I’m going to refrain from making Titanic jokes on this one.
I like romance stories. I know I don’t come off like I enjoy the stuff often, but I really do. Makoto Shinkai is up there amongst my favorite anime directors, and I enjoy ERASED when it’s focusing on the young love between its two main protagonists – even though I’m not sure how much of it is genuine on Satoru’s part. In fact, it’s because I like romance stories that I loathe shipping. I hate seeing people trivialize relationships as some sort of simple “will they or won’t they” situation aka the very reason why most romance anime suck, and whilst the main reason I haven’t played a Fire Emblem game since Radiant Dawn is because they’re all on handhelds, seeing what it turned into through Honest Trailers just turns me off even more. Or to put it lightly, I don’t like ships as substance.
Personally, I like my romance stories where the couples can’t be together in the end, because that’s when they’re at their most intellectual, as well as their most emotional. Sure it’s not a guarantee that I’ll find your story enjoyable just because the couple splits at the end, but nothing is a 100% guarantee in regards to fiction, and there’s no getting around the fact that the majority of the romance stuff on my faves list (5 Centimeters Per Second, Sakamichi no Apollon, Guilty Crown, Paradise Kiss, Clannad: The Motion Picture) are ones where the ship is sunk in order to further the characterization. Cheers is one of the most critically acclaimed sitcoms to this day – as well as one of my personal favorites – and that show ended with Sam not getting with any of the women he had an overly-complex relationship with over its 270-episode run. And let’s not forget anime I don’t really love, but can still pronounce a fun time because of how it handles heartbreak like Nana and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
The reason why I find it so emotional/intellectual when couples can’t work things out is because I personally think the best fiction is the one that toes the line between reality whilst never forgetting its place. And let’s face it, relationships are a real challenge in our world. If you’ve ever seen Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, you’ll remember how that ninth episode showed everything that’s good and bad about being with someone into thirty minutes – and honestly, I think that’s one of the nicer interpretations. You’ll also remember how the tenth episode ended up with the couple splitting up and going off to different countries in order to fulfill some dreams of theirs. Because whilst it’s nice to be in one and every relationship is different and all that, being together isn’t the end all to all of happiness – a fact that someone should have hammered into Seo Kouji’s head before he decided to end Suzuka with the main couple throwing their dreams away because of an accidental pregnancy in order to live like a boring domestic couple. Relationships require both partners to support each other for their individual dreams and if you have to compromise too much to keep it alive, then chances are it’s best to just fly away. After you talk it over first of course. Because otherwise, you don’t deserve to be in a relationship with anyone.
But more than representing something I can relate to, what I like about the (good) breakup stories is how the characters grow as a result. With the exception of Guilty Crown since the point of Shu and Inori’s relationship was for the two to get worse right to the very end, every character ended up getting something positive at the end of their mopey journeys. Takaki released himself from the shackles that kept him a kid even when his body was an adult’s. Tomoya learned the true meaning of family whilst having the way paved for learning what it really means to be a grown-up. Yukari ended up being happily married to someone else whilst George gets to fulfill his dreams. And Kaoru managed to achieve his goal of becoming a doctor whilst Sen got to achieve the redemption he always wanted with both still being good friends with Ritsuko after everything that’s happened. Can you see Holo and Lawrence ever achieving any of their accomplishments if somehow more Spice & Wolf is made? If I recall correctly, the ending of the second season had Lawrence growing to be okay with sacrificing his dreams in order to be with Holo at all times, and I don’t think that’s ever going to get reversed.
It’s not that I’m against the message that you need to sacrifice a lot in order to achieve true love – although I think anyone who’s willing to throw away an entire career over it is just not gonna translate well to fiction even if it is realistic. Natsuyuki Rendezvous is a good show (that nobody watched or even acknowledge as either a noitamina or a Ko Matsuo anime) that ended with the main couple getting together and Whisper of the Heart is a classic. But both those anime’s stories were heavily focused on examining why they shouldn’t be together and only when they grow and compromise in reasonable ways can they be together. And it’s not like either anime is the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind of the anime world – although I think that’s a good thing in Whisper of the Heart’s case. The only case most anime give for why someone shouldn’t be together these days is because the male character is stupid and the female character is abusive (or the reverse in shoujo). And all that Jinto and Lafiel’s relationship stands for is to showcase how one relationship can stand strong in the middle of a war – which isn’t a bad message but I prefer love stories focused on the actual relationship and less on all the Star Trek stuff surrounding it.
At the end of the day, romance is like every other anime set piece: fine as an element of a story, but as boring as the dancing scene from Flubber on its own (which is pretty damn boring). And whilst I enjoy my Paprikas and my Mind Games, as well as the Kayo x Satoru stuff in ERASED, there’s a limit to how much romantic enjoyment I can extract from something where the romance is only semi-important at best. Sure I like my thinkers fine as is, but I have a yearning for some emotional urgings too, and the best romantic thinker is one that makes me question why the romance exists in the first place. And if the story has the exact same opinion as me on the matter.
What can I say? As should be obvious from my anime habits, Standing On My Neck is a firm believer in that tough love is the best love.
- I heard that Yamato and Suzuka’s daughter died in his newest manga due to a random car accident. I swear that Kouji is intentionally pissing on his readers at this point.
- ERASED really seemed like it peaked early with the latest episode didn’t it? And the episode itself was one of its weaker ones as is.