In Pursuit of Beautiful Boys
The hot guys of Rosenstol Academy slap on a smile and try to wow the hearts of fangirls the world over.
Although extremely popular in Japan, dating simulations, or ren'ai, have yet been able to fully catch on with the rest of anime culture in the West. This may be due in part to difficulties in translating a particular game as they are much more complex and time-consuming than simply smacking subtitles onto an anime title. Even if the games themselves haven't migrated to Western shores, the anime series based on these titles often have. Within the last few months, anime like Sukisho and Air have become well-known titles, and both are based on renfai games of the same title.
Another title that has migrated onto anime format is Meine Liebe. In it, a gathering of exceptional youths attend the high-profile Rosenstol Academy. These boys are considered the leaders of the future, and although each one has his merits, none of them are perfect. They are all competing for the title of Strahl, and those who obtain it will become high-level advisors to the king.
The hero of Meine Liebe is Orpherus, a young man who believes that a ruler can only be successful with a gentle hand. Although born of a privileged class, the tragedy of his sister's death weighs heavily on him. His primary competitor within the school is Ludwig. With flowing purple hair, a permanent scowl and a much more Machiavellian outlook on life, he sees fault in most of Orpherus' ideas, and has himself a large following within the school. Besides these two, there's the quiet foreigner Naoji, the girlish Camus, and the rambunctious best friend Eduard to fill out the cast.
To anyone who's played a renfai game, these characters should be familiar. Many renfai rely heavily on archetypes for their gameplay in order to make the player’s choice to be essentially, "Do I want the shy one or the one with the bad past?" While the girl that users seem to have played in the game is gone in the anime, the other characters keep their typical love interest roles. In fact, they seem to be stuck in them.
Unlike Air and Sukisho, where evidence of a renfai influence is faint, if it exists at all, Meine Liebe seems to be tethered to the game so much that the anime has serious shortcomings. This might also be because the game wasn't that good to begin with, but without playing it one can never tell. Like their game counterparts, the Rosenstol boys seem stuck with a limited number of emotions, and sometimes it seems if they have one facial expression each, sometimes going through episodes without a single upturn of the lips or a narrowing of the eyes.
It's the lack of expression that is the most noticeable problem with Meine Liebe. It's hard to tell when Orphe is enraged or about to laugh (which no one's really done yet). His expression when his sister is killed is the same as when he's debating with Ludwig. Like most of the cast, he goes through the entire series with tired eyes, faintly scowling lips, and a statuesque air. Only Edward gets away with a smirk, but he's the rambunctious one, so he's allowed. Think of the stereotype of supermodels and you have the mentality of the cast. They look good, they pose well, but there seems to be nothing but air in their heads.
The characters become even more mechanical when they open their mouths. In the game, text appears, you read it and then click to move onto the next line. Meine Liebe feels very much as if the voice actors had simply read the game text aloud and with no emotion. It seems that the characters are so stuck in their archetypes that any alteration in mood or tone is impossible. What makes it worse is that in the atmosphere of Rosenstol, everyone speaks with a disinterested, regal air that's at just the right frequency to make you nod off. This monotone dialogue makes the anime feel very slow and boring.
The anime does have some redeeming qualities however. Although they aren't very interesting, at least the boys look good, and there's a sword fight or two to shake things up. Backgrounds and character design are also impressive. If this series were a set of stills, it would have been just as interesting. As long as one is aware that this anime is here mainly to showcase the characters from the game and not to grow those characters from what they were initially, the anime becomes more enjoyable.
And let's not forget that renfai means 'love simulation.' So where's the love in this series? The girl that was the main character seems to be gone, and that leaves the boys alone with each other. That doesn't leave very many options, does it? Although Naoji has confessed to being pulled to Orphe by some strange force, none of the boys have made any moves on each other yet. However, considering that Meine Liebe's fanbase seems to consist largely of girls expecting a little boy love, and adding the complete non-existence of any female characters in the show, this may well be where the series is headed. If it stays true to its renfai roots, Meine Liebe may not resolve with a certain pairing rising to the surface. Every possibility is supposed to have equal weight, and in the end it may be the viewers that decide what's going on behind the scenes. The only problem is whether it's worth the effort with such a vapid cast.
The series is episodic, with each episode highlighting a certain character or pairing, and there seems to be the undercurrent of an overall plot as well. Nothing very eventful seems to be happening, and it's hard to imagine what Meine Liebe's boys would do if they had to really react and face off against a problem that wasn't specially tailored to show them off. If you watch the first five or so episodes, you will see a consecutive highlight of each of the boys, and that's all you really need in order to have seen all that this anime has to offer. I'd prefer Sukisho or Air over this renfai anime any day.