Anime Works has released the second volume of their shonen-ai (boy's love) series Gakuen Heaven. Containing only a mere three episodes, the show has a rather slow pace and isn't very remarkable. Aside from the homosexual undertones, there isn't much to separate this from any other school based anime.
Bell Liberty School, know as BL Academy to the students there (that's a joke...this is sh?nen-ai, or boy's love, anime which is often abbreviated BL), 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?
In addition to Ito, BL Academy has an interesting assortment of attractive (yet feminine looking) students. 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". Other students include 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.)
The disc starts out with a strange mystery and one of the better shows in the series so far. While tracking down a missing cat, Keita and his friends come across an old abandoned house with a door that has been boarded shut. Having reason to believe the cat when inside, the group removes the barrier and discovers a stairway leading down that ends with a door. The door is covered with graffiti, warnings not to open it, as well as promises that it leads to Heaven. When a couple of the students manage to open the door, they disappear inside and the door shuts, and seems to lock. Every time it opens a few more students disappear inside and are not heard from. When Keita manages to get past the barrier he finds a dark cave and something rather unexpected, and rather humorous.
The series reverts back to the rather dreary format from the last volume for the next episode. Kazuki takes Keita on his first trip away from the school. The boys hit the town where they play in an arcade and grab some ice cream. *yawn*
In the final episode contained on this disc, the story finally starts to get moving. Keita is called into the Vice Chairman's office and learns something interesting about his admission. It seems that the Chairman of the school admitted him without going through the proper channels, a power that he has but rarely exercises. The VC informs the young man that he's obviously not of the quality that Bell Liberty School looks for, and has therefore made a lot of enemies on the schools board. He tells Keita that he should save face and drop out before he gets expelled. This happens while the Chairman is away on business of course, and it causes Keita a lot of worry. He agrees with the administrator, he really doesn't belong at BL, but he likes it so much he can't stand to leave. When he lets what's been bothering him slip to some of his friends however, they rally around the new student. But what can they do against the school's administration?
While the first episode was fun, overall this series hasn't really grabbed me yet. Anime shows that are based on video games, as this one is, usually have a hard time engaging viewers who haven't played the game, and this one is no exception. It isn't easy to identify with any of the characters and most of the stories just aren't that exciting. Hopefully it will start to pick up with the next volume since the plot seems to have finally started. I kind of doubt it though.
Another problem with the show is that the animation is very limited. There are a lot of pans across still images and extended close-ups. When people walk, their legs aren't shown and during conversations only the most minor mouth movements occur. Since there are no action scenes, this doesn't affect the story too much, but it doesn't add to the appeal either.
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.
As far as extras go, the third episode of Hamu Hamu Heaven is included which runs about a minute. This is a parody of the show where all of the characters are dressed up in gibi-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 closing.
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 with the slow pace and bland characters. Add to that the
low budget animation and that fact that there are only three episodes on
this volume, and that makes this disc a good rental.