Romance And How It Is Portrayed In Anime
Romance is a genre or sub genre that I have come to appreciate over time, probably because it is the easiest way for me to connect to a character or characters emotionally and also because I love my drama. Drama in most anime tends to be a little over the top or melodramatic and while this may seem annoying at first, if done right it can be very moving.
As we all know by now Anime is a medium and most of its series are a mish-mash of all sorts of sub genres and if you are lucky you will get one with a good romantic sub plot. I wrote this article in order to examine and scrutinise how romance is portrayed in different kinds of anime and to possibly find out why some of them will bring you to tears and cripple you emotionally and why the others are just complete garbage. Just to make sure the views expressed are not completely subjective to my myself, I decided to bring three more opinions on board, 1 male and 2 female. I interviewed them all and they all had very interesting views on the subject.
The Chase or The Meal
That’s probably a horrible analogy for dating and being in an on-going relationship but bear with me. Most romance anime tends to tackle the dating or courtship aspect rather than the relationship building part. Personally, from a guys perspective, this is the most interesting and dramatic part of a relationship. Its easier for anime creators to carry the viewer along the protagonists story of trying to get to know the love interest and gradually befriending him/her before finally getting together, usually very dramatically at the end.
Super Korelle agrees with me, she said” I like stories about both courtship and about a relationship. With both you get to see the trails and errors the characters go through to be with each other and make what ever they have work. I find courtship to make for a better story line. Watching a character trying to get the person they like/love makes you (or at least me) more invested in the anime, praying and hoping they get them in the end.”
Kuuki also had a similar point of view, she said “I usually like the courtship better. Especially if the show is divided in two parts. I think it gives a greater liberty to the story to develop around the couple, the usual awkwardness and shyness of beginning romances. An established couple in a show centered exclusively around romance often becomes boring.”
Lvlln has a more apathetic view on the subject, he thinks “No preference. The vast majority are about courtship, though, so I’d like to see more good ones about an on-going relationship. That said, the reason the majority are about courtship is because courtship tends to be more fun to watch.”
So what is it exactly about the courtship route that keeps us coming back for more? The template is certainly over-used but the creators have found various ways to mix it up and make it refreshing for the viewers such as;
The Female Perspective
Take Kimi Ni Todoke for example, it’s a story about a socially awkward girl that slowly falls in love with the most popular boy at school. Sawako (the female lead) not only has to overcome her shyness but also find a suitable way to interact with Kazehaya (the popular boy) in order for him to regard her as a potential love interest. Needless to say it takes 2 full seasons to get some sort of final…closure but still the most interesting part of the story is trying to see just how Sawako will finally get to say she loves Kazehaya.
The female perspective may not necessarily be a groundbreaking form of story telling seeing as most shoujo titles are made this way. It’s the fact that Kimi Ni Todoke took ‘the chase’ approach rather than the relationship building one, Sawako never has a boyfriend in the entirety of the series, she doesn’t have to deal with commitment issues or anything of that sort, well not in the traditional way atleast.
The Love Web
This has got to be my favourite aspect of romance in anime, rather than having the same old cliché love triangle some writers have decided to go all out and have created love webs. The best examples being Toradora! and Ano Hi Mita Hana No Namae Wo Boku Tach Wa Mada Shiranai (AKA Ano Hana)
I’ve talked about Toradora! and why I love it countless times so I’ll focus on Ano Hana on this article. In Ano Hana this group of friends has finally been reunited after drifting apart over the years because of the loss of Menma (The Loli lead) The reunion is not a sweet one because all these characters have gradually changed over time and some still hold grudges over things of the past. However, with the continuous passage of time and them spending more time with each other, old emotions buried deep within them start to come to the fold and drama ensues.
I think the fact that all these characters are friends makes the situation that little bit more dramatic, also add the fact that they have to overcome their old feelings of animosity towards each other before they could even come close to initiating a romantic conversation and you have Drama Gold. Again the main focus in this show was not the relationship building but watching as each character tries to woe the other, the chase.
The courtship route is certainly interesting but it also has some glaring flaws, the most obvious being the age group it centers on. Dating or trying to get a boyfriend/girlfriend is a really big deal for adolescent teenagers and the idea of being in one is fantastically drawn out of proportion in their young minds (I know this because I was a victim of this terrible lie.) Writers capitalise on this and target most of their romance work to this demographic, which is why you get a lot of successful romance novels, like Twilight for example. The biggest problem that this trend brings is the fact that most romance stories will rarely focus upon on-going relationships or they will make them out to be a heavenly utopia which is not the case at all( shoujo is the worst offender when it comes to anime). It also means we rarely get to see romance stories focusing on grown adults.
Romance is certainly a big deal after you lose those silly raging hormones, when you get older the whole dating thing gets old and you just wanna find your perfect match as quickly as possible so you can settle down.
“I would like romance anime to focus on the age group of 18-30 years old. I find a lot of anime to be with middle school or high school aged people. I am in the age group of 18-30 and would like to see more adult romance portrayed in anime. I have nothing against middle/high school romance anime, I would prefer to watch someone close to my age bracket going through the trails of love”
Most of those trials would deal with subjects young teenage minds might find hard to comprehend at first but are extremely vital, such as dealing with love after divorce or death of a spouse or having to quit your career in order to be a stay at home parent or even how to deal with relationships as a single parent.
Kuuki highlights some very good examples of anime that portray adult romance or atleast show it in a mature format. Both titles she mentioned are categorised as Josei, Josei is anime or manga meant to appeal to an older female audience, the adult version of Shoujo.
The romance side of things in Usagi Drop (the anime) is never in the foreground. However, it is executed so well that it engrains itself in the viewers minds. Daikichi the lead character is a 30 year old bachelor that decided to raise his 6 year old Aunt (watch the show its a long story) He is forced to demote himself at work in order to free up some time to care for Rin and also has to learn how to care for a child on the fly. His love interest is Rins’ best friends Mom Yukari, who is a 30 year old divorced single parent trying to raise a naughty 6 year old boy by herslf. Daikichis’ feelings are torn between trying to care for his adopted child and loving Yukari, he doesn’t know whether pursuing Yukari would be the right thing for him, Rin or Yukaris son. He has to gauge how each person involved would feel on top of that he is not even sure if the relationship would work out seeing as they are both strapped for time.
The amount of layers involved in that one relationship is so immense and you can see the struggle in both their eyes when they interact. Its love at its purest form, bittersweet.
Nana (which is my favourite manga by the way, you should all read it) deals with a college aged spunky female called Nana Komatsu. Nana decided to leave her parents home in order to live with her boyfriend in Tokyo. Nana starts off as a naive character with childish hopes and aspirations for her life such as being the perfect housewife for her future husband. Reality kicks in pretty quick as soon as she gets to Tokyo though, her boyfriend is still not capable of caring for her and she ends up having to live n her own and making ends meet.
The romance side of things get interesting when you realise that as a high schooler Nana was having an affair with a married man. Being young and naive she thought she had found true love when in truth she was only being used for body. This past continuously haunts Nana and how she perceives men in general. She believes that all men are as fickle as the wind and as long as she doesn’t satisfy any of their needs she will be left alone again just like that married man she was having an affair with did. And thats only half of what Nana deals with!
Whether you love them or love to hate them Harem anime will continue to be popular and will always remain a firm part of the anime industry. Some of the classics are harem titles like Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina for example. There have been some (and thats very few) exceptional Harems that have portrayed romance well but I think we can all agree that most of them are a horrible source for a sweet love story.
Kuuki had a lot to say on the subject.
” Hakuouki, which is a reverse harem anime suffers from the disease of the genre (the same reason why I can’t watch many harem anime), I can never believe how so many people fall in love or at the very least care that much for such a dull main character, so yeah it ruins the show. Its really hard for me to be able to believe in such a story if the main character is dull, sometimes we’re also presented with a harem where no real romantic conclusion is reached and we get the feeling everyone is in love with everyone.”
She gave examples of some of the Harem titles that just get to her.
On the topic of fanservice, I always wondered why it was always rare to see sex scenes in most romantic anime. I mean even day time soap operas have them. I liked how Nana dealt with their scenes, it made sense to have them shown and was certainly not just inserted (no pun intended) for fanservice purposes. It would be great to see more titles adopt this formula.
“Yes I would like to see more. It doesn’t have to be shown them going to climax, maybe just the beginnings of sex and move on to them waking up the next morning. I would also like it to be tasteful done and not full of fanservice.”
“Mmmh yes? Then again, I’m a huge perv so I guess it’s only natural. Now you mention it, it’s true it’s rare, it often happens or is heavily suggested in BL anime, there was a few in Paradise Kiss but it’s a very rare occurence.”
Paradise Kiss being another Aii Yazawa (Nana) manga which I should get to reading soon.
Kuuki brings up the topic of Boys Love to mind, I’m certainly not an expert on Yaoi but its pretty obvious that most of them deal with romance. I recall a huge uproar in the fandom last season when two titles aired concurrently, those titles were Yuru Yuri and No.6. Yuru Yuri was a show that was clearly meant to have Yuri it said so in the title, fans rejoiced, who doesn’t like watching lesbians right? But the response for No.6 which was a sci-fi show with implied yaoi got mixed reactions. I recall a tweet I saw on twitter stating ” You wouldn’t like Yuru Yuri so much if it was called Yuru Yaoi” and unfortunately I had to agree with that.
I had preconceived conceptions of Boys Love anime, being about men, I thought they would tackle the difficulties of being homosexual in an environment that still isn’t fully accepting of that while trying to deal with their romantic emotions for each other. Also the fact that BL is targeted at females I always thought they were a little more mature in their execution.
The sad truth is they are the exact opposite, characters fall in love with each other for no real reason whatsoever and the amount of times characters are quite honestly raped is almost comical. I asked the girls whether they thought this was natural or fantasy.