October 8, 2012
The idealization of the ‘nice guy’
One complaint I’ve noticed among shojo manga fans is that they often dislike that the ‘nice guy’ never gets the girl. Typically, a female shojo protagonist finds herself pursued by a guy who she argues with all of the time, or who has a reputation as a ‘bad boy,’ and a sweet guy who is extremely loyal to her. Over the course of the typical shojo romance series, the ‘bad boy’s’ rough exterior will slowly melt as he grows closer to the girl, leaving the nice guy out in the cold. Some fans, however, dislike this cliché. The most common reason fans wish girls would choose the nice guy is because in real life, he’d be a much safer option than the bad boy. While love interests who start as jerk generally evolve into decent and loving boyfriends in shojo manga, in the real world, setting out to change a bad boy doesn’t work so well. In addition, the winning love interest often comes with a lot of baggage – a mysterious past or complicated family life – and fans see choosing the nice guy as an easier option. Another reason fans latch onto the nice guy is because of all the characters in a series, he’s usually the one who least deserves to have his heart broken, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him. However, I feel that most fans who root for the nice guy in shojo manga are idealizing the ‘nice guy’ archetype rather than looking at the characters themselves.
I always find it interesting when people say they were rooting for the losing interest because he was ‘nicer.’ Fans are quick to segregate love interests by labeling them; placing them into categories such as ‘nice guys’ and ‘bad boys.’ But sometimes I find myself questioning these labels. For example, in Peach Girl, Toji is seen as the ‘nice guy’ because his rival Kairi is a playboy. But Kairi saves Momo when Sae blackmails her, gives up on her so she can be with Toji, and risks his life to retrieve a present she gave him. In many ways, Kairi proves himself to be just as nice of a guy as Toji is – and possibly even nicer. Conversely, in Absolute Boyfriend Soshi is considered to be the ‘nice’ love interest because he is Riiko’s childhood friend, and because Night is a robot. But Soshi often calls Riiko an idiot and takes her for granted, while Night is never anything but sweet to her, which makes me question whether Soshi deserves to be labeled the ‘nice’ love interest. And in Skip Beat!, Sho is considered the ‘jerk’ love interest because he was only using Kyoko in the beginning of the series. However, I’m hestitant to agree with Ren’s label as the ‘nice guy,’ since there are several occassions where he is purposely cold to Kyoko or he completely ignores her (and interestingly, Ren seems to be an exception to the ‘nice guy’ rule since Kyoko’s affections for Ren are greater than her feelings for Sho). Thus, I feel as though the fans who root for the sweet guy simply because he is the ‘nice guy’ are only looking on the surface of things.
One reason I say specifically that fans who root for the nice guy are attached to an archetype (and not the character himself) is because in most series, the nice guy isn’t fully fleshed out. He generally serves several roles in the story: he’s a threat to the ‘bad boy’ for the girl’s affections, especially since he’s often smarter and sweeter – he’s ‘perfect.’ He also is typically the person the protagonist can talk to about her worries. However, beyond these functions the sweet love interest is typically not a well-developed character – we know little about his likes and dislikes, and he usually doesn’t have a strong personality beyond being nice. There are exceptions, of course – it’s hard not to like Nakatsu’s goofiness in Hana-Kimi, while Yuki in Fruits Basket has many insecurities and goes through great character development. Yet despite the fact that they are perfect, the losing love interest often feels generic. In most cases, the nice guy’s reasons for liking the girl go unexplained – all that matters is that he loves her enough to remain loyal to her, and enough to eventually let her go. This doesn’t work well for me, however, since in order for me to be convinced that a couple is right for each other I need to know the reason why each partner has feelings for the other. Thus, I find it hard to understand many times how some fans can root for love interests like Takeuchi in We Were There because they feel so underdeveloped.
Additionally, it sort of bugs me when fans gush about how nice it would have been if the girl had chosen the sweet guy or how cute the two would look together because in most series, the girl has no romantic feelings for the nice guy whatsoever. In most shojo romance series, it’s hard for me to imagine what type of couple the nice guy and main girl would be because the dynamic between them is platonic, and there’s no chemistry between them whatsoever. Just because the sweet guy is your favorite character or you don’t want him to end up alone doesn’t necessarily mean he’d be a good match with the female protagonist – or that he has to end up with her specifically. And what’s funny is that as much as some fans complain about the nice guy never getting the girl in the end, the response to series where the nice guy wins is usually mixed. For example, in Paradise Kiss, many fans wish Yukari had stayed with George rather than marrying her high school crush Tokumori. And in Sand Chronicles, it’s clear that Ann was going to end up with ‘everyman’ Daigo right from the start, yet there are still fans who hoped she would have chosen the mysterious Fuji. So as often as fans say they want the girl to choose the good guy, the appeal of the ‘reformed bad boy’ storyline is still strong because it creates so much drama, especially because bad boys often have better character development.
But the most important point I’d like to make is that while fans say the girl should choose the guy who treats her like a princess because in real life he’d be a much safer option are ignoring the fact that in real life, nice guys are not like the nice guys in manga. While in shojo manga perfect guys like Kimi ni Todoke‘s Kazehaya are handsome, considerate, and kind, in the real world, the average guy is somewhere in-between the good and the bad boy, prone to moments of both stupidity and sweetness. Thus, the ‘nice guy’ in shojo manga is just as much of an unrealistic idealization as the reformed bad boy is. Having a guy who knows exactly how you’re feeling all the time, or is willing to give up everything to be with you is nice – but it’s far-fetched, and you shouldn’t expect it from a guy in real life. Just as having a cold guy become more loving is a female fantasy so too is the image of the perfect, sweet boyfriend. All of this being said, I have no problem when the nice guy wins – and I do agree that there probably aren’t enough series where the sweet guy gets the girl. What’s needed, however, is for the nice guy to feel less like a plot device and more like a unique character, with his own quirks and interesting background. Fans may never completely agree with who should end up with the girl in their favorite series, but I hope to see that the reason they root for a certain character is more than just because they are generically ‘nice.’