Love Stage!! is a BL anime series about the celebrity world. The main character comes from a family of actors and musicians, but he has no interest in chasing fame. His world changes forever when one of the most famous celebrities develops a romantic interest in him.
I have incredibly mixed emotions about Love Stage, a bright and vibrant anime series overshadowed by its problematic elements. What should have been a lighthearted romantic comedy is marred by the uncomfortable main romance. Sadly, I can't overlook the nonconsensual relationship dynamic, which dampens any positives about this BL anime.
Love Stage Anime Summary
Around 4 hours
Happy and upbeat
Yes, written by Eiki Eiki
Yes, Love Stage features a BL romance.
Izumi is a university student who comes from a famous family. His dad is a musician, his mother is an actress, and his older brother is the lead singer in a rock band. However, Izumi has no interest in following his parents' footsteps and joining the celebrity industry. In reality, he is an anime-obsessed otaku who aspires to publish his manga instead.
Ten years ago, Izumi and Ryouma were child actors who starred in a famous wedding commercial together. Ryouma, now a celebrity heartthrob, has maintained a persistent childhood crush on Izumi since they met. Unbeknownst to him, Izumi's mom dressed up her son as a girl to play the female role in the commercial. Mistaken by Izumi's effeminate appearance, Ryouma wrongly assumes that he has a crush on a beautiful and shy girl.
Now, Ryouma has made arrangements to shoot a new wedding commercial ten years later. He specifically asked Izumi to portray the role of the bride. Izumi is very resistant towards dressing up as a woman again, although his parents are huge fans of Ryouma and believe this is a remarkable media opportunity. Eventually, Izumi is coaxed into accepting the gig by his older brother Shogo and the family's talent manager Rei.
Despite Izumi's anxiety, the wedding advert proceeds successfully. After the shooting, Ryouma uses this opportunity to confess his love, only to discover that his co-star is shockingly a guy. Mortified by the revelation, Ryouma makes offensive comments about Izumi's gender identity. However, he cannot get Izumi off his mind afterwards, causing Ryouma to feel confused about his romantic feelings.
After the commercial, Izumi continues to pursue his dreams of becoming a published manga artist. Unfortunately, his artwork is not very polished, although that does not deter him from submitting his manga to a competition. As he works on his manga, Izumi is suddenly confronted by Ryouma, who shows up at his doorstep one day. Determined to clarify his feelings, Ryouma makes an aggressive sexual advance towards Izumi, regardless of consent.
Love Stage Anime Trailer
Love Stage Anime Cast
Izumi Tsubasa Yonaga (代永翼)
Izumi is the youngest son of Nagisa and Seiya, both famous celebrities in their heydays. His older brother is Shogo, the lead musician of the rock band CRUSHERZ. Despite his family connections, Izumi has no interest in pursuing a career in the industry. Instead, Izumi is a hardcore otaku who aspires to publish his manga. His idol is the mangaka who created his favourite anime, LalaLulu.
Ryouma Takuya Eguchi (江口拓也)
Ryouma is a young celebrity heartthrob who rose to fame by starring in a popular drama series. He wasn't always popular though. Ryouma suffered a period of downtime in his career until landing a pivotal gig that launched his fame. Ten years ago, Ryouma starred in a wedding commercial and developed a childhood crush on his co-star. Since then, Ryouma has always dreamt of reuniting with the actress, but he doesn't know she is secretly a guy.
Daisuke Hirakawa (平川大輔)
Ryouhei Kimura (木村良平)
Sayaka Ohara (大原さやか)
Ryoutarou Okiayu (置鮎龍太郎)
Shoutarou Morikubo (森久保祥太郎)
Kyouko Sakai (坂井恭子)
Kazutomi Yamamoto (山本和臣)
Yuzuka Nishikawa (西川侑津佳)
Kayoko Tsumita (積田かよ子)
Minoru Kawai (河合稔)
Hiroki Gotō (後藤ヒロキ)
Love Stage Anime Review
Anime Review Score: 5.2
I became curious about the Love Stage anime series after watching the live-action movie a while ago. Since the film adaptation was underwhelming, I figured the anime might be an improvement that expands on the story more smoothly. After finishing the series, I've concluded that the plot in Love Stage is flawed at its core. Izumi and Ryouma's romance wouldn't be enjoyable whether I watch their relationship in an anime or a movie.
The good news is that I liked the Love Stage anime better than the live-action adaptation. Admittedly, my expectations were quite low, but comparing the two versions made me appreciate the series more. In the anime, I had no trouble following the storyline. It flows breezily and moves along at a brisk yet relaxing pace. The series is also supported by its bright, vibrant, and colourful visuals. Although I'm not keen on Izumi's character design, I do think the overall artwork looks quite pleasant on the eyes.
Much like the live-action movie, the romance in Love Stage is off-putting. Ryouma is a sexual predator who constantly disrespects personal boundaries and forces himself onto Izumi without consent. His menacing act in Episode 3 was unacceptable, and I almost lost the will to continue watching the series after what he did. Later, Ryouma's personality takes another nasty turn, as he becomes jealous and possessive just because Izumi dares to socialize with other people. Oh, and did I mention this unlikable jackass makes transphobic comments too?
Even without taking the nonconsensual encounters into account, the relationship dynamic between the leads is stupidly shallow. Their attraction doesn't feel authentic, relying on a superficial childhood memory from eons ago. Ryouma claims he's in love with Izumi for being "so cute", which gets used as a catch-all excuse for any shortcomings in the plot. Izumi falls in love simply because Ryouma lies about liking his art. For the sake of the contrived romance, his character turns a blind eye to Ryouma's creepy, overbearing, and obsessive behaviour.
Love Stage features a couple of nonromantic subplots around Izumi's aversion to fame, which have the potential to be interesting. However, these storylines don't get explored with enough depth, only scratching the surface of the drama. There's actually a sinister undertone to the plot, where poor Izumi is coerced into a celebrity career from family pressure. He's an impressionable youth who gets groomed and manipulated by his loved ones. The primary perpetrator is Rei, acting on behalf of Izumi's puppetmaster father, who pulls the strings behind the scenes.
Of course, Love Stage hides this malevolence behind its cheerful, upbeat comedy. The series doesn't address the exploitative behaviours from Izumi's family and love interest. A lot of the problematic elements are dismissed, romanticized, or simply played for laughs. If you don't scrutinize this anime too closely, maybe you'll laugh along with the cutesy jokes on a superficial level. However, beware of all the toxic tropes in Love Stage, which handles these sensitive topics quite irresponsibly.
Love Stage Anime Explained
Now that I watched both the anime and the live-action adaption, experiencing the same story twice has made me pretty familiar with its strengths and flaws. Love Stage becomes more engaging when the plot focuses on anything nonromantic. I enjoyed the scenes where Izumi was working on his manga. I also enjoyed the subplots where he was navigating through fame. Izumi is a complex character, as the ordinary son of a famous family, so there're lots of untapped storylines with him.
Love Stage becomes far less compelling when it focuses on the relationship between Izumi and Ryouda. Their romance is written poorly from the start, and it only worsens once you see how Ryouda treats Izumi under the guise of "love". Ryouda could be an interesting villain if Love Stage actually addresses his toxic behaviour instead of romanticizing his despicable actions. Unfortunately, his character gets way too much of a pass during the series. He is excused for all his bad behaviour, even when he acts like a raging asshole.
At times, Love Stage can be appealing as a lighthearted romantic comedy. This series has some amusing moments, with successful visual gags enhanced by the anime's perpetually goofy charm. A lot about Love Stage is typical anime humour, but it can make you laugh.
Of course, you also have to put up with a handful of unfunny and problematic jokes, so the good comes with the bad. If you aren't easily offended, you may be more receptive to the humour, which teeters on the line of inappropriateness sometimes.
Although the story in Love Stage might seem bright and chipper on the surface, there are some darker undertones if you analyze the plot more closely. This anime also explores how Izumi is being groomed, manipulated, and exploited by his celebrity family. Yes, I know that sounds very dramatic for a series that I previously described as a "lighthearted" comedy, but this anime isn't as innocent as it seems.
What becomes clear in Love Stage is that Izumi lacks a support system in his life. In case you haven't noticed, he has a really crappy family. Both his parents are oddly absent from his life, never around to help Izumi even when he experiences anxiety and trauma. The only one who seems to care about Izumi is his older brother Shogo, but even he has a weird fetishization of his sibling that I'd rather not elaborate.
Izumi's parents want their son to become a celebrity just like them. They're obsessed with the idea of becoming a famous family, most likely because it's a novelty that can propel their own careers in the industry. While the mom Nagisa seems airheaded and fame-obsessed, the dad Seiya is a lot more calculating. Even if Izumi doesn't enjoy being in the spotlight, Seiya WILL manipulate his son and make him bend to his will.
Izumi's scheming dad
Seiya has been a secret puppetmaster, controlling Izumi's life from behind the scenes. He acts through his conduit Rei, ordering him to keep his son Izumi on a tight leash. Can we mention how disturbing it is that Rei placed a TRACKING DEVICE to spy on Izumi's whereabouts!? Rei wouldn't have gone that far as a mere employee for the company. I have no doubt it's his boss Seiya who authorized this intrusive form of surveillance. 😬
The most obvious example of Seiya's meddling is when he "edited" the script of the wedding commercial. He purposely removed the part about the kiss, making the ad seem more agreeable to his son. Imagine Izumi showing up on set, being startled when his co-star suddenly ambushes him with a kiss. Seiya knows his son isn't comfortable in the spotlight, but still puts him through that stressful situation anyway. He only cares that the commercial would be a great platform to launch Izumi's career, and not actually consider how his son feels about it.
Whenever Rei goes overboard in managing Izumi's life, I sense Seiya's slimy fingerprints imprinted on each decision. Keep in mind that Rei feels extremely indebted to Seiya, who rescued him from a troubled youth. Rei would execute any command that Seiya ordered him to do. Every time Izumi has a panic attack and feels anxiety about appearing on camera, shooting a commercial, or attending a press conference, it's his dad pressuring him to do so. That's the kind of man Seiya is.
Izumi and Ryouda
Ryouda is a terrible person who should never be romanticized as a love interest. If Love Stage was airing now instead of 2014, he'd definitely be one of the male celebrities exposed by the #MeToo movement. His character sucks and I want no part of endorsing a BL romance with him in it.
What Ryouda did to Izumi in Episode 3 is sexual assault, no matter how much the series tries to downplay and dismiss his actions afterwards. He attacks Izumi alone in his apartment, pins him down, gropes his body, strips him naked, and forces his sexual desires onto an unwilling victim. Had Shogo not showed up on time to stop the encounter, I shudder to think how far Ryouda could go and what he would've done.
It doesn't make a difference that Ryouda "apologized" and "felt bad" for sexually assaulting Izumi afterwards. That cannot absolve him of the physical, psychological, and emotional trauma he inflicted upon Izumi. Let's never normalize the narrative that nonconsensual sexual encounters can be made less severe after an insincere apology.
Love Stage handled Izumi's trauma after his sexual assault quite irresponsibly. Rei is another morally reprehensible character who tries to justify Ryouda's actions with a ~boys will be boys~ mindset. He compares the nonconsensual encounter to a "mosquito bite", telling Izumi to brush off the incident since Ryouda didn't go all the way with him. Rei also dares to equate his experiences as a gay man to the sexual assault that Izumi had experienced. No, they are NOT the same thing, Rei!
Rei offers some of the worst advice you can give to the victim of sexual assault, yet Love Stage acts as if the character is being rational at the moment. Let's call out Rei for who he really is: a callous, coldblooded, and complicit creep who represents all the ugliness in show business. Needless to say, Rei is down there with one of my least favourite characters in Love Stage.
Ryouda is a creep
After the sexual assault, Love Stage tries its best to redeem Ryouda for the next few episodes. But as the old saying goes, a leopard never changes its spots. His character still comes across as a desperate creep, harassing Izumi with dozens of text messages to express his "love". There're also multiple instances of him overstepping his boundaries with Izumi. Every time Ryouda sees an opportunity for a nonconsensual encounter, you can rely on him to almost always make the wrong decision. 🙃
Near the end of the series, another ugly layer of Ryouda's personality is exposed. He becomes jealous and possessive towards Izumi, even more so than before. Never mind the fact that they aren't even a couple yet, but Ryouda throws a hissy tantrum every time Izumi socializes with other people. When a guy is SO controlling in a relationship that he gets angry because you smiled at someone else, it's time to run for the hills. Ryouda's behaviour is so overbearing that I don't understand what Izumi sees in him.
Cycle of abuse
Although I've been really harsh in my criticism of Ryouda, there is one interesting fact I want to mention about his character. Ryouda has admitted that he was a victim of sexual harassment during his early days as a young working actor. Like most of their plots, Love Stage drops this huge bombshell and doesn't elaborate on it afterwards. Nonetheless, we need to acknowledge a pivotal part of Ryouda's history, which might explain some of his inappropriate behaviour.
Not that Ryouda's past excuses anything he did in the present, but it does give us a reference point and more insights into his character's psyche. Picture Ryouda, a young actor who has been introduced to the show biz industry since he was a child. Growing up in a culture of abuse, exploitation, and sexual harassment, these outrageous behaviours have become normalized for Ryouda.
That might be why Ryouda so casually perpetuates the same abuse onto Izumi, because he's used to these nonconsensual encounters himself. In some ways, Ryouda is trapped in a vicious cycle of abuse, with years of trauma shaping the way he perceives relationships and consent. Ryouda isn't capable of having a healthy romance because he never experienced normalcy himself.
The visuals in Love Stage are pretty delightful. The scenes always look bright, cheery, and colourful, maintaining the series's upbeat tone. Most of the character designs look decent, although they all seem to have long angular faces with pointy chins.
With that said, I don't love Izumi's character design. It's more of a personal preference, but I've never liked when anime characters have big expressive eyes. I also don't like how young Izumi looks. The other characters have more adult designs, whereas Izumi stands out and looks a lot more youthful. Put him in scenes with Ryouda and this pairing looks mismatched together.
I actually think Izumi has a more mature appearance when he's dressed up as a girl. His character design looks flattering when wearing long hair and pretty dresses, so I think I prefer this version of him instead.
Love Stage is packed with lots of random visual gags that amplify the humour in the scenes. It's evident those working on Love Stage have fun drawing the series, adding little visual details that can be quite delightful.
One of my favourite recurring jokes is whenever they replace the facial expressions on the two friends in the manga club. A small and silly gag, but it's effective. Every time they react in shock with those faces, I can't help but laugh. 😁
On the surface, there appears to be a happy ending in Love Stage. Izumi ends up with his handsome and famous love interest, keeping their romance on the down-low from the public's eye. Plus, he's the star of many big commercials, with his face plastered on billboards as he represents many popular brands. His love life and his career are thriving at the end of the anime series.
Yet, I can't help but feel sad for Izumi's character. For starters, Ryouda is trash. Being in a relationship with this sexual predator is like getting the bad ending in a visual novel. Also, I feel disheartened that Izumi gave up on his dreams of becoming a manga artist. In the end, Izumi succumbed to family pressure and became a famous celebrity, even though he never had any interest in show business. He didn't want this career at all, so it almost feels like he's ~selling out~.
Is Izumi happy?
Maybe I'm just cynical, but is Izumi really happy? I know the dad must be thrilled, having manipulated his son with his behind-the-scenes scheming. It feels like Izumi only joined show biz to appease his family and boyfriend, not because he actually enjoys being famous. We see his character posing in these popular commercials, but there's almost a hollowness to his expression, like he's putting up a front.
Izumi began the series as an optimistic, wide-eyed ingenue chasing after his dreams. He might not have been famous or successful, but at least there's passion behind what he did. Unfortunately, Izumi ends Love Stage as an artificial shell of his former self. He is now a soulless manufactured product from the publicity machine.
Doesn't this remind you of some grim ending from a Black Mirror episode? Sure, Love Stage may seem like it has a "happy" ending, but scrutinize more closely and you'll start to see the cracks behind the illusion.
Izumi and Ryouda sex
In the final episode, Izumi and Ryouda officially confirmed their relationship. They proceed to have sex with each other for the first time. It's an episode of many firsts, including the first time Ryouda actually has a consensual encounter with Izumi. 😒
The sex scene was fairly short, but we do see plenty of skin from both characters. There's a suggestive shot of Ryouda's face as he looks upwards, which totally reminds me of CG artwork from an 18+ visual novel. Except normally, there'd be other liquids on his face… 😳
After the deed was done, Izumi complained about how much getting backdoored hurts and he couldn't even move out of bed. Izumi thought losing his virginity would give him flowers and fireworks, but all he got was a sore butt. 🍑
The series ends with Izumi telling Ryouda that he loves him. His love confession makes Ryouda tear up, because he's so overwhelmed with happiness. For a brief second, I suffered from a momentary lapse of judgment, because I actually found his reaction to be quite touching.
But then, my sentimentality passed and I'm reminded again that Ryouma sexually assaulted Izumi when they first met. The entire basis of their relationship is problematic, and I think it's wrong that they ended up together. Never forgive, never forget, and never normalize what his character did.
If I had my way, Izumi would've ended up with Takahiro, the friend from the manga club. He's nonproblematic, which already makes him a better boyfriend than Ryouma by default. Takahiro is also an expressionless king, a tasty snack in a pair of glasses, and has way more in common with Izumi than some stuck-up celebrity. I can actually envision a normal, healthy relationship between Izumi and Takahiro.
Sadly, Takahiro was sidelined for most of the series, and Izumi doesn't recognize there's a perfectly dreamy guy in front of him all along. I guess Love Stage didn't want to highlight Takahiro's character too much, because then it'd be too obvious that he's a superior love interest than Ryouma in every way.
Love love, Lala Lulu!
So, I should clarify that I watched the dubbed version of the Love Stage anime. Whenever there's a rare opportunity for me to watch BL without subtitles, I take it. The English dub is perfectly fine EXCEPT for one thing: the alarm clock message with LalaLulu's high-pitched voice. ⏰
Every time Izumi wakes up, we are treated to the exact same alarm clock message. RISE AND SHINE, IZUMI! GET UP AND DO YOUR BEST TODAY! LOVE-LOVE, LALA-LULU! The same voice clip gets played on an endless loop, over and over again. Oh my god, it's the most annoying thing ever, with a grating voice that drives me up the wall.
At first, I hated this alarm clock with a passion. But then, it kinda grew on me in a hilariously obnoxious way. Lalalulu's nightmarish voice became like a guilty pleasure of mine, and I missed hearing it in between episodes. When I go too long without hearing the alarm clock, a mental audio clip of the message plays inside my head. I will hear "Love-Love, Lala-Lulu!" until the end of infinity, haunting me everywhere I go. 🙉
Opening & ending songs
Besides the Lalalulu alarm clock message, I also love the opening song and the ending song in Love Stage. Yo, these songs are kinda bops? I love that we get to begin and conclude each episode with this cheerful, upbeat melody. At some point, I looked forward to listening to this music more than I cared about watching the actual episodes.
For reference, the opening song is called LφVEST, sung by SCREEN mode. The ending song is called Click Your Heart, sung by Kazutomi Yamamoto.
Love Stage Live Action
Love Stage 2020 live-action movie Movie review
Love Stage released a live-action movie in 2020, featuring the same story but condensed into 90 minutes. Unfortunately, the BL film is a mediocre remake, losing many of the nuances from the anime series. The Love Stage movie tells an incoherent story, not aided by over-the-top actors who give embarrassingly theatrical performances.
On the bright side, the relationship dynamic between Izumi and Ryouma is slightly less toxic in the live-action movie. Mostly, it's because the story gets told so poorly that you can't make sense of the characters' actions. Ryouma comes across as a predatory weirdo in the film rather than the predatory scumbag that he is in the anime. So that's a plus, I guess?
Love Stage 2022 live-action series Drama review
Love Stage receives a ten-episode live-action adaptation in 2022. This Thai BL drama is the most extended remake at seven hours long. As a result, the story expands upon the events and the characters more than the anime. It makes some positive improvements, such as focusing more on the secondary romance. However, it also changes the aftermath of Izumi's manga competition, removing significant nuances from his characterization.
In my opinion, the Love Stage anime is better written and flows more smoothly than the live-action adaptation. The drama is clunky and doesn't always make sense. Both remakes contain a problematic lead with morally depraved antics. Yet, Ryouma's behaviour is worse than his counterpart in the drama or the film. In the series, Ryo is only creepy and not a full-fledged villain. Since Ryouma is an infuriating turn-off, his existence causes me to give the anime a lower review score.