Arguably, many, and I do mean MANY, anime of various genres have a distinct homoerotic subtext. What’s not as frequently shown are actual gay characters. And even more so, gay characters with decent personalities, an engaging backstory and plot lines aside from their romantic ones.
One fairly recent anime has all of them. Hitorijime My Hero, a combination of the popular BL manga Hitorijime My Hero and Hitorijime Boyfriend, swipes you off your feet with the most lovable characters anime has to offer. All four main characters have distinct personalities, flaws, vices, virtues and opinions about life, which makes them feel quite realistic at times. That being said, the anime matches these qualities with fluffy cuteness, awkward moments and ridiculous imaginary baby chicks – the adorability meter is maxed out!
So who are our four boys?
In the beginning, the series focuses on the relationship between Ooshiba Kensuke (aka cutie-patootie) and Hasekura Asaya (aka ultimate pretty boy). The two were friends a long time ago but due to Asaya moving away, they drifted apart before becoming classmates again. Kensuke is shy and embarrassed at first for being childish when Asaya left but after a bit of convincing on the pretty boy’s part, they start a relationship together. Though it is worth noting that this ‘convincing’ borders on emotional blackmail and is not romantic whatsoever. Asaya uses Kensuke’s guilt to put his own romantic interests above their friendship and it is Kensuke who has to give in and let himself be persuaded in order to keep Asaya in his life.
The anime explains this complicated dynamic further only marginally as the focus soon shifts from these two boys to the main love story. But we can say with certainty that Kensuke and Asaya do eventually develop a loving relationship, possibly due to the fact that Asaya begins to worship the ground his boyfriend walks on – a stark contrast to how rudely and stand off-ishly he treats everybody else, including his elders. Their romance is considerably more innocent than the main one and that is a good thing since it seems as though Kensuke is more cautious with entering a relationship exactly because of his innocent nature. But it’s not as though Asaya is corrupting him. Instead, we get the sense that Asaya helps our cutie to realize that he shouldn’t be scared of his feelings and should leave their combined history in the past.
Which brings me to the relationship between Kouske Ooshiba, Kensuke’s older brother (aka #1 bad boy) and Masahiro Setagawa, Kensuke’s best friend since childhood (aka Settie aka the most awkward human on earth). The preface of their entire convoluted, heartbreaking, secret romance is that Kousuke returns into Settie’s life as his high school Maths teacher. The two knew each other since they were both still young when they developed a somewhat brotherly bond as the older tutored Kensuke and Settie and took him under his wing. Settie asked his senpai to ‘teach him the ways of life’, as it were, since Kousuke was the only person around who cared about him (his parents were out of the picture) and Settie looked up to him, even called him his hero.
Meeting as adults again (well, barely. But we’ll get to that), they bth realize their feelings for one another and decide to carefully explore them without getting caught by the school, hiding their love in public as much as they can. It is clear from the start that both men struggle with this situation for different reasons (but, thankfully, none of them include a self-hatred-fueled denial of their feelings for another man. Which is just a really refreshing change of pace for lgbt+ story-lines, let’s be honest).
Compared to the manga, the anime moves quite slowly in how the relationship is developed. They do not go out on a proper date and they certainly don’t get their rocks off in a decidedly sleazy hotel room (they do in the manga and it is…. let’s just not rehash that part). However, it is not simply the cute and fluffy romance that it seems to be on the surface. In the manga, Kousuke is a whooping TWELVE years older than Settie, making them 29 and 17 (I believe. I might be a year off).
I hear you say: Age is just a number once you’re past puberty. Well, then there is still the issue of hierarchy. Kousuke is, after all, Settie’s teacher. And that is certainly a problem which the anime explores in depth. How do the two men stand to each other? What happens when their friends get wind of it? What is more important to them, the other person or their own social standing? Through all of these questions it becomes very clear, that the two are absolutely and completely head-over-heels for each other and it becomes impossible for each to imagine a life without the other in it, both willing to give up their own happiness for the other to have a shot at the same. THIS, my friends, is a beautiful, complex love-story that was created to make you laugh and cry and become nervous along with the characters.
The anime also includes exciting story-lines about friendship, the characters’ home lives, delinquents and many more that have yet to be more deeply explored but that peaked my interest nonetheless.
I did legit ball my eyes out during the entire last episode – the title is “The Kindest Place in the World”, I mean, what did you expect? Compared to the flashiness and pomp of other recent anime centered around gay relationships (hello, Yuri on Ice!!) Hitorijime My Hero works with deep emotions, difficult decisions, unbearable pain and incontrovertible love in the wake of fighting societal as well as personal expectations. With a hearty dollop of adorable cuteness, of course.
A second season has so far not been announced but the first episode aired in early July of this year, so there is still room for hope. And boy, oh boy, do I have my finger crossed. Until then, I will listen to the opening song “Heart Signal” every day!
One of the rare occasions where I will give out a perfect score for a project. Plus one extra point for those chicks, cause they are everything that’s right with the world.