Maki Enjoji was one of the first mangaka I reviewed when I started this blog, with her earlier series titled Happy Marriage?!. From my experience with this previous series, I have to say Enjoji is great at creating a particular kind of manga, one you could say is close to what we would call a light-hearted soap opera. I would even recommend reading her series when you want a kind of light-hearted beach-read or romance that won’t leave you feeling swamped in drama. There are soap-opera elements to all of her stories and plots, but I think she also injects them with enough comedy and levity to make them enjoyable without so much emotional investment. An Incurable Case of Love is of the same vein as her previous works, a light-hearted josie romantic comedy where the main couple has to navigate the challenges of their adult relationship and work-life balance.
An Incurable Case of Love is a seven-volume manga series that follows the life of Nanase Sakura, who in her senior year of high-school, meets the handsome doctor Kairi Tendo when she comes across a person in need of medical attention on her way home at night. Tendo stops to help them and she falls instantly head-over-heels and vows to study nursing so she can meet him again. Five years later, Sakura is now a nurse in training at the same hospital as Dr. Tendo, but he’s not the same man as she remembers. He’s curt, grumpy, and cross with her especially after she confesses her love for him. But can Sakura’s boundless determination win him over?
Enjoji has a fairly strong but standard art style. I would say it looks like a standard shoujo or josei style with clean line-work, minimal backgrounds most of the time, and fairly standard use of screentone/effects. Her character designs in particular don’t really have a stylistic feel to them, and I have trouble seeing her style in drawing characters as unique to her as an artist. Across her multiple series, her characters tend to have the same kind of features, with the lead heroine having large, innocent, and expressive eyes and the male lead having more narrow eyes and angular facial structures. Tall, dark, and handsome seems to be one of her go-toes for her male characters as well, which helps reinforce their grumpy and cold personalities.
Her art style notwithstanding, I think Enjoji has real skill when planning out her pages and panels. She allows space and breath for the emotions to be presented through the use of large panels and white space. The pacing always feels just right and the pages never feel too crowded by text or the amount of things going on. Considering the type of story being written here, it helps when a mangaka knows how to emphasize the right moments to draw out the emotion and draw our eyes to their expressions. I love seeing the way the characters react to each situation, especially when it comes to Tendo considering his personality in the majority of situations. This makes his slow descent into love with Sakura even better as we see his expression soften over the course of the volumes.
The concept of this series is similar to a medical soap opera you might see on daytime TV. A new nurse in training confesses her love for a popular and handsome doctor in the Pulmonology department. She is subsequently turned down fairly harshly in front of everyone in the department, but somehow earns the respect of her fellow nurses who support her love for the workaholic Tendo. But convincing him of her love isn’t without its challenges, and the only way to earn his love is to prove herself as a competent nurse. The series subsequently becomes a romance and a medical drama as Tendo and Sakura team up to take care of patients and deal with the emotional fall-out of medical mysteries and past trauma. Like most dramas, various challenges come in the way of their growing relationship: past lovers, family, jealous friends, clingy patients, and life in general. However, if you’re used to reading shoujo/teen romances, I think you’ll find a breath of fresh air here as most of their relationship drama centers around finding a work-life balance and negotiating life goals and emotional needs.
This is one of the reasons why I love this series, though I still have some criticisms. A lot of series fail to get past the confession stage and end the series there after a lot of will-they-won’t-they’s. However, with An Incurable Case of Love, we see the insides of an adult relationship as Tendo and Sakura navigate working together, coming to terms with their own feelings, and communicating their needs and life goals. I especially love how one of the key issues they face throughout the series is trying to figure out how to keep their relationship together if Tendo decides to study abroad in the US, and whether or not he should leave her alone in Japan for three years. It’s a very real and very mature problem to have to navigate in a relationship faced by many people. I really enjoyed seeing it play out here as Sakura tries to gain confidence in herself and their relationship and Tendo tries to overcome his past trauma and commit to his present feelings.
One of the criticisms I do have however, is the character and personality of Nanase Sakura herself. I think it’s something that I see in romances like this, where the main female lead is fairly naive, inexperienced with love, and has limited confidence in themselves. For Sakura, Tendo is her first serious relationship, even though she’s in her mid-twenties. We see her constantly questioning whether Tendo actually loves her, whether she’s good enough for him, even though he pretty much consistently reassures her of his feelings. I think it was really only through the turmoil of Tendo’s possible study-abroad trip that she gained confidence in their relationship, committing to waiting for him for the three years he would be gone and convincing him it was okay for him to go.
Sakura as a character is incredibly giving, almost to her own detriment. She lets herself get contently taken advantage of my pushy patients, like the older man who gropes her every chance he can get, or the former patient who stalks her and assaults her when he sees her with Tendo on a date, or the rich and narcissistic heir who pretty much tries to force himself on her in his hospital room. She has a tendency of seeing herself as a caretaker to the point of getting walked all over, making Tendo come to her rescue when she gets herself stuck. In a way, it’s admirable, but it’s a trait I see in a lot of josei and shoujo stories. In the end, Sakura becomes more confident in herself, standing up to Tendo’s father on his behalf and on behalf of their relationship, but I think the quality of “giving too much” can be detrimental to how readers begin to perceive the image of ideal femininity portrayed in these types of stories. But that’s a discussion for another time.
I’d love to hear your opinions on the series. The most recent and final volume, volume seven, came out today. Despite my concerns and criticisms, I would still recommend An Incurable Case of Love to anyone looking for an easy romantic comedy to get into without too much drama.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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