There is a reasonably popular sub-genre of anime and manga known as “yuri”, which focusses on lesbian relationships. I have seen one or two of them, and it seems to me that they generally lack the maturity of their heterosexual counterparts. Not that boy-meets-girl anime are always mature and thoughtful; in fact they are quite often boy-meets-girls and all the girls fall for the boy. It’s just that there are a decent amount to choose from that portray interesting aspects of relationships in a way that reflects real life in some respect, whereas yuri anime tends to do one of two things, both frustrating to watch.
Firstly you have the anime that seems to be a bit nervous about being yuri, series like the otherwise magnificent Sound! Euphonium or (ditto) Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions, both of which throw in lots of hints about female characters being attracted to each other, but nothing ever develops into a relationship. The other approach is something like Sakura Trick, where two girls throw themselves at each other almost immediately and the rest of the series is about finding how many ways you can show them kissing. Both approaches are clearly lacking in much character development. The status quo near the beginning of the series tends to be the status quo at the end.
I was encouraged to watch Bloom into You based on seemingly universally positive reviews. Everyone was saying how good this was, one of the big successes of 2018. I think this is because it does something very rare: portrays a lesbian relationship with some degree of maturity. Despite that, I have to acknowledge that it does fall into some of the usual traps. It stops short of actually allowing the main characters to acknowledge that they are in love and in a fully reciprocal relationship, but as usual we have to forgive that because the manga is ongoing (and will get there). There is also a fair bit of the usual stuff that is put in to titillate the viewer, especially close up shots of two girls kissing, sometimes with tongues. However, there is some degree of restraint, with the usual communal baths scene (just about every anime seems to have one of those) shot with a greater degree of modesty than is usual for what would normally be an opportunity for clumsy fanservice.
The main characters are Yuu, a first year at high school who is our viewer perspective character, and Touko, a second year who is the cleverest and most talented girl in school. Both are complex characters. Touko’s success and popularity is as a result of a metaphorical mask that she wears. She is trying to live up to a legacy and emulate somebody else, and when the reason behind that is revealed it is a very sad moment. She struggles just to be herself and has tried to be somebody else for so long that she isn’t quite sure who she really is, deep down. A school play with the characters written to fit the personalities of the actors provides a useful metaphor for this issue. Yuu, on the other hand, is always herself, but also struggles to know what exactly that means. She has read romantic books, so when a boy confesses his love to her she knows how it should play out, but those feelings just refuse to develop for her. When Touko falls head-over-heels in love with her there is clearly a connection there, so perhaps this is the answer for Yuu? But those feelings of love and romance stubbornly fail to materialise. There is an important point to all this. So many romances sell us the vision of love that is all about chemistry and fireworks and love at first sight, but Bloom into You gives us the other side of the coin. Sometimes love is about time, commitment, allowing feelings to grow and develop. I think this is why it’s such a highly regarded series. As a love story it’s remarkably mature.
Of course, every love story needs a love triangle, and Touko’s best friend soon starts to get jealous about her close friendship with Yuu. It’s fairly straightforward stuff, but with the added bonus that Sayaka is also trying to figure out her own sexuality. She eventually gets an interesting backstory to put that into perspective, and also learns a lot about life from her teacher, who is in a committed lesbian relationship. Uncomfortably there is an undercurrent that these things need to be kept hidden, and it would be useful to have a second season when the relationships come out in the open and gain acceptance.
The most interesting of the other guest characters is Seiji, who really deserved more of a focus. He shares Yuu’s inability to develop romantic feelings for others and is at peace with that, so is a useful confidante for Yuu. He is most happy observing others falling in love, but he is an observer not a participant. I can’t identify with his lack of romantic feelings, but as a fan of soppy romances I felt that I could identify with Seiji’s love of observing people finding happiness quite strongly and would hope he gets more to do if a second series is forthcoming. And although Bloom into You never quite lived up to its hype for me, I would love a second series, and I’m tempted to get the manga series, which is ongoing at the time of writing.
Just a quick mention of the visuals. I wasn’t overly keen on the character designs, which reminded me a bit of Loups=Garous, with noses that always end in a point. It makes the kissing scenes in particular a bit off-putting as it looks like they are about to injure each other with their razor sharp noses. However, the backgrounds are completely gorgeous, as the following trailer illustrates. The trailer is subbed, but there is also a dub version of Bloom into You available. The anime series is 13 episodes, of around 25 minutes each. RP