“Love Stage” Movie Review

There is always a high level of excitement surrounding adaptations. While Chinese BL are somber versions of the highly explicit web novels, Japanese BL are rather sophisticated versions of the anime or manga versions.

As such, the news that the hugely popular anime “Love Stage” was being adapted, led to major speculations. While the trailer did raise my hackles, I couldn’t stop myself from anticipating the release of the movie version on the international platform. While Japanese BL movies create quite a buzz with their announcements, global unavailability becomes a major deterrent. After months of awaiting, Love Stage live-in action is finally available on the Taiwanese streaming portal, GagaOOLala. While the romcom is majorly based on the concept of gender confusion (which is the theme of the anime version as well), there is a lot of disparity between the original and the recreated concept. Without further ado, let’s review the movie version, so I can brief you on the similarities and differences between the anime and it’s adaptation.

CHARACTERS

Sena Izumi

Sugiyama Mahiro portrays the main lead Sena Izumi, an aspiring manga artist otaku. His mother is a world-famous actress, his father a singer, and his brother a boy-band teenage heartthrob.

Ichijo Ryoma

Nakada Hiroki plays the protagonist Ichijo Ryoma, popular actor and the current heartthrob. Also, Izumi’s love interest.

Sena Shogo

DAIGO plays the role of Sena Shogo, Izumi’s over-protective elder brother and the lead vocalist for the super-popular band “The Crusher.

Sagara Rei

Wago Shinichi plays the role of Sagara Rei, the manager of Sena Productions.

Born in a family with great talents, where his father is a singer, a mother a movie star, and older brother Shougo is the lead vocalist for the super-popular band “The Crusherz,” Sena Izumi has a rather dull existence and abhors being a part of the media circus. Izumi is an otaku college student, loves “Magical Girl LalaLulu” and is working hard to become a mangaka. One day he winds up appearing in a TV commercial where he is reunited with Ichijou Ryouma, the popular young actor he costarred with on a project ten years prior. Izumi had cross dressed as a girl for that advertisement and Ryouma has been in love with Izumi, presuming that he is a girl. When the reality strikes, Ryouma goes through various phases of shock, surprise and denial leading to acceptance. This film focuses on their romance as Ryouma decides to pursue Izumi nevertheless of his gender!

The Contrast Between The Movie And Anime Version

The script mostly follows the original storyline except for some morbid changes. As the opening credits roll on, we are greeted with an overexcited Ichijo Ryoma. He is dying to meet the first love of his life, the girl he costarred with ten years ago. Obviously the co-star Sena Izumi isn’t a girl and Ryoma is left stupefied when he realises the alternate reality. The script undergoes a makeover here, because the commercial turns out to be a same-sex wedding advertisement. While Ryoma reels from shock, Izumi confidently completes the act with a kiss. I was actually disappointed because the anime version had a different style (where Izumi is nervous and acts hysterical until Ryoma calms him down). To me, that was their first true interaction and the change although thought-provoking stole the thunder of their ensuing romance.

Although the script might seem lacklustre at times, I did enjoy watching Nakada Hiroki’s heartfelt rendition of his character Ichijo Ryoma. Hiroki does his level best to match up to the anime version and although his depiction is much more toned down (because the anime Ryoma is a horny nutcase), you begin to appreciate the subtle differences. Without trying to overpower the character’s notoriety, Hiroki does a good job of breathing life into Ryoma, while highlighting his best qualities. Obviously the assault scenes from the anime have been excluded and that’s a huge relief. To those who haven’t watched the anime, Hiroki’s portrayal will be a welcome change.

Sugiyama Mahiro on the other hand was a sore disappointment. His stiff posture and weird actions don’t scream “Izumi”. I cannot reconcile Izumi’s cuteness or his innocence with Mahiro’s abysmal performance. This is exactly the reason for the negative ratings. While Hiroki does his level best to elevate the experience, Mahiro is a major letdown. If you are huge fan of the anime version (like I’m), this movie will leave you disappointed. I couldn’t compare their interactions to any of the recent adaptations I watched and enjoyed. It is a decent watch, if you overlook the discrepancies and enjoy Ryoma’s heartfelt confessions. Starting from apologizing for his indiscreet behavior to helping Izumi achieve his dreams, Ryoma does it all. Hiroki does manage to grab your attention and although Mahiro could have acted less awkward, you can’t expect much from a newbie. The ending will leave you exasperated or unfulfilled, not that I was expecting anything better. The lack of chemistry between the main leads is reckoning. I’m wondering if the movie would have turned out better, if some experienced actor had been cast opposite Hiroki instead of Mahiro.

Familial Obligations and Responsibilities

Sagara Rei is one of my favorite characters in the anime and I’m glad that actor Wago Shinichi manages to embrace the character’s true emotions. Sagara Rei is mostly an introvert and he always keeps his emotions at bay. He is a strict manager, is dedicated to the well-being of the Sena Family and is highly disciplined. Wago Shinichi’s portrayal is on the lines of the anime version and his performance is polished. The only difference between both storylines is his romance with Sena Shogo. While the anime doesn’t focus much on their romance, the movie is a visual delight where Shogo is more open about his affections for the older manager and Sagara actually reciprocates. We don’t get any kissing scenes (again a major disappointment), but the movie portrays them as an established couple and watching them together is a fulfilling experience.

Another important aspect of this storyline is Sagara’s relationship with Izumi. Sagara is more like a father figure for Izumi than his own absentee parents. The movie did bank on this premise where Sagara tries his level best to change Izumi’s mind about his future course of action. Obviously he is well aware that Izumi lacks the talent or creativity required for becoming a mangaka. They get into endless arguments, because Sagara is really concerned about Izumi’s personal choices. Although he is sceptical about Izumi’s career options, Sagara doesn’t blink an eye when Izumi chooses Ryoma as his lover. I did enjoy watching Shinichi’s mature portrayal of the character. Along with Hiroki, his act was the only saving grace of this movie.

Final Impressions

Love Stage touches on most of the concepts in the original narrative- Ryoma’s confusion over Izumi’s gender reveal, Izumi’s personal struggles related to his career and Sagara’s expectations. Although the plot line deviates from the anime version in a lot of instances, it was nice to watch Ryoma’s journey of self discovery. As he comes to terms with Izumi’s real identity, Ryoma goes through various stages of redress. Overcoming his prejudices, Ryoma accepts that Izumi’s gender doesn’t malign or dampen his feelings for the cute otaku. He wholeheartedly supports Izumi’s ambitions and wins his heart. The movie is a light-hearted comic adaptation and although at times the interpretation might seem over-the-top, the base concept is almost similar. We have two polar opposites characters falling in love, as they discover their feelings for each other. The ending credits were surprising because Ryoma and Izumi openly accept their relationship in front of the media. An entirely unexpected turn of event in a country where homosexuality is still considered abhorrent. Overall, the movie might dampen the excitement of the die-hard fans of the anime. But it is surely a one time watch for those who are curious about the premise of the live-in action!

Rating- 3 out of 5

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