it’s easy to see what love is on a fictional level. It isn’t until a second-year student named Touko Nanami comes into her life that she really begin to experience what life and love is. Similar to Yuu, Touko also has trouble experiencing love although it’s clear that her mind is set to understand it. As a student, she is very admirable for her dependable personality and someone the freshmen look up to. However, all this seems to be masking her insecurity. The truth is, Touko has many weaknesses underneath her cool persona. It’s shown throughout the series that she feels loneliness due to her past and Yuu becomes the only person that she trusts in. On the other hand, Yuu seems to be more wary about love and wants to experience it. However, her view towards love is not as dedicated as Touko. She wants to experience love but often denies feelings of it. Yuu’s personality is more the opposite of Touko’s as she is indecisive at times, including her own future. So to say the least, how can these two develop a genuine relationship?

Honestly, I think the main draw of the show isn’t to see if the main characters can get together as a couple. Rather, it’s about how characters experience love and what love really means to them. Realistically, both characters views love in different ways although it’s clear that they lack experience in it. Touko is the more obvious with her insecure personality where she often isn’t sure what to do to make happy moments with Yuu. On the other hand, Yuu often believes what she experiences to be more of a fantasy than actual love. I guess part of that comes from reading all those shoujo manga although as the series progresses, she begins to grow out of her shell. The storytelling continues to test the two’s relationship on many levels. It’s a show that capitalizes on bringing in drama and thankfully, I can say that it accomplishes that very well. The drama sells with the character personalities, behaviors, dialogues, and realistic feelings. I’m also more pleased to say that everything in the show felt very real. Characters behave like humans do especially for high school students of their age. It’s a time period when young people want to get the best out of their lives and love is often a prominent part of growing up. To me, this show manages to capture the essence of character growing up while discovering what love is about.

While Yuu and Touko are the most prominent characters, it’s hard to take eyes off of some of the others. Sayaka Saeki is a good example as someone who used to attend an all-girls school and became a close friend with Touko. The two work together as part of the student council but it’s very clear that Sayaka sees her more than a friend. Love is the easiest way to describe it. It’s also easy to see why she falls for her too considering their similar personalities. Both Sayaka and Touko are hardworking individuals who are willing to help others. However, Sayaka is perhaps less outgoing compared to Touko and thus, not as easily as approachable. The series doesn’t dedicate to their relationship but it’s interesting to see Sayaka’s vision of love. In essence, she hides her feelings and is not someone that’s easy to read on the surface. This is a contrast to both Yuu and Touko as those two tends to say what’s on their mind. On a lesser extent, we also get to see the relationship between Miyako and Riko which is shown to be very healthy in nature. Their relationship is relaxing and almost like a contrast to the drama that we see so often in the story.

As for the shoujo-ai genre, I think it’s pretty easy to recognize that pretty much all the main characters are lesbians in one way or another. Some are to a lesser but it’s pretty clear from the start. What were you expecting though? The anime advertised itself as such with the same gender relationships so be prepared to subscribe to that from start to finish. But as a show with a lot of drama, I should say to watch this with a careful focus on the characters. Watch for what they say, how they behave, and their intentions. For me, I find the most complex character to be Yuu since her personality is often sarcastic and believes too much into fictional love. This is true especially in the beginning where it became hard to know what she really wants. The more I watched though, the more I came to accept Yuu for who she is and her quest to discover love. And that’s what I find so entrancing about this show.

In perhaps a coincidental timeline, we also get Troyca as the studio. It’s the same one that worked on Sakurako’s Investigation with the exact same director. As my first impression, this anime managed look colorful and vibrant with its character designs. There’s a feminine charm for the majority of the cast that really brings the elegance out of the characters. The emotional context are captured with the vivid details of body language and human expressions. The background visual quality is also stellar with a certain degree feeling of photorealism. Some of the scenes during the mid-season episodes like the ones with the bridge stands out the most. Last but not least, I would like to mention that character voice mannerism for the main cast is portrayed with supreme talent. Not only did I feel attached to their personalities, these characters also sounded like they belong in this anime from the beginning.

Ah, it’s about damn time. I’ve been indifferent about shoujo-ai shows for a good while but after seeing Yagate Kimi ni Naru, I may change my mind. This show managed to capture the expression of love in ways that exceed my expectations. It seized opportunities to recreate a sensational drama without stepping over the line. Keep your pants on because you’re not going to get sexual shock content all over your face. What you get is a drama done right in the most entrancing way possible. It’s almost perfect.

Bloom Into You is not a romance. Rather, it is a love story about self-realization. The series follows the titular late bloomer, Yuu Koito, a girl who has never felt love before. Since she was young she has dreamed of falling in love, romanticizing the day when it would happen. Expecting to be swept off her feet, eventually. But that day has never come, even when someone confesses to her she feels nothing. This has kept her from fully connecting to her friends and peers, they are far more understanding of what they want romantically. She was alone until she met Tokou Nanami. A girl who has also never experienced love, until she met Yuu. To Yuu's surprise, Touko suddenly confesses to her, and while she does not reciprocate due to her inability to love, she allows Touko to be in love with her. The one condition Touko sets for Yuu is to never love her back. From here on, the tale of self-discovery begins, as each character learns from the other about who they are. At the start of the show Yuu seems like your typical blank slate protagonist devoid of the ability to love, but look further and you’ll see her personality is surprisingly realistic. Yuu is the type of person who cares for others deeply but masks it beneath a veneer of logic and normalcy. She possesses many of the telltale signs of sexual repression, her loneliness and lack of romantic feelings are just a few examples. Throughout the show, we see her pushing through boundaries she would have previously avoided, gaining more control of her life, she reflects on who she is and gains a better understanding of her own identity. This is why labeling Bloom Into You as a romance would be only half true; while it features people in love, it is more complicated than that. Before Yuu can love she has to face the realization what she wants, who she is. Without a doubt, Bloom Into You depicts homosexual youth more realistically than I have seen in any anime before. Highlighting even the most minuscule of details that only someone who has experienced firsthand can convey believably. For example, in the first episode, Yuu’s father lets slide a casually homophobic comment about worrying that she isn’t in a relationship with someone of the same sex. After this line comes, the director smash cuts to Yuu in dismay at what he said. The tone sharply changes from moment to moment like this on many occasions to great success because of the subtly to which it is executed. In comparison to Yuu, Touko is rather different in that she knows exactly what she wants and would die before she relinquished her purpose. Touko wants to love Yuu because she can be vulnerable with her, she wants desperately for Yuu to always be there to comfort her. However, she can’t stand the thought of being loved in return by Yuu because of her own insecurities. Throughout the series we see her personality pulled apart and analyzed thoroughly, she is rather basic upon first impression, but look further and there is far more to her than meets the eye. If Yuu were to love her, she would be conflicted, because in her mind she can’t possibly be loved. It's an upsetting conflict that she endures, but incredibly effective in engaging anyone who has experienced similar insecurities. Overall, these story beats are delivered with an impressive amount of grace and panache. The dialogue feels very natural, Yuu’s interactions with her friends are realistic and believable. Most of all, the supporting characters are consistent. They don’t have random lapses in their personalities, and if anything changes there’s an explanation for it in their lives. For example, if a character is acting awkward towards the suggestion of seeing a romance movie, it’s because they had their heart broken recently and needed a push to mention it to their friends. There's a layer of depth to everyone that is far greater than what is expected of not only yuri, but anime in general. This is also the rare explicitly lesbian show that does not fetishize its characters at all. Touko is very clear about her romantic and physical attraction to Yuu; likewise, Yuu is very clear about her lack of ability to love. Both are treated like fully realized people instead of objects. In figuring out themselves and what they mean to eachother, they do run into a few issues. Nevertheless their relationship is still built on communication, consent, and respecting boundaries. They’re a likable duo and it’s easy to get invested in their development. When the first kiss happens non-consensually, it is apologized for immediately, then it never occurs again. The author very deftly avoids, as well as subverts, the Class-S tropes negatively associated with the yuri genre. Class-S usually refers to yuri that do not allow their characters to get into serious relationships, they are in high school and have time to play around before they get married to men when they graduate. The author of Bloom Into You has said on a few occasions that this is not a yuri, rather it is a story about girls and love. Understandably she wants to distance her story from negative connotations associated with the genre. Notably, this anime features a healthy adult lesbian relationship, showcasing that there is more to being homosexual and female outside of the scandalous high school melodrama. We also see a supporting character who faced the issue of her lesbian relationship being nullified under the pretense that 'it's just a phase', and from this, she develops into a wonderfully nuanced character. On the production side, Bloom Into You is magnificent. Beautiful visual storytelling, the storyboards convey characters inner emotions in engaging ways, it is very visually interesting. There are occasional breathtaking moments of sakuga, but what impresses more is the director's keen eye for editing to clue us in onto how a character is feeling at any given moment. If emotions are obscured it is deliberately so, if they are shown then you have to take into account every little detail given to the audience. One of the best moments of visual storytelling in the first episode is when a rush of water divides Yuu from her friends; this shot perfectly conveys how her lack of understanding of herself divides her from the average teenager. Aside from just visual metaphors, how the story plays out is representative of the internal struggles Yuu and Touko face. The play that Touko desperately wants to enact is a tale of a woman without memories who needs to pick a desirable personality for herself, reflecting her insecurity and desire to better herself. Punctuating each emotional beat are melancholic piano keys loudly implying the turmoils each character is enduring, and each of them is developed consistently enough for the musical accompaniment to feel very deserved. This is contrasted with melodic orchestral pieces to match the upbeat tone of scenes when characters come together and express heartwarming joy. With a talented and experienced composer like Michiru Oshima producing the soundtrack, the show’s audiovisual splendor blends together with its script wonderfully. To say that Bloom Into You took me by surprise would be an understatement. At first, its unusually realistic characters blindsided me; Yuu and Touko are superbly nuanced people. They're lost in the dark trying to find their way through a first relationship just as real people in their situation would. The many relevant themes this series tackles are what give the cast such believability and relatability unlike any other anime in this genre; self-loathing, societal expectations, homophobia, and sexual repression to name a few. Each theme is delivered respectfully and with subtlety. In the first few episodes, the pacing is quite slow, but always purposefully so, and once it gains speed it becomes enrapturing. Without a doubt, Bloom Into You is the best anime I watched from this season, perhaps even the year. It is a masterfully crafted, unforgettable experience that will leave an impact on me for years to come.

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