Japanese cinema is evolving and so is their abstract portrayal of the queer community. Setting aside the regressive mentality that mostly blindsides the stigmas faced by the LGBTQ diaspora, Japanese BL’s subtly touch on the underbelly of fraudulent issues that affects them adversely. In today’s feature, our authors will be talking about such gems- variant dramas/movies that spoke to our hearts!
2022 was certainly a year of massive BL productions. It was also, in my humble opinion, a year that gave us more quantity than quality. Japanese BL productions, on the other hand, kept their consistency of delivering good scripts, great takes, mostly good editing, and in some cases brilliant acting. What I love about Japanese BL is that plots come in a variety of ways. Moreover, there is always more beneath the surface than you previously thought.
So, without further ado, here is a list of BLs I believe are definitely worth watching and rewatching.
1) Old Fashion Cupcake
This BL is for sure an all-time favourite of mine. In fact, it remains at the top of my top Japanese BL recommendations, which you can also read it here on the site. What I love about Old Fashion Cupcake is that it is a love story between two mature men. It has only 5 episodes, but it managed to deliver an emotional slow-burn romance. I was also impressed by the fact that the script followed the manga almost frame by frame.
Nozue, played by Takeda Kouhei, is almost in his forties. He is a man of steady habits, successful professionally but not overly ambitious. Nozue seems to like following a dull routine until Togawa (played by Kimura Tatsunari), his subordinate and ten years younger than him, begins to show him that there can be more to life than just their 9-to-5 job and a life of loneliness. Togawa, who has always been in love with Nozue, dares Nozue to try different things every day so they can experience the joys of living again just as teenagers do. I love that what they actually do is nothing extreme. They just go to cafes together and try out different desserts while they find pleasure in each other’s company. By spending more time together, they also feel more drawn to one another until Nozue finally realises he has fallen in love with the handsome Togawa. Their kissing scene also remains one of my favourites. It was heartfelt and full of need. It was an actual passionate kiss and the peak of the series because we can feel how they desperately want to just surrender to their feelings but are suddenly held back by the fear of losing their jobs and their friendship.
If you haven’t seen Old Fashion Cupcake, I highly recommend you do so. It’s a five-star BL.
2) Kabe Koji
Kabe Koji is not your typical BL. It feels, in fact, like a homage to yaoi. It is not so much a love story as it is a story about loving yourself.
The story follows Mamoru, a doujinshi artist who draws some pretty hot BL manga, trying to become successful in a really competitive business. He frequents a BL festival whose main goal is to set up booths by the wall. Having a booth by the wall shows the artist has gained prestige and fame. Unfortunately, Mamoru is very unsociable and insecure. After a serious bout of self-doubt and depression, he ends up losing his spot on the wall. It is while he is in a slump that he meets Issei, his high school crush, again. Issei is his complete opposite. He is a ray of sunshine. Cheerful, positive, friendly and charming.
Mamoru has never confessed his feelings for Issei, and he is quite self-conscious about being gay. On the inside, Mamoru squeals like a high schooler at the sight of Issei, who is now an idol of a famous boy band Mamoru adores. On the outside, however, Mamoru treats Issei coldly and unapproachably, almost as if the mere vision of Issei gave him the shivers. What Mamoru doesn’t know is that Issei is a huge fan of his as well, and it was thanks to Mamoru that he became a pop idol. As Issei struggles to break through Mamoru’s wall, Mamoru has to figure out exactly who he truly is and what he really wants.
Kabe Koji has no kissing scenes, and the ending is dubious and leaves us wanting more. The story, however, is interesting and gripping for those who are fans of yaoi and jpop. It is refreshing to see a man drawing BL – in fact, the mangaka of Kabe Koji is a man, and one wonders if the story is not slightly autobiographical. It was a great watch even if there was not a lot of romance going on. I hope there is a season 2. I have fallen deeply in love with Koudai Matsuoka, the actor who plays Mamoru, and I wish to see more of him.
3) Senpai, This Can’t Be Love!
This story gave me butterflies all the way to the end. It is such a sweet love story you may end up with cavities. It tells the tale of Kaneda (Toshiki Seto), a young man who is starting out at a design agency. His mentor in the company is Yanase (Shuichiro Naito), a CG artist who is very successful and cheerful. Yanase is the perfect mentor, or so he thinks because even though he tries his hardest to be friends with Kaneda, he keeps getting rebuffed. What Yanase doesn’t know is that Kaneda admires him greatly and has chosen to work with CG because of Yanase in the first place. Kaneda is just too shy around him.
A series of shenanigans happen before they can finally get together, but eventually, they do. Happy ending for them and for us all.
The greatest thing about Senpai, This Can’t Be Love is how both men go about their own issues in different ways. It is not just about them falling in love, but about Kaneda finding a place in the company, and Yanase getting back the enthusiasm he used to feel for CG before he got disillusioned by the reality of the profession. By watching Kaneda’s talent blossoming, Yanase is reminded of his own beginning as a young CG artist full of hopes and dreams.
4) Candy Colour Paradox
This is such a lovely BL. It has just eight episodes that could have been more well-developed, but all in all, it is cute and worth the watch.
The plot follows two tabloid journalists, Onoe (Keito Kimura) and Kaburagi (Jyutaro Yamanaka). Onoe takes his job as an investigative reporter very seriously. Unfortunately, he feels he keeps getting overshadowed by Kaburagi’s scoops on celebrity scandals. They do not get along in the beginning but are made to work together all the same. As they get to know each other better, their feelings go from hate to admiration and then love. The path to their happy ending, though, is full of misunderstandings.
The plotline of Candy Colour Paradox is similar to Senpai, This Can’t Be Love in the sense that Kaburagi used to be just as excited and enthusiastic about the job as Yanase was but lost it along the way. And just like Kaneda makes Yanase fall in love with CG again, Onoe’s seriousness and passion soften Kaburagi’s cynicism towards his own profession.
A great point about Candy Colour Paradox is that Onoe does not hold back when he falls in love with Kaburagi. The kissing scene could be better, though.
5) Eternal Yesterday
I thought long and hard – no pun intended at all – about which BL I would choose to write about here and ended up with Eternal Yesterday instead of Mr Unlucky Has No Choice but to Kiss or Minato’s Laundromat, both of which are truly worth watching as well.
The reason I chose Eternal Yesterday is that it is an incredibly beautiful and sad love story. I normally run away from stories like this. Life is already too hard to spend with stories that are also just as hard and depressing. Yet, Eternal Yesterday caught my attention because they treat a very heavy subject – the death of a loved one – with amazing sensibility.
The story is about two teenagers, Mitsuru and Koichi. Mitsuru (Sora Inoue) is a quiet, introspective kid who spends most of his time alone. His father is the head of a hospital, and his mother died when he was very young, making their father-son relationship a distant one. Koichi (Rio Komiya) is someone who has fallen in love with sullen Mitsuru at first sight and has done his utmost to become close to him. At first, Koichi and Mitsuru just spend time together quietly. Slowly, Mitsuru begins to warm up to Koichi, and they fall in love.
One day, they are walking together along the road as they always do. Because it is raining, they share an umbrella. Everything seems fine until Koichi is hit by a truck. Mitsuru is so shocked he stands completely still unable to react. He finally snaps out of it and runs towards Koichi’s body laying miles away from the accident. To his surprise, Koichi opens his eyes and stands up as if nothing had happened. They are both stunned.
Has Koichi escaped death or have Mitsuru and Koichi got some extra time together so they can say goodbye to each other properly? It is impossible not to get emotional as you get flashbacks of their moments together, their first fight, their first realisation that they were in love, their first kiss… It all leads to their first night together, and then the final and heart-breaking goodbye. Mitsuru’s journey of mourning and then finally acceptance got me in tears. It is a beautiful story of first love and the harsh reality of life, and to this day I cannot think about it without sobbing.
Krishna Naidu’s Favorites
Candy Color Paradox
A workplace romance, Candy Color Paradox, depicts the casual romance between two co-workers who are as different as day and night. While Onoe Satoshi is idealistic and ethical, his partner Kaburagi Motoharu is hypocritical and opportunistic. Their opposing personalities often lead to clashes and along the way, they end up influencing each other’s choices. It was intriguing watching their interactions, because Oneo’s honest nature betrays his innocence; something that Kaburagi inevitably cherishes and adores. Despite being rookies, pop idols Kimura Keito and Yamanaka Jyutaro embody the finer nuances of their characters; it’s believable, natural and their chemistry was delectable!
Some stories are so tragic that you can’t help but be drawn to them; because underneath that pain and suffering lies hope and maybe even faith. Eternal Yesterday plays on this doctrine while weaving a metaphorical love story between two teenagers. Koichi’s love for his best friend, Mitsuru, transcends beyond the boundaries of life and death. As such, he resurrects for a brief period; to help Mitsuru adjust to this new situation, where Koichi no longer exists and would be unable to protect him. The thread binding them together might seem weak; nevertheless, it ties them together and the beauty of this script lies in its subtlety. Komiya Rio and Inoue Sora have a lively camaraderie that translates into excellent chemistry on-screen!
Old Fashion Cupcake
Age gap romances aren’t to be trifled with; but Japanese BLs are rapidly transgressing into unknown territories and Old Fashion Cupcake was surprisingly honest in its depiction. Stepping out of the box, this show renders a vivid romance between two middle-aged men, dealing with the uncertainties at their workplace. While Nozue is bored with his monotonous lifestyle, Togawa is looking for a chance to express his feelings to his oblivious supervisor. Despite the morbid workplace setting, Old Fashion Cupcake touches on the societal mindset about ageism, while training its lens on the traditional norms that are both outdated and obtuse. Takeda Kouhei and Kimura Tatsunari quickly became fan favorites and people are still obsessing over their sensual chemistry!
2022 was the year of progressive age gap romances. While Old Fashioned Cupcake had a more mature approach; Minato’s Laundromat was like a slice of cupcake- teenage angst mixed with hopeful aspirations. Adolescent phase can be misleading; teenagers often don’t have an idea of what they want in their life. So, it was refreshing watching Shintaro actively pursue Minato (who is almost twice his age) while mapping out his entire lifetime. Shintaro has ambitions. He wants to be a good doctor, capable of healing people; but at the same time, he also hopes that Minato stands beside him on this arduous journey. Their romance was adorable, endearing and heartwarming. Kusakawa Takuya and Nishigaki Sho won hearts with their beautiful chemistry; so much so that the age gap became nonexistent!
Cherry Magic! Thirty Years of Virginity Can Make You a Wizard?!: The Movie
One of the most popular Japanese BLs of all times, Cherry Magic paved the way for future adaptations. Akaso Eiji and Machida Keita represent the current crop of actors who are comfortable in their skin and have no problems portraying BL characters. While the drama focused on the budding romance between main leads, Adachi and Kurosawa; the movie targets more important subjects- parental reproach and societal rebuke. Their relationship is tested repeatedly, as Adachi and Kurosawa navigate through various misunderstandings and hurt to emerge stronger and more in love. This is one of those stories that gives you hope!
This list, unfortunately, has only one name, and I’m sad that I missed a few good Japanese BL releases last year. However, the one on this list certainly made my year.
Old Fashioned Cupcake (2022)
I’m usually in two minds about office romances, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Old Fashion Cupcake (2019), a manga created by Sagan Sagan. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it has been adapted into a live-action series starring Takeda Kouhei (who plays the character Kimura Tatsunari (who plays Togawa). Moreover, it’s a story featuring an older salaryman character whose younger partner spoils them so much. The plot is soft and fluffy but just complex enough, with older, talented actors, well-written characters and great pacing—what more could I ask for at this point?
We will be back with an exciting new feature next weekend. Till then, keep watching this space as we bring you updates from the BL world!