Nineteen 19 (Japan, 1990)

Tokyo, circa 1990. Kubota, part-time baker, and young third member of a group of Tokyo roomies lives the idyllic life firmly poised in between childhood and adulthood, often spotting attractive members of the opposite sex on street, and finding himself unable to resist asking for dates (even traffic cops aren’t safe from Kubota and pals). With few worries elsewhere in his life, simply enjoying his post-high school existence seems laced with many a group outing in search for love & perhaps adventure. This simple lifestyle is suddenly shaken up, and given a sudden case of coming of age in Studio Madhouse’s little regarded Original Video Animation (OVA), Nineteen 19.

More of a period curio than any kind of traditional narrative, and based on the manga (pictured left) by Shou Kitagawa, Nineteen 19 shares a portrait in the life of Kubota, whose life as an on-the-prowl single guy has hit a sudden change of dumb luck upon being reunited with the first girl he ever fell for. During another among many nights clubbing with his roommates, he runs unexpectedly into his once middle school sweetheart, and now stunningly attractive Masana Fujisaki after defending her from several catty cohorts. His bold, perhaps laughably naïve action places him firmly back into her sights. Turns out she has recently been on the outs from a long relationship, a topic which she seems adamant at avoiding talking about in front of Kubota, who can only rejoice in the opportunity borne out of this chance meeting. Fujisaki, now actively modeling, pines for the seemingly simple life Kubota has as a part time worker away from the pressures of her life. And thus is the core of this forty-minute piece produced during the heyday of the OVA format; a time when enough production capital existed to foster shows as wafer thin as this. But in no small way, Nineteen 19 also successfully captures the latter days of Japan’s economic bubble, and the at times carefree lives of those at its fashionable center.

With Kubota’s mind actively wavering between his memories of her as a major part of his middle school days, and the revelations of the woman she has grown to become, it becomes clear that she at least seems to have bested him in regards to worldliness. It is only when Fujisaki’s more complex nature begins to feel suspect, that Nineteen 19 carries with that bittersweet reminder, one can never truly continue where childhood left off. It is very clear that despite Kubota’s seemingly mature situation of living away from family, he remains virtually childlike when placed next to Fujisaki, who obviously masks her similar disposition with a shell of maturity. It is this dynamic that very much serves as the piece’s one true emotional gambit. Both are very much still children, but approach this delicate stage quite differently.

Anime veteran Koichi Chigiri keeps the techniques coming at a smooth, and often stream of consciousness manner of clip, covering Kubota’s days rekindling old feelings, which is in keeping with it’s clearly MTV/VH1 inspired aura. Also an unexpected element are a series of music video-like montages to compliment the story’s major beats, leaving the animators room to experiment freely with seemingly whatever they wanted. Having seen this technique before in a few other productions from this period, it’s unquestionably late 1980s in virtually every frame of this 40-minute piece. Studio Madhouse, while certainly working on a smaller scale than they would later come to be known for, dole out a decent amount of creative visuals. (A favorite involving Kubota at a pay phone, which involved numerous posts to break in between frames of the same quiet, ponderous moment.) In retrospect, this video remains something of a crucial artifact of a time open to tackling subject matter with not only a sense of patent honesty, but of unbridled style. Something even more rare today than it was twenty-two years back.

Also worth noting here are early vocal performances by several soon-to-be well regarded talents such as Masaya Onosaka (pictured right), Kappei Yamaguchi & Koichi Yamadera. All the while, a personal favorite in Hiromi Tsuru delivers another memorable turn as the conflicted Fujisaki. While not terribly heavy in story, drama, or even various anime-isms, Nineteen 19 exists as that rare type of work that could only have come from a nation’s most prosperous period. Poppy and pensive, it is a brief excursion worth seeking out. Has long been out of print, and has never received a US license release, but is findable if one knows where to look.

Mike Olivarez hails from Southern California, and fancies himself a walking, growing pain. A remnant of the analog era’s last generation, and a former gofer for the anime man, he continues to struggle to make sense of the media absurd.  Mike is the blogmaster of both The Wandering Kaijyu & Cel Count Media, as well as contributor to Anime Diet.