As every otaku knows, anime isn't a genre by itself; it is a type of production that is broken up into a wide range of styles and story types. One of these types of anime that doesn't really have a counterpart in the English speaking west is shonen-ai, or boy's love anime (often abbreviated BL). This genre involves boys and young men, often very effeminate looking, who live or work together and are usually attracted to each other. These shows don't usually feature sex, either implicit or implied; though hugging and the occasional kiss aren't out of place. In Japan shonen-ai shows and manga are popular and sell very well to women and homosexual men. Here in the states there have been a couple of anime series that have shonen-ai aspects to them (such as Kyo Kara Maoh) but those that have been released here have also had a strong action component. Media Blasters has now released one of the first wholly sh?nen-ai titles with Gakuen Heaven. It will be interesting to see if sales of this title are strong enough to warrant the release of more shonen-ai titles.
Bell Liberty School, know as BL Academy to the students there (get the joke?), is the most exclusive and prestigious high schools in Japan. Their standards for admission are extremely tough; each student has a special skill or talent that sets them apart from their peers, and students who graduate are almost guaranteed a good high paying job when they leave. Since it is such an elite institution, Ito Keita is astounded when he gets an invitation to attend the school. Ito is just an average student and doesn't have any talents. On top of that, he's been asked to start in the middle of the school year, something that's never happened before. Why was he chosen? What does he have to offer the school? And will he be able to keep up with his overachieving classmates?
I'm not the target audience for this show, so I shouldn't be surprised that I didn't find it terribly interesting. The show doesn't really grab you in this first volume. The pace is pretty slow. The first three episodes (!) are given over to introducing the main characters. In addition to Ito there's Endo Kazuki, the first friend that Ito makes, Niwa Tetsuya, the hunky class president whom everyone calls "King", and the head of the Treasury, Saionji Kaoru, who is ultra smart and just as respected as Niwa. Everyone calls him "Queen". In addition there are Ito's foils, the twins Kakeru and Wataru who are convinced that Ito doesn't belong at BL Academy and Naruse Yukihiko the head of the tennis club who calls Ito "Honey" and is always asking him out on a date. (Something that Ito never accepts or refuses in these first episodes. He's always interrupted before he can answer.)
In addition to the slow pace, the plot isn't that exciting. This show is based on a video game, which may account for the lack of an engaging storyline. The show's big mystery is why Ito was invited to attend the prestigious BL Academy. Not all that gripping to begin with, in these four episodes they don't even try to solve the mystery. It's occasionally referenced, but that's about it.
The show also lacks the humor of other school based anime such as Azumanga Diaoh. The stories are mildly amusing but they don't have any big laughs. Each show shows Ito going through his day trying to perform some minor task; finding Niwa, passing a memo around, waiting for a party to start, or finding out how *gasp* used the archery club's president's tooth brush. While this isn't a bad show, there just isn't enough drama, action, or comedy to make it memorable.
This show only comes with the original Japanese soundtrack in stereo. There is no English dub, which is a little unusual for a region one release. There aren't any explosions or space battles so it isn't a dynamic soundtrack, but the audio fits the show well. Distortion and background noise are nonexistent and the dialog is easy to hear. A solid, if average track.
The 1.78:1 picture has been enhanced for widescreen TVs and the image generally looks fine. There is some aliasing, especially in the background, and the lines are a bit on the soft side, but otherwise the video quality is fine.
far as extras go, there are two episodes of Hamu Hamu Heaven included,
each which runs about a minute. This is a parody of the show where
all of the characters are dressed up in chibi-Hamtaro-like costumes and
add the syllable "hamu" to the end of random words. It's pretty cute,
but not nearly as funny as Tachikoma Days that follow up episodes
of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. In addition
to these there's also a textless opening and a character sketch gallery.
While Gakuen Heaven isn't a bad show, it's not a great one either.
The story is simple and not very engaging and there isn't enough emphasis
on the mystery to make anyone care why Ito was admitted to the school.
This would make a good rental for fans who are curious to see what
shonen-ai anime is all about, but don't expect too much.