Guys, I’m kinda obsessed with Bloom Into You. I’ve had my eye on the shoujo-ai genre ever since I finished the excellent Aoi Hana back in college, and while I’ve found a few other great ai stories throughout the years I hadn’t found anything that actually topped Aoi Hana until now. Yes, I do believe that this is the greatest lesbian romance story I’ve seen from Japan, and wow am I reeling from it, but I’m not the same starry-eyed fanboy I was in college either and while I absolutely love this story that does come with a few caveats.
So, what’s it about? Unlike many romance stories, Bloom Into You starts off with where most romances end: with one of the main characters, Touko, confessing her love to the other main character, Yuu. However, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that this isn’t a very earned confession: Touko doesn’t know Yuu very well: what she does know about her is that she’s someone who has trouble falling in love with anyone, and Touko, an incredibly popular and sought-after overachiever, wants someone who doesn’t see her in any special light, someone that she can be real with. Yuu, true to her nature, doesn’t have any feelings for Touko, but is at least willing to get to know her better. What follows is obviously complicated, and to what degree it works deserves a bit of dissecting.
Let’s start with a bit of backstory. As you may have noticed from the title, this is a review of both the show and the manga, because I think it’s important to note that I had very different reactions to them. I watched the show about two years ago without being familiar with the source material, and I actually didn’t like it very much. It was an extremely competent production, with excellent facial animations and gorgeous backgrounds and seamless pacing, but it really didn’t get any feeling out of me. It wasn’t an unfaithful adaptation or anything, either: after reading the manga, I think that the part of the story that the show covers is executed about as well as anyone could ask for. And yet, even having finished the manga and loving it, I still don’t think I would recommend the show until you’ve read the manga. Why? Well, the reason lies in the fundamentals of the romance genre.
I’m a firm believer that in order to write a great romance story an author has to give compelling reasons for the audience to care about the characters independent of the romance. Romance isn’t the plot–it’s the payoff, and how much I as an audience care about that payoff is directly related to how much I care about the characters involved. There are a lot of ways you can do this, but one of the most universally successful is through the wacky hi-jinks that people, quirky and fascinating as they are, indulge in on a daily basis. Shows like Friends, Scrubs, and New Girl use the fun, fascinating weirdness of their casts’ everyday lives to both endear you to them and also make them feel more relatable as people. In anime, successful rom-coms like Toradora! and Oregairu both feature any number of fun side adventures and episodes entirely dedicated to just watching the cast hang out and have a good time. They have plenty of scenes dedicated just to exploring the unique interests and quirks their casts, with iconic moments like Toradora’s Minori freaking out because she successfully made a bucket of pudding or Oregairu’s Yui having a blast getting to sing with a band full of people that she idolizes often being some of the most memorable moments of the show, moments that made me sit back and say ‘I like these characters enough that I now seriously care about what happens to them’. Humans aren’t dedicated monoliths of drama: they follow tangents, have bizarre and creative conversations about insignificant things, and fall down rabbitholes of random interests. Stories that can capture this vital energy of daily living are also usually able to succeed as romances, because they make you root for the people involved independent of the romantic plotline.
Bloom Into You isn’t quite like that. It’s not that the story doesn’t showcase Touko and Yuu’s daily lives or try to endear you to the quirks of its cast, but it likes to fit these details into the cracks rather than make them the primary focus. This is because of the story’s incredibly efficient storytelling: Bloom Into You really doesn’t waste words, conveying as much information as necessary with clean, tight lines of dialogue and doing a lot of heavy lifting with its absolutely phenomenal artwork. Seriously, the visual composition of both the show and the manga are astounding. Sprawling shots of the characters and their romantically-portrayed town convey many of the details of their lives through the pictures on the page rather than the events of the story, and masterwork drawings of close-up expressions reveal nuanced character emotions in a way that plays out in real life, where people often show more about how they feel through body language than direct words. There is, however, a downside to this kind of efficiency, and that’s character investment. While there’s some number of casual scenes of Yuu and her friends joking around and the occasional bit with the student council that Yuu and Touko are both a part of, most of the story is dedicated to providing sharp bits of naturalistic insight into who the characters are, what makes them tick, and the emotions they’re experiencing. Even regarding its characters the series is efficient–Bloom Into You paints complex people using broad strokes, defining the outlines of who they are so well that the audience quickly understands when some action they take is usual or unusual for them, while never wasting time diving into the details. It doesn’t need to.
Or rather, it doesn’t need to because it’s such a well put-together story. This is the part where I have to come back to the anime, and why it didn’t work for me. When all the pieces of your narrative are so deliberately interlocked, cutting out and serving a portion of that story just doesn’t work. Bloom Into You‘s anime stops at around the halfway point in the actual story, and without the inevitable payoffs of the series’ second half the show is essentially just… pretty. It’s never bad–the dialogue is refreshingly free of Kimi no Todoke style fluff and melodrama, and the characters are inherently like-able and believable–but without the focus on quirks, chaos, and daily living that shows like Toradora! and New Girl are stuffed with, there isn’t any particular reason to get invested. Bloom Into You’s reason to invest comes from its character arcs, but getting half of those arcs just doesn’t work. Bloom Into You is a story that you kind of have to, well,
And yes, I’d see that as a flaw. I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t have to wait for a certain part in a story in order to get invested in it. I’ve heard plenty of times from the anime community the dreaded words just wait until episode X, that’s when it gets good. Good stories don’t ‘get good,’ and people don’t owe any of their time to stories that require hours of groundwork to build up to something decent. And, let’s be clear, Bloom Into You isn’t exactly like that. It’s fundamentally ‘good’ from the very beginning, if you go by the metrics of writing and pacing and aesthetics. But for me at least it didn’t resonate until the second half, when all the work the series had put in paid off in an avalanche of cathartic moments. After finishing the series I feel confident that when I go back to it in the future, which I will, the early chapters (or episodes, if the adaptation is ever complete) will be brimming with emotion for me because I’ll understand the context of the entire story. But finishing a story should never be a prerequisite for making its beginning feel enthralling, and for this reason I both do not recommend the anime until after you’ve read the manga and have to unfortunately knock this incredible series a couple of points.
Alright, we’ve got that out of the way? Awesome. Now I’d like to sell you on the flip-side–the parts of Bloom Into You that are absolutely phenomenal. I’ve already talked a bit about the visuals and the storytelling efficiency, but those are just words. The truth is that finishing this manga filled me with that incomparable hunger you get when you’re immersed in a piece of fiction so gratifying that simply consuming it and reflecting on it aren’t enough: you want to somehow do something more than read it, to in some inconceivable way be closer to the story than is reasonable or possible. It’s this hunger that leads people to fan-art and figurines and computer backgrounds as ways to involve themselves more deeply in the stories they care most about, and its an ache that I’m constantly chasing in fiction.
Obviously that’s a personal reaction, but hey, personal reactions are worth sharing. As for why I had such a reaction to Bloom Into You–there I can be a bit more concrete.
The first two are simple: the tone and the character consistency. The two leads, Touko and Yuu, are written as remarkably thoughtful, deliberate people who put a lot of consideration into their words and actions, and as they grow in many ways throughout the course of the story there’s a noticeable lack of the tears, outbursts, and breakdowns that so often line the halls of romance stories. Don’t get me wrong: I loved every single bout of hysterics in Toradora!, but novelty is the necessity of invention and witnessing a romance unfold that managed to string together a series of phenomenally cathartic scenes using small, subdued lines and reactions instead of big, show-stopping set-pieces was utterly riveting. Even more importantly, this didn’t feel like a whimsical tonal choice but instead a result of the story’s consistent dedication to the core aspects of Yuu and Touko’s identities. In many ways, Bloom Into You is about what parts of people can change and what parts are core to their identity, and the way it subtly defines Touko and Yuu’s core traits early on and then faithfully abides by them for the duration of the series gives our two leads a sense of concrete being seldom found in romance stories. Being able to trust a story to know it’s own characters well enough that you can guess what they’ll do in most situations is an incredible strength, allowing even slight deviations from these established expectations to hold great power and meaning.
The third caught me off-guard, and is specific to romance stories. Bloom Into You doesn’t shy away from physical intimacy, thank god: having the payoff for an entire romance story be a single kiss can be exhausting and unrealistic (depending on the story, don’t jump me please,) and this lovely deviation revels in the fact that young people are horny as frick. Before you call me a creep though, lemme be clear–that alone isn’t what I was so impressed with. What struck me more is that without a single character ever reflecting on it, whether it be out-loud or in some sort of internal monologue, the story managed to perfectly convey the vast and incomparable difference between intimacy with someone you’re attracted to and someone you’re in seriously in love with. I seriously can’t get over how effective this series was at making this point felt in the deep part of the heart, and its a testimony to the excellence of the character work that similar romance scenes repeated at different points in the story could, completely wordlessly, have such incredibly distinct significance.
The fourth? It’s a spoiler. Sorry, guess you’ll have to read this fantastic manga.
Overall, I can’t pretend that Bloom Into You is perfect. The show is kind of a wash until it gets completed (and boy do I hope it does,) and the manga has trouble grabbing the reader despite being technically brilliant. But wow oh wow are the good parts good, and I can say with certainty that this series has landed itself a spot on my list of favorites. If you’re a fan of dedicated romance stories I’d strongly urge you to pull up the first chapter right away. You’re in for a treat.
Oh and also, because I couldn’t find a place to make the joke organically:
Bloom into Yuu. Haha get it
Anime: 4/10, through no fault of its own. The score changes if it gets finished.
Manga: 8/10, read the ever-loving shit out of it.