Yes, No, or Maybe Movie

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Based on the novel of the same name by Michi Ichiho (which is available in English translation from Seven Seas), Yes, No, or Maybe? follows the romance of Ushio Tsuzuki, a stop-motion animator, and Kei Kunieda, a TV newscaster. The film is a good distillation of the source material and manages to hit all of the salient points of the novel without indulging in some of the side plots or bits and pieces that may have been more difficult to animate, although that does inevitably cut out or reduce the roles of many of the side characters, leaving only Kunieda and Tsuzuki to carry the entire fifty-three-minute film.

This works better than you might expect. In part, of course, it's due to the genre – BL or otherwise, most romance is driven primarily by the relationship between two people. While there often are rivals and other peripheral players, they aren't strictly necessary, so Yes, No, or Maybe? is already set up to work in this condensed format simply by virtue of its genre designation. It also helps that Kunieda is his own rival for Tsuzuki's affections. Kei Kunieda is a man with two faces, one front-facing and the other more interior. He puts on a very good show at work of being a kind, charming man, but the entire time his inner self is screaming sarcastic comments and being decidedly less of a nice guy. He feels that he needs to hide this true self because of his job, and so he basically puts on a mask every time he leaves the house in his smart suit. To unwind, he trades his suit for sweats and hides his face with a mask and glasses when he goes out. Although he doesn't say it, going out as his more comfortable self is something he needs to do, perhaps to remind himself that it's okay to be who he feels he really is – just not when he's on the job.

Essentially, though, it means that he meets Tsuzuki for the first time twice. Chronologically, the first time is in his newscaster role, when he goes to interview Tsuzuki about his process. Later he quite literally bumps into him when he accidentally goes to cross the street when the light is red and Tsuzuki hits him with his bicycle. As far as the animator knows, he's meeting two separate people, Kunieda and “Owari,” something which Kunieda likes at first but begins to find restricting as he falls for Tsuzuki and realizes that without Tsuzuki being aware of his act, he's turned into his own rival in a situation that's simultaneously a love triangle and a more straightforward romance, one which of course hinges on Tsuzuki's ability to ultimately see through Kunieda's disguise(s) and discover the real man underneath.

Both Kunieda and Tsuzuki are lonely people, although they show it in different ways, and Kunieda adds a dash of anxiety to his mental state. That this isn't overtly stated in the film makes it work well – we see instead that he values routine to the point where he even orders the same thing from the same restaurant most nights and carries around a pronunciation dictionary bristling with bookmarks as a security blanket. He's good at his job, but he doesn't really see it, in part because he does feel so much like he's putting on an act in order to do it. Tsuzuki, meanwhile, is a fiddler – he tugs at his tie, doodles on calendars and in books, and turns in his chair – lots of little behaviors that indicate his mood and personality. He's better at coping mechanisms than Kunieda is, but that's at least in part because his job is so different; he works alone most of the time and rarely has to be “on.” That he jumps at the chance to have “Owari” work with him or just hang out at his place says just as much as Kunieda's dictionary about his state of mind.

With so much riding on their performances, as the film is largely an extended dialogue between Kunieda and Tsuzuki, it's important to note that both Atsushi Abe (Kunieda) and Yoshihisa Kawahara (Tsuzuki) do a remarkable job. The film never feels dull or protracted, and Abe's vocal shifts between what are essentially three Kuniedas (work, home, and screaming internal chibi) are especially good. The background music is somewhat less successful, consisting of near-constant soft violin and piano tracks that start to get a little grating after a while, but it does try to be unobtrusive.

There is one major fly in the ointment, however, and that's one that carries over from the source novel as well – a non-consensual sex scene. Kunieda explicitly asks Tsuzuki to stop multiple times during the scene only to be answered with things like “you got off, so now you have to get me off” and “nope, too late, not stopping.” While this is hardly unique to BL (readers of western romance novels may be familiar with it from so-called “old school” romances), it certainly isn't doing the film any favors and drastically decreases the sweetness factor of the story. It isn't an explicit scene, but it is a troubling one. Technically you could skip it or stop the film just before hand and still get the whole feel of the movie, so if that's a deal-breaker for you, the option is there.

That scene aside, Yes, No, or Maybe? is a very nice film. It's treatment of Kunieda coming to understand that there are people who will accept him warts and all is well done, as is how he finds emotional strength in his relationship with Tsuzuki. It ends with room for a sequel (and there are more novels in the series), but even if this is all we get, it leaves us with a solid enough ending to be rewarding.

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