Boys Be... Vol. 1

Romantic anime are hard to get just right. Most resort to broad comedy at inappropriate times and keep their protagonists at arm's length with contrived "will they/won't they" situations. In comparison, Boys Be... is refreshing in so many ways, I can't even count them! Although it feels a bit like the recently released Diamond Daydreams, it takes romance from the perspective of the guys. In its first volume, the plot contrivances are at a minimum; real life plays a key role in this series. The major romance kicks off in the first episode, yet it has no oddball turns or cliffhangers. And when the show is funny, it's hysterical: it gets the mind of a 16-year-old male right. Even though it was a late screening for me, I never once grew tired during the quick 75 minutes on the DVD. And though I question who the target audience for this program really is, consider me part of it.

Three friends - Kyoichi, Makoto, and Yoshihiko - are the center of Boys Be... and its tales. Kyoichi is an artist who's not perfected his skills yet, but he's got a soft, creative heart. Chiharu, his good friend from childhood, is a tomboy track star, but she's all girl...well, really, all woman, as Kyoichi is noticing, and he's at a loss to express exactly how he feels. Meanwhile, Makoto is the one who can't keep his eyes off the ladies, keeping track of every last one at the high school; yet he's not a cad, just a bit too hormonal for his own good. And Yoshihiko is the sportsman of the set, the strong silent type, who behind the cool has a wildly active imagination and desire to find just the right "one." As the show unfolds, the three personalities shine as they find themselves in love for the very first time.

Although the character designs on Boys Be... are fine, the animation itself is passable at best. Lots of pans, mouths that overflap even in Japanese...this is pretty low-budget. And yet it really doesn't matter because the feel is perfect. Even down to the opening and closing themes, the music drew me in. And in a program that's more about emotion than action, it looks just fine.

What attracted me to Boys Be... is the way that it is content to be ordinary. But being ordinary alone isn't enough. Instead, Boys Be... feels so like my own high school experience that it's wonderful and melancholy all at the same time. It's not the events that are mirrored; it's the emotions. And Boys Be... takes three "types" and fleshes them out. In the first episode, I thought I'd know who the jock and the horndog would be, and I was wrong. Nobody is as perfect or as awful as they could be. It's that reality that has me intrigued. I admit that, if the show continues to focus on one character each episode as it does here, it might get pretty boring. But if it stays in the current groove it has carved out, I'll be watching for a while. The characters feel far more real than your crowd on The O.C., that's for certain.

What I also admired about Boys Be... was how darn funny it was without ever being forced. It's not a comedy by any stretch, but several times I was laughing my way out of my chair. Sometimes, that humor comes from an expression that sounds like a teenager unable to put into words just how we feels. At other points, it's the reactions that got me. But it's the mix of the two that makes this show feel so right, at least in its opening.

I do have a singular frustration with the first few episodes, though, one enough to bring down my grade a fair amount, and that's the question of who Boys Be... is for. There are a few moments of fleeting fan service, though no nudity and only a vaguely nebulous and romantic concept of sex. That didn't really bother me; after all, a show that's at all realistic about teenage boys will deal with the fact that the feminine mystique for us is the mix of voice and walk and body and talk and personality. But the eyecatches where the commercials appeared in the original program often feature glimpses of real women in skimpy clothing, focused on rumps and cleavage, and they pulled me out of the experience. Between that and the few moments where Makoto lingers on seeing somebody's knickers, I felt the show went astray.

Perhaps that's because the show feels like it's made for a female audience rather than a male one. How many guys in the "demographic" are going to want to have anything to do with a realistically romantic TV show? More likely, they'll wind up watching Boys Be... with their girlfriends. Older guys might appreciate it because they remember this time in their life, but I can't see younger ones going for it, even with the peekaboo shots. And that's what makes the extra fan service so odd. Why would young women want to see it? I just don't get it.

But if you can get past the moments of fan service that really don't belong in this otherwise solid entry, I'd suggest picking it up. I'd not heard much about it going in, and perhaps that's because it's too normal for the US anime crowd. If that's the case, it's a shame, because it reminded me of the best moments of classics like Kimagure Orange Road and Video Girl Ai. All I can say is that I'll either be begging or buying the rest of the show from RightStuf to see where it goes from here.

Boys Be... Vol. 1 -- fan service, mild thematic elements -- A-