Regarding anime relationships

So I’ve been in the mood for campy character romances after watching Itazura na Kiss, and consequently I’ve been watching quite a bit of shoujo romance. Now to be fair, my threshold for suspension of disbelief in anime is fairly high, but one thing I’ve never been able to completely stomach were the inane love triangles. Granted, I could go on all day about the problems with love triangles as a plot device in anime: the lack of originality, repetitious nature, developmental stagnation, etc ad nauseum. However, for some reason or another, I could always put that criticism in the back of my mind for the sake of enjoyment. The one aspect that I could never deal with, the one glaring problem with love triangles that I could never fully ignore, was the stunning ability of the protagonist to completely ignore the “third wheel” of the triangle. It happens in nearly every love triangle, from Itazura na Kiss (Kotoko ignoring Kinnosuke) to Suzuka (Akitsuki ignoring Honoka)… the list stretches on.

The major problem with the anime is that it’s so completely detached from real life that I can’t possibly lift my suspension of disbelief that high and (specifically) for so long. I’ll look at Itazura na Kiss because it stands out in my mind, however my speculation can apply to pretty much any anime with a cookie cutter love triangle.

Warning: mild spoilers, although anyone with any experience in typical romance anime will be able to figure this out on their own.

Throughout the first half of the anime, Kotoko continually tries to win Irie over, despite the fact that she has Kinnosuke right next to her all the time. Granted, Kinnosuke is a fugly character (on that note, this applies even more strongly to shonen romance anime because all of the girls in the love triangles are invariably attractive), but regardless, he’s clearly a nice guy and would provide for her. She eventually decides to consummate in the thirteenth episode, but gets snatched up by Irie. At this point it’s understandable why Kotoko decided to go with Irie at this point, but why did it even need to get to this point? It seems highly unrealistic that she would pine over Irie for so long, considering there’s a perfectly good man constantly waiting on her. The structure of anime is such that there’s hardly ever any glaring flaws, whether they be physical (never) or personality (very rarely). In fact, usually I end up seeing the third wheel character as much better overall, especially in the case of shonen love triangles. Usually the “target” girl or guy is usually some cold bastard who can’t possibly be bothered by the love-stricken main character, and while he/she eventually warms up by the end of the series, why even bother? I can’t think of many instances where I would ever put up with that kind of a person for any respectable length of time, and I kind of get where they’re going with this “love beats all” mentality, but even so, by the end of the series I completely lose my sympathy for the characters because their choices are simply absurd.

Now, to be fair, there is one instance in which I think the love triangle situation was done impeccably well, and that is with Bokura ga Ita. In that specific anime, there was a solid level of tension between the three characters, and I think that the establishment of the relationship between Nanami and Yano early on managed to create some good character drama – in this sense, both Yano and Takeuchi were given fair treatement, and I think that Nana’s decision would have been satisfactory either way. However, these kinds of love triangles where there’s actually viability between both characters is exceedingly rare, and Bokura ga Ita is really the only one that comes to mind off the top of my head.

What I would really like to see in a romance anime would be the protagonist going for the underdog. I can’t seem to think of any where this happens (sans the one where the relationship is only an intermediary one and ends with a breakup halfway through the series – that happens fairly often). I personally think it would inject some life into the broken love triangle, and at the very least would throw a lot of people off guard. Make it happen Japan

PS: Am I the only one that noticed the similarities between Gravitation’s Eiri Yuki, and Itazura na Kiss’s Naoko Irie? Hell, even their names are inversions of each other.

5 Responses to “Regarding anime relationships”

  1. “Love conquers all” is obviously a big part of it, along with “you can’t control who you love” (and there’s also this idea of “love overcomes class barriers” that was subtly in play throughout Itazura na Kiss). Nonetheless, while it’s easy enough to question Kotoko’s good sense during the first half of the series where Irie spent most of the time acting like an ass to her, it did make for some fairly sweeping character development in him during the second half of the season. Except maybe during the “jealousy” arc, but by then they were married and you expect that they’d do all they possibly could to overcome that marital difficulty together.

    And I’m not sure I like this idea of the “underdog” winning. It leads to the other extreme one sees often in shounen romances where all the girls are essentially different but equal, and the choice is basically arbitrary. Too often in shounen romances, you don’t really see a strong connection between the male lead and the girl he chooses. In a lot of the worst cases, it basically could have been anyone (eg, Shuffle).

  2. I guess my problem with Itazura na Kiss (and I suppose by proxy, most other typical romances that go along the same vein), was that I can’t possibly think of any real-life (or real-life esque) scenarios in which a girl would actually put up with the BS that Irie put her through for the first 13 episodes. Yeah, perhaps there was some sort of subtlety in development, but it’s hardly worth noting. I never actually considered the “you can’t control who you love” part, but I just don’t buy that. It’s pretty easy to choose who you love, and the whole “there’s someone perfect out there for me” is unsettling when (as is usually the case) that person is a total jerk to you.

    As for the underdog aspect, the thing is that I don’t think that Irie (to continue the example) was really THAT much better for Kotoko. As was stated, Kinnosuke really was a good guy, and was a very earnest man. To be sure he was fugly, but if they’re gonna use that aspect, they may as well state it outright (let’s face it, attractiveness DOES have at least a part in attraction, no matter how superficial). I think the reason I would like a Kinnosuke to win is because it totally reverses the idea of this unapproachable person on a pedestal. Because I think, realistically, people would get fed up with the kind of BS treatment given in Itazura na Kiss (among plenty others). I think that you’re right in that it wouldn’t work with harem series, but take something like Itazura na Kiss – in this case, there’s a clear distinction between the two characters, yet I’m hard pressed to call one “better” for Kotoko than the other. I tink it similarly applies to Suzuka, Marmalade Boy, Peach Girl (albeit I never finished reading the manga/watching the series for that one) and I’m sure plenty more that I can’t think of. Of course, it shouldn’t be done all the time or we get into predictability issues to the extent that we do now, just in the opposite direction.

  3. Oh, it’s only one of what, hundred and one reasons why I don’t like romance stories. They demand that audience already know who is going to end up with who from very beginning and that blantantly obvious outcome can somewhat diminish the drama in love triangles (because well, where’s the tension if you already know what’s going to happen?), unless it’s brilliantly executed like Bokura Ga Ita.

    Another great love triangle (actually it’s love square) is from Princess Tutu. It appears to be another cliched Cinderella meets prince charming, but the outcome is a complete 180 degrees turn from that, and actually making it TONS better than what you’d have expected. I think more romance stories needs to step away from its stagnant re-used structure, make the final outcome a little less obvious to predict (or make it look obvious, then surprise us like in Tutu), so we can actually feel tension.

  4. I think there are plenty of series where it isn’t immediately clear how the love triangle will unfold.

    Series based on Ai Yazawa’s works such as Nana, Paradise Kiss and Gokinjo Monogatari may have a more likely candidate for the female protagonist, but that doesn’t mean that things will end with a happily ever after for them.

    Series like Fruits Basket, Honey and Clover and Earth Maiden Arjuna balance relationships quite well, sure some couples are bound to end or remain as unrequited love, but for the most part it’s not clear how things will end.

    Another series that comes to mind is Genshiken. Perfectly geeky real life-like relationships.

    Finally, I’d like to mention two movie/OVAs: Ocean Waves and Ai Monogatari/Kawaguchi Kaiji’s 9 Love Stories. Both can deliver quite the emotional punch from the unexpected reactions of the characters.

    I was thinking of Princess Tutu while reading your post, but I can see that Gaguri has commented about it already and worded it much better than I could, so all I can add is do try to watch Princess Tutu at some point.

  5. the series i have a problem with is clannad i mean the outcome is soooooo obvious and he made those girls cry what a douche bag and shuffle I’m only on episode 2 right now but 3 girls and the main characters still bitching and also its pretty obvious that hes gonna end up with the human one (right?) if he dose end up with the human one well… I’m only on episode 2 but if he dose end up with her be sure to spoil it because its pretty fuckin obvious I’m rooting for the demon

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