It is the Bakumatsu period, a time of conflict and chaos- both on the battlefield and in the hearts of men. Whilst the rest of the Choushu clan focuses on conflict, however, one man- Kusaka Touma- dreams of a prosperous future where Japan opens itself to foreign countries. Determined to see that future come to pass, Kusaka decides to study English by taking lessons from one Akizuki Keiichirou- a man who sparks feelings in Kusaka that run deeper than mere friendship. But Akidzuki is a member of the Tokugawa bakufu and thus an enemy to the Choushu clan; can the nascent love between these two men really bloom under these conditions, or is it merely doomed to tragedy?
Back in the days when Iroha was fuelling my interest in the Bakumatsu period, it seemed only natural to watch another OVA set in the same era; yes, there was a warning about yaoi content, but for some reason I convinced myself that that was only there to be on the safe side- surely there wouldn’t be anything full-on? Alas, such were the days of the innocence, but they were to be shattered the moment the two leads decided to surrender their virtue to each other. This wasn’t just HARD GAY, this was full hard yaoi, and even though it wasn’t especially graphic or explicit, it still marked it as a step beyond the likes of Meine Liebe.
Boys’ love aside, Winter Cicada can hardly be said to be the most original of tales; just swap the names Kusaka and Akizuki for, say, Romeo and Juliet, and you can pretty much guess how the whole thing is going to play out- our leads encounter each other and then meet a tragic, if not unexpected, fate. It’s all entirely standard, and the only real point of note is the change in tone across the three episodes- the opening instalment is packed with unintentional hilarity, but by the time the finale is reached, the whole thing has become downright depressing.
As to be expected, the only characters to be set above the level of generic are Kusaka and Akizuki themselves, the central figures in this tragic love story. Although in principle a reasonable amount of time is spent fleshing out their personalities, it still doesn’t make them particularly memorable- they are more tools for telling a particular story than distinctive characters in their own right.
Visually, Winter Cicada’s artwork is somewhat drab and bland- character designs are largely unattractive and only one step above generic, whilst the historical setting has already been realised better elsewhere. Meanwhile, background music remains generally bland and forgettable.
Although it cannot be said to be particularly poor, nor can Winter Cicada be said to be all that worthwhile, for ultimately we have all seen this story done better many times before. If you have a craving for yaoi, unintentional hilarity or a thoroughly depressing conclusion, you might just get something out of this, but in general it’s not something that many people will want to go out of their way to watch. In short, it’s not the worst OVA out there, but there’s still far better things to spend your time on.