I have a tiny bit of explaining to do with this one too. Much like Tokyo Love Story (2020), Utsukushii Kare or My Beautiful Man is from 2021. I picked the titles for this challenge late 2019, and swapped my original ‘T’ entry fairly early on. Well the same thing happened again, I realized fairly quickly that my original ‘U’ title 2018’s medical drama Unnatural would not be something I enjoyed. Coupled with the timing, I swapped the titles out and didn’t think too hard about it.
So in case you cared, there’s my explanation. Let’s move forward and talk about Utsukushii Kare!
Hira (Higawara Riku) is a social outcast with a stutter who wants to go unnoticed by everyone and everything. He prefers the view from his camera lens, a safe distance between himself and whatever catches his eye. That is until his third year of high school where Kiyoi Sou (Yagi Yusei) walks through the door. Hira is utterly absorbed in Kiyoi’s beauty, and enigmatic front. Hira also dubs him the unofficial king of the class, himself the lowest on the totem pole. Kiyoi uses this fixation to his advantage, and has Hira be his personal errand boy. Yet Hira seems completely content with this relationship. It’s the adaptation of novel “He, Who is Beautiful” i.e. (美しい彼) by Nagira Yuu.
Context does matter a lot with this title. Nagira Yuu is a straight women, her story has been labeled a BL and originally serialized in 2014. I watched this without subtitles to test my ear so my interpretations of certain elements will be imperfect.
I originally wrote a really long dissection of Utsukushii Kare, because the way the fandom talked about the series showed a deeply flawed understanding of what was being shown on screen.
Utsukushii Kare is not another ‘yummy BL’ live action that’s ‘hot’ and 10/10 recommended.
Utsukushii Kare is also not a completely disgusting trash heap that’s toxic and anyone who likes or gets something out of it is a terrible person.
For me Utsukushii Kare is rather difficult to pin down aside from nebulous nature of it. From what exactly the story is about, to the characters and their dynamics. It’s labelled a BL, but lacks a lot of the troupes and conventions aside from the present female gaze. It’s a bit of a coming of age in the sense that both Hira and Kiyoi are transitioning from emotional high schoolers, into early college but it doesn’t quite lean into that either. It’s more two dudes from two different backgrounds, trying to figure out how they fit together, if they even fit together, as they continue life.
It’s also not quite something I’d label as queer, but gets really close to it. The big reason I say that is, neither Hira nor Kiyoi are gay. Specifically, neither of them label themselves as such, and their ‘true’ sexual orientation is open ended. At best, we can surmise that neither of them had really experienced sexual attraction to anyone, until meeting each other. While Kiyoi is aware of how desirable he is – it’s not until episode four we get full context to who he has been attracted to until then. Hira due to character coding of him being neurodivergent in my opinion, while aware of sexual attraction, didn’t care about it until meeting Kiyoi and experiencing it for the first time. I also appreciate that scene being clear about what it was about but not gratuitous in nature.
Keeping that gray orientation in mind, it’s surprising that Utsukushii Kare manages to avoid drowning in the trends BL. There’s only a handful or intentional skinship and or affection expressed in the series. Any relationship issues are born from miscommunication and misunderstanding, not of spite. While consent is dubious, this is due to them being stupid teen boys, and not intentionally malicious. Surprisingly there’s very little gay panic from either one of them. Hira seems perfectly content to be Kiyoi-sexual. Kiyoi’s feelings are more complicated by trying to pin down what emotions he has towards Hira, rather then any questioning of his sexual orientation.
That being said, Utsukushii Kare does venture into some zones that some viewers might not find comfortable. There’s a very obvious power dynamic that leans in Kiyoi’s favor, and Hira is complacent in participating in. Technically speaking, Kiyoi is in a fact a bully and Hira is his victim. What doesn’t help is that Hira has a rather worrying power fantasy in regards to protecting Kiyoi that simply would not go down well if this was an American production. This dynamic while it never fully goes away it does become more dynamic after they graduate. It’s especially challenged when Koyama Kazuki (Takano Akira) enters the picture as an opposite of Kiyoi.
For elements of the story that aren’t grey – is the cast. I had my doubts about Yagi Yusei as Kiyoi. He certainly looked the part, but I had no expectations of him really being able to back that up with his acting. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how well he did with his delivery as Kiyoi. His physical elements aside, he showed the beginning of a strong screen presence. The scenes where he was alone, were just as compelling as ones where he was working off someone directly. It’s a job well done.
That being said, Yagi Yusei alone wasn’t enough to make this work. Hagiwara Riku was a joy to watch. Hira’s character was interesting and unique to see represented on screen, let alone in a BL, and he did a fantastic job. The important scenes, specifically those where Hira has to express himself in a truly indirect, but honest manner were some of the most thought provoking and heart wrenching ones by far.
Lastly, because I love him so much. Takano Akira as Koyama Kazuki was a character I really was rooting for despite knowing exactly how it would work out for him. Kazuki truly is the character that we all wish we could be when it comes to the type of romance he faced, but alas most of us can’t be. He very much lit up the screen with his energy and served as great jolt of energy for either Kiyoi or Hira to work off of.
In terms of production, Utsukushii Kare is a beautifully curated experiance. I really liked how innocuous but important the rubber duck is. The sets all feel very lived in and natural, from the schools, streets and homes. While the sound design didn’t stand out to me, nor did the soundtrack it’s for the exact reason it works so well since it’s seamless. The camera work was a little standardized aside from the moments where they would frame the shot within Kazuki or Hira’s camera. That I thought was a neat touch, especially since they used two different types of cameras and the specifics on the screen reflected that.
Overall, Utskushii Kare is a solid short series that plays into a lot of BL standards, but is oddly more compelling then most. It’s certainly a series that I savored taking time away from to really process the first half before hitting that second half. I wouldn’t out right recommend it to most people, but if you aren’t too icked out by anything mentioned it’s worth giving a shot.
That was a very nice review. Told me exactly what this drama is about and why one might be interested in it. Not my cup of tea though. Not because of the BL side of it but rather because high school setting with a teen relationship just ain’t really my thing. If this was an ensemble cast with minimal amount of “romantic entanglements”, then I might be interested. 🙂
Btw, Unnatural is not a medical drama but a crime show centered on a team of medical examiners. It’s also one of my fave jdramas of recent years with a great cast and I just loved The Team. It’s a really well made procedural that also has an overarching storyline. Well worth a watch, unless crime shows are a no-go.
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I’m glad it did what it was suppose to do! It was super polarizing when it was airing, so it’s for sure not for everyone.
And thank you! Someone described it to me as one, and I hadn’t properly re-read the description so thank you for the correction. It sounds awesome, from it’s premise (and seems really well liked!) but Crime shows are kinda a no-go for me at the moment. Maybe sometime in the future!
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