Thursday, 7 April 2011

マイネリーベ / Meine Liebe - season 1

Admittedly, it’s hard not to find Meine Liebe just a little bit...risible at times, given that it’s exactly the sort of shoujo drama series that Ouran High School Host Club sends up so well, but it takes itself very seriously, and that alone is enough to endear it to me at least a little. I don’t mind when things are cheesy, formulaic or obvious, as long as they do what they’re trying to do well, and don’t try to be hip and postmodern by poking fun at themselves.

Meine Liebe is designed to get girls hot under the collar, and that’s what it sets out to do in a way so blatant it’s almost like an animated homage to the Bronte sisters. Okay, so the story is as follows: on a fictional but very much Teutonic island with the fairytale appearance of a very Japanese concept of Europe between the two great wars of the last century (all its cities, bizarrely, seem to be named after foodstuffs in German), aristocrats attend a school called the Rozenstoltz Academy. The show focuses on the five elite pupils of the school, the ‘Strahl candidates’ being primed to be the future leaders of society. Fortunately, these five young men are all conniption-inducingly pretty and fit neatly into shoujo pigeonholes: there’s the dark, mysterious, severe Ludwig, the optimist with strong ideals and lovely blonde hair whose name is Orpheus, the fragile little boy Camus who gets the maternal instincts racing, the rougher, slightly rebellious Eduard and the token spiritual, confidence-deficient Japanese boy Neiji. All boxes ticked.

Interestingly, for a game based on a dating sim, there is no female protagonist. This show is about the boys, and nothing but the boys, because…well, we all know that it’s more fun to imagine the bishounen getting TOGETHER than with some annoying girl, don’t we? Like I said, the show is designed to get ladies’ pulses racing. Of course, nothing more than strong fraternal feelings are ever made explicit in the series, but a bunch of rich, powerful young men, who when they interact with girls show no interest in them beyond basic courtesy (after all, all the girls ever do is tell them how wonderful they are), but are either bitter rivals of or utterly devoted to one another, all of whom have dark and angsty pasts to be slowly uncovered, and all of whom will receive large sums of money and huge, erm…gigawatts of power once they come of age – what could be better for the curious young girl who wants to admire someone formidable but harmless from a distance?

This could all be very cheesy, especially since you consider that the boys spend far more time than one would expect riding horses, fencing, saving the day and hanging around with flowers. The last two get combined in one breathtaking moment where a neer-do-well is disarmed when one of the boys throws a flower at him. Yes, really. Along with some very dubious psychic powers, that’s as ridiculous as it gets, though, and for the most part, the show is very serious. This is where it works: the art is stylised, but mostly realistic and consistent – no silly anime reactions here, but instead some superbly realised locations and costumes, beautiful music and a general adherence to the laws of physics, which let’s be honest is quite rare even in shoujo anime. One gets the impression that if only boys could possibly be beautiful enough, they would film the show rather than animate it. Aesthetically, a big success.

The trouble is there’s nothing to latch on to. The story is thin and episodic: the boys clash with one another, foil plans to harm the reputations of the school or one of their peers, dramatically debate politics with jaded men who used to be just like them…but there’s no real sense of purpose or drive. A show like Maria-sama ga Miteru, with a similar premise about chaste relationships in a girl’s school, one step closer to realism without the horses and empires, is also episodic and lacking drive, but it works because there is a sense of continuity to the question of whether Yumi and Sachiko (as well as the other pairs) can be happy together, and it’s much easier to feel empathy for characters who make mistakes and can be overawed and don’t have to be constantly noble, flawless and grave, as do the Meine Liebe cast.

There was much to like, artistically and conceptually, but in execution, the series was just too slow, too concerned with the grand picture without enough attention to character, and ultimately rather slow and dull in its attempt to create an elevated and beautiful atmosphere. Nonetheless, there is potential for something better, and I shall watch the second 13-episode series to see if it can repair some of these flaws.

(originally written 23.06.06)

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