It's a B.L. ("Boy's Love") anime, i.e. man-on-man romance for a female audience. It's my first experience with the genre and I found this show very good, but a bit disconcerting. The problem isn't just that I'm straight, but also that I'm male. The cast are often effectively girls with penises. Imagine swooning sensitive romance cliches played straight with boys in the feminine roles. This is funny, but weird.
I'd still recommend it, I think, but you might well find it a mind-stretching exercise. Even gay men sometimes struggle with B.L. (Gay men's manga for a gay male audience is called "bara".) Hmmm. Maybe we need a glossary? (a) "Seme" is the 'male role' partner, from the word meaning "to attack". (b) "Uke" is the 'female role' partner, from the word meaning "to receive". Anyway...
Izumi Sena is a small, beautiful boy who can easily pass for female. (Guess whether he's going to be the 'seme' or the 'uke'. Go on, guess.) He comes from a crazily talented showbiz family of drama queens, but he has no interest in acting and is instead a nerd. He wants to be a manga artist, despite having no talent in that direction, and has a crush on a fictional character called Magical Girl Lala-Lulu. Unfortunately ten years ago he was dragooned into playing a little girl in a commercial and he's about to be asked to reprise the role. He doesn't want to. He hasn't acted in the interim. He doesn't want to be famous.
However Izumi's co-star from ten years ago, Ryouma Ichijo, has been in love with him for all that time (unaware that he's not a girl) and has now grown up to be a famous star.
This is a funny set-up. The commercial shoot had me laughing out loud, with Izumi (in-character) throwing himself in slow-motion into Ryouma's arms. It's like a parody of girly romance and syrupy commercials, both at the same time. It's the kind of thing that demands soft-focus lenses and a rain of rose petals.
There's also lots of comedy to be mined from the characters, neither of whom self-identifies as gay. They lack self-awareness. They overreact, then beat themselves up about it afterwards. Ryouma is super-cool compared with Izumi and his ever dorkier friends in the manga circle, but he's also goofy enough in his own right for this in itself to be charming. He can be a complete idiot, albeit a sincere and well-meaning one.
Meanwhile Izumi's family are even more eccentric. His mother has an emotional age of eight, his father is a perfect fit for her and his big brother Shougo is a camp and uncontrollable rock star with a harmless complex about Izumi. (The character's based on his voice actor, Daigo from BREAKERZ, who also happens to be the brother of the Love Stage!! manga's writer.) Then there's Rei, the family's faintly sinister manager who plants bugs in Izumi's bag and listens in to his private conversations. Fortunately Rei's also a very good manager and a useful person to turn to for advice, especially here since he seems experienced in gay matters and can give Izumi sensible (if slightly cold-blooded) advice. Might he end up paired with the not-very-heterosexual Shougo? Well, maybe. In the anime, you'll have to wait and wait. In the manga, it's a bigger deal.
The art's kind of ugly, making the characters look like space vampires. I don't really care, but you'll get a stronger reaction from the target audience.
It's a good show. It has entertaining, memorable characters in a plot full of problems and issues (not always of our heroes' own making). It can be charming. It also never stops being funny, since our characters never stop encountering new problems. Sometimes these are normal and understandable, e.g. the object of your love confession takes off her wig and... eh? Both Izumi and Ryouma will struggle with the "I love a guy?!?" hurdle. Sometimes they're a bit weird, but still meaningful and hugely important to the characters, i.e. the manga-ka is basically writing Izumi and/or Ryouma as girls, with a girl's attitude to relationships and the physical act. Sometimes they strike an unexpected note of realism, e.g. Izumi's worries about whether sex will hurt. (This is arguably a feminine point of view too. You could probably count on the fingers of one foot the number of men whose attitude to sex wasn't fundamentally "wahay!") And then sometimes the characters' worries are idiosyncratic to the point of being bonkers, e.g. Izumi's passion for drawing bad manga and his virtual love triangle with Magical Girl Lala-Lulu.
It's nice. No one's bad and the Izumi-Ryouma relationship (despite several problems) visits some heartwarming places. Izumi's relationship with Lala-Lulu is also sweet. (Yes, that in context that makes sense.)
It's knowingly, happily ridiculous. It's escapism. Izumi's family are total loons, while show business in general is being portrayed as a world that runs on nutters and silliness. The show's setting is bubbly fantasy, but its central romance is being played out in depth and indeed is arguably more emotionally sophisticated than you might normally get from a pair of men. There's manservice, with the closing credits looking like the standard male gaze until you realise that the objects of the camera's desire are Izumi and Ryouma.
It's a likeable show, as are its two leads. Their journey to wisdom is long, rocky and incomplete, but if you want more, there's always the manga. It's funny. Watching it felt a bit disconcerting sometimes, but that'll be just my unfamiliarity with the genre and I'm glad I watched it.