Apart from the more unusual angle of two guys being in love, this anime is basically a primetime soap opera - Sunset Beach meets Brokeback Mountain. It's a cheesy romance with hammed up acting and a passable delivery. Romantic scenes are by nature generally contrived: two potential lovers must be continually forced into situations whereby the most sexual tension can be generated. Unfortunately, tension here is utterly undermined by the corny approach; the characters often find themselves by chance lying together in a certain kind of way, hair splayed seductively, or someone might try to violently embrace the other. Most of the time, I found myself not so much gushing with sentiment as giggling with embarrassment.
One fundamental problem is the movie's unwillingness to resolve the plot. Just as the emotional clashes started to take on relevance and a sense of pathos, the credits begin to roll. The first time around I blinked at the screen and followed the credits to the end in the dim hope that they just indicated an intermission; only later did I find out there was a sequel (duh) to continue the story. Despite all of this, there is one easy way to get around being irritated by Zetsuai, and that is not to take the film seriously. From a light-hearted perspective it is passable, if not positively delightful.
Grainy and chockablock with ‘windy' still shots, this eighties animation fits very neatly into a certain dated period. Don't expect much detail or inventiveness when it comes to the setting although movement was pleasantly smooth. Unsurprisingly the men are bishounen; character designs favoured slim physiques, delicate hands, long, long legs and short, short shorts. And yes, I'm still talking about the guys. For an anime of its time, Zetsuai is fine, but by no means can it compete with features created even two years later.
The highlight of the soundtrack is definitely the ending theme, which is a sweet and sad instrumental. Everything else is either nondescript background music or downright bad eighties J-pop. Whenever the voice actors have anything to say they make sure to say it in an extravagant manner just so we got the point. In all honesty, it suits the film's soap opera style, but it nonetheless required some effort for me to take any of the events seriously.
Koji Nanjo and Takuto Izumi, the lovers, have no outstanding qualities to speak of. Izumi is sympathetic in as far as his tragic past allows him to display some emotion, while Koji just plays the tortured, sardonic hero type used in every Mills and Boon novel ever written (not that I have read Mills and Boon myself, ahem...). In the film's defence, a forty-five minute production is unlikely to leave much room for multifaceted characters, but it is not too much to ask for interesting one-dimensional personalities. Their reactions - especially Izumi's hostility - are extreme on too many occasions and interactions are noticeably contrived. What keeps the characters from sinking completely into oblivion is the attempt made to give Izumi a genuinely horrific background and to link that meaningfully to the current events.
I'm not completely sure why I enjoyed this. I expect it was for the cheesy elements and maybe just for the fact that it was a romantic gay story. Were I not partial to romance, I probably would have binned this insipid interlude within five minutes. Watch Zetsuai if you're scouting for minimally decent shounen-ai, and considering the usual quality of this genre, that is high recommendation indeed.
Koji Nanjo has everything a person could possibly want – good looks, wealth, a successful pop career – and yet he is unhappy with his life. After getting utterly drunk one night and collapsing on top of a garbage heap, Koji is rescued by a young man who takes him home with him. This young man is Takuto Izumi, a boy with a tragic past and a dream to become a professional soccer player. Overwhelmed by Izumi’s show of kindness and his passion to better his situation, Koji finds himself falling in love with the youth; however, Izumi is intimidated by Koji’s self-destructive nature and is reluctant to return any romantic feelings. Can Koji convince Izumi that they are meant to be or will his insecurities only end up driving them apart?
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