‘Sasaki and Miyano’: A Wistful Romance with a Twist

BL (Boys’ Love) is a curious genre of anime and manga that has no real American counterpart. These wistful romantic fantasies involving beautiful young men are written by women for female audiences. But in recent years, a few talented artists have offered more credible characters and plotlines that allow young gay viewers to see themselves in the stories. Based on a manga by Shou Harusono (Yen Press, eight volumes), Sasaki and Miyano (2022), produced by Studio Deen, directed by Shinji Ishihira and available through Crunchyroll, stands out.

High school sophomore Miyano Yoshikazu is frustrated. He’s barely 5’7” tall and people of both sexes comment on how cute his face is. He’s a good student who works hard in student government, but he works even harder to conceal that he’s a fudanshi — a boy who likes BL manga.

He meets senpai (upperclassman) Sasaki Shuumei, when the older student stops two boys from beating up Miyano’s friend Kuresawa. People refer to Sasaki as a delinquent: He dyes his hair rusty brown, wears multiple ear studs and comes late to class. He’s not as tough as he looks — he loses the fight with Kuresawa’s attackers. But he’s many things Miyano would like to be — four inches taller, with broad shoulders and big hands, and comfortable with who he is.

Sasaki and Miyano
Sasaki and Miyano

Enduring Societal Pressures

Miyano is gobsmacked when Sasaki jokingly tells him he’s cute and asks him to go out. Although Miyano declines, the boys become friends, exchanging manga and CDs. They enjoy the shared enthusiasm and the freedom with which they can talk. Japanese high school students lead much more regimented lives than American teenagers and endure intense societal and parental pressure to succeed. Although Miyano and Sasaki have other friends, to find someone who really listens and pays attention is a rare, treasured experience.

After a few episodes, Sasaki confesses to Miyano. “Confessing” is a key ritual in high school manga, anime and novels. All the drama, neuroses and hormonal excesses teenagers endure crystalized in a declaration of affection. Dumbfounded, Miyano says he doesn’t know how to respond; Sasaki promises to wait for his decision.

The weakness of run-of-the-mill BL stories is the characters’ failure to acknowledge their sexuality. They rarely identify as gay, but blithely accept same-sex partners. In Gravitation (2000), aspiring rock musician Shuichi falls for aloof novelist Yuki. Yuki’s brother shrugs, “The person you happened to fall for turned out to be Bro.” In Dakaichi: I’m Being Harassed by the Sexiest Man of the Year (2022, also on Crunchyroll), up-and-coming actor Junta hangs on more experienced actor Takato with the slobbering enthusiasm of a golden retriever whose owner has been away for an hour. None of these characters analyze their unexpected attractions.

Sasaki and Miyano
The lead characters Sasaki (left) and Miyano are voiced by Yuusuke Shirai (Japanese)/Kellen Goff (English) and Souma Saitou/Joshua Waters, respectively.

In Sasaki and Miyano, the filmmakers focus on the insecurities and uncertainties that plague high school students, including sexuality. Miyano has never thought of himself as gay — even if he enjoys BL manga. He liked a girl in junior high, but the relationship never went anywhere, and they haven’t spoken in years. He admires Sasaki-senpai and enjoys their time together. But he keeps coming back to the question, “What does it mean to love someone?” (The Japanese verb suki de aru can be translated as “like” or “love.”)

Sasaki is more aware of his sexuality but keeping his promise to wait for Miyano’s decision takes a toll. One day, he starts to kiss Miyano, realizes his action was inappropriate, and apologizes. Their friends offer advice and try to bring them together: Same-sex crushes aren’t unusual in their all-boys school.

Miyano finally concludes that although he has no experience in love, if the feelings he has for Sasaki-senpai “aren’t the real deal, what is?” In a counter-confession that feels more like a flash flood than a declaration of affection, Miyano recounts everything he likes about Sasaki, concluding “…sometimes, I want to hug you…be my boyfriend.” It’s a much more believable conclusion than the standard let’s-spend-forever-together: Its tone may remind American viewers of Love, Simon.

Sasaki and Miyano scored a hit in both Japan and the U.S. There’s already an OVA, a spinoff series about two of their friends. A Sasaki and Miyano feature was slated for release in mid-February and a novelization of the series will be published in English in April.

Sasaki and Miyano


Sasaki and Miyano (2022)
12 Episodes + OVA
Studio Deen, Crunchyroll



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