Candy Boy – Episodes 1-2

So, Candy Boy. This is a bit of a strange one, both in structure and in content. As far as production intrigue goes, it seems Candy Boy was initially just one eight minute original net animation, released along with the artist Meilin’s Candy Boy music single. I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason this is called “Candy Boy” at all, as the actual content here doesn’t feature any boys at all (so far). Then the show received a seven episode additional series, along with two bonus episodes packed in with those episode’s DVDs. So it’s basically a strange, media mix jumble from top to bottom.

The show’s actual content isn’t much more approachable. Starring the twin sisters Kanade and Yukino, the show apparently focuses on them realizing their feelings of romantic love for each other, with Kanade’s not-so-secret admirer Sakuya offering light sprinkles of added drama. So, an incestuous lesbian romance set in the second year of high school.

All of that seems like the most obvious possible platform for a show that presents lesbians not as fully realized people, but as instruments in someone else’s fantasy – and honestly, the first two episodes don’t really rise above that impression. The main issue here is that the feelings shared by Kanade and Yukino aren’t sold by the characters through the narrative, they’re simply assumed from the start. We don’t get to learn why these sisters have a bond that goes beyond family and into romance, we’re simply told that, and we can either buy into their assumed feelings or disengage. Kanade and Yukino are twin sisters who are in romantic love with each other, and their fumbling around that fact forms the bulk of Candy Boy’s material.

The fact that these two are sisters really does pretty much kill the story for me. I’d actually love to see more stories of long-time same-sex friends discovering they have romantic feelings for each other, and how that realization impacts both their relationship and their interactions with the world around them. A show like Wandering Son is all about navigating the difficult intersection of queer awakening and general adolescence, and manages it admirably. But Candy Boy seems entirely removed from any sort of real-world context, and exists in a place where falling in love with your own sister results in exactly the same caliber of “oh no, do they feel the same way” romcom shenanigans as any other first crush. In this world, the biggest conflict facing incestuous gay lovers is apparently remembering to bring an umbrella to school.

The fact that Candy Boy so totally divorces its characters from any sense of reality both underlines its nature as a fantasy for an outsider audience and makes it impossible for me to relate to these characters as people. My rule of thumb with conflict is “I don’t have to be able to relate to a conflict to feel invested in it, but I do have to care about the characters involved, and believe in their feelings towards it.” Kanade and Yukine feel too removed from reality to be relatable themselves, and that subsequently makes their minor conflicts fall flat as well. This is doubly unfortunate in a show that leans so heavily on seemingly naturalistic, slice of life conflicts, which in general terms tend to ride almost entirely on your ability to care about the characters involved. And the combination of lesbian romance and incest leaves me with the lurking suspicion that to this show’s creators, those two “taboos” are basically comparable, or at least one is a reasonable generic spice to add to the other.

Still, even if the actual story wasn’t very good, I had a reasonable time with these episodes. The short series’ greatest feature is definitely its eye for shot composition. While I couldn’t really believe in Yukino and Kanade as characters, shots framed to create a sense of depth and emphasize the clutter of their dorm made it easy to believe in the room they share. Other shots were also careful to layer their characters across multiple planes of action, ensuring that this story felt specifically grounded in terms of place, if not in terms of action.

The lighting was also pretty interesting, though a bit more of a mixed bag. A show about first love set in high school, particularly the idealized “yuri first love” that tends to romanticize the imagined “purity” of girl-girl relationships (a deeply homophobic assumption that colors a whole bunch of yuri media), is a natural fit for the nostalgic visual gaze layered over much of anime. Candy Boy was happy to abuse that filter, shrouding its characters in constant golden hour light in both morning and evening. The effect certainly led to some evocative shots, but at times it also seemed like someone was just aiming a spotlight directly at the characters, increasing the sense of artificiality about the whole affair.

Overall, I can’t say I really got much out of this one. The show’s problems aren’t unusual, but they are pretty destructive all the same. I’d love to see more anime that celebrates the complexity of queer relationships, but Candy Boy falls into pretty much all the potholes that yuri anime is often known for. Can’t win ‘em all.

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