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Gravitation volume one
voice cast: Tomokazu Seki, Takehito Koyasu, Kazuhiko Inoue, and Ai Orikasa

directors: Bob Shirahata and Shinichi Watanabe

88 minutes (12) 1999
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Some things never change. It has been a while since I have reviewed any anime but it is nice to see that the same exploitative business practices are still in place in the world of anime distribution. Gravitation first appeared in region one back in 2006, and was also released as a complete set in France (the world's second largest anime market) around the same time but, despite Gravitation selling incredibly well in the US (over 230,000 copies apparently), fans in the UK have to wait an extra couple of years for an over-priced DVD containing only four episodes and no DVD extras beyond a couple of trailers. If ever you meet a British anime distributor who has the gall to complain about piracy make sure you give him a kick in the arse from me as the way anime is sold in this country is a textbook example of short-term greed stifling the growth of the market.

With that little rant out of the way, let us move onto the actual series itself. Gravitation is based upon a series of manga written by Maki Murakami. It is part of the shonen-ai genre, which means that it is a drama about a relationship between men. This is not to be confused with the more precise subgenre of bishonen-ai (which involves feminine men) or the largely unrelated yaoi genre, which is animated gay porn. The series is about a young musician named Shuichi Shindo (Tomokazu Seki) who is part of a band named Bad Luck. He is small, he has pink hair, is rather impetuous and energetic and is suffering from writer's block right up until he meets a tall blond man in the park who sees his lyrics and tells him that he is completely without talent.

Utterly destroyed by the casual cruelty, Shuichi tracks down the man and discovers that he is a famed romance novelist named Eiri Yuki (Kazuhiko Inoue). Despite neither of them identifying as gay, the two men are clearly attracted to each other and start to see more and more of each other despite Shuichi's manic emotional incontinence and Yuki's cruelty and emotional remoteness. Meanwhile, Shuichi's band is struggling to get out from the shadow of their label's favoured band until the head of the label (the former keyboard player for the legendary band Nittle Grasper) takes an interest in them. The series effectively breaks down into two interweaving plotlines, one involving the rise of Bad Luck and the other dealing with Yuki and Shuichi's relationship. Happily, the meat of the series is in the relationship drama, as the band plotline really does not work.

There is a rivalry with another band that is underwritten and the plotting of the enigmatic label boss seems like empty posturing and is largely uninteresting. In part this is because the series launches straight into the story, there is little time spent learning about these other bands and so the plotlines involving them has close to zero emotional impact. For example, when Bad Luck first perform, the front-man of Nittle Grasper (a Richey Manic type figure except that rather than going mad and disappearing, he went to America, which is seemingly the same thing from a Japanese point of view) appears and starts singing with them live on stage.

In the context of Gravitation's world, this is clearly a huge deal as it's one great musician anointing a younger singer but frankly, it is difficult to see why we should give a shit. There is also a lot of musing about Shuichi's lyrics and the DVD even goes so far as to give us Japanese phonetic subtitles and English translations. This is somewhat unfortunate for while the lyrics sound great in Japanese, they translate as ugly gibberish about yellow touches and white breezes. There is also a problem with the fact that clearly Japanese attitudes to what is musically 'cool' differ from western ones, as Bad Luck are effectively a corporate dance act who play stadiums like 2 Unlimited or Vengaboys. Hardly fitting for a series about emotional artists.

The relationship aspect of the series is far more interesting. The power relationship between Shuichi and Yuki in particular is incredibly watchable as Yuki clearly tops from the bottom; oh sure he heaps insults on Shuichi and treats him like a submissive but actually it is the younger Shuichi who does all of the pursuing and who gets to decide the direction the relationship will take. Another interesting aspect of the series is how coy it is about sexual matters. For example, it is made clear that none of the characters are gay, they just happen to be in love with men. Similarly, there is no talk of desire or lust, all the talk is of 'love' right from the beginning and when Yuki suggests that Shuichi was just a one-night stand, this is treated as being the absolute height of cruelty. These quirks are ultimately due to the demands of the romance genre that Gravitation is undeniably a part of. Romance is not interested in depicting a real human relationship or in exploring the nuances of human sexuality as in western gay cinema; it aims to be entertaining, uplifting and nice and so the less edifying aspects of human relationships are airbrushed out.

The series' animation is reasonable. Most of the art itself is quite generic and there are some terrible pieces of costume design but the series also integrates some live action footage, giving it a quite distinctive style. Though interesting and nice to look at, Gravitation is ultimately just a little bit rubbish. The weakness of the musical plotline puts a lot of strain on the series' relationship elements and, due to their sanitised nature, these are rather banal and slow moving once you work out that actually its the pretty little one with pink hair that is in charge. The result is a series that has the potential to be interesting yet, based upon these first four episodes, is painfully underwritten.
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