Zetsuai 1989 Review

Title: Zetsuai 1989 / Desperate Love & Zetsuai Since 1989 / Bronze Zetsuai 1989 / Desperate Love 2
Length: 2 x 50~ minute episodes
Genre: Romance, drama, music, sports, did I say drama?
Year of release: 1992 & 1996

With Zetsuai 1989, it’s really easy to throw up your arms and exclaim ‘what a load of tosh!’ It is exceptionally silly. That musty melodramatic tone knows few bounds as it goes further and further still into despair and euphoria. There’s blood and sex. Confessions of love and hate are life and death. Zetsuai 1989 goes further than simply melodramaticism – this is old-school operatic.

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I think what’s calling for the most suspension of disbelief is the character’s ages. Koji is the depressed, chainsmoking, playboy superstar singer – at the ripe age of 16! What pulls him out of his eternal melancholy is a boy; Izumi is a top-tier high school footballer who can, essentially (and at one point, virtually does), win games on his own. After a chance encounter that results in Koji in Izumi’s care, Koji instantly falls in love and pursues the other boy, fooling himself that it is simply out of a sense of responsibility. There’s a little bit of internalised homophobia tackled as he comes to terms with his feelings, and a whole lot of melodramatic drivel as he battles his way closer.

There’s multiple traffic incidents. There’s showbiz drama. There’s the looming question mark of their differing dreams. Hell, there’s even unresolved childhood abuse trauma! Every melodramatic plot-point you could think of is here, but you know what? I welcome it. The stylistic colour palette and heavy tone feels borrowed from a crime noir, but that insistence of gloominess ends up giving such weightiness to the operatic confessions and love spiel. Yes, it’s silly; yes, it’s a little contrived, but the feeling here is bittersweet, intense and, ultimately, heartpounding.

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It hits the climaxes so well that I could forgive a few instances of incoherent storytelling (that, due to the occasional ‘dream sequence’, can be difficult to be clear on what’s going). Not only do many plot-points feel underutilised, but the shift between the first and second OVA can be quite jarring with the entire production and acting roster changing – sans the lead actors. In fact, during the second OVA, the character designs and vocal delivery shifted so much that I didn’t notice the recurring secondary characters!

Still, Zetsuai 1989 is a piece of history. It was only just beaten to the title of ‘first proper BL anime’ by a handful of months, yet this is the one more representative of the genre’s evolution. Unrealistic? Very. Intense? Like sitting on knives. Powerful? Like a bludgeon. Zetsuai 1989 is that kind of mediocrely written, murky coloured romance, yes, but it has enough oomph to be something for the ages – even if it’s so knee-deep in tropes that it almost certainly won’t win over new fans.

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