Greetings, this is Dawnstorm, who has no blog of his own and thus borrows the gracious Irina’s space, time and workforce for a post of my own. Now, while I do not have a blog of my own, I do inhabit the comments sections of a few blogs, and my comments can be… long. I have no idea what will happen when I write a blog post of my own. There is a reason you are reading this post on Irina’s blog, and that’s because the thought that underlies this post is directly inspired by her review of Mysterious Girlfriend X and a brief conversation in the comments there-of. I was going to have these thoughts in my head anyway for a few days. And due to encouragement in the comments section, I thought why not write them down at some point.
First, the context of this post. In her review, Irina said the following:
“I must say, a lot more attention is put on describing how
unusual Urabe is than on developing her character. As a result, I was
left wondering why Tsubaki and Urabe were together. They certainly do
seem to like each other a lot and they make a cute couple but they have
nothing in common, they can’t seem to have so much as a conversation,
Urabe looks bored most of the time and Tsubaki regularly wishes she had
a completely different personality. So that made it a bit more difficult
for me to root for them as a couple. I like them both individually but I
think they might be better off with other people.”
Now, Mysterious Girlfriend X is one of my favourite romances, and romance is one of my most watched anime genres and might be one of my favourites, too. So maybe some would expect me to disagree. I don’t. It’s true.
My reply in the comments section contained these words:
“I’m aromantic myself, so I was sort of fascinated by the
take on it. The drool exchange felt like fairly conservative take on
sex, but they did discuss sex, too, so there was this odd doubling I
never quite figured out.”
I was into Mysterious Girlfriend X on a meta-level. The show turns “romance” into art and gives me a very vague feeling of what others might see in it that I don’t. There it is that word: “aromantic”. I do believe that any romantic could watch the show for much the same reasons, and in a way that belief makes me wonder what it is that makes me “aromantic”. Think of me as an alien ethnographer who studies human pair-bonding behaviour, and then imagine me understanding things a little better after watching Mysterious Girlfriend X, but not quite enough yet to make a breakthrough discovery that would merit a paper. And now inject a little more fun with sound and vision, and you have my take on the show.
Irina then explained herself further:
“I think for me the issue was that I just failed to ever
really figure out what Urabe even wanted so it made it difficult for me
to be happy for her. Should I be? Is she happy about this? That sort of
situation. So engaging with the romance on a straightforward level didn’t
work for me which left the humour and a lot of drool.”
To which I replied:
“I’m not hugely into shipping […], and I often don’t care
if the characters get together, stay together, or what not. That was the
case for Nazo no Kanojo X, too. I wished them well as people, but didn’t
care if they remained a couple. I also didn’t really understand Urabe,
but that just meant that the title was accurate.”
I didn’t understand Urabe, but she’s the mysterious girlfriend X, so that’s okay. Right? Above I said that Mysterious Girlfriend X helped me understand romance just that little bit more. I’ll qualify this now. Not romance as such, but specifically the teenage boy’s puberty aspect of it. I was a teenage boy once, and I went through puberty. I didn’t get romance. My standard line would be “Isn’t that just friendship + sex?” I was always mildly confused. I found it somewhat helpful (but ultimately still mysterious) that the show both wrapped sex into the metaphoric make-up of the show (I read the drool exchange as a metaphor for sex, and Urabe’s superpower only working with “special” people as pushing a conservative ideology in that direction). I assumed that Tsubaki was supposed to be relatable to anyone who was a boy once. I couldn’t relate, but that made the show fascinating. It’s like being given a secret key.
In other words, I fully agreed with Irina’s take, but I was left with something more than just “humour and a lot of drool”.
That could have been it. But my thoughts being what they are, they latched onto an important fact. That’s not how I, an aromantic romance anime fan, watch romance. That’s how I watch Mysterious Girlfriend X. It’s true that I’m not hugely into shipping, and it’s true that I don’t quite get romance, but there are couples I do ship. There are as many ways to watch romance anime as there are romance anime for me. And it even occasionally includes shipping.
I don’t know. And this is why I follow up with the following paragraph:
“Would be interesting to go through my favourite anime and
see how often I cared whether they got together.”
Carelessly, I mentioned that, if I had a blog, that might make for an interesting post. Both Wingking and Irina encouraged the idea, and, well, as a result, here is the post. I’ll be going through some of my favourite romance anime and see whether shipped any couple in there and wonder why or why not. I don’t expect a conclusive outcome, but at the end of the post I hope to know a little more about myself, and I let anyone who wants to peek in on the process. It’s not pure stream of consciousness, of course, as I’m a rather private person. This is edited for public viewing even before my fingers hit the keyboard. Still, I decided on a narrative approach rather than on a list approach, because that’s closer to how my mind works. Think of this post as the stream of my consciousness down a carefully crafted riverbed.
This may seem like a lengthy introduction, but it may seem a little shorter if we take into account that I have already covered one of my favourites: Mysterious Girlfriend X, the ethnographer’s favourite with pretty pictures and rousing tunes. Do I care if Tsubaki and Urabe get together? Not really, no. I don’t ship them. I wish them well, but that’s it. Among my favourites, it’s thus the best show to serve as an introduction for a post on an aromantics favourite anime. But now I have to backtrack.
Where to? To my favourite romance anime so far, Kimi ni Todoke. Is it my favourite romance anime, though? Or is it just my favourite anime among those who happen to be romance anime? What makes me love the anime so much, you see, is not its romantic content. It’s a romance no mistake, and the romantic plot serves as the structure of the story. I, however, watch it as a coming of age story. Kuronoma Sawako is a sweet girl, but her name sort of sounds like Sadako, of The Ring, and thus rumours spreads about her being able to see ghosts, and with time people start to avoid her. All this changes through a chance encounter with Kazhaya Shouta, a popular and cheerful boy in her class. And as the show commences, she slowly comes out of her shell, makes friends, and… oh, yeah, falls in love.
I forgot that it’s a romance. Her relationship with Kazehaya is sweet, progress is steady but slow. They’re cute together, and I can see them stay together for all their lives. In fact, I can see them trying to get together for all their life. And I wish them well. But if they decided it didn’t work out after all, I’d be thinking “Oh well. Better luck next time.” In fact, Sawako’s relationship with her newfound friends, Ayane and Chizuru, are usually the highpoints of the show for me. Kimi ni Todoke has a second season. This season focuses on the romance aspect. It is not one of my favourites. Only the first season applies.
Next, I shall talk about Tsuredure Children. There is a reason I follow up on Kimi ni Todoke with this show, and it is a reason I might never have discovered if it were not for this post.
Tsuredure Children is a romcom about teenagers being awkward about falling in love. That’s all there is to it. I watch it as a comedy first, and as a romance second, but the romance content is surprisingly genuine. And it needs to be, because much of the humour is embarrassment based, which only works for me in a show that re-assures me it hasn’t got a mean bone in its body. There are a lot of couples in Tsuredure Children, and it’s not a show I watch primarily for the romance. So do I ship them? No, to all but one. And it’s this couple that serves as the link to Kimi ni Todoke. I will now summarise the romance content of Kimi ni Todoke, and if you’ve seen Tsuredure Children, you can try to guess which couple made me root for them:
Popular boy falls in love with a girl who simply can’t see herself as a love interest at all. No matter how frustrating it is, he gives her the space find herself, and slowly they open up to each other.
Yeah, it’s soccer boy Sugawara and Saxophon girl Takano. I adore them together. They need to be a couple and stay one and find happiness. I ship them so much.
Why them, and not Kuronoma and Kazehaya, if their story is pretty similar? I don’t know. I have a few ideas. Maybe it’s because Tsuredure Children is a comedy and the romance content isn’t shoved in our faces? Maybe it’s because Kimi ni Todoke’s coming-of-age content is so strong it overshadows the romance? Maybe Kazehaya’s (very light) jealous streak turns me off? I don’t know.
Tsuredure Children is one of the few shows I can think of right off the bat that focuses on many couples. I can think of others, but most I found okay but nothing special, like, say, Hatsukoi Ltd. I like the approach, and want to see more of it. So there was a show I initially thought might give us three couples, but it ended with two.
This was a disappointment, and I’ll talk about the disappointment in more detail later, but first let me tell you why it still ranks among my favourite anime romances. The title is Kimi Kiss Pure Rouge. At the beginning of the story, genki girl Mao returns from living in France and moves in with her childhood friend Kouichi’s family. She’s the older sister type, and Kouichi has a crush on Yuumi, and Mao meets Kai, and we all know who ends up with who, but I started shipping Kouichi and Yuumi and even Mao and Kai, only because I wanted the show to be a multi couple show. And also, and this is important because the show would have given us a really a beautiful cross gender friendship between Mao and Kouichi. Man would have I loved that show.
But anime fate is too powerful. The childhood friend moves in! That’s too powerful. Well, that wasn’t really shipping. It was meta-shipping. It was a formulaic prayer. In truth, I didn’t really care, on the couple level, and that’s why the disappointment didn’t hurt too much. And Mao and Kouichi make every bit as cute a couple as the other two would have. Well, two likable teens end up unlucky in love, but they get character development instead (don’t tell them I said so; it’s not a good consolation price, except maybe for Yuumi, who outright said so).
But wait, didn’t I say, I thought Kimi Kiss Pure Rouge would give us three couples? Kouichi and Yuumi; Mao and Kai; and… Eriko (Futami) and Kazuki. I used first names for all the teens here, but it feels wrong for Futami. Kazuki is Kouichi’s friend, and also Mao’s childhood friend. They were an unseperable trio, and still have an easy thing going. Now what do you do with the protagonist’s best friend in anime? You give him a romance. Really? Yeah, really. It’s not that rare. I wish I could think of other examples; I’m sure they exist, but I can’t.
And he meets Futami. How does he meet Futami? He finds her in the science room, from whose window she launches paper planes made from zero point tests. And this catches Kazuki’s interest. Why? Futami is the class genius. How come she has zero point tests? So he finds her and asks her, but instead of an answer he gets a kiss, and then he’s told to leave. He’s too confused, though. He asks what that’s about. She says it’s an experiment, and it’s a failure. But, well, do experiments end after only one data point? Thus begins the turbulent relationship between the socially awkward genius, and the simple, straightforward sporty boy, and they just had to get together. They’re the side couple, but they steal the show. Why? Why in this show full of likable teens do I gravitate to this pair? Is it because I’m a natural fit for weirdos? Maybe, but just liking the characters in question makes me root for them to get what they want (as indeed it does for all the kids in this show), but it doesn’t necessarily make me root for the pair of them as a shape of its own. Here it does. I don’t know why.
So that’s Kimi Kiss Pure Rouge, my favourite disappointing romance anime. Remember how the disappointment stems in part from a missed opportunity. There are far too few cross-gender friendships in anime, and those that exist often have one of the pair have an unrequited crush. Cross-gender friendships become even rarer in anime, and one of the worst offenders in anime is a well-liked genre staple: Toradora.
Often, in my favourite shows, I find the main couple cute together, but I still don’t ship them. In Toradora I find the protagonists, Yuji and Taiga, to make great friends but a not-so-good
couple. The story line itself is okay, but I don’t see the chemistry. All the things that are supposed to point towards a romance, in my view point to a friendship instead. The result is that the romance feels hollow and the friendship disrespected. (I’d prefer Ryuji/Minori, but
that’s irrelevant in this respect.) It’s a testament to the show’s quality that it still makes my favourite list. There is a scene in Toradora that crystalises my disconnect from the show: For those who don’t know about the show: Ryuji has inherited his father’s “mean” eyes, but is a very domestic guy who actually likes to cook and clean. Taiga is small and fierce and hates her nickname the “Palmtop Tiger”, and her home’s a mess. They find out they’re neighbours, and at some point Ryuji starts to cook and clean for her. Later, another character, Ami, chastises Ryuji that they’re “playing house”. And she has a point. There’s a dependency structure here that can’t go on indefinitely, if they’re just friends. But the show frames this moment as a decision between romance or no romance. But what are friends to do in such a
situation? The show’s not interested. Instead they flung this half-baked and hollow romance on me. Taiga X Rjuyi fans, I’m not telling you you’re wrong; I’m telling you that all I can see is friendship. In the end, how far have I advanced from my teenage understanding? I’m nearly 50 now, and I still think, basically, “But isn’t romance just friendship + sex?” And I know it’s not true, because not every asexual is also aromantic.
I don’t get it. But if I don’t get it, how can I ship Sugawara/Takano, or Futami/Kazuki? What’s going on here? I don’t know, and as expected writing, this post didn’t magically make me figure this out. There are plenty of shows I didn’t get to talk about for lack of time: Amagami
SS would be interesting, as a serial harem, meaning the show adapts one route every four episodes. Regular harems, like, say, the recent Quintessential Quintuplets where best-girl wars completely take over from shipping for me (and I thus tend to call harems “girl buffets” to myself, but am too embarrassed to admit it). There’s queer romance favourites like Bloom Into You that doesn’t make me ship at all, or Given that makes me ship so much. And love triangles that add the element of preference in an interesting way, say True Tears or White Album 2. And then there are show’s I’d like to promote, but where I have nothing to say on topic, like, say Natsuyuki Rendezsvous (which I have now at least namedropped).
If Mysterious Girlfriend X is a good starting point for this exploration, Toradora is a good ending point. I’ve moved from the ethnographer’s favourite to my ideological nemesis (and still favourite).
That’s a good arc, I’d say. What this tells me about myself only time will tell, and if you followed me all the down here what you make of this is for you to figure out. There are things I won’t say in public, and when I know others are listening I’m always a little too stylized. I’m an unreliable narrator. That’s not dishonesty on my part, it’s the only option for me other than silence. Thank you for your time; I hope I didn’t waste it.