If you read this week’s Trailer Tuesdays, this post shouldn’t come as a surprise, but for those of you who didn’t (and have no interest on clicking on that link), I’ll give a proper introduction. Gifs from the film Doukyuusei have been following me around for so long that I finally decided to give in and watch it, despite my trepidations about the yaoi/BL genre. And, well, it looked cute, so I figured I may as well give it a shot. Upon doing so, not only was I charmed by the love story between the two protagonists, I was so charmed that I actually looked up Doukyuusei’s after stories—Sotsugyousei and Occupation to Beloved–and devoured those just as quickly. However, while all of these stories are a sweet little taste of gay romance, none of them manage to completely leave the unfortunate yaoi tropes behind.
Having not read the original Doukyuusei manga before watching the film, I was surprised and a little disappointed to find that the film was less of a continuous plot and more a collection of vignettes about the characters’ romance. (Though now, I think this style suits the mood of the story better.) We watch from the beginning, when second-year student Hikaru Kusakabe notices during one practice for the school’s chorus festival that fellow student Rihito Sajou isn’t singing along. His immediate thought is that Rihito thinks he’s too cool for singing nerdy school songs (given his “cool glasses character” looks), but discovers when going to pick up something he forgot in the classroom that Rihito simply can’t read music and didn’t want to embarrass himself. On a spur of the moment decision, Hikaru offers to teach Rihito the song, and the two boys get to know each other better. One night, right before the chorus festival and effectively their last night of studying together, Hikaru kisses Rihito out of the blue and both of them are sent into a panic, not knowing how to respond. As this is actually a happy story, though, the two of them do decide that they want to spend more time together, and the rest of the film takes a closer look into that as they go into their third year of high school.
First, I have to say that one of the tropes I’m eternally grateful creator Asumiko Nakamura didn’t abide by was the power structure of the seme/uke relationship, in which the seme is the more dominant, masculine one (and often just straight up sexually assaults his partner), and the uke is the more feminine, submissive one who cries a whole bunch and blushes. Rather, both Rihito and Hikaru are allowed to be their own people without anyone asking “so who’s the girl in this relationship” and such. Better yet, both boys are allowed to explore and show their emotions in a safe space where neither of them are judged for, say, crying. As I had hoped in the earlier article, the boys are given people they can rely on for support as they struggle with these blooming feelings—although Rihito gets the shorter end of the stick here, but I’ll get into that later. Additionally, while of course there were girls, none of them were made to seem like soul-sucking harpies that existed only to get in the way of the pure love between the leads. I was honestly so worried about this during a scene when Hikaru’s band was playing their last show and a girl’s friend was trying to build her up to confess to Hikaru. Luckily, the girl was never villainized for being attracted to Hikaru, or for asking to friend him on social media, and instead it was used as a point for Hikaru and Rihito to discuss some of the boundaries of their relationship and their jealousy.
Unfortunately, the world of Doukyuusei and its sequels isn’t entirely perfect. As I stated earlier, I was pleased that the boys had people who supported them in their relationship, but unfortunately for Rihito, much of his support came from the teacher, nicknamed Hara-sen. While at first he appears to be the cool, older mentor guy for the two of them, it quickly becomes apparent that he’s not really trying to help Rihito, but is trying to get with Rihito, even stealing a kiss in one scene. In fact, many of the relationships hinted at or existing in the series seem to be between underage students and teachers. Hara-sen, too, was in this situation when he was a student, but it doesn’t give him an excuse to perpetuate the cycle. Although I am no expert on the legalities of this in Japan, most of the sentiments I found online seem to point to this being illegal. Many people outside of Japan like to play the “oh, but the age of consent in Japan is thirteen” card, but laws passed more recently in most prefectures have stated that it’s illegal for a person over twenty to have romantic/sexual relationships with people under eighteen. As Doukyuusei takes place in Tokyo, I’m going to assume that they’re one of the cities with these laws in practice. There’s always going to be a romanticized trope of students falling in love with teachers and living happily ever after, but it doesn’t change the fact that the trope is still potentially harmful, especially when there are no repercussions shown for these actions.
Yet, despite this, if you’re looking for a sweet, non-sexualized story about boys falling in love, I would recommend watching Doukyuusei. (Both Sotsugyousei and Occupation to Beloved are much more explicit.) While both of them, especially Rihito, worry about society’s perception and reaction to their relationship, they are largely supported. And the people who aren’t shown supporting them are merely shown as being indifferent. While Doukyuusei is a universe where students are always potential victims for their professors, it’s also a universe where gay relationships, at least, aren’t seen as anything terrible or disgusting. Instead of the stereotypical sensationalized yaoi that comes to most of our minds when thinking about the genre, Doukyuusei is normalized, and that’s what I like about it most of all.