Twilight Out of Focus – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser July 4, 20240 Comments
Mao and Hisashi watching a movie on a laptop together

Content Warning: depictions of casual homophobia, implied (off-screen) student/teacher relationship; non-consensual touching

What’s it about? High schoolers Tsuchiya Mao and Otomo Hisashi have established several rules going into their second year as roommates: most importantly, that Mao will never out the closeted Hisashi; and that Hisashi will never consider Mao as a romantic prospect. But things get complicated when the head of Mao’s film club asks him to recruit Hisashi as the lead in their BL student film.

Twilight Out of Focus might just win the award for “least indicative blurb” in recent memory. I picked up the manga when the anime got announced, and based on the back cover summary for the English release I expected something like a friends-to-lovers sex comedy in the vein of (bonus podcast honorable mention) Jackass. What I got was a much more somber piece that read closer to The Two Lions or My Summer of You (particularly the latter). And I still haven’t figured out why the masturbation joke made it into the official blurb, since it’s not a set-up for a sex scene later (which is extra odd given that this is an 18+ series). It’s an odd decision, is all.

Mysteries of marketing aside, I fell in love with the series and have been holding my breath in anticipation of the anime. Studio DEEN seems to have carved out a little niche for itself in BL adaptations, which I’m rather happy about. If BL is going to be a continually short-changed genre in terms of adaptational resources, then it makes sense to give them to a studio that’s spent decades perfecting the art of craft-on-a-budget. I’m delighted to report that the first episode is a beautifully shot little short film that combines filmic artistry with well-executed character beats. It makes me hopeful for the series going forward.

the club president smacks a chalkboard with BL written in big letters

Like any good story-about-stories, Twilight lays a lot of layers for itself to unpack later. Mao is only comfortable being himself in front of a camera; the secondary boys of the film club are casually homophobic in dialogue, but won over by the sweeping romance of the shooting script (which Hisano reads, only to note nobody talks like his character anymore); the question of acceptance for “playing” gay versus being gay hangs in the air, all while Mao struggles with his own feelings. All of which is nice, but wouldn’t mean much if it wasn’t held up by such likable leads.

This first episode books it from the establishment of Mao and Hisashi’s pact to Mao’s realization that he’s actually in love with his roommate, and yet the script manages to tie it all together well as flashbacks and panicked monologue around the inciting incident of the film casting. The visuals don’t move much, as you might expect, but there’s a fair amount of Ando-esque frame-within-frames and some absolutely gorgeous scenic lighting that make you want to sink into the setting. And both the leads are voiced by big-name veterans who already played opposite one another in previous DEEN project Sasaki and Miyano.

Mao thinks of sitting on the bed with a feverish Hisashi. "Huh. Well, I still wasn't scared."

The weakest point of the episode is relying on the “accidental molestation” device as a way to out Hisashi to Mao. I can stretch my suspension of disbelief to a feverishly hallucinating Hisashi pulling Mao into bed with him thinking he’s the teacher Hisashi is pining for (and who seems to be taking advantage of him); having him lick his own tears off Mao’s face before getting smacked into lucidity is just weird and artificial, and feels more so because it leads into a very grounded conversation about stereotypes of queer men as predators. That moment is an outlier in an episode that otherwise deals smartly with casual homophobia and queer desire, which makes it easy to look past.

This is an easy recommendation for queer romance fans. I’m not sure to what degree the series will adapt the more explicit scenes, depending on broadcast restrictions, but based on the source material this is also a good suggestion for those who loved the likes of SasaMiya or given but want something a little less PG-rated. I’ll be glad to have at least one ironclad title to look forward to this season.

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