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"Gravitation Vol.1" Shonen-ai for the Straight Guy

by on July 5, 2004

Ah, shonen-ai, a sub-genre of anime known best for flimsy plots geared around getting two or more pretty boys romantically involved with each other, to the extent of on-screen kissing and (if possible) off-screen relations. For the most part, this genre only appeals to the fangirl demographic that keeps Inu-Yasha on the air.

However, there is at least one exception to every rule, and Gravitation, at least as I far I’ve seen, is the sole exception to the shonen-ai-is-for-fangirls rule. (Let’s ignore shows like Cardcaptor Sakura, which have it as sidebar, and manga like the upcoming Legal Drug, which, though well-written and totally shonen-ai, aren’t scheduled to be animated.) Adapted from the popular manga of the same name, Gravitation is a good story with a nice blend of humor and drama, and featuring characters that seem absurd but who are in fact surprisingly realistic and human.

Shuichi Shindo and his bandmate, Hiroshi Nagano, are two young musicians on the edge of hitting the big time with their band, “Bad Luck.” They’re scheduled to open for “ASK,” a hot band with the super label “NG Records,” but Shuichi has come down with a bad case of writer’s block, which only gets worse when he runs into a mysterious blond stranger in the park who, upon reading Shuichi’s lyrics, sneers that “a grade school kid could do better.” Shuichi is emotionally crushed, but he can’t seem to get the guy out of his mind. Is he just a ticked off musician, or this something a little deeper? Will Shuichi be able the follow in the footsteps of his idol, Ryuichi Sakuma, and his band, Nittle Grasper?

If it sounds a little melodramatic, that’s because it is. However, Gravitation does a good job of making it believable. Shuichi is very typical of a lot of young, upcoming artists: he exudes confidence at one turn, but is fragile and depressed at the next, and even the decisions he makes in his career are very well handled and match up with the kind of decisions the pros have to make in the real world. Shuichi’s mystery man (eventually revealed to be Eiri Yuki, a famous romance novelist) often acts like a cooler-than-thou complete jerk, but even that attitude has plausible and serious roots. The rest of the cast also manages to be very believable and human, as I’ve seen those types in the music industry before. (In fact, the depiction of the music-biz in general—in particular, Japan’s Idol of the Week music culture—is pretty good.) The comedy in the show breaks into somewhat surreal elements at points (though jokes like the one about Sony remote controls being confusingly similar balance the humor as well), but it helps break the tension of what might otherwise be a dragging angst fest.

Speaking of dragging angst: Gravitation rarely gets too mired in the romantic aspects, and it does a fairly good job of blending the romantic and music plots. And compared not only to a lot of shows in the shonen-ai genre but to many so-called romance anime, it does a very good job of keeping the fan service to a tasteful minimum. The occasional, artfully depicted on-screen kiss is all that ever comes up.

On a technical level, Gravitation is solid as well. The animation isn’t spectacular, but it’s better than a lot of the rest of the work in the shonen-ai genre, and it does a good job of hiding the digicel animation, though the few experiments with live-action bits and rendering stage lighting work decently. The original Japanese voice acting is quite good (they went all A-list), but the dub isn’t: Yuki sounds like Bruce Campbell without the acting skill; Shuichi sounds way too nasal; and it sounds like the record booth wasn’t properly insulated. Graviation‘s music is largely a blend of all-original J-Pop and Electronica, so I found it quite fitting, fun, and enjoyable. The character design is a bit dull, at least compared to the manga, though the anime manages to cram the most important parts of the massive manga into a mere thirteen episodes, so I suppose that balances fudging the character design. The DVD menu is pretty nice (even the DVD production credits are well done and funny), the image and audio clarity is clear as bell, and the bonus material, both on the disc and included with the DVD, is pretty good.

Anyway, if you’re a musician (like myself), or just a guy who doesn’t care about homosexuality and is just looking for a good story (check me down for that too), I can recommend Gravitation, no problem. To shonen-ai fangirls (and fangirls in general), why are you still reading this? Isn’t this already on your shelf?

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