Gravitation, more affectionately known as Gravi to its fans, is a lot of things – crazy, kooky, funny, serious, touching, angsty, dark – but at its heart it’s also the simplest of love stories. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back again.
No, that’s not a typo.
For those people who haven’t yet heard about this series, Gravitation, based on a manga series by Maki Murakami (published by Tokyopop), harks from a well established sub-genre in Japan called shounen-ai. Shounen-ai was originally conceived as a parodied, amateur alternative to shoujo (‘girl’s’ stories whose characteristics primarily involve romance and relationships), and the term literally meaning ‘boys love’. In this sub-genre, the narratives and dynamics are similar to shoujo, but the romances and relationships involved are between boys/men. At the time, no-one could have anticipated the now billion dollar publishing industry it spawned, nor the large amounts of interest it’s currently garnering in the West, and trust me that interest has very little to do with the mainstream visibility of films like Brokeback Mountain. Shounen-ai has been very much a part of the Western anime and manga female fan base for quite some time now, and Gravitation is almost like a classic in terms of shounen-ai entertainment.
And there is the key, and perhaps the whole point. Made by women for a female audience, regardless of its feminist implications and gender-defying elements, to start to appreciate the appeal of shounen-ai, you kind of have to think like a girl. A daunting task perhaps, but take it from me (being a girl and all), girls are a sucker for a good romance. Whether that’s only natural or merely due to conventions of gender programming, the fact remains; when it comes to a romance about a couple of guys, the fact that they’re guys is a lot less important than the fact that it’s a romance.
And while Gravitation isn’t the first shounen-ai anime ever made, it’s probably the most mainstream and accessible. It’s certainly the most widely known, and for a very good reason. Make Shuichi a girl (and he can be a bit of one sometimes), and you’d still have exactly the same enjoyable, riotous romantic comedy with exactly the same dramatic developments and exactly the same level of hilarious inanity mixed with touching realism. Sure, it’s crack sometimes, is completely and utterly wtf he’s wearing a banana suit because… but that’s part of its charm.
It’s also surprisingly deep too, which is the other aspect of shoujo stories that the shounen-ai sub-genre borrows. Shuichi might be one of those cheerful, optimistic types, making him the perfect shoujo main character, but he is someone who is bound for heartache merely because the fates want to test his mettle to make him stronger. And the romantic lead of this equation, Yuki Eiri, the brooding, tormented writer, is the typical shoujo hero. Having made a career out of keeping people out and his own inner turmoil locked securely in, he’s ripe for being saved by love. It’s this typical shoujo dynamic – with Yuki trying to run away from love because of the risks involved and Shuichi trying to meet courageously everything life seems to be throwing at him – that really makes this a story worth caring about, and an anime worth watching. The two characters are struggling for the same things everyone wants – love, happiness, success, self-worth – and you just can’t help liking them, and really hoping they’ll both get the guy in the end.
And in the end, Gravitation is a series you just can’t bring yourself to dislike. It’s too kooky, the cast of characters too wacky. Its serious side almost sneaks up on you and its underlying messages don’t try to slap you in the face unless you’re really looking for them to. It makes you laugh, makes you happy and almost makes you cry, and that’s the mark of any good romance story, regardless of who’s kissing whom.