From the creator of Junjou Romantica, this anime follows the love lives of three sets of men: Ritsu Onodera and Masamune Takano, Chiaki Yoshino and Yoshiyuki Hatori, and Shouta Kisa and Kou Yukina. The main overarching story follows the relationship of Onodera and Takano who meet when Onodera is hired as an editor at a shoujo manga publishing company. Over time, he finds out that Takano may actually be his first love from high school, and begins struggling with the feelings he’s tried to shove into the background for 10 years while trying to learn about this industry. The second storyline revolves around manga artist Chiaki and his editor Hatori who have been friends since childhood. When Chiaki starts to misunderstand Hatori and his friend Yuu’s relationship, Hatori has to set it straight, but that means admitting feelings he’s been hiding for years. The last arc looks at the jaded character of Shouta, a manga editor who is in his thirties and is attracted to people with pretty faces but never falls in love. When he meets a handsome book seller with a passion for shoujo manga, that all might change.
While this is written by the same person that made Junjou, somehow I don’t feel as guilty watching this. Maybe it’s the fact that I feel like it focuses on more themes tied to an older audience or the fact that the relationships aren’t as strange as Junjou‘s were. But as this mangaka does, there are definitely a few moments especially in Onodera’s story that were questionable in terms of showing a healthy relationship. With the addition of this backstage look at the publication process of manga, this anime has a lot of depth that would appeal to a slightly wider and, like most yaoi, predominantly female audience.
The art and animation is pretty much the same as Junjou‘s. Shungiku Nakamura has a pretty distinctive yaoi style with very angular faces and overly large hands. I’m not the hugest fan of this style as characters can seem disproportional when hands are too large, and faces can just seem off when they’re too angular. But I think Studio Deen has done a pretty good job adding in some great animations and working with expressions to bring out some comical and “heart-throb” moments. I don’t think there was anything that really surprised me, so if you like what they did with Junjou, then I think you’ll feel satisfied here. I kind of wish that the intro wasn’t in such a cutesy style, but that’s pretty much always how Nakamura’s style has been. Junjou was overly cutesy with all the teddy bears, and now there’s bunnies. I mean I guess it’s following the plot of them working at a shoujo publisher, but it just screams “this show is for women! Look at all these hot guys!”
Being an artist myself, the plot surrounding the publication of manga became a selling point for me for this series. Unlike an anime like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi has more depth to their exploration of what goes on behind the scenes of manga production. I’ve been working in and studying the publishing field for a while now, so you could say that these types of animes are both a personal and professional interest of mine. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, seeing a manuscript go from creation to publication is a great way to gain a new appreciation for the medium I read everyday. Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi also allows me to see that appreciation grow in someone else as Onodera learns more about a job he previously had no interest in. Through this, we also see his confidence in himself grow as he builds relationships with his artists and defends them in editorial meetings. Where Nozaki-kun may focus on the creation of a manuscript, I don’t think it ever really showed the true amount of stress that an artists goes through before finishing it. I saw an actual schedule for a mangaka pop up one day on the internet, and looking at it now, I think this series manages to capture the absolute lack of sleep, crunched deadlines, and almost no free time that an artist has to go through on a regular basis. But in that same vein, we also see that this stress is pretty equal for editors as well, and I think at some points a lot of readers forget the major part the editors and production team play in getting their books to them.
The relationship between Onodera and Takano is one of the more straight forward romances compared to the other two to an extent, but it’s also the one that I have the most issues with. A lot of yaoi follow the standard pairing of seme (attacker) and uke (receiver), and Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi is no different especially when it comes to these two. Takano is the one that goes after Onodera, making his “attacks” frequently in an effort to get Onodera to confess that he loves him again. And even to a point, their character designs reflect this characterization: Takano with pretty masculine features including an angular jaw line and narrower eyes, and Onodera containing the more feminine uke features like a triangular jaw-line and larger eyes. In a way this seems like a way for authors to feminize the uke and bring it closer to the way a heterosexual relationship would be, especially since the people who normally write and are interested in yaoi tend to be women and not gay men. Maybe in a way this makes their relationship easy to understand, but I think this might be something to dig into deeper when I have more space. Looking past this, I do enjoy their relationship for the most part. Takano seems to genuinely care about Onodera and has the ability to put his feelings aside to teach him how to be a better editor at times. It’s at these times that I think that I have the most respect for him mainly because at the other times he’s pretty much forcing himself on Onodera at moments when he’s the weakest.
Looking at the romance between Chiaki and Hotori, I think we see another pretty clear example of an uke and seme pairing, but it gets a little more complicated when we add in the character of Yuu. I don’t really envy what Hatori has to deal with in regards to Chiaki. He’s completely naive, can’t take care of himself, and acts a lot younger than his age. For me, this was probably one of the most frustrating stories to follow, mainly because of his complete naivete that makes the whole plot one misunderstanding after another. After awhile it just gets old and the moments of jealousy keep adding up that I almost wanted to bang my head on my desk until it was over. However, I think the theme of trying to adjust your professional and personal life is pretty interesting. For Hatori, he has to manage how he acts as an editor and as a lover, both requiring different attitudes. This is also something that runs through the other storylines and, in some ways, almost becomes the main theme of the whole anime in my eyes. Anyways, if you like the cute, innocent type paired with the stoic yet caring type, you’ll probably like this romance. It just wasn’t for me, even though I do like Hatori as a character.
The last pairing is that of Shouta and Kou, the 30-year-old, jaded editor with the younger and more energetic bookseller. I found this romance to be pretty cute, and liked how they played with the ideas of seme and uke pairings by flipping them back and forth through the course of the story. Shouta is both someone who initiates love while still being fragile and unsure of himself. His 30 years of failed relationships has led him to thinking he could never have a serious romance, and he started playing around with anyone that would have him. But with the introduction of Kou, he has someone who is fiercely loyal and strong, but, at the same time, is unsure of himself too because this is his first relationship with a guy. Also in the background of this storyline is the theme of finding passion for your work again. Kou provides a kind of enthusiasm for manga that I think draws Shouta to him because he has lost that feeling for his own work. In some ways, Shouta and Onodera are similar in that they’re both jaded about love and scared to get into a real relationship, but I think Shouta is more straight forward with his feelings, choosing to at least acknowledge he’s in love with Kou from the start.
If you’re looking for a good yaoi to watch or maybe you’ve seen Junjou Romantica before, I think Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi is a pretty great choice. Though I do still have problems with the plot at points, I would definitely rate this higher than Junjou mainly because it feels a lot more serious at times and covers topics that appeal to an older audience. Also, there are a few cross-overs into Junjou Romantica placing this series timeline sometime before Junjou starts I think.
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