J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Doukyusei (Classmates): Yaoi Manga on the Big Screen

They attend an all-boys school, but it is primarily young girls who follow their story. You could evasively label it “coming of age,” but it is really a chaste romance. That is what Yaoi manga and anime is all about. In this case, viewers will also get a sense of the pressure Japanese teens feel as they start applying for college. At least, Hikaru Kusakabe and Licht Sajo will be there to support each other during this nerve-wracking period, when they are not quarreling in Shouko Nakamura’s feature length adaptation of Asumiko Nakamira’s Doukyusei (trailer here), which screens this weekend in select markets.

Sajo is the school’s over-achiever and Kusakabe is the under-achiever, but he’s in a band, so it’s okay. In fact, his musical aptitude will help bring them together. Supposedly, Sajo needs to be coached through the song their homeroom class will perform in the school’s chorale competition (a tradition you can probably only find in Japanese prep schools by reading Yaoi). Of course, it is really just an excuse to spend time together, even though neither lad is prepared to admit the obvious.

Yes, serious hand-holding will commence. However, the reactions to their relationship are pretty cool for the most part, ranging from complete indifference to relief from friends previously worried by their lack of romantic interest. There is no crude, stereotypically homophobic bully ginning up outrage—so far. There were five volumes of Nakamura’s original manga, so there could be plenty more in store for these kids.

The hand-painted pastel-ish-looking animation is also unusually elegant, especially by the standards of manga-to-anime adaptations. Kotaro Oshio’s acoustic guitar soundtrack further enhances the classy package. Indeed, the style and ambience of the film should impress animation fans, regardless of subject matter.

Granted, the brevity (just over sixty minutes) and episodic structure of Doukyusei suggests it is really two issues stitched together (which it probably is), but the emotions feel pretty real. If Yaoi (or BL) is your thing, it is probably like your Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Naruto, all rolled into one. Recommended for those who appreciate graceful (and tasteful) animation, Doukyusei screens tomorrow (5/7) and Monday (5/9) in New York, at the Village East and the 9th, 12th, and 14th at the Littleton Alamo Drafthouse is Colorado. For additional dates and cities, check out Azoland Pictures’ website here.

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