The episodes presented in the third volume of Gakuen Heaven are a little bit more interesting than those presented on the previous two discs. The series could be on an upswing. The three episodes on this disc are all connected and wrap up the problem of the Vice Chairman of the school's board trying to get Ito kicked out of the academy. While there's no nail biting suspense or taught drama, these episodes are enjoyable to watch and definitely have their moments.
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. He's always interrupted before he can answer.)
The Vice Chairman of the school is in a power struggle with the Chairman of the school's board and Ito has gotten trapped in the middle. It seems that the regular admissions committee didn't select Ito at all; the Chairman offered the average student a chance to go to BL on his own authority. This chaps the VC, and while the chairman is away, he tries to pressure Ito into dropping out. When that doesn't succeed, he takes steps to have him expelled.
With the news that Ito is going to be kicked out of school, the student council gets upset. They start a petition asking the board to allow him to stay, and though most of the students sign it, the petition is still rejected.
Ito feels bad about it, but he finally e-mails the Chairman and lets him know what's going on. In response, the head of the board makes a deal with the VC: the school will have a MVP contest. The students will pair up and go through three challenges that will test their intelligence, athletic ability and their skill. The winner will get a wish from the Chairman. In order to get the VC to go along with this idea, the Chairman had to promise that he'd step down if Ito doesn't win.
Ito realizes that this is his last chance to stay in school, but rather than pick The King to be his partner, he chooses his good friend Kazuki. Can the two partners beat out all of the other intelligent and talented people at BL? If they can, will they be able to evade the goons that the VC has sent after them?
I enjoyed this volume the most of any so far. It hung together well and the contest that was spread across these episodes was fun. The mysteries surrounding Ito deepened a bit, but honestly that doesn't seem to be the focus of the series anymore. These shows were a nice change of pace after some of the seemingly pointless show in the earlier volumes.
As I mentioned in my reviews of the earlier volumes, one 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 fourth 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.
While I didn't find the previous volumes very engaging, this disc was pretty enjoyable. I've always liked the short quest/contest storylines where the odds are stacked against the hero and that was definitely the case here. While the mysteries surrounding Ito haven't been solved, if anything they've grown deeper, those haven't really been the focus of the show for a while. I do wish that they included more than three episodes, but even so watching this was a good way to spend an hour and a half. Recommended.