Gakuen Heaven anime review

Gakuen Heaven anime review
It all started when Keita Ito received a letter sealed with the initial BL Academy. The most sophisticated all boys, on campus, Academy in the country. Now that Keita Ito is accepted in the school with an average GBA, as well as average skills in sports and writing, he doesn’t think that he belong in there. But with the help from the other students, will he be able to make it in BLA.

Gakuen Heaven:  Boy's Love Hyper is one of the most delightful anime I've run across and one of my favorites.  It's not just me -- everyone I know who has seen it loves it to bits.  It really is a light-hearted piece with a gratifying degree of sophistication in the execution.  My original review of this series was based on an online fansub; I've now got the DVD set, and it does make a difference.  The anime is based on the PC game Gakuen Heaven Boy's Love Scramble.  The franchise also includes three PlayStation 2 games, drama CDs, a manga series, and this anime.  The DVD includes all thirteen episodes of the series; two short episodes of "Hamu Hamu Heaven," which were developed from the "previews" of upcoming epidodes; a gallery of designs; and trailers of other offerings.  (I'm sure it says something that I own two of the four series listed -- Loveless and Mirage of Blaze -- and a third, Sukisyo, is on my list to buy.  The fourth is Eight Clouds Rising, an OVA from a manga series that has not been released in English.)

There are several interlocking story lines here.  The main thread centers on Keita Ito (Western order on names, to conform with the subtitles), a fairly average boy who, out of the blue, receives a letter of acceptance (the "platinum paper") to the prestigious Bell Liberty School (nicknamed "BL Academy"), a school that only accepts boys with special talents.  Keita decides to transfer in:  although he's not sure he can make it there, he's going to do his best.  At the request of the Chairman, the president of the student council, Tetsuya Niwa ("The King") picks him up from the bus stop, a fair distance away from the school, which happens to be on an island.  Keita arrives unconscious:  while they were returning on the King's motorcycle, the drawbridge began to open.  The King made the jump, but Keita started to fall off.  He was saved by Niwa, but everyone was worried for his well being -- especially Kazuki Endo.  

Keita's growing relationship with Kazuki, another first-year student and his next-door neighbor in the dorm, is the second story line.  Kazuki becomes Keita's first friend at the school and makes a point of taking care of him.  It's a sweet, understated romance with a bit of an undercurrent:  Keita starts remembering scenes from his childhood as he becomes more familiar with his new surroundings, and it appears that Kazuki has secrets, as well as an agenda.

The drama is provided by the third story line, the conflict between the Vice-Chairman, Kunanuma, and the new, very young Chairman, whose identity we don't know for a while (although it becomes very obvious very soon).  Kunanuma's point of attack is, of course, Keita:  Keita was accepted by the Chairman's unilateral action.  This is dirty politics at its dirtiest, and provides a nice tension to the story, although as is too often the case, the villain is somewhat overdone.  (An observation:  Villains should not be allowed to laugh.  Ever.)

There is a fourth line that runs under the surface for most of the episodes but becomes of primary importance in episode 11:  someone has been stealing research data from the computer used by the biology teacher, Satoshi Umino, who is also an important researcher.  It's not until the end that we learn who that culprit is, and his reasons bring the boys' love element of the story into sharp focus.

One of the nicest things about this anime is the way the story lines tie together so seamlessly:  we move from Keita's rather outrageous welcoming party (planned by Niwa, and, not surprisingly, the King being a fairly unorthodox character himself, held in a bath house) to a charming, low-key interlude between Keita and Kazuki, to a tense interview between Kunanuma and the Chairman, without a lurch.  (There is also a fair amount of behind-the-scenes maneuvering that is hinted at but only revealed gradually, keeping the interest up.)

The characterizations are deftly handled, and even with this large cast -- with twelve important characters, it becomes something of an ensemble piece -- we get a good sense of who is who.  Visually, the characters are very well differentiated:  Keita himself is relentlessly upbeat, although bedeviled by insecurities, with wide, innocent eyes; Kazuki is extraordinarily mature, and looks it (at one point Keita asks him "How old are you, really?"); Niwa is larger than life, with insane blue eyes; Kaoru Saionji, the head of the treasury and the most beautiful man on campus, is cool, collected and firmly in control; and Shinsuke Taki, who appoints himself Keita's "manager," is a cute little red-headed bundle of energy.  On the whole, the cast displays a full range of eccentricities, but none are overdrawn -- there is a fair amount of subtlety in these portrayals.

Although this is definitely a BL anime, that element takes time to develop.  It's more of a subtext a first, with some hints that provide clues about some of the pairings in this group, which are never explicitly stated.  There are also one or two pointed remarks directed toward Kazuki that boil down to "Get your act together and stake your claim," with the implication -- in some cases stated overtly -- that "if you don't, I will."

Visually, I'm just going to say it's a treat:  character designs are right on, settings are apt, the flow is smooth.  One thing I noticed right away comparing the DVD with the fansubs:  the visuals are very clear and sharp on this one, and there are some close-ups that have a beautiful, luminous quality.  Colors, as well, are vivid, although never garish.  The general pace of this one is high-key, including the delivery of dialogue.  Keita, in particular, seems to talk as though he were a machine-gun.  It's not something that bothered me at all, and it sets a very different tone than what I've become used to:  very upbeat and, as the subtitle notes, "Boy's Love Hyper."

There's a lot more to this one, but over thirteen episodes, that's no surprise.  I recommend it wholeheartedly:  although there are one or two places where it could be tighter, it's a fast-paced story with drama, comedy, suspense, romance, and a lot of charm.

Better than review, is a Trailer video of: Gakuen Heaven. Watch it now:
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