Anime Review: “The World’s Greatest First Love” – Animation Scoop

Anime Review: “The World’s Greatest First Love”

Shounen-ai—literally “boy’s love”–is a curious genre of anime and manga that has no American counterpart. It depicts innocent romances between bishonen (beautiful young men), but it’s created by women for female audiences. Some people use the word interchangeably with yaoi. Others maintain yaoi involves sexually explicit scenes, while shounen-ai never does. The characters may kiss or embrace, but if a relationship is consummated, it happens off screen.

The physical interaction between the characters may be limited, but their emotions stay stuck in overdrive: worries, insecurities, anxieties and fears abound. Enough tears flow to fill the Great Salt Lake. Couples part forever, only to reunite the next day. None of this agonizing involves their sexuality, although very few characters identify as gay. They just fall madly in love with someone who happens to be another guy. Clearly aimed at adolescent girls, the overwrought feelings recall high school, when a rumor about who asked whom to the dance provoked tearful traumas.

Based on the manga “The World’s Greatest First Love: The Case of Ritsu Onodera” by Shungiku Nakamura, the series Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi: The World’s Greatest First Love: Seasons One and Two (2011) is a textbook example of shounen-ai.

The interlocking stories involve editors in the shojo (girls’) manga department of the publisher Marukawa Books. In high school, Ritsu Onodera (Takashi Kondo) nurtured a gritty crush on upperclassman Masamune Saga, but their romance ended when Saga’s parents divorced and Onodera was sent to school overseas. Ten years later, he’s left his father’s publishing company to prove he can succeed on his own. He gets a job at Marukawa, only to discover his boss, the editor-in-chief, is Masamune Takano (Katsuyki Konishi)–his former boyfriend with a new last name.

Takano recognizes Ondodera’s potential as an editor and grooms him, making him re-do assignments, explain corrections to recalcitrant artists, negotiate deadline extensions with printers and give presentations to the editorial board. But he’s lost none of his ardor, and announces in the second episode, “I’m going to make you love me again.” Onodera has never gotten over Takano, but he agonizes endlessly. He’s convinced the aloof Takano’s only friend—sales representative Takafumi Yokozawa (Kenyuu Horiuchi)—is really his lover. He admits his heart races when Takano touches him, but he can’t quite accept Takano’s declarations of love and passionate kisses every time they’re alone.

Two less interesting side stories involve other editors at Marukawa. Yoshiyuki Hatori (Yuichi Nakamura) is already in a relationship with manga artist Yoshino Chiaki (Shinnosuke Tachibana), whose work he oversees. He fondly looks after the flakey artist, cooking meals and helping with deadlines. The clueless Chiaki can’t understand why Hatori gets upset when he skips his birthday to go to a hot spring with Yu Yanase (Hiroshi Kamiya), an assistant artist who’s out to jump his bones.

Editor Shota Kisa (Nobuhiko Okamoto) (the only character who acknowledges his sexuality) laments that he’s shallow, 30, and, worst of all, short. He dreams about tall, handsome “princes”—and no one embodies his type more perfectly than Ko Yukina (Tomoaki Maeno), a 21-year-old art student who works part-time in a manga store. Yukina loves the books Kisa edits, and cheerfully falls for him. Kisa can’t believe anyone as handsome as Yukina could possibly be interested in him, especially someone who’s always surrounded by adoring girls who seek his advice on the latest manga.

After two 12-episode seasons and two OVA’s, these contretemps finally get sorted out amid kisses, flashbacks and declarations of eternal affection. Onodera grows up a bit and establishes himself as a capable editor. But some viewers may wish Takano would stop kissing Onodera long enough to give him a well-deserved wallop upside the head.

Funimation is only releasing the series in a subtitled version: It would have been interesting to hear the actors in their repertory company tackle these self-dramatizing characters: Chris Patton or Jason Liebrecht could have made Onodera more appealing to Western audiences.

Although American studios have been borrowing freely from anime, it seems unlikely anyone in the US will produce a shounen-ai series, despite the growing popularity of the genre. Imagine what would happen if Archie and Jughead or Fred and Shaggy suddenly decided to pursue a long-suppressed same-sex attraction.

Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi: The World’s Greatest First Love: Seasons One and Two
(Funimation: $59.98 4 discs, DVD)

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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