Gakuen Heaven Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, February 01, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, March 27, 2007
What They Say
Ito Keita has one thing in his favor: luck! And luck has just landed him a special invitation to attend the Bell Liberty Academy for Boys, an exclusive high school only for the most privileged, the most talented, and the most beautiful. But when a strange accident on move-in day attracts the attention of Niwa Tetsuya, the student body president, and Saiyonji Kaoru, the class secretary, Ito finds himself the center of attention. With the eyes of a whole school of pretty boys on him, where will Ito find the time to unravel the mystery of his mysterious invitation?
When Keita arrives at the Bell Liberty Academy he finds that life as a student there is unlike anything he's experienced before.
With only one audio track, Media Blasters has opted to not go to the extra expense of a dub for a very limited audience title. Providing a 2.0 256kbps Japanese language mix Gakuen Heaven is a decent sounding dialogue heavy title. Dialogue is well placed throughout but it's a fairly typical mix for a show of this nature. During regular playback we didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The presentation for this show in general comes across as very solid and vibrant. The shows design, one where it isn't exactly motion-heavy, helps it a lot but in general the choice of colors helps it even more. Filled with lots of natural colors and plenty of blues it simply looks very clean and generally problem free. Colors are solid and vibrant and outside of a couple of areas, such as some of the red of the guys jackets, are very minimal in terms of compression artifacts. There's a touch of aliasing in a few scenes where there is some panning going on but beyond that it's a very clean looking release.
While the ostensible lead isn't on the cover, a pair of the guys who will mess with him do get a fairly good close-up shot here where they look plenty confident and ready to roll. The colors are quite vibrant without being overblown and the simple background keeps all the focus on them. The logo is cutely done with the wings as well as the inclusion of the "Boys Love Hyper" subtitle. The back cover utilizes the same kind of light blue indistinct background while providing a bunch of small shots from the show of the cast. The summary covers the basics and they do a nice job of displaying the discs features in a non-clinical way. Add in the production information and the solid and reliable technical grid and it's a good looking cover all around.
The main menu is a simple but upbeat design that has two of the guys from the academy, Hide and Niwa, giving some of their best pretty-boy poses. The background is made up of various blue geometric shapes along with the series logo and a simple but straightforward navigation bar. All of it is set to some of the vocal music from the show that plays for a good loop and generally gets you into the mood of the show. Access times are nice and fast and because of how the languages are for this volume our player presets really didn't matter much.
Some good extras are included here with the first volume. The Hamu Hamu Heaven shorts that appear at the end of each episode get a couple of additional episodes here and they're just plain cute. They're not terribly long but they provide an additional cute factor to the cast. In addition to these we get a clean version of the opening sequence and a series of character sketches.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on a game by the people at Spray, Gakuen Heaven has been adapted into a manga series and now an anime series as well. The thirteen episode series began airing in early 2006 and has an almost glossy feel to it as it takes a tried and true concept with a mild twist. Plenty of shows have worked the idea of a new transfer student who is average coming to a big prestigious school before though more often an all girls school or a co-ed school.
The series centers around Keita, a young man with no discernable above average qualities that would merit him going to the Bell Liberty Academy. Or the BL Academy as it's sometimes called in the series that has a subtitle of "Boys Love Hyper!" The Academy is set off on a sizeable campus outside of town and has a very rich and layered feel to it. The students there, of which there don't seem to be too many even though it has room for a lot more, are all allowed to pursue whatever they want for their studies. Each of them are highly motivated in their own way however so it isn't a slack-fest but rather something that's a bit more focused. The teachers and the chairman himself do make appearances but they're often brief and pointless. The only point that's useful is that we find out that the Chairman has extended the tuition-paid scholarship to Keita without explaining his reasons.
Keita's arrival at the Academy isn't easy since he's the new student and unsure of things but everyone wants to help him. He's initially picked up by Niwa outside of the Academy with his motorcycle but they end up getting into a bit of trouble that puts Keita in the mind of being very thankful to Niwa. With Niwa being the apparent student body president with the nickname of the King, he's a roguish man who has a freewheeling attitude about him but one that draws others to him. Pure charisma would be the way to best describe him but it applies to so many of the other students that are brought in during the course of these first four episodes. Everyone is interested in Keita since new students during the middle of the year is unusual but also because he's simply so perfectly average.
Not surprisingly, the show focuses heavily during these early episodes on getting Keita acquainted with the core set of students and exploring the campus. It's a very relaxed atmosphere with no real tension to it but rather a bit of nervousness on Keita's part. Just about everyone is friendly with him, or more so in some cases, but a pair of twin brothers named Kakeru and Wataru don't care for him much. They're a pair of tricksters who do more to cause trouble than anyone else but they balance out the rest of the cast a bit. Keita finds himself the object of interesting desires which aren't a surprise in a show designed for just such. Naruse, the blond pretty boy and tennis star takes to him from first contact and deems him to be his "Honey." Keita's next door neighbor in the dorm is a quiet and cautious young man named Endo who harbors feelings for him as well. The rest are all generally friendly though some internal politics do creep up among the various factions about the entire situation.
Having seen similar shows in the past and certainly having read my share of boys-love manga, nothing here is really surprising. The setups are enjoyable, there is some good comedic value in how the interpersonal relationships develop and play out and the animation is just great looking. I can definitely appreciate a pretty-boy just as much as I do the various female character designs in other series. Gakuen Heaven doesn't have much else going for it at first however. The show has a very leisurely pace which isn't a problem but it runs through so many clichés and standard setups that it just doesn't engage you all that much. The hook of it being a boys-love show will certainly draw an audience but if this was done in other genres it would still have the same problem. It also does something that to me is generally a sign of a weak series or one that isn't intent on being all that much by having a hot spring episode within the first four episodes.
Gakuen Heaven is the epitome of a diet anime. It has some very shiny packaging in the pretty boys, it tastes good going down as there are some fun moments and plenty of grins with it being all about boys-love material, but in the end it is very unfulfilling. It's filled with great looking characters, solid designs for the uniforms and enough pull to the storyline to bring it along in these four episodes, but once it's over you're left wondering why to really continue watching more of it. I came away smiling but then went looking for something more substantial to immerse myself in. Gakuen Heaven has another nine episodes to go through so there's certainly a chance for it to improve and be something more but this first set of episodes is very light on real meat.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Hamu Hamu Heaven Shorts,Clean Opening,Character Sketches
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Gakuen Heaven