REVIEW: Haru’s Curse (2021)

A Manga by Asuka Konishi

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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Natsumi’s little sister Haru was her whole world—and now she’s gone. After the funeral, Natsumi reluctantly agrees to date her sister’s fiancé Togo. But as their relationship develops with the passing seasons, Haru’s memory lingers over them like a curse. Asuka Konishi’s English-language debut is a nuanced and affecting portrait of the conflict between romantic and familial love, and of the hard choices that face us all in making our lives our own.

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I usually stay clear of romance manga because its generally childish, basically pornography for men, or entirely comprised of slapstick comedy, usually taking place in high school, and is so far distanced from my life that its like me watching Disney Channel sitcoms meant for children. I gravitated towards reading Haru’s Curse for two reasons: I love atypical art styles in anime/manga, and the description sounded mature and somewhat thrilling for a romance manga.

The art style thing comes from my distaste of how most anime has looked for the last decade or so, I’ll likely upset people here, but I feel most of the Moe Manga boom from 2008 onwards looks the same and tells the same stories, and this style has infiltrated just about every non-shonen property. The tall, angular art style in Haru’s Curse reminds me of CLAMP or its derivatives upwards of 20 years ago. I love it when manga artists are willing to move away from the stylistic norm, even if it’s a throw-back of sorts. Usually, to me, its a sign of quality. and it definitely was.

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Storyline-wise, the way Asuka Konishi writes is refreshing. Most romance manga follow the tried-and-true cliched plot of 1) girl lusts over dreamy and brooding guy 2)he has mysterious past 3) they go headlong into love 4) some obstruction gets in the way 4) they work through it and are together, or in some cases the main characters die etc. It gets tiresome and seems too formulaic. This story is somewhat flipped on its head as it jumps point of view a few times, even telling the story from the male protagonist’s POV a few times. The couple in question only start “dating” as some sort of mourning for Natsumi’s younger sister Haru, who has died of cancer. Once they meet a requirement of her proposal, that Togo takes her to all the places that he enjoyed with Haru, their relationship abruptly ends. Or at least, that’s what they think. I don’t plan to spoil everything, don’t worry!

All of the main characters are written as real people, none are “Mary-Sue” perfect people, and each has flaws. Seeing the story from all points of view was great, and gave depth to everyone. This comic deals with issues like arranged marriages, familiar pressure, and even Japanese societal norms that really leaves you on the edge of your seat like any good drama would. I don’t normally say this about this genre, but I think this has been my favorite manga of the year so far, and I will try to find a way to read the author’s previous work, Raise wa Tanin ga Ii (something like: I’d Prefer It If We’re Strangers in Our Next Life).

Nineteen19 (1990) OVA

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One genre of anime that was definitely done better in the past was the romance genre. Today, a lot of productions that could be considered “romance” often have little drive or story to move the plot along. Often times “harem anime” and ”moe anime” dominate the market, and pander to a very select crowd of fans. While there are definitely “diamonds in the rough” many of these shows are soulless commercial money grabs, created to fill time on a TV schedule. We will be discussing a romance show of a different color in today’s review, considering this genre is nearly extinct from anime today – The shounen romance. That’s right folks, today we will be looking at a romantic comedy / drama from the perspective of an eligible bachelor looking for love.

Nineteen19 is an obscure studio Madhouse production directed by Koichi Chigira (Venus Wars, Kimagure Orange Road, Tokyo Babylon etc.) Based on a manga by Sho Kitagawa (Blue Butterfly Fish) that was published in Weekly Young Jump. The story follows a young restaurant worker named Kobuta, who despite having all the opportunities any man would dream of, has never really been in a serious relationship with a girl.

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And sticking to the major trope that all teen dramas and comedies are based, everyone is concerned that he is still a virgin at age 19. Women are basically throwing themselves at him due to the way his friends tell everyone at every turn about his plight, and he will have none of it. That is until he meets the love of his life, an old junior high school friend named Masana that moved to Tokyo and became a successful model. It seems she has recently become available, and Kobuta sees this as his chance to make the move that he never had the guts for before.

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The main thing I like about Nineteen19 is that it’s told from the point of view of Kobuta, but doesn’t devolve into the over-the-top machismo and borderline misogyny that one could expect from a modern male centered romance story. He’s a stoic dude and somewhat emotional – thus more realistic than what one sees in Hollywood films. While his fling with Masana is somewhat ephemeral, one feels really happy for the guy when everything starts clicking into place. Although I will warn that this anime has a bittersweet ending, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s all lollipops and unicorns for 45 minutes.

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Aside from Kobuta and Masana, the cast is not very fleshed out. We get to see both of their respective groups of friends, Masana’s ex-boyfriend, and Kobuta’s boss, but only briefly. Kobuta’s boss is especially strange for his penchant for groping everyone’s hindquarters in a creepy, and yet somehow innocent way. A little bit of explanation for that would have been nice! That’s the problem with older anime OVAs, the short duration (this clocks in at around 45 mins) means that only the most important things get fleshed out. We get to see the romance between the two main characters and that’s all that matters.

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One thing that makes this anime significant is the use of music, and more specifically the interesting music video cutaways inter-spliced into the film. This was made in 1990, so you can expect early 90’s club music and contemporary pop of the era. The music was created by Toshiki Kadomatsu, a popular R&B singer and songwriter that has released quite a few albums, and is still releasing music today. Here is a sample of one of the videos:

Nineteen19 is pretty hard to come by. It’s an old, unlicensed, OVA from over twenty years ago, so a domestic DVD release is laughably implausible. The film gained prominence in the early 90’s through anime clubs and tape traders, and is essentially kept alive by them today. I found a fan-sub on YouTube that I have posted below so you can also enjoy the film. It has a few spelling mistakes here and there,but it gets the job done. YouTube has really become the place to find obscure anime such as this, finding this even five years ago would have resulted in hours on torrent sites and other irritations.

Nineteen19 is a slice of life anime that brings a strange sense of nostalgia over me. I was too young to be able to identify with Kobuta at the time, but I think it really brings out what a real relationship can be like. Our culture has left tons of would-be romantics assuming that they should be attempting to re-create scenes from popular Hollywood films to win affections from the other half, a feat that usually will get the person into trouble in real life. This aspirational brainwashing has made people forget what a real romance can be like: false starts, awkwardness, and misunderstandings. If you want to see something different, and enjoy slice of life anime, watch Nineteen19, I think you’ll dig it.