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

By the way, they all hang out together

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.

Again, they all hang out together

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.

Demographics

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.

 “Teenage romance is interesting, but it’s very heavily represented in anime, so I’d like to see more of 20s-40s, prime ages when romance is a big deal.”

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.

 “OLDER PEOPLE! I mean, I want less blooming high schoolers and more kickass older people. More stuff like Nana, more stuff like Usagi Drop. Please.”

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.

Josei

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!

Harems

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.

Kore wa Zombie desu ka? It’s the typical “everyone falls in love with the main character” type of story (and one of the rare I have finished) and while it is implied said main character is mostly in love with Yuu, it never is clearly established. In that aspect it wasn’t exactly representative of romance, but it had plot and it was funny so I managed to finish it.
As for others, I’d say MajiKoi? I’ve only watched a few episodes but it was boring and the main character was oblivious to everyone apart from his sister, very weak on the romance part, very heavy on the fanservice. Not exactly my cup of tea either.”
Surprisingly, there were some good examples.
Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai( The World god Only Knows). It’s essentially a harem anime but Keima never falls in love and the girls who do forget afterwards, it’s an endless repetition of the conquest on a different character everytime, Keima has a strong personality and it never gets boring.
 
Strangely enough, I’d say Hakuouki too was a nice harem anime, mostly because it reaches a clear conclusion and because of the setting during Edo period. Lastly, I’m not very knowledgeable in the genre but Bakemonogatari would count right? Once again we reach a clear conclusion and the story doesn’t revolve exclusively around the romance.
I enjoyed both Kami Nomi and Bakemonogatari, but Lvlln explains why Bakemonogatari is an exceptional ‘harem’ a lot better than I do.
  “The romance between Hitagi and Koyomi made for one of the greatest single episodes of all time, but the show overall was not about their romance. There was a considerable amount of character growth for Hitagi, we saw her open up her softer side, using the romance to help her get over the traumatic experience during middle school of almost getting raped. For Koyomi, it was learning what it means to be a lover, that is, that there is nothing special in it, it’s enough just to be yourself and to be there for her.”

Bakemonogatari

So how do you feel about Harems in general?
 “Harems tend to dehumanize the girls, turning them into a set of features instead of a whole person. Hard to have a good romance when one half of the relationship isn’t a full person.”
I would personally recommend any of the Key titles if you are looking for a good harem, both Clannad and Kanon are sweet stories filled with comedy and tragedy but they both still suffer from ‘the disease of the genre’ as Kuuki so subtly puts it.
Fanservice In Romance
I think the biggest problem with harems is that they are a manifestation of male (sometimes females) imaginations. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by beautiful girls all doting on you? Most harem titles are targeted at men and because of this they usually have a lot of fanservice, the distasteful kind. I find that this draws me away from the potentially good love story and it puts me off the show entirely. I asked the panel if they felt the same.
 “Not necessarily, if it doesn’t feel forced (well, fanservice feels mostly forced but accidents happen) Take Bakuman for example, it has a few examples of fanservice but it doesn’t hurt the sweetness of the romance backstory the slightest bit (and that is helped by the presence of two couples too). And to be honest, romance or not, a normal human would look at the person he’s in love with, he’d look for the fanservice opportunities. We can’t really avoid it. I’d rather have fanservice in a romance anime where it would look more or less natural than random fanservice in the middle of something that has nothing to do with it (case in hand : Guilty Crown)”
Taking a bit of a stab at Guilty Crown there, but I do agree with the point she raises about lovers being physically attracted to each other. Having good looks is a major factor when it comes to picking a partner but I suppose this is a hard thing to portray in anime because nearly everyone looks amazing most of the time.
  “In my opinion fanservice does hurt a sweet romantic story for me. One moment the characters are having a sweet moment together and next thing you know pantie shot or the girl loses their swim top in the pool. Sweet moment ruined in a matter of seconds. Don’t get me wrong  fanservice is good, just not in a sweet romantic story.”
Lvlln is on the other side of the fence with this one.
  “I haven’t seen any romance anime with distasteful fanservice yet. B Gata H Kei had fanservice in spades, but it only made the series better.”
B Gata H Kei really, how?
Yamada’s attempt to seduce that Takahashi was the whole point of the show. The development was in Yamada and Takahashi learning what it means to be in a relationship and how to start a physical relationship

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. Handled in a mature, realistic fashion as in Tsukihime. No need for porn-type sex scenes as in Yosuga no Sora.”

 “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.

Boys Love

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.

 “I don’t know if you can call it natural, nor fantastical either, I think it depends on the author. While it can feel forced, and just plain unrealistic (well, it’s not like some shojo are much more realistic either so I guess I can forgive them) there are also some very good pieces. The thing with BL is that most manga are really short, it gives less time to develop a story and characters and most authors have to deal with that, it doesn’t always work very well, especially when you work with characters very different from each other. 
But from a female point of view who’s reading pretty much every genre so I can compare, BL is special, it lets the girl who reads it stay out of the story, we’re not represented in it, it has nothing to do with us, so they can do whatever they want we don’t really care about it being realistic or not. It’s just enjoying a story for what it is, no pressure to find the prince charming or anything.”
So It’s basically a female fantasy…
 “I have only watched one Boys Love anime and they portrayed romance in a bit of a natural but leaning towards the fantastical, if that makes any sense.”
Uhhh….okay I guess. So what would be some good BL titles?
 “I don’t read many BL (to be honest I don’t even like the genre) and BL anime is rare, a good one is even rarer, but I’ll answer anyway. When talking about manga I’ll say Acid Town, because, while the BL is present it’s really toned down (for now at least) it’s mostly a story about criminals in a dangerous city and such. As for anime, I think I’ll say Antique Bakery because it’s sweet (in a lot of ways), and not only about love stories either.”
  “I have only watched one Boys Love anime,that is Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi. I like how it is not two main characters that are being shown. They have a few characters going through different story lines. It just doesn’t focus on romance it has some comedic moments with characters, which is a nice balance with the romance.
Favourite Romance Recommendations
I think anime with the best character development can mostly be found or is created with the aid of romance which is why I like the genre so much. Even shounen shows like Naruto or even Bleach add that element to make the series a little bit more deep. A lot of titles have been mentioned in this article already but I asked my panel to name a few titles that they would consider their favourites,
 Lvlln chose;
The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya
 The show was rather subtle about this, as much of it were episodics about various antics the SOS Brigade got into, but everything always kept going back to the feelings Haruhi and Kyon had for each other, and their journey to acknowledging their feelings for the first time. The climax of the show came only when both Kyon and Haruhi were forced to be honest about their feelings. The show was directed and paced well and pulled off the non-chronology meta game flawlessly, using it to slowly reveal to us the romantic plot.
Tsukihime
Less subtle than Melancholy, the romance in Tsukihime developed slowly as Shiki and Arcueid spent time together trying to hunt down the vampire in town. Their relationship developed organically, and though relatively fast by many standards (the show took place in under 10 days, IIRC), none of it felt forced. It is one of the few romantic anime to actually have sex, and it was important for the plot, not at all exploitative.
 Super Korelle picked;
Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu
It had good character development, a good story line. It had its sweet romantic moments, as well as it’s funny moments. It also had a happy ending for the two main characters.  Must be the romantic in me, but I like my romantic anime to have a happy ending. It’s nice to see a happy ending after the characters go through something.
 Kuuki chose;
Arakawa Under the Bridge
Arakawa Under the Bridge probably, because Ric’s love for Nino is adorable and Nino’s love for Ric is sweet, in a very weird way. The story is funny and not only about them either, even though romance has quite a huge part in it. Billy and his girlfriend are wonderful in their devotion for each other. Maria and Sister are such an unlikely couple that it makes them perfect for each other. P-Ko’s love for the mayor is so innocent and he’s so oblivious to it all that they’re really interesting to watch.
 And my pick, heh well I think you should all get to watch;
Lovely Complex
Probably the best shoujo title out there, the lead characters is designed to look like an average high school girl, she does not have super model looks but is still cute. Her insecurities about her physical features deter her from pursuing her love interest but she slowly overcomes this and confesses to the boy and this is when the show really starts. Its got great comedic moments and some sad ones, it even has a few love triangles along the way. You should definetly give it a go.
Special thanks to Kuuki, Lvlln and Super Korelle for participating in this, you can follow them on twitter by clicking on their icons and read their blogs as well.
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~ by kiddtic on October 29, 2011.

9 Responses to “Romance And How It Is Portrayed In Anime”

  1. Anime romance tends to be pretty samey to me, especially the teen romance stuff. I prefer when anime romances are subtler, and they don’t feel the need to tell us they’re in love, but rather show how they fall in love. Something that feels more “meaningful” and not just puppy love. Especially when the romance isn’t the focus of the story, but just grows naturally from it.

    That’s probably why stuff like Nodame Cantabile (with career-obsessed weirdos struggling with romance), Spice and Wolf (lonely people struggling with the mayfly-december romance thing), and Crest/Banner of the Stars (no time for an implausible romance, yet it still emerges) appeal to me so much.. the romance is the subtlest part of the story, and there is a give-and-take that really sells you on the relationship.

  2. Spice and Wolf is one of my favourite series because of the romance. I found that the second season focused on the romance more than the trade thing which is why I liked it even more.

    Its true a lot of anime does have puppy love, but there’s a lot out there out there that has the subtle approach. Like Kuragehime or Princess Jellyfish which unsurprisingly is also a Josei anime.

  3. ” 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.”

    Actually and strangely enough because I find it to be better accepted in today’s society (hell, I don’t count the times I have seen two straight girls kiss in public without any consequences whatsover, while I hardly know any man openly gay) I find that this aspect is better adressed in yuri titles. (At least in manga)
    Also, since we’re on the topic and someone mentionned Sekaiichi Hatsukoi, it’s an instance where main character is technically raped on a regular basis, and the nearly only sane and caring and respectful character of the show is universally hated by the fandom.
    On the other hand, it’s hilarious ^^

    Still, you really liked Lovely Complex? I didn’t exactly dislike it, and it does portray a romance pretty realistically, but it still isn’t anything special. A basic shojo, nothing more and nothing less.

    And noo problem, was happy to help, it got me thinking a lot more than I thought it would

    • I really did Like Love*Com, I thought it was honest about its intentions from the very beginning. It was really funny but also tried to handle the emotional side o things fairly realistically, I also really liked the fact that the man character wasn’t the best looking in the cast not many shoujo titles do that.

      I would Recommend Spice and Wolf as an alternative but the truth that show would not be understood by a universal audience, You have to be a little bit smart-er or older to fully understand the romantic elements going on.

  4. I love love triangles when they’re done well, such as in Maison Ikkoku and Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers, which generally means that they have intersting characters who are sympathetic and aren’t predictable. I can’t stand when love triangles are overly complicated and very obvious, such as the many love triangles in Marmalade Boy. My favorite romantic series are the ones that show both ‘the chase’ and the couple coming together to figure how to make their relationship work – I love it when series show after the happily ever after (and that there’s no such thing, at least not without work), such as Itazura na Kiss. My favorite couples are Sana and Akito from Kodocha and Tsukushi and Tsukasa from Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers because they convince me that these couples work well together because they bring out the best in each other.

    • For some reason the shows that stick with me are the ones with horrible endings. I like my happy endings every now and then but I feel a bittersweet ending is more realistic.

      I also like my Love Webs, they can be overbearing if its overdone and they do lean on the ridiculous side of the scale. But by golly they are fun to watch ubfold.

  5. […] There is a certain standard J.C Staff reached when they created this show. They made it impossible for me to watch any other romance show without noticing how below par it is. At this point if any anime tries to do romance and it doesn’t take cues from Toradora! it might as well not exist, just don’t even bother making it. What Im trying to say here is, this is the best depiction of romance I have ever seen ever! For a less fanboy rant on Toradora! try reading this. […]

  6. […] Romance and How It Is Portrayed in Anime Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  7. […] then they build a relationship: Several anime bloggers have pointed out that a flaw of romance anime is that they often focus solely on the drama before two […]

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