Toshoshitsu no Neversista
On the last stormy night of summer, a student died.
Being fully aware of a storm taking place and knowing what havoc it would wreak on the river and its banks, he went towards it with camera in hand for the purpose of taking photographs. However, when night fell he still hadn’t returned to his dorm. As a search party was carried out, all that remained on the bank was his lone camera. Not giving up, the frantic search continued. After several days of this, the only trace of him that could be found were his shoes. It was almost, as if he had been swallowed up by the darkness.
While it was ultimately dismissed as a water related accident due to the summer storm, in the wake of this announcement a disturbing rumour arose, which happened to involve the other five inhabitants of the building the ‘cursed’ boy once lived in…
While I’ve had Neversista for quite a while, it’s only recently I decided to tackle it. A 2010 title from doujin group TARHS, it tells the story of a young teacher named Makihara and the lives of the students he becomes embroiled with. It’s located in the depths of the mountains, and so he’s unaware of the mysteries which envelop it. He’s sent to live in what’s known as the ‘ghost building’ where once, a student supposedly disappeared with only his shoes left behind as proof of his being there. Was he spirited away? Cursed, perhaps? No matter the true reason, no trace of him could be found. And so, many years passed to the point where many forgot his name. As the building underwent repairs, he was eventually found… As a skeleton. Or so the rumour goes, anyway. From the synopsis we know it’s a warped version of what actually happened that night. It’s what rumours do, especially eerie ones which can so easily warp into urban legends. The very kind of urban legend used to scare new teachers. The building’s other inhabitants are a sullen group of teenagers, far too mature for their age who are eager to get rid of Makihara for some reason. With each of them having a rather sour disposition, we learn their ranks are missing a member with the student who went missing, having previously lived there.
Running parallel to Makihara’s story is Kentarou’s. A reporter in his twenties, he’s drawn to the same school Makihara goes to teach at after receiving a letter which may or may not have something to do with the disappearance of his younger brother and the subject of all the rumours – Seishirou. Once Kentarou reaches the school he’s thwacked across the head with the blunt object. He understandably, gets knocked out. On waking up, he finds himself locked in a room faced with a group of teenagers who refuse to let him go. Even worse, they knew his brother and are as equally reluctant to dish out any information involving him.
Our first protagonist is Makihara, an earnest English teacher that can be rather scatterbrained at times. Even so, he has a good heart. Seriously a great guy, and will be there to help someone no matter what. He’s not the kind of teacher who’d scowl and belittle someone, being the kind who believes everyone is truly good at heart – no matter what kind of nasty stuff they’re involved in. He’ll listen to any problems the students may have, even if it’s something trivial. With his natural do-gooder nature, at times he can’t read the atmosphere. But, he still means well. Despite appearances (as is the case with the entirety of Neversista‘s cast), he holds a serious trauma which runs parallel with Kentarou’s quest to find Seishirou.
Our second protagonist is arguably the more fascinating character, the elder brother of the boy who died. That immediately makes the reader sit up straight and pay special attention to his actions, compared to the novice teacher. Kentarou works as a journalist for a weekly magazine, and is investigating the death of Seishirou. He’s a blunt fellow, but calculative. After being captured he meticulously thinks through every opportunity and seizes any chance that dangles in front of him, no matter how slim the chances of it working are. Compared to the good-natured Makihara he’s more heroic and willing to throw himself into something potentially dangerous. He doesn’t bother with the names of the boys at first, giving them derogatory nicknames like ‘forehead’ and ‘okama’.
As Makihara fumbles through his interactions with the staff and residents of the ghost building both outside and inside, Kentarou is held captive in a room away from him and everyone else. It initially seems like Kentarou is the only one with a solid goal in mind, limited to the room and people bringing him food everyday. Panic sets in. How on earth can he possibly get to the bottom of his brother’s disappearance if he can’t even explore…? One of the draws in watching their lives unfold is the possibility that he and Makihara may someday meet, and be able to help each other. Then again, it could also go completely pear-shaped.
Miharu is the ringleader of sorts, the group’s cheerleader whenever things go sour. He wants nothing more than for everyone to get along and possesses insight when it comes to people and how they interact. But despite his usually chipper nature, he can be rather unsure about things and needs constant reassurance. Deeply unhappy at his core, he envies fairy tale figures such as Tinkerbell who he feels was able to make themselves useful. An inferiority complex to be sure, stemming from many things, one being that he’s an orphan. As a result, he’s used to people discriminating against him and thinking he’s ‘different’ – a natural troublemaker. At times, he has a weirdly mature facial expression which can even perturb other adults.
Neversista opens in media res with a group of thugs in the midst of beating a man up, some of which who coldly observe their victim through a haze of cigarette smoke. When a CG of the offenders are shown, we can’t help but be taken aback for the faces we’re shown are the same ones adorning its cover. They end up bringing the man, who we learn is Kentarou, to a room in their house. There he is completely dehumanised and treated like an animal, chained for good measure with the room essentially becoming his kennel. With the premise revolving around a murder, your suspicions can’t help but be diverted to them. You get the feeling that they were all in on it, and that the brother is next. Your suspicions are further cemented once you learn Kentarou came to the school on receiving an oh so convenient letter, getting caught not too long after arriving. The characters won’t hesitate to initiate a fight with him, and one of them goes so far as to strangle Kentarou while he’s taking a bath. He’s regularly forced to ingest sleeping medicine. But none of this should come as a surprise. After all, kids are monsters, right?
Let us take another look at these ‘monsters’, this time taking their situations into account. They are a group of people, a group of teenagers who have been deeply affected by the death of someone they all dearly treasured and cared for. People who are constantly on edge around each other, petty squabbles and nasty remarks muttered under breath aplenty. The rift is noticeable with Kentarou noting early on that their mutual mistrust will possibly prove fatal. After all, if they can’t forge a bond with each other, how can they possibly handle the kidnapping of a fully grown man? Keeping this in mind, a clearer idea forms. Maybe they weren’t all in on it together – maybe one out of the five is the culprit who killed Kentarou’s brother?
And so Neversista‘s key mystery arises – which of them killed Seishirou, and for what purpose? As Saki said, “there are liars within our midst”, a statement met with visible discomfort and stress from the other four, despite it being something that they had all been privately thinking. Seishirou’s death resulted in whatever pretense of a friendship they had to fall apart. When members of a group come to rely on a single person, their attention gravitates towards them. Once that person leaves, they realize that they have formed a group with people who weren’t really friends to begin with. Things grow awkward. It’s not a case as simple as death bringing people together – if anything, it’s what drives them apart. These characters may play at being adults, but deep down they’ve all been deeply affected by the presence of this person. And what causes them to really turn on each other, is the notion that one of them is responsible for it.
Once Makihara enters the residence he has to face this stifling atmosphere. Rumours are rife involving these so-called delinquents, such as them setting a room on fire for the hell of it. They’ll casually lie to him without hesitation. In the midst of a scuffle with Kentarou, one leads Makihara outside and says that he shouldn’t come in jussst yet, because they’re in the middle of planning a welcoming party for him. The group are able to turn it around in their favour still, deliberately getting him absolutely shitfaced to take advantage of him through a conveniently taken photograph – ready to be used at any time. And so, even without being aware of these malicious acts Makihara becomes torn. How can people treat students who are obviously good at heart so shamefully…? As he’s met with hostile reactions, he feels powerless, as if he’s unable to help even a single one of them. Little does he know what they’re doing to Kentarou in another part of the building, eh? While Makihara continues to wonder whether he can trust them the reader is of a similar mindset. Are they truly monsters that think nothing about confining a person and stripping them of their rights, or are they lost children who have been overtaken by grief? Will Makihara (and the reader) end up believing in the students? What constitutes as someone turning into a monster, anyway?
Does it refer to someone who’s deviated from society, in turn bringing shame to their family? How about someone who has a different attitude compared to those around them? It’s not just kids that are the poisonous ones here. Far from it. Every character has a weaker, uglier side to them. The worthy moral guardian who leads, the cool hero, and the upstanding member of the community whose purpose is to listen are all dangerous in their own right. In a world where a child desperately wants to be believed how can they possibly place their faith in a corrupt adult who casually dismisses them and ignores any cry for help?
If someone who they look up to rejects them – someone who’s like a god in their small, glossy eyes – they’ll feel abandoned. It’s obvious. The person doesn’t have to be anything special, really. But they’ll still mean the world to them. Anything could quite literally do. On this stark rejection, they feel oppressed, and grow to view adults as The Enemy. And so, a contradiction arises. Turning away from who they should be relying on, they struggle and end up taking on burdens far too heavy for their weak hearts. It ends up destroying their purity, warping their innocent ideals. In wanting to be different from the adults they detest, they revolt and ironically, end up just like them and no longer see the world as a place of wonder and possibilities.
Neversista‘s characters swagger around the place, casually slugging beer from cans gripped with their small hands, speaking in a rough manner. They lie in order to get someone’s attention. Fights are started with the goal of drawing people apart, selfishly, with little regard for how the other party feels. Murder and the act of disposing someone are talked of without batting a single eyelid. Yet, they simply cannot cope without the support and input of the figures they both detest and revere. In order to keep us on the ‘right’ path while we’re younger, adults are essential. It’s not a bad thing to rely on them, for it’s what they’re there for. After all, children aren’t the only ones being oppressed. Makihara faces subtle bullying from the staff on a day-to-day basis for no reason. He’s put in charge of cleaning the school’s roof on the day of the festival, a place no one would think of visiting when so many activities are taking place. When he decides to stand up for himself, things get rather messy.
How do the wrongs committed against you at an age before you even realize they’re wrong manage to affect you, if at all? Will you let something that happened in your past seize hold of your present self? Neversista‘s characters handle this in different ways. Some conspire to drag everyone down with them as some sort of misguided quest for revenge while others strive to better everyone’s life. Even if the world is seemingly filled with malice, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Makihara comments that there’s something off with their school – with the teachers, students, and dormitory. While it’s not something particularly obvious, there’s malice seeping between the cracks. Here the assailant is the victim, and the victim is the assailant.
While amateurish, the art does grow on you – yes, even its sausage fingers and bizarrely slit pupils. With the CGs in particular you can tell a lot of love was poured into them, colours and shading reminiscent of those artists on Pixiv who try to emulate an anime’s style. The CGs do really give that fresh off the air vibe. Each character has several tachi-e, but they’re limited in poses and expressions. One CG shows a usually kempt character with messy hair and glasses, but when it reverts to his tachi-e it’s his regular old one with slicked back hair. The backgrounds are the usual blurry-photo-with-a-filter-slapped-over-them affair (although one or two of the blue tinted ones gave me uncomfortable flashbacks to the Tsui no Sora amusement in Subarashiki Hibi; during such scenes I half expected Makihara to come across a calendar on the wall saying it was 1999).
The score is yet another aspect of Neversista I feel conflicted on. It had some beautiful tracks, no doubt about that, but they were overplayed. Outside of the insert songs, I honestly felt that there were five, six tracks max because they played so bloody often! Tracks hilariously unfitting to the scene would play for far longer than they should making it difficult to become fully engrossed. No, TARHS. That melancholy ‘one size fits all’ piano track will simply not do during a relatively upbeat school festival, despite what you may think. Many of the tracks were performed by Yusuke Tsutsumi, including the brilliantly intense ‘Eden’ which conjures up one of the more suspenseful and well written scenes involving a fantastically manipulative conversation. ‘Suicide Beauty Girl’ was the de facto ‘welp, everything has pretty much gone to shit’ theme. Frost’s insert songs ’13’ and ‘五色の虹’ would have been more effective had they only been used once or twice, but even though I’m sure both of them were used only a handful of times with the warbling vocals and heavy guitars it was probably a case of one times too many. At least the 2012 editions of both songs sound marginally better than the originals. ‘not feel’ performed by 珠梨様 was my favourite insert song, which was only placed once. Less is definitely more.
The snag with utilizing dual protagonists is that one’s point of view is always going to be so much more engrossing than the other, to the possible detriment of the narrative. Compared to Kentarou whose moments were sparse compared to Makihara’s, every time he appeared you got the sense that every thing he did was relevant. Whereas with Makihara, so much of what he said during his gloomy stage felt trivial and repetitive. Speaking of which, another major problem the writing had was the tendency to go around in circles. The characters would constantly bring up the same issues and as a result parts really dragged. The aforementioned static feeling the graphics gave contributed to that. I knew I had to pack Neversista in completely where I would inwardly groan every time I loaded it up and tutted every time a BGM played.
While Neversista may considered to be a female-orientated title, what’s eventually forged between its cast isn’t romantic in nature but trust, and a sense of belonging. Having said that, it can be difficult to discern whether the love of some characters is b/romantic, but I suppose it’s written in a way to accommodate whichever you may feel. It’s an all ages title, but I’d hesitate to pin it as that due to its intensely heavy nature. A large part of the game features death at every corner, whether it’s someone being groomed for it (no, really) a group of people poisoning themselves, or willingly walking into flames. Sensitive issues should be treated with care, but Neversista‘s writing isn’t convincing enough in that regard. It’s just too much, to the point where it feels gratuitous. Utsuge or not, it’s no excuse for the sluggish, unrewarding pace where characters break down during what feels like every other scene. An editor was direly needed, especially to combat the absurd, parody-worthy use of ellipses. Literally hundreds of irrelevant lines solely consisting of ‘…’ could have been so easily cut out. Once you start noticing this incredibly distracting trend, you can’t not notice it.
Going from what I said throughout this review it should come as no surprise to hear that Neversista would be classified as an utsuge. And oh boy, is it. This isn’t necessarily a compliment, for the work aggressively gnaws away at you, resulting in you having to psyche yourself up to read even the briefest portions, especially as it draws closer to the end. I reached a stage where during the latter chapters I could only read for fifteen minutes at a time before its aggressively maudlin atmosphere (and overuse of ellipses, naturally) got to me. Its heaviness was certainly not something I expected from what looked like a low-key BL tinged mystery. The onslaught of shitty emotions bury you whenever you try to read it, so in that regard although I certainly did enjoy some aspects I would find it difficult to recommend to anyone. No sense of catharsis is to be found here – things are what they are. I almost wished that I looked at other reviews before I decided to pick it up, for even the second review listed on Amazon says right there in bold, that it’s an utsuge.
While I appreciate what Neversista was trying to do on some level, its core themes were executed far too clumsily and the writing certainly didn’t help in that department, especially with its tendency to abuse ellipses more than a Ryuukishi07 character. At one point I decided to count just how many were being used, and during a random scene I counted 81 instances in just over five minutes. 81! Besides that, the writing is competent at best and unbearably contrived at worst. It awkwardly plods along with simplistic dialogue, noticeable gaps in conversation sure to deter any enjoyment. But you know? Even in clumsy simplicity, raw emotions get the chance to shine through more prominently, which is shown to great effect during a couple of key scenes and choice insert songs.
Overall, I did find it very difficult to enjoy. Although its themes and what it had to say did interest me on some level, like I have stated countless times the writing was too shitty to pull them off with conviction. It starts off trying to tell a relatively simple if affecting tale of people dealing with loss on the cusp of adulthood yet winds up being needlessly convoluted, throwing in random characters whose fits end up taking up more time than they should. I could say the same for many of its plot point, actually – including sudden unneeded drama like someone getting run over by a car or confined in one. Given that this is the writer’s first full-length venture into writing, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re working on the upcoming BL Si-Nis-Kanto which is being released by a legit company at the moment, so hopefully whatever they write will be closely edited and not as full of suffering. And most of all, of course, have little to no ellipses.
If one were to give a name to this spectacle – it would be ‘despair’.