Here’s the fondest memory I have of Kumota Haruko.
I was running around Osaka station, trying to get my google maps to work just to find the exit to Denden town. I had a Shinkansen to catch. I was hungry. I was lugging my luggage around because lockers were unavailable. At this point, I’m running on adrenaline as I found my way out of the stations, rushed towards Animate, and finally found the limited release of Itoshi no Nekokke vol. 3 that came with a tote bag. After a 5 minute run to animate, I headed back to the station and took my scheduled Shinkansen, out of breath and giggling in my seat as I leisurely read Mii and Kei flirting in their home.
At that point, I realised that I was willing to do everything to read Haruko Kumota’s work.
A HILARIOUSLY TRAGIC DARLING
There’s something quite deceptive about Kumota Haruko titles. Like a cheeky pop song, you’re caught by the hook. You can see this through the cheeky smile of her main characters. The exuberant energy that lifts your spirits as they try to learn the world of the story. The tidbit versions of this can be read in Nobara and When we were in the Rose Forest, where you’re drawn by the first few moments and then there’s that subtle shift that changes everything. A tired face. A weary smile. An odd situation. Or even an awkward silence. Alarm bells are ringing but you just can’t let it go.
Kumota’s story and art make you feel safe. She makes sure that you’re already cozy and under the covers. By the time she starts twisting her story, your feet are already planted and you cannot move. You don’t exactly want to leave even when you know that she will wring your emotions, twist from happiness to heartache, sadness to melancholy, curiosity to pleasure.
This narrative pace is easier to digest in her short stories. The commitment to Kumota’s bittersweet stories is bite-sized. Longer stories such as Itoshi no Nekokkeand Descending Stories are more drawn out. She brings you into the daily lives of the characters so much so that it also becomes a part of your everyday. You’ll find their cheery lives and enthusiasm adorable. From time to time you’ll see that faint smile. It raises one’s curiosity but Kumota pushes you to overlook it. Not now. Fall in love with everyone first. When your heart is full of love for these characters, she gently peels them apart until they are vulnerable to you.
This process is heartbreaking. When she did this in Itoshi no Nekokke, I found myself in tears in the middle of the night. Otaru felt like a different space because it reminded me of the rawness of Kei’s emotions and Mii’s silent heartbreaks. I felt a silent conversation with Kumota, asking if I will still love them after. Of course, I will. Even if they’re in hell, I will.
Perhaps the saving grace with Kumota is she ends her tragedies on a positive note. LIke that AO3 tag Angst but with a Happy Ending, Kumota rewards her readers for going through the motions of her stories. Some end sweet. Some naughty. But definitely, all her characters will become your darlings.
A CUTE SEDUCTION
Maybe I should just outrightly say how much Kumota Haruko betrays me because her stories are not the only ones that deceive me. Her art is just as rightfully deceptive.
They are so cute. So adorable. A part of her style takes me back to 1970s manga where you have tongues drawn as hearts. Where characters naturally shift from their detailed features to their adorably cartoonish reactions. Her art brightens the page in ways that pay homage to classic shōjo techniques while bringing the cleanliness of modern manga. Her water-coloured pages are just a delight to see. Her art is as darling as her story.
And then, her characters’ expressions change. And then I feel fucked.
There are artists you zoom through quickly because you want the story to move forward. Kumota Haruko makes you think that you could zoom past her story until that moment where her characters seize you and seduce you to pay attention. All of a sudden, you just can’t look away. You don’t even want to flip a page because you want to pay attention to every detail that she’s drawn. From the lewd sound effects or where fingers are being slipped, or even the barren landscape of a bus station in the middle of winter, your eyes are suddenly glued to the page and you’re hesitant to move forward because you want to catch every little detail.
Especially when she draws sex scenes. How can something to cute look so lewd?
The sex scenes in her BL works are just fantastic. She manages to balance her kinks within a story that is adorably digestible. And again, take that with a grain of salt because some of her stories, such as Shinjuku Lucky Hole, will seriously make you reconsider your own notions of romance or even question your moral compass. This is where artistic style is not bound to a specific narrative. Although she does use it to her strength in her early BL works and Itoshi no Nekokke, her later works such as Shinjuku Lucky Hole, Descending Stories, and When we were in the Rose Forest shows how Kumota’s cute style does not trap her within a specific narrative. She can draw something naughty when needed. Or something serious when she wants to get her point across.
A CASUAL ELEGANCE
If there is an author who manages to make the mundane elegant and romantic, I think that’ll be Kumota Haruko. Her works are approachable. Her characters are endearing. Her stories are not too complex. Okay, Descending Stories is a bit messed up but my point is her stories may appear casual but they are wonderfully and elegantly written.
In her interview in BL Mangaka Love Scene-gatari, Kumota Haruko talks about the importance of pace and tempo in drawing scenes and her stories. Nothing feels out of place because of Kumota’s careful attention through her readers’ journey. She wants us to enjoy the trip. Have a good laugh. Maybe reflect on a poignant moment. Or get horny with a nasty one. This deliberate care and balance in her narratives make her work both elegant and casual. You feel pampered as her reader yet in no way does she make you feel uncomfortable with her stories. If anything, she wants you to cozy up and enjoy her story.
For the longest while, I’ve been shouting for Kumota Haruko on twitter and back when I was still very active on this blog, I wanted to write a spotlight for her yet found it troubling that her works are inaccessible in English. Thankfully, some of her best works have now been translated and is available for people to read.
Champloo stems from chanpurū, an Okinawan word for 'something mixed' but can also stand for 'easy-going'. Taking inspiration from Samurai Champloo, this site is a mish mash of things that makes Khursten an otaku.