Creator: A J.C. Staff Production
Director: Yuu Kou
Genre: Shonen-ai, Fantasy, Mystery
Length: 12 Episodes
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+ Likeable realistic characters
+ Cat ears are really damn cute
Murky confusing plot
Uninteresting love story
Murky, confusing, and uncomfortable are the words that best describe Loveless. The most fascinating aspects of the series are lost to routine magical battles and a go nowhere mystery. The love story between Ritsuka and Soubi is mishandled and uncomfortable. An intelligent, interesting, and entertaining series could be made of this material. Loveless isn't it. If you feel an urge to watch a series about magical battles, there are numerous series better than this such as Vision of Escaflowne or Scrapped Princess. If you want an interesting love story try Whisper of the Heart or even Millennium Actress. By no means let anyone talk you into watching Loveless.
1.5 out of 5
Loveless Anime Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 2/18/2008
Anime and manga are known for encompassing a far wider variety of genres than their American and European counterparts. In Japanese culture, there arose a tradition among Buddhist monks and Samurai known as wakashuda or "the way of the youth".
In this tradition, much like the pederasty of ancient Greece, an older man would develop a relationship with a young man that combined elements of the love affair and mentorship. This relationship would eventually develop into a strong platonic relationship as the youth came of age and eventually married. This aspect of Japanese culture still sometimes finds expression in the genre of manga and anime referred to as shonen-ai. Shonen-ai (boy-love) is a genre aimed primarily at heterosexual school girls and housewives that depicts highly romantic, idealized love-affairs between young men of the bishonen (beautiful boy) variety.
Originally created by Yun Kouga in the pages of Monthly Comic Zero Sum, Loveless is a shonen-ai fantasy set in an alternate world where human beings posses cat ears and tails from the time they are born until their first sexual encounter, regardless of age, an individual is only considered fully adult once they've shed their ears. Although this world is otherwise identical to our own, it possesses one secret that ours does not: the mysterious organization known as Septimal Moon. A society of magical fighters similar to a martial arts academy, Septimal Moon has been torn asunder by the rivalry between two of its top teachers. As the story begins 12 year old Ritsuka Aoyagi meets Soubi Agatsuma a 20 year old, beautiful college student who claims to have been a close friend of Ritsuka's late brother Seimei. As the story progresses, Ritsuka learns that the bond between Soubi and Seimei went beyond friendship and that his brother's mysterious death is linked to the pair's association with Septimal Moon.
Emotionally disturbed or mentally ill protagonists are so common in anime that they are almost mainstays. Ritsuka Aoyagi comes with a full set of emotional baggage. He is still mourning his brother, suffers from amnesia related to his brother's death, has a hang up about people telling him that they like him, has an absent father, and an abusive mother. Further, he's new in school, he has weekly appointments with a psychologist, and is obsessed with making memories and taking photos of his life – he's convinced himself that if his amnesia clears it will be like hitting a reset button and he'll instantly become the Ritsuka of two years ago. There probably hasn't been an anime character this messed up in the head since Neon Genesis Evagelion's Shinji Ikari.
As the story unfolds, Ritsuka is just settling into his new school. One girl (Yuiko Hawatari) becomes obsessed with him, he is teased by the other students, and he is subject of rumors surrounding his brother's death when he meets the beautifully handsome Soubi Agatsumi. Soubi is shockingly forward and intimate with Ritsuka, telling him that he was a close friend of Seimei and declaring an undying love for Ritsuka practically in the same sentence.
Show More Soubi and Ritsuka spend the afternoon in a nearby park where Soubi begins to explain the actual connection between himself and Seimei: their connection went beyond friendship; they were a matched pair in an underground world of magical fighters ruled over by the Septimal Moon. These pairings are largely determined by secret names given to each person before birth: pairs who share the same secret name make a much stronger unit than those who don't although pairs with each member having a different name are not unknown. Further the pairs are even stronger once a bond of love has developed between the members: sex and gender are not factors – both heterosexual and homosexual pairs appear throughout the series. In each pair one member functions as the fighter and the other as the sacrifice (victim may be a better word). The fighter attacks and defends with magical spells based on various combinations of words: fighters can launch flames, create extremes of temperatures, call down lightning, turn day into night, cause pain, and carry out other attacks and defenses through the right combination of words. The sacrifice has the unenviable task of absorbing all physical and emotional damage caused by the enemy's attacks. However, as is revealed later, it's really the sacrifice who is in charge – they decide whether or not the fighter declares an attack and whether or not to show mercy or give a death blow. However, once the attack is declared, the fighter who declared the battle can not withdraw, to do so is to die as a fighter.
This all sounds more interesting than it actually is. Shortly before leaving the park, Soubi and Ritsuka are attacked by a pair looking for someone named Loveless. The ensuing battle is what anime fans have come to expect from animated magical battles: the two sides square off, the sky grows dark while ominous music plays on the soundtrack, and the opponents shout their attacks at one another at the top of their lungs. The battles in Loveless have the added bonus of each pair announcing their name while explaining that they are all-the-more powerful for being such and such a pair. The first fight is mercifully brief as Soubi proves to be a stronger more experienced fighter than the other pair's fighter, however it is only the first of many fights depicted in the series – all of them more or less the same. After the battle, Soubi explains that Ritsuka is Loveless and like Seimei, he has a part to play in this world of fighters and sacrifices.
Show More If not as psychologically damaged as Ritsuka, Soubi is at least a little neurotic. He's a masochist, submissive, with an unhealthy attachment to Ritsuka that falls short of pederasty. He ignores the romantic overtures from his roommate, stalks Ritsuka, gives him a cell phone he promises to always answer, and promises to do anything Ritsuka asks or to follow any order. Yet he is not driven by his own free will but acts out of his continuing love for Seimei. Unlike the other couples depicted in the series who behave more or less as equals but with different jobs to during a battle, Soubi sees the sacrifice/fighter relationship as a master/salve dynamic. He doesn't merely follow orders; he craves them and can barely act on his own without them. In this case he is like the submissive partner in a Dominant/submissive relationship. His relationship to pain is a little more complex. In combat situations, Soubi has been taught to tolerate pain, to never let his enemies see that he is hurting, and to fight through the pain to achieve his goals – namely winning the battle. However the training methods employed by Soubi's trainer at Septimal Moon left Soubi craving corporal punishment from those he views as his worthy superiors. It is implied that Seimei punished Soubi physically quite often. That is something that Ritsuka refuses to do just as he also refuses to allow Soubi to kill any of their opponents. And although Soubi knows about Seimei's death, he refuses to tell Ritsuka anything about it, leading to both Ritsuka's increasing frustration and determination to find the truth. Soubi's silence may also frustrate the audience: the hints and clues given by other characters are not enough to piece anything together.
The relationship between Ritsuka and Soubi is both fascinating and uncomfortable – like a car accident you don't want to look but you can't look away. Ritsuka is much too young to be Soubi's object of affection yet Soubi declares his undying love for him nonetheless. When the protagonists of a love story are a sixth grader and a college student, the story must be handled with care. The producers of Loveless almost get it right. Soubi and Ritsuka never have sex. They do kiss and hug however and as in life, Ritsuka is filled with confusion. Where the series goes wrong is the reaction of the adults around Ritsuka. While both his teacher and his psychologist are supporting characters they never look into the adult who has taken a sudden interest in the life of a minor. Instead Ritsuka's teacher develops a crush on Soubi and Ritsuka's psychologist develops a crush on Ritsuka.
Loveless is a frustrating series. While the characters are interesting and likable, the show can't decide what kind of story it wants to be: it spends half its time as a psychological drama exploring Ritsuka's many hang ups; the rest of it is divided into a strange love story and a murky plot involving magical battles and the mystery involving the death of Seimei. One of those plot lines would be enough for a series but the creators involved seem to operate from the belief that more is better. Sometimes that may be true, but in the case of Loveless, more just makes confusion. Ritsuka never gets to the roots of his problems, the reasons behind the endless battles are never explained, and Ritsuka never finds anything more than a few cursory clues explaining Seimei's death. And maybe because the producers of the TV series before the manga series had ended, the show doesn't end so much as stop with bizarre warnings about Ritsuka's fate.
Is a coherent story too much to ask for? Manga stories run to hundreds and even thousands of pages and last for years, even decades. They have time to develop long, multifaceted storylines with multiple arcs and subplots. Television series and movies have a few hours in which to tell their stories. Other anime films and TV series have managed to streamline the stories of the manga they are based on. The animated adaptations of manga such as Ghost in the Shell focus on the central theme of the series and dramatize one or two subplots. Loveless lacks focus and gives nearly equal weight to every plot line the manga has to offer and is unable to generate sufficient interest from any one of them to make an interesting series. The love affair between Ritsuka and Soubi is more interesting than the endless magical battles and handled properly could have made for an entertaining and thoughtful exploration of love. Instead the audience for Loveless are forced to endure lame battles that blend together and a go nowhere mystery.
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