My favorite anime are the ones where I sit down every week and gleefully scream “what the fuck is this?!” at the top of my lungs. The sheer number of shows being made every season means that there are a lot of genre-followers and comfort food offerings, not because of creative bankruptcy but sheer exhaustion on the part of many studios. So getting to see something relentlessly weird, even if it doesn’t execute flawlessly, is a rare joy for someone who follows the industry professionally. One show this season filled that niche with aplomb: Fairy Ranmaru, a fairy-themed magical boy series with gorgeous aesthetics and a mountain of homoeroticism.
The premise centers around five fairies, each representing an elementally-themed kingdom within the fae court, who have been sent to Earth in order to gather “attachment” and send it back to their queen. Generally, this involves helping out a girl of the week and fighting against an antagonist who churns up the dark emotions of people’s hearts to turn them into monsters. Structurally, it’s pretty standard magical girl stuff. Like in most formulaic genres, it’s in the execution where the show shines.
The team devotes absolutely all of its assets for the fight scenes, which draw heavily from the mixed-media cutout styles popularized by the duo known as gekidan INU CURRY in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Every episode features a woman crushed beneath the weight of social pressures that range from exploitative bosses to cyberbullying, and the climax of each episode takes place in a mindscape that manifests an abstract version of the conflict between victim and oppressor. From there, it’s the hero’s job to defeat the monster and pray for its ascension — because, oh yes, did I also mention the heavy Buddhist influence on this magical boy beefcake show? Once the dust clears, the perpetrator either suffers an ironic punishment or, more rarely, comes to some kind of clarity, and the young woman is free to flourish. It’s mostly wish-fulfillment, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming about a very hot person sweeping in to save you from the burdens of capitalism.
And then there are the transformation sequences, which set my corner of the internet ablaze when they first appeared and remain one of the most memorable elements of the show. It’s not just that they’re horny, although that’s certainly hard to miss (I saw one man comment that he now understood complaints about the “male gaze” after seeing such a thorough sexualization of another man). More interesting is the fact that they don’t conform neatly to the way “sexiness” is often marketed in this kind of show. The five main characters have the kind of slim-but-built, femme-leaning aesthetics that have defined anime pretty boys for decades, but that’s only a disguise for interacting with humans. Once they transform, they gain rippling muscles that the camera pans over in loving detail and bulging packages thrust directly toward the camera. To borrow a sentiment from a colleague, it’s Lil Nas X’s “Call Me By Your Name” meets Magic Mike. It’s not quite on the level of famous gay manga author and beefcake lover Gengoroh Tagame, but it still implicitly beckons to a wider audience than many “bishounen” shows implicitly marketed to straight young women.
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It’s not just an aesthetic queerness, either. The story turns around high-drama romances within the main cast. Uruu hates Homura — who are water and fire themed respectively, because this is not a show one comes to for subtlety — because his mother was having an affair with Homura’s father shortly before her death, which itself was tied up in the complicated game of fairy politicking; and meanwhile, the titular character and seeming blank slate Ranmaru has an apparent past with the shadowy antagonist they keep running into. These two relationships are the sinew that holds the episodic narratives together, and their overtness came as a pleasant shock to many given that the series isn’t marketed under the BL genre.
High melodrama, social commentary that varies in effectiveness from episode to episode, beautifully boarded fantasy sequences, the musical sequences I haven’t even had time to mention, and an infusion of queerness throughout — all of it makes for a potent and gloriously weird experience. There’s a clear sense that the creative team took their chance to create an original anime and stuffed in every idea they had, and the result is something that should be cacophonous yet somehow still manages to utterly nail its landing in the end. While it flew under the radar as it aired, now is our chance to make it a cult hit now that the entire thing is bingeable. I can practically guarantee you haven’t seen anything like it.