The Stranger by the Shore is gorgeous. It should be no surprise that Blue Lynx’s latest Boys’ Love (BL) movie is so stunning—producer Yuka Okayasu characterized the label’s focus as “anime with great stories and animation quality.”
The drive for quality is noticeable, in part because of BL anime’s checkered past of low-budget anime adaptations, and because of the decision to adapt The Stranger by the Shore manga for film.
The film depicts the relationship between Shun and Mio as they navigate love and family. Shun, a gay novelist rejected by his traditional-minded family, is drawn to Mio, a boy orphaned by the death of his mother. What begins as a summer crush becomes a crashing wave of emotions as each man discovers himself through the other.
Drenched in the sunlight of Okinawa and tethered to the sea, The Stranger by the Shore recalls the cinematography and themes of coming-of-age queer romances in European cinema.
Coming of age
While The Stranger by the Shore and Call Me by Your Name are two different films in medium and origin, the two share a purposeful cinematography that invites the viewer in.
This intimacy between the subject and the viewer was a unique choice by Call Me by Your Name cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who shot the film with a single camera. This approach allows for a casualness that humanizes the characters as they brush past the camera or move in and out of focus.
The gaze in Call Me by Your Name is not unsparing—sensual moments between Elio and Oliver are left to our imagination as the camera deliberately pans to the side and out the window. Even so, this closeness can feel voyeuristic and uncomfortable at times of intense emotion, such as the sustained shot at the end of the film of Elio weeping, as his mother (largely out of focus) sets the table behind him.
The film is a glimpse into the short-lived but formative romance in Elio’s life—a collective viewing privilege shared by us as the audience.
The audience, too, is central to The Stranger by the Shore. The anime trades the singular film camera for a slightly less measured but no less intimate portrait of blossoming queer romance. What might be criticized as simple animation feels less economical and more like a deliberate, directorial choice because this is animated rather than filmed.
We see close-ups of characters with a shallow depth of field, intricately detailed tendrils of flowers oscillating in the breeze, and quiet architectural shots with characters partially obscured or even wholly removed. All of these compositional choices are treated equally and emphasize different points in the development of Shun and Mio’s relationship.
Beyond the lens
Even outside of the anime’s camera lens, the audience situates itself within the story. Like most BL adaptations, the primary audience of The Stranger by the Shore is fujoshi (themselves a largely queer audience abroad), and you may find yourself in the curious women from the love hotel, or in Shun’s friends Eri and Suzu, a lesbian couple who are wonderfully supportive.
While the parallels drawn here between The Stranger by the Shore and Call Me By Your Name are entirely my own, BL manga has long drawn on the themes of queer European art.
The genre’s origins in the 1960s and 1970s were influenced by Bildungsroman novels, illustrations of lithe androgynous men, and early gay films such as Death in Venice. Even beyond BL-proper, it’s clear BL-leaning manga-ka were consuming queer European cinema: several illustrations in Akimi Yoshida’s BANANA FISH explicitly reference My Beautiful Laundrette.
The Stranger by the Shore feels like a breath of fresh air in many ways. Shun and Mio charmingly bridge the gap between feminine and masculine in their character designs. The ending theme song would feel at place equally in a Hosoda or Miyazaki film.
Thoughtful and nuanced
Longtime BL fans can appreciate the thoughtfulness of the art direction and quality of animation, while fans yearning for more LGBT characters will find the kind of real and nuanced love not often found in anime.
Director Akiyo Ohashi’s strong artistic vision as director, scriptwriter, and storyboard artist is a BL creative force unparalleled since Shoko Nakamura and Akemi Hayashi’s Doukyuusei. It would be easy enough to write off the appeal of The Stranger by the Shore as just “a better BL,” but I challenge the presumption that the anime is good because of the lack of “old school” (read: problematic) tropes.
To do so would ignore the purposeful artistic choices made by the largely female staff, or would ignore the very bold move Blue Lynx made in creating a BL label and creating this kind of content—in cinematic form, no less.
This would further erase the merits of the original manga by Kanna Kii, whose art now transcends BL in her Sing a Bit of Harmony character designs. If the goal of Blue Lynx is to create films that “stand on their own as great works of entertainment,” The Stranger by the Shore is a tidal wave of success.
The Stranger by the Shore is now streaming exclusively on Funimation.