Yuri is one of the most interesting genres in anime. It’s not new, but it feels like it has the most unexplored territory, in a genre sense. Romance literature spans a spectrum from drama to comedy, but yuri (and yaoi) alter that established spectrum. If the romance spectrum spans in two dimensions, yuri and yaoi expand it into a third […]
Yuri is one of the most interesting genres in anime. It’s not new, but it feels like it has the most unexplored territory, in a genre sense. Romance literature spans a spectrum from drama to comedy, but yuri (and yaoi) alter that established spectrum. If the romance spectrum spans in two dimensions, yuri and yaoi expand it into a third dimension.
Bloom Into You showcases an interesting romantic relationship. It feels different from most romance anime of any kind on top of it being shojou ai. And I always applaud attempts at originality. But this show doesn’t resonate with me. Yes yuri can resonate with any viewer just as any romance can! Certain prominent aspects of this show feel a little forced or implausible to me. And while implausibility is nothing new to anime, the aforementioned prominence of these aspects taint my view of this show. Not to mention, this show followed on the heels of Citrus in 2018, and that was a tough gig to follow.
I liked this show, but inevitably I compare it to something like Citrus, and it doesn’t quite measure up. Overall, it’s lighter compared to the heavy-hitting Citrus, and while the relationships are a little more complex, it doesn’t have the heartfelt appeal of Citrus, or many yuri romances. It’s a nice little romance, but not much more.
Touko and Yuu are the two lovers in this series. Right away, here comes the first Citrus comparison. Touko is tall, dominating, raven-haired, and extremely mentally fragile. Yuu is light-haired, indecisive, confident, and surprisingly receptive. I tell you, following Citrus in 2018, the timing for this anime couldn’t have been any worse in regard to these two character designs. The comparisons to the Citrus lovers were inevitable, and served to draw even more attention to further comparisons.
Oh, Touko and Yuu aren’t the same as Mei and Yuzu, you say? Yuu isn’t seeking love at all, and Yuzu is obsessed with finding someone to date. Yuu isn’t popular and Yuzu is. Yuu isn’t a gyaru or rebel type unlike Yuzu. And Yuu has pink hair while Yuzu has blonde hair. Hawk you dumbass.
I’ll give you all that. But for one thing, I won’t argue that these two are exact copies of the other. But at the same time, there’s enough similarity to prompt the comparisons. And particularly with Touko, if not Yuu so much. Touko and Mei play a very similar role and have very similar backstories, details aside. Touko practically forces herself on Yuu just as Mei does to Yuzu, no question about it. Sure she’s more sensitive to Yuu’s feedback than Mei is to Yuzu’s, but nonetheless the behavior is very similar. In the light of how closely together these two anime series debuted, the similarities are enough to draw significant comparison.
Touko’s backstory is predictably sad. She’s traumatized by her older sister’s tragic death, making it her goal in life to be exactly like her sister. This is one of those prominent aspects I referred to in the preamble that’s interesting but doesn’t quite work for me. This might happen to someone, I’m not arguing about that, but I don’t find it very effective in adding interest to this story. It doesn’t particularly add to the intensity of the romance. It might be relatable to some people, but I don’t know if it would be relatable in a romance context. But strictly as an aspect of Touko’s character, I don’t mind this trait. It plays an interesting role in tying the storylines together at the end of the series. I’ll get to this more in the Story section below.
Yuu has a different strange psychological trait. She can’t feel romantic feelings for anyone. This brings to mind the familiar “what is love?” trope we often see in anime. But this show doesn’t quite take that track. Yuu isn’t particularly curious about what love is or feels like. She’s aware that she doesn’t feel romantic attraction (or doesn’t think she does), but isn’t curious about love itself. She doesn’t seem to care!
Number one, this is unusual. It’s not a new character trait in anime, but it’s rarer. Second, it doesn’t particularly ever play out. What I mean by that is she never gets over it. She believes that she doesn’t have any romantic feelings for Touko all the way up to the end of S1. While I would argue she is experiencing love by the end of that season, she hasn’t changed her view on the matter, and certainly isn’t about to stuff her tongue down Touko’s throat anytime soon.
It’s these two unusual aspects of these characters that bring the two together. This is where the character designs and story become more intricate and have a good deal of interest. Touko’s attempts to be like her sister prompt instant and aggressive attraction towards Yuu. Yuu’s apathy creates an odd situation where she’s receptive to Touko’s aggressive advances, but where she doesn’t return any of the affection. A strange relationship emerges where Yuu agrees to allow Touko to behave romantically towards her with the understanding that she wouldn’t return any of those feelings. They both agree to this. I find this fascinating, curious, a little heartwarming, and even troubling.
I find it fascinating because Touko willingly agreeing to, essentially, a lack of reciprocation from her lover is an interesting parallel of how anime fans often “love” certain characters. I could bring up that whole subject and dive very deep into those amusing waters. But I won’t.
I find it curious because I don’t see how anyone could stand this for very long. Therefore I find the situation implausible. However, the implausibility could be resolved in two ways. One, we’ve only seen one season of this anime so far, and the manga and light novel continued on after the conclusion of S1, so I suspect we’ll get a S2. And if we do, I would not be surprised if the authors decide to make Touko become frustrated with this one-sided relationship. Second, the impossible is often a defining feature in anime, and can be used to great effect. It’s possible there’s some intricate relationship between Touko’s peculiar love and her inability to define her own identity (more on that later).
I find it heartwarming for the simple fact that Touko might just be so in love that she doesn’t even care if Yuu returns her affections. This is a big “awww” moment once you recognize this possibility in the show. It’s also the simplest explanation for Touko’s assenting to the strange parameters of this relationship. But we here are explorers and adventurers all, who will dare never stop at the simplest of explanations! More on these possibilities in the Story section below.
I find it troubling because Touko can essentially objectify Yuu in this kind of relationship. This is a little perverse and overly complicated, so I don’t think anything will ever emerge in this way. So far nothing arises in the show that gives evidence to this, if you don’t include Touko’s nearly constant solicitations for physical affection directed at Yuu. Again, it’s simpler to say she’s just really in love, and someone who’s in love usually wants to make that kind of physical contact. Indeed, if she’s learning about falling in love and trying to imitate someone else in the process, it would easily follow that Touko would exhibit “predictable” behavior in her expressions of love. So perhaps there’s nothing to be concerned about here.
One thing that distinguishes this show from other yuri romances is that numerous female characters have yuri tendencies. Saeki is totally in love with Touko, and views Yuu as an unwanted interferer in her desired relationship with Touko. Saeki gets a little lost in the storyline and character development unfortunately, but her bubbling anger at Yuu seeps through just occasionally, and Ai Kayano (Darkness, KonoSuba; Shiro, No Game No Life; Hori, Horimiya) brings out her familiar powerful voice as she whispers veiled threats at her competition. Then of course you have Hakozaki-sensei and her girlfriend Miyako Kodama, who add a more mature spiciness to the yuri concoction in this series. Most yuri anime focus entirely on the couple, and while sometimes there’s competition, it’s often from an antagonist. I could refer to Citrus again and its various arcs with side characters.
But the focus is mostly on Yuu and Touko, as expected. The authors try to heavily involve Saeki—she has as much screen time as anybody, and who wouldn’t do that with Kayano-san playing the role—but she has as much trouble breaking into the main character group as she does breaking into Touko’s affections. Yuu’s handful of friends and the other members of the Student Council (first-year boys) don’t play significant roles. Though one of those boys is similar to Yuu in that he doesn’t really feel romantic love either, which is both interesting and convenient. Interesting because here’s a second character of this type in this show, a rarer type in anime in the first place. Convenient because who wants normal boy-girl romance interfering with our main yuri romance storyline?
I think the main set of characters are complex in design and thus a little difficult to identify with. Perhaps I should say they try to exhibit too many of the psychological effects that lovers experience, some very normal and some very unusual. For me, the result is that I cannot readily relate to the characters. I can understand parts of what they’re experiencing, but not others. I guess that’s the case with most characters, but sometimes we can identify completely with characters because they embody something we can completely understand or commiserate with. Those kinds of characters are the most heartfelt in romance, and hence the most memorable. The main Bloom Into You characters are missing just a little bit of that, perhaps because the two lovers are struggling so much with identity. If they can’t establish their own identities to themselves, they can hardly expect viewers to do so either. Hopefully there will be a second season and we’ll get a little more understanding of each character that will allow us to connect with them more.
Oh no, he’s gonna bring up Citrus right away again, isn’t he?
Damn right I am. The two cannot be compared in this regard. Citrus is extraordinarily beautiful. And while the superlative does not detract from the great, but it does make it inferior. Hence poor Bloom Into You finds itself following Citrus once again.
Ochitsuku dear reader. I didn’t say I didn’t like the art. On the contrary, the art is very unique. I like two things specifically about it.
One is very ordinary: the styling stayed very true to the manga. I know most studios try to do this, but the importance of resemblance between the two mediums ranges in weight between studios and original materials. We’ve all seen lots of examples of this. Wait, you’re all realizing, he read the manga? He doesn’t read manga!! No, I didn’t, just I can’t avoid seeing some of it in the limited research I did prior to this writing. I found it interesting that the Troyca artists stayed so true to the original.
This brings me to the second big reason I like the art. The design for Yuu in particular is very well done. And it’s not about form or beauty or expression. Quite the contrary. Yuu is singularly unexpressive. Her depictions in the manga are very carefully crafted in this regard, and since the anime followed the manga’s styling, Yuu looks perfectly bland. She isn’t emotionless by any means. I looked for this in her visage once I began to realize why her face was drawn as it was. Her face will show reactions, not very strong reactions, but human reactions. She’s not an emotionless robot. But her face is drawn to imply her apathy towards romance in particular. And while I can’t quite describe how that was achieved, I know that was the affect it had on me. It took me a few episodes to even recognize what I sensed was wrong with the scenes where Touko would encroach on Yuu’s personal space. Yuu’s face wasn’t reacting in a predictable fashion. Usually her face didn’t change much at all. Not embarrassment, discomfort, curiosity, displeasure, passion, sexual excitement, not a single outward expression in reaction to Touko’s romantic advances passed over Yuu’s countenance.
This was kind of unusual. Anime faces are meant to display emotional responses. They have to, else we wouldn’t always understand the context of the dialogue in a scene. That’s just the nature of anime artwork. Yet here was a character, who we’re explicitly told doesn’t react to love, showing no facial expression in reaction to love. It’s unusual because it’s intentional, and I like that. But also, it does a lot for Yuu’s character. Remember, we don’t actually know by the end of S1 whether she’s in love with Touko or not. Her reactions never change, just as her thoughts on the matter never change. Yet we cannot help but wonder if she really is falling in love with Touko, especially given some of the happenings in the final few episodes. So what Yuu says and shows outwardly may not match what she’s really feeling, who she really is. In context this is very interesting, and it’s delightful to see the artwork support a character and storyline in this manner.
But I’m not 100% a fan of the artwork either. I think this is just a personal reaction, but the artwork feels less expressive than it should. I get it with Yuu, aforementioned. And I get it with Touko to an extent, as she’s having identity issues, and that could result in forced expressions that might appear tepid because her heart isn’t truly into them. But nevertheless, I expect to see certain emotional responses on characters’ faces in romance anime. Even if the author wanted to build off this styling on the girls’ faces, it leaves the viewer somewhat disappointed. Should I bring up Citrus again? Bloom Into You did follow it in the subsequent season to Citrus in 2018. No way you can look at the pained expression on Mei’s face throughout that series and not be disappointed by the results here in Bloom Into You. It’s most unfortunate that these two shows were thus juxtaposed, but I cannot ignore this difference in that light. But, even if you saw this show and never saw Citrus, the characters still look too expressionless sometimes.
Still, I like the artwork overall. Apart from the care taken with the characters’ expressions, there isn’t anything fantastic about it, but it’s still warm and pretty. It doesn’t imply the drama like the artwork often does in yuri, but it’s not supposed to either. This show is a little lighter on drama than is usual of yuri, and the artwork is nicely lighter in tone and fuzzier around the edges to match this feel. It works really well for this series.
Right away, Yuu and Touko find each other attractive because of similarities they perceive in each other. But as the story progresses, we find that both of them are very different. So different that their relationship seems forced at times. On one hand, it should feel that way. Touko is imposing this relationship on Yuu, who basically just tolerates it. There’s handful of interesting things going on within this unusual coupling.
Let’s get the Citrus comparison out of the way first. It could be argued that these girls are totally different, despite them initially thinking they were similar. Yuu can’t or won’t express her feelings, if she even has any. Touko knows what she’s feeling and expresses it without hesitation, argue what you will about it being forced. This is entirely similar to the situation in Citrus, with the minor exception that Yuzu has feelings that she simply won’t express. Sure, lots of love stories have similar kinds of obstacles to overcome between the two lovers, but the juxtaposition within 2018 and all that stuff which I’ve said ten times or more now.
The more interesting argument is that these two recognized each other for who they truly are when they first set eyes on each other, and that’s what they both fell in love with. And that initial recognition took the form of seeing an important part of themselves in each other. They called that similarity, thinking they both had a tough time relating to love and having romantic relationships. Thereafter, they encounter the differences in each other, and it makes them seem like total opposites. They both might feel like they made a mistake, that they weren’t really similar after all. But even if that was true, and they were more dissimilar than similar, maybe the mistake initially wasn’t thinking they were both similar, but mistaking what they were really seeing. They called it similarity, but I would rather argue that they both simply saw each other’s true self.
This would explain a handful of the mysteries in their relationship. The two most important mysteries in their relationship are their identity crises and the rather strange fact that they both seem intent on changing each other. A good explanation for both of these points lies in the possibility that they saw each other’s true self at their first meeting.
Both of these girls struggle with knowing who they truly are. Yuu’s struggle is less pronounced compared to Touko’s, but nonetheless exists. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that she doesn’t understand how to love someone romantically, or receive love from someone. She’s kind of empty in that regard. Doesn’t she say something about Touko filling a hole in her heart at one point? It’s been a few days since I finished the series as I write this, but I feel like I remember something important like that. But anyway, she’s not “complete” somehow, and this can be interpreted as an identity issue.
Touko’s identity issues are overt. She lost her dear sister to a mindless traffic accident. Her sister was “better than her at everything,” so her loss caused Touko to feel she had to become her sister. I don’t quite understand the psychology behind this, or if it even plays a role in the story. But for the sake of my argument, we’ll just leave that as it is. She’s suffered trauma and she’s dealing with it by throwing aside her identity and trying to be her sister.
This becomes extremely overt at the end, when the school play Touko insists they perform—also due to her sister’s tragic passing—involves a character who suffers from amnesia, and is described by three acquaintances from her past in three different ways. This causes the character to feel she has to choose one of the three identities as her new permanent identity. Ultimately this is resolved nicely, as Yuu suggests to her friend (the script writer Koyomi) that the character not choose one of the three identities, but instead try to just be herself, the person that all three people know after the amnesia. It’s a little trite, but it relates well to the overall story. And, it makes the case for Yuu and Touko’s attraction stemming from their true selves.
What? So confusing, you say. That doesn’t follow, some of you say. I’m not quite finished yet. Let me address the oddest part of this couple’s relationship: each seems to want to change the other.
This should raise all kinds of red flags. Two people in a relationship are trying to change each other? On one hand, “friends don’t let friends…” wallow in depression, commit crimes, follow destructive paths, whatever. On the other hand, why try to change someone you love? Do you not love them for who they are already? Or is it some weird attempt to control the other, or exert one’s power over the other? This aspect of their relationship is very alarming when you first recognize its presence.
I think Touko and Yuu, new to love, think they’re trying to change each other, and for good reasons, but really they’re just trying to rediscover that person they recognized initially, the one they fell in love with. They misunderstand this as “trying to change each other,” since they’re so unfamiliar with romantic relationships. This would explain the revelation Yuu has about the proposed new ending of the play, where Touko’s character resolves to simply be the person her friends and lover know right now. It would explain why a massive negative in a relationship, the two lovers trying to change each other, isn’t actually a negative here, seeing as they’re simply mistaken, and they’re not trying to change each other, but instead trying to find that true self in each other that they’re both really in love with.
Basically, they fall in love, at first sight, because they see each other’s true self. They can’t identify what that is exactly, and they mistake it for thinking they’re simply similar. But through their identity crises and their inexperienced misunderstandings about love and relationships, they are continually, if subconsciously, aware that they’re in love with each other’s true self. The outward appearances and behaviors of both have very little to do with their relationship at all. They’re not trying to change each other. They’re trying to find the person they both love amid all the tangled mess of outward projections.
If any shred of this is intentionally threaded into the story, it’s magnificent. And it doesn’t even have to be intentional for the story to be really good. The simple complexity of the story does its own work. Now, the simpler explanation would be that the authors simply lost control of the whole identity thing, and worked it out in the end by acknowledging that it’s each person’s true self that the other loves. But even if that’s the case, it doesn’t change anything really. And who cares about the simpler explanation anyway?
Citrus versus Bloom Into You versus yuri everywhere. Anybody that’s seen much yuri has a favorite among the many. And as much as I can dig down into Bloom Into You and find intricate and interesting little gems, I can’t get over Citrus. You could argue that I shouldn’t compare them at all. Citrus is intense, powerful, and heart-wrenching. Bloom Into You is lighter, softer, gentler, easier to watch. They simply exist on the same romance spectrum as all other romance anime does.
But even at that rate, they are both romance. I can still compare White Album with Toradora! even though they’re very different kinds of romances. And I can judge one better than the other if I wanted to simply based upon that comparison. Ranking by comparison is a valid method in any ranking approach.
So I like Citrus better. I think Bloom Into You is very interesting, very clean (in several senses), and perhaps is more generally appealing. The story is better from a complexity standpoint. It’s certainly not as hard on you as Citrus. But when it comes down to it, Citrus is my favorite. The story may not be as complex, but it’s more evocative. It might not be as generally accessible, but that’s because it’s intense, and it forces its yuri romance heavily upon you just as Mei forces herself on Yuzu. It’s incomparably more beautiful, and that’s taking nothing away from the artwork in Bloom Into You. The artwork in Citrus is just top-tier beautiful.
But enough of the comparisons. Standing alone, Bloom Into You is a really nice show. Its complexity makes it a little less evocative than I expect of romance in general, but it’s a nice romance nonetheless. And complexity can be a good thing. On the opposite end of the spectrum from complex is trite and cliche and stereotypical, and shows that those labels apply to usually aren’t as good as more complex shows by comparison.
As yuri, it’s interesting, it’s lighter, but I prefer the intensity that is customary in yuri. This hardly had the “forbidden love” feel at all. While that’s interesting and a little remarkable, that feel is important to the yuri genre. A yuri anime lacking that aspect will feel like something is missing from it. And Bloom Into You does feel that way just a little.
Overall I like it, but by comparison to yuri in general and Citrus, it just doesn’t draw out my emotions and get me invested in it. I’ll give it lots of artistic credit, but its entertainment value, as yuri or romance, is lower than I expect.
I have it on good authority that these girls’ relationship does escalate in the manga. S1 of the anime has not covered all the material from the manga, so we have an interesting resolution to some of the curiosities of Yuu and Touko’s relationship to look forward to in S2. We had a few passionless kisses in this show, but I look forward to that escalation in the next season!