I just finished re-reading Gravitation, and I’m so full of feelings, I ended up sitting up all night writing this long-ass post.
[This post will contain spoilers if you haven’t read the Gravitation manga, so please steer clear if that’s the case.]
Raise your hand if Gravitation was your first BL!
Actually, I can’t testify that Gravitation was my first BL at all, for some reason my memory is a bit hazy on how and when I got into BL, or at least on what my first reads were…. I have a feeling it was mostly doujin and random one-shots first, but in any case Gravitation was the first BL I actually owned. And it was published in Norwegian at that. Can you imagine?
I remember stepping into a Narvesen (kiosk that sells mainly magazines and various lottery tickets) at the mall, and there it was, volume one. I nearly died. And the worst thing is that while the Norwegian translation might be…. Awkward, it actually suits the characters well. Maybe because they are all so crazy, and the Norwegian used in the translation is also kind of all over the place? I don’t know, it’s been ten years since I read them. Unfortunately the Norwegian serialization was discontinued when the publisher went bankrupt, and we were left at volume 6. So I had to get them all in English.
Anyway. From the very first moment, I was completely taken with this series. And this week, I re-read the twelve original volumes for the first time in years.
It’s funny. I have read hundreds of BL manga, both fluffy shonen-ai and hardcore yaoi since my first encounter with this series, and while there are so many things you could say about this series in comparison to other, perhaps better series (technically speaking)….I absolutely adore Gravitation till this day.
Sure, it is complete crack. Murakami-sensei, the mangaka spends every author’s note talking down herself, her art and her plots – she is well aware of the craziness and often the lack of consistency, and apologizes profusely to her adoring fans with each chapter.
The art changes constantly with each volume, and we find Shuichi, our protagonist to change from an awkwardly drawn young adult into a much better drawn, but somehow shota-ish creation, which is funny, considering Shuichi grows older over the span of the series, while his looks seem to be moving back in time..?
Gravitation, Vol.1 (1996)
Gravitation EX, Vol.1 (2004)
I think there are many people out there who absolutely abhor Gravitation, perhaps for all of the above reasons, and then there are those who look back and seemingly ridicule themselves about having had “a Gravitation phase”. This makes me sad. Maybe I’m biased but… There’s much more to Gravitation than meets the eye. And this post is going to be less of a review, and more of a reasoning to why I love this series so much.
Again, the author herself does admit to her own flaws and the flaws in her writing. And I have to admit, when I first returned to the series this week – I have watched the anime multiple times over the course of the last ten years, but the manga is better by far, I did have my doubts about whether I would still love it. It took a bit of time getting back into it, mostly because of Murakami-sensei’s erratic art style in the first few volumes, and how vastly different Gravitation is from most other manga in its genre. However, I have been squealing and laughing out loud to myself nightly as I’ve been reading, delighted to find that yup, it’s still got that immense charm that drew me into it all those years ago.
I choose to label Gravitation as BL, but it could easily have been characterized a gag manga where the protagonists just happen to be two gay men – and maybe that is precisely where half the genius lies (Formally, Gravitation states to be comedy/shonen-ai).
I’m not saying that Gravitation doesn’t have a fling with the typical BL conflict “Omg we’re both men” , but out of all of the conflicts in the series, it is the one that matters the least. Gravitation flirts with the idea of two guys getting it on right from the first chapter, where Shuichi and Hiro use it as a ploy to get out of chores at school, and it also plays on fujoshi-mentality and the attractive taboo of homosexuality in pop culture as a gimmick throughout the series, but as far as the relationship between Yuki and Shuichi goes? Their conflicts have deeper roots, although sometimes they are just flat out idiotic and hilarious.
There is no such thing as ‘no homo’ here.
Still, with all the BL I have read, and none of them even remotely close to Gravitation in silliness, this manga still stands out to me in the way it handles the issues at hand. Often the serious themes will be drowned out by such antics as people getting shot in the face (only to be perfectly fine two seconds later), a giant Panda demolishing New York City, or people getting kicked out of the house in the middle of the night for showing too many feelings—to mention a few, but it is still quite remarkable how this manga can tug at your heartstrings despite all of these things. The emotional trauma from Yuki’s past, and Shuichi’s desperation to break through to him runs as a recurring theme throughout, and grave seriousness often follows it regardless of how crazy the surrounding panels will get.
If I have to pick some favorite scenes from this series, there are a few that stand out and that get me every.single.time:
“When did I say that I rejected you because you’re a man?”
This slightly abbreviated line is spoken by Yuki in one of the earlier volumes, where he has tried to break it off with Shuichi, who gets the idea that Yuki has left him because he is a womanizer who can’t accept being in love with a man. In the anime, this is a very important line, as the storyline is significantly shorter and less complex, and thus seemingly deals a lot more with the typical conflict than its manga counterpart. In this scene, Yuki dismisses this overly cliched problem, and though it is vaguely touched upon a couple times more, he nips it in the bud here.
“Yuki is miiiiiiineeeee!”
This might be my favorite scene of all times. Shuichi’s impulse control completely falls apart as he is taken with violent jealousy upon seeing his beloved Yuki with his fiancée, Ayaka. So what does he do? He stops his own concert only to scream out his affection in a chock-full concert hall and cause a small riot in the crowd. Yuki’s response? A smile.
This scene is one of the many moments of pure honesty that makes me love these characters so much and at the same time, just crazy enough to make you laugh with glee every time.
“Yes, we are lovers.”
Again, slightly abbreviated and closer to the anime adaptation. But this is fairly self explanatory. While most BL is colored by the Japanese society and its archaic view on homosexuality, Gravitation’s characters never have any problem admitting that they are in fact, gay, at least not in the majority of the chapters. Early on, a young and confused Shuichi clearly states that he is into women, but that Yuki is special, but he soon changes his tune and screams at anyone willing to listen that he is in fact, gay.
Yuki on the other hand lives in denial of his own feelings due to his trauma, as well as to keep Shuichi at a distance (for the same reason), and that’s why this is so huge. Admitting you’re a couple on national television? How’s that for honesty.
I realize all three of these are scenes from the earlier part of the series, and that they are quite similar. I could go on, especially because there are some really emotional moments later on.
The fact that Gravitation so easily brushes off things that would commonly become huge issues in other BL stories (or shoujo for that matter), is incredibly refreshing.
There’s a scene in one of the last volumes, where Shuichi and Yuki get into an argument for no reason, because Yuki is embarrassed about having been honest about his feelings, where Shuichi shuts the whole argument down by simply stating that they keep getting into stupid fights because of so-and-so instead of beating around the bush and hoping that the other person will be a mind reader.
The darker side of Gravitation, dealing with emotional trauma, murder and rape can at first glance seem to be something that blows over quickly and is only thrown in by Murakami where she sees fit to create some drama, but are all recurring themes that help shape and explain the characters, and the scenes, albeit short and barely graphical are still immensely painful and well done.
It wouldn’t be entirely honest to say that Gravitation is progressive in terms of BL, I don’t think Murakami-sensei was trying to have any serious effect on society or people’s views when she wrote the story, but it deals with these themes in such an honest, straightforward and refreshing way, and I can only admire her for how she combines absolute hilarity with underlying seriousness. Although she continuously gripes about her terrible art in the comments, there are panels and illustrations, particularly of the characters when they’re on stage, or of Yuki, which are mind-bogglingly sexy.
And speaking of sexy, though Gravitation lacks in the sex department, and barely allows us to see a handful of kisses throughout the series, Murakami and her circle write their own doujinshi, with some of the most hardcore yaoi you will ever see. Some of it is disturbing, and some of it is completely “off its rockers” to quote K. And some of it, is even canon. Hiyoko mix is one of the recent releases, which elaborates on Yuki and Shuichi’s first time, which is everything you hoped for – and more than you bargained for, and slips right into the scene it was taking out of in volume 2, with the exception of the art which is vastly different.
But here’s the thing – Gravitation’s lack of sex is ultimately what lands it as being categorized as shonen-ai, and by all means, sex isn’t necessarily what makes a BL manga (or any manga) good. However, if you’re like me, you want to see all aspects of the couple’s life together, and as most BL tends to be quite shallow and (on account of) being on a tight time line, you want to see the sex, and you want it to be hot. Often, BL without any physical developments in the relationship department gets tedious and boring, and you find yourself just waiting for something to happen. But even now, I don’t get that restless feeling with Gravitation. Of course, with its wild and over the top plotline, it could never get boring, but Yuki and Shuichi’s relationship alone is so challenging and complex, that the story works even without the sex. In fact, that seems to be the one thing that works out for them!
It’s not romantic in the traditional way, and yes, occasionally, Yuki might come across as your typical borderline abusive seme-character (not at all helped out by Murakami’s shotafication of Shuichi as her style changes, but keep in mind that Shuichi IS in fact 18+ throughout the series despite his looks), but somehow all the little
threads come together and explain his behavior nicely, without making excuses for him. Though there is a slight feeling of non-con about their first sexual encounter, Shuichi later dismisses this “fact”, something which is further confirmed in the Hiyoko doujin.
Yuki also really respects Shuichi, though he has a hard time voicing it – he is a spoiled brat who is used to getting anything he points at with just a bat of his eyes, but when Shuichi tells him he’s not coming back home with him – Yuki respects that, and leaves him alone although Shuichi’s really only fishing for an apology and some begging, and really does want to come with him.
Another thing worth mentioning here, is the existence of the (seemingly, I say seemingly because the character isn’t very clear on their own gender) transgendered character Yoshiki, whose role grows unexpectedly large over the latter course of the manga. Introducing such a character in a series that abuses its entire character gallery could be dangerous, and characters like Yoshiki are often bound to becoming one-dimensional, and ultimately the butt of the joke in gag manga. However, in the sense that Gravitation deals with anything tastefully, or fleshes out its random side-characters, Yoshiki’s gender, while causing some confusion (often deliberately, and much due to Murakami’s habit of using characters to push the plot along, even if it means altering them entirely) amongst the characters, doesn’t define them, but leaves that up to Yoshiki’s actions and involvement in the conflict at hand.
Again, maybe not progressive and revolutionary, but in this manga of crazy characters, Yoshiki doesn’t particularly stand out, and becomes one of the more normal characters in the series, as opposed to what they might have in other manga. Just worth noting.
I think one of the things I love the most is how flawed these characters are, and how they not only work through it, but they talk these things out and they learn to deal with them, and it never feels like a quick-fix solution either, despite how haphazard much of this storyline is.
It’s also interesting to note that while Shuichi clearly possesses the looks of a typical uke-character (at least beyond the third volume), he is an immensely strong character. He cries easily, and he freaks out about tiny details, but he also holds it together when Yuki falls apart, and is willing to put his life on the line for the man he loves. He can be extremely dominant when needed – or when lust overcomes him (see Gravitation CD Dramas), at which point he will challenge Yuki for the top spot. But he also takes the lead of their relationship in other ways, not least romantically, confidently enticing Yuki both sexually, as well as in other matters where Yuki might not always seem to know how to deal with a situation.
It’s not smut, or fluff, or slice of life, and it’s not pure comedy. Gravitation is unique.
In its genre, I don’t think there will ever be anything that can compare to this sentimental insanity.
I would like to say that I understand why people might dislike it but… I actually don’t. I’m far too biased I’m sure. But I am also of the firm belief that Murakami’s Gravitation has too much going for it for someone to dislike it entirely, in all aspects. And whenever the cliches or flaws sneak in, they’re easy to dismiss because of the humorous nature of the manga – as mentioned earlier, Murakami utilizes her characters relentlessly to get her plot through, so it’s hard to take many of the twists particularly serious, which means it doesn’t kill the fun!
So yeah, I’ve written over 2500 words, and I’m not sure I’ve expressed everything I wanted to say. In fact, I could probably go on for another 2000 words to be honest. But it’s five in the morning.
Somehow, I ended up writing up some kind of defense here… I’m just overcome with feelings after having plunged into this universe once again, and feeling like it’s been so unfairly treated by so many people over the years.
Plus, if you’ve only watched the anime, you are really missing out. Not only in terms of plot development, but also on the characters and their true personalities.
Silly boyfriends. Manga! Yuki is practically as crazy as his lover. And surprisingly dumb.
Please give it a read, it’s well worth it.
Ah, but stay away from its sequel: Gravitation EX. It’s absolutely gorgeous, but…..Somehow I doubt we will ever see the end of it, and as it stands right now, I am buried in a hole of depression, having fallen from the mother of all cliffhangers. ヽ(≧Д≦)ノ ｳﾜｧｧﾝ!!
Oh my god, I just keep adding to this draft, and now it’s nearly 3000 words, not to mention all the pictures…. Honestly, when picking out illustrations to this entry, I ended up using half the manga….. I just want to include everything, because it’s amazing, okay.
Somehow, I doubt I’ve shed any positive light on this schizophrenic piece of manga….. if anything, I think I’ve found my inner Murakami. (・ω・ )
But there it is, just a fraction of all the reasons why I will never stop loving Gravitation, and why you should read it too~