Aoyagi Ritsuka is a sixth-grader with more than his fair share of problems. His older brother is dead, he can’t remember anything from beyond two years ago, and thanks to the personality change caused by his amnesia, his own mother no longer thinks of him as the ‘real’ Ritsuka. Given the situation, he is understandably wary of making new friends- until a fateful meeting with an older man named Agatsuma Soubi. As a curious bond grows between the pair, Ritsuka finds himself dragged into a world where names are bonds, words are spells, and reality and fantasy are only a hair’s breadth apart…
Even though pretty much everyone else from yaoi fangirls to the casually interested seems to have watched Loveless by now, as a title I was eternally going to investigate later, it took a while to finally get around it- and when I did, it was something of a mixed experience. Yes, it had a certain visual flair and various intriguing elements, but when it came down to it- what exactly was going on?
Admittedly, the series was at a disadvantage in having to draw from an unfinished manga, but even so, it cannot help but feel like only being given the second book in the trilogy- you don’t really understand how things came to be as they are, and you never get to see a proper conclusion. And this is a world that certainly needs explanation, for whilst the fact that its members possess cat ears and a tail until they lose their virginity is something you just have to accept, there are many other things which are harder to swallow. For reasons which are never made clear, couples who usually share the same ‘true name’ are part of a battle system where one acts a Fighter, casting spells on their opponents with words, whilst the other is the Sacrifice, taking the damage inflicted on their Fighter. Aside from the disappointment of never really working out what the point of this whole system is or what the majority of its Fighters are actually trying to achieve, the battles themselves prove to be far less interesting than they sound, with simplistic animation and lacklustre execution. What exactly is this battle system anyway? How does one become a Fighter or Sacrifice? These are questions which are not even addressed, let alone answered.
Sadly, this is a pattern which is repeated for character development, in which we get glimpses of a character’s motivations and back story, and yet rarely receive the full explanations needed to make them seem more like properly developed personalities than arbitrary plot devices. Fortunately, in this area at least, we can start to uncover some of the true potential of the Loveless world, starting with Ritsuka himself. Thanks to his memory loss and subsequent personality change, Ritsuka believes that he is just a placeholder for his true self, and that ‘making memories’ is more about collecting physical evidence such as photographs than relying on unreliable and inconsistent memories- even if there is no feeling behind the content of those photographs. At home, his mother alternates between almost manically reaching out to her son to violently turning against him if he acts in a manner that the ‘real’ Ritsuka would not have done, and so it is only through his outside interactions with Soubi and classmates that Ritsuka is able to once again appreciate the value of building proper friendships. Even some of the less developed supporting characters give us something to think about, from the twenty-three year old teacher who has yet to lose her ears (an apt example of the consequences of having your first time essentially be public knowledge) to the various Fighter-Sacrifice partnerships and the relationships between them (an apt collection of HARD GAY and HARD YURI).
The one place where Loveless truly excels, however, is its visuals, with a range of beautiful character designs that are only accentuated by the frequent presence of cat ears and tail. Backgrounds are far more basic and unobtrusive, but this simply helps them not to overshadow the characters themselves.
Although it whetted my appetite with its superior character designs and story potential, in the end, Loveless’ appeal came more from what it could have delivered than what it actually gave us. Perhaps the manga can deliver a more satisfying version of the story.