This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series Total Eclipse of the Eternal Heart. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to murder, death, bullying, homomisia, violence, blood, statutory rape/pedophilia, grooming, and suicidal ideation, as it appears in the manga.
Terumichi is in love with his mysterious classmate Yamada, who just appeared in his life one day. Yamada is strange and imposing but dangerously beautiful and one of the few people who have been kind to Terumichi. His unique disposition makes him all the more alluring to Terumichi, and in the end, he can't help being drawn to Yamada. After an abrupt confession, Yamada and Terumichi seem on the cusp of romance when a stranger with a knife appears.
Terumichi does everything he can to protect Yamada, but in the end, Yamada is stabbed to death. Terumichi is in a panic, calling an ambulance, even though it's clear by the amount of blood that Yamada isn't going to survive. Yet, somehow, Yamada gets right up and walks away as if nothing ever happened, whispering a cryptic sentence:
“Only two left.”
Terumichi would be better off cutting his losses and moving on, but he just can't forget Yamada.
The art is very old school. The style gives me Ranma 1/2 vibes, though the art is where the similarities end. It makes everyone appear much younger than they actually are, which I would usually say is a bad thing in a story with sex and rape involved, but it makes everything that happens all the more heinous and, in turn, really emphasizes just how terrible Kuroiwa was in the past (and really, still is). Seeing these innocent young boys being taken advantage of by someone they look up to and groomed is stomach-turning, which is ideal for a horror manga. This classic style helps build up the creepiness of this story, something I didn't anticipate until I started reading it. The tone is dark and eerie from beginning to end.
However, as much as I appreciate how the art style works in favor of the horror genre, I have to gripe a bit about how the BL genre is used. I totally understand that this is BL because it is a relationship between two boys, but I am once again faced with the incongruence of the “love” aspect of that genre. This is not love in any sense of the word, and, in turn, it isn't romance, which I would consider BL to be a subgenre of. Terumichi (or Shou) talk about love, but they act on feelings groomed and manipulated by their love interest. Of course, Kuroiwa has reincarnated and is perpetually stuck as a teen (named Yamada), but he is still the adult Kuroiwa and is just as manipulative and groom-y to Terumichi as he was to his former incarnation, Shou. I just wish we had a different term for BL without the “love” part, as it feels disingenuous for some titles.
I do love the parallels between Kuroiwa's life in the past, being in power, steadily killing off each boy that loved him until he killed Shou and the steady build-up of Kuroiwa being killed by his victims until he ends up with Shou as Terumichi in the end. It's amazing to see the switch of power dynamics between Kuroiwa and Shou. The story suggests that Shou is meant to kill Kuroiwa just like all of his other victims, but in the end, it turns out that they are on equal footing, as Shou truly loved Kuroiwa enough that he was happy to be reincarnated with him and able to die with him, just as he was fine to go to jail with him in the past after being an accomplice. There is also an interesting parallel with the sex they have. In the past, Kuroiwa was on top, while in the present day, Shou puts himself on top. Being the recipient or otherwise wouldn't typically come with power dynamics, but it's often the case in manga and other forms of BL. It shows that in the end, Shou always had the power, as he loved Kuroiwa enough to die with him – the eternal love Kuroiwa was always pining after and memorializing in his writing.
While I do love the parallels, I'm not as big of a fan of the ending as I thought I would be. It feels a bit anticlimactic for all the sadness that was built up. I hate that while all of the victims end up forgetting their past lives and moving on after killing Kuroiwa in the present, Shou and Kuroiwa just disappear altogether like they never existed. I understand why since Shou was an accomplice and, thus, guilty in his own way, but I felt it wasn't enough. I would have liked to have seen them reincarnate again, with Shou once again pining after and pursuing Kuroiwa while Kuroiwa tried his best to regain the power he lost in their dynamic. In my opinion, it would have been more justified, but here we are. It's not bad. It's just not my favorite ending.
This was very, very interesting. I love it when we see horror pop up in the BL genre, as I think it's very underutilized, though I am seeing more come up. If you're looking for romance or smut, this isn't it. The sex is not meant to be sexy. The romance is not romantic. It's all a form of power, control, and manipulation, heinous and tragic tools. I love the darkness and how intricately the present and the past reflect each other. I wouldn't quite call it a favorite, but it's a good one. I definitely think this is worth giving a try.
Have you read Total Eclipse of the Eternal Heart? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!