January 7, 2013

Happily ever after for everyone! – beta couples in shojo manga

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:27 pm by starsamaria

One of the most common elements of shojo romantic-comedies is the presence of beta couples. Beta couples are secondary romantic relationships, which often serve as a contrast to the series’ main couple. Whether they’re the main character’s best friends or rival love interests who hook up after being rejected, the beta couple’s relationship is rarely developed or highlighted over the course of the series. I’ve found that the beta couple often is well established at the beginning of the series – they’re typically childhood sweethearts or they might get together right at the start of the manga – but either way, the fact that they’ve been together for so long make them great go-tos for relationship advice. They typically have little drama, and their presence in the series is typically used to contrast the main couple who struggles to get (or stay) together. And while beta couples may feel cliché (since the characters are often flat their relationships end up feeling just as boring, which was how I felt about the inclusion of Harumi and Tatsuya’s relationship in Mars), there are certainly interesting ones to be found. So I thought I’d take a look at a few examples.

When I think of beta couples, the first series that comes to mind is Marmalade Boy. Alongside Miki and Yuu, the series highlights the progressing romance between Miki’s best friend Meiko and her teacher/secret boyfriend Namura, as well as losing love interests Ginta and Arimi. Unlike many series, however, when Marmalade Boy begins focusing on Ginta’s new feelings for Arimi or Meiko’s heartache over her and Namura’s breakup, it doesn’t feel forced. This is because while most series will only start focusing on the protagonist’s best friends after the main couple has gotten together officially (such as Love*Com), Marmalade Boy does a great job of balancing all of it’s romantic storylines at the same time. I think another reason I like Marmalade Boy‘s beta couples better than most series is because I wasn’t particularly moved by Miki and Yuu’s romance. I didn’t care much for main character Miki, which would normally prevent me from getting extremely attached to a series. But because there were so many other characters and romantic pairings for me to choose from, the series stands out, and Ginta and Arimi became my favorite romance in the series.

Special A Akira and TadashiOther series have tried to balance the main couple’s romance while developing their friends’ romantic entanglements. One example is Special A, which not long after establishing Kei’s romantic feelings for protagonist Hikari also begins to develop Akira’s relationship with her longtime friend Tadashi, by showing that behind her constant punching of the goofy SA member lies romantic affection. Later, when Akira and Tadashi get together, fellow SA member Megumi asks out Yahiro, who is also in love with Akira, in order to prevent him from interfering with the new couple. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Megumi’s feelings to turn into real affection. But after finishing Special A, I was bothered a bit by the series falling into the trap of pairing almost all of it’s main cast with someone else. It’s extremely cliché, suggests that the only way a person can be happy is if they are in a romantic relationship, and is highly unrealistic. After all, how often does it happen that your entire group of friends happens to have a significant other?

Paradise Kiss Arashi and MiwakoThen there are the series that present their beta couples so uniquely it’s difficult to label them as such. The josei manga Paradise Kiss immediately presents childhood sweethearts Miwako and Arashi. At first, the two seem mismatched – he looks like a tough rocker and she’s a sweet lolita – but Yukari sees that the two go well together. However, over the course of the series the couple is shown facing their own problems when their former friend Hiroyuki Tokumori, who once had a crush on Miwako, comes back into the picture. But rather than being played for empty drama, the series shows that the couple’s problem isn’t rival love interests but rather Arashi’s jealousy, which was strong enough that it caused him to ask Miwako to cut off her friendship with Hiro. And unlike many other beta couples, whose relationships are stable enough that other characters constantly ask them for romantic advice, Miwako is often the one who turns to Yukari for advice or comfort when things get shaky between her and Arashi. Unlike so many beta couples, there are genuine emotions behind Arashi and Miwako’s relationship, which makes the inclusion of their story feel worthwhile.

Hana Yori Dango has two examples: Rui and his childhood crush Shizuka, and Tsukushi’s best friend Yuki’s crush on F4 member Sojiro. When Rui chose to follow Shizuka to France after she decided to become a lawyer, I thought she’d fall for him and their relationship would work out. But when Rui returns to Japan it’s clear that things weren’t working between the two of them, and I was somewhat surprised that the two of them never got back together. Even more surprising was that Yuki’s feelings for Sojiro also remain unrequited. Usually in manga when a girl has unrequited feelings for a guy but decides to pursue him anyway he will end up falling for her, even if he can’t stand her in the beginning of the series (like Naoki in Itazura na Kiss. Note also that there is a double standard: if a girl in shojo manga has a creepy suitor she will never give him the time of day). But Sojiro doesn’t change his mind about good-girl Yuki nor will he change his philandering ways - yet rather than feeling discouraged Yuki decides to appreciate her feelings for him, and the two become better friends. I liked that not all of the romantic pairings in Hana Yori Dango had happy endings, and that most of the cast remained single up to the series’ finale. And because there are so many manga that will take the same combination of characters (like pairing a cheerful girl with a grumpy guy) and develop several couples with those exact same archetypes, I really love when each of the couples presented in a series feel distinctly different from one another. It makes sense that beta couples work best when they’re presence isn’t forced into the storyline and include interesting characters – because rather than detracting from a story they add to it.

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18 Comments »

  1. simpleek said,

    What a great post! And I agree with a lot of the examples you have pointed out. I always liked Ginta and Arimi. They kind of start out as the so-called “losers” in Marmalade Boy because neither ended up with the one they loved the most. But I like how they start off as friends and then slowly into lovers. They both understand how it feels to be rejected by the ones they wished to be with, and the two end up being quite different from each other too if I remember correctly. However, Ginta and Arimi start seeing how they make a wonderful compliment to the other. I think Ginta and Arimi are one of the stronger beta couples I have seen in manga. I know there are others, but I can’t seem to think of them at the moment.

    • starsamaria said,

      Thanks! It’s funny, the author ended up pairing Ginta and Arimi together only because the fans suggested it. Yet to me they’re the couple in Marmalade Boy that make the most sense – they balance each other’s personalities out very well. They also manage to not have much drama without ever feeling ‘boring’ because it’s obvious they love each other. The only other beta couple I like anywhere near as much as Ginta and Arimi are Miyu and Yamato from Super Gals!, probably because Miyu is my favorite character in the series.

  2. hilarypham said,

    now that you pointed beta couples out, dozens of them are popping into my head! i loved your post! ;)

    • starsamaria said,

      Thanks! Not only do many series feature a beta couple, but often there’s more than one – most have at least two, sometimes even three beta couples or more.

  3. John Samuel said,

    The cynic in me wants to point out that having beta couples neatly avoids accusations of being a harem series…

    • starsamaria said,

      Interesting. That might be true for the beta couples who got together after being rejected by the main love interest (like Ginta and Arimi in Marmalade), but there are plenty of beta couples that are made up of characters who were never romantically involved with either person in the main pair at all (like Akira/Tadashi from Special A or Nobu and her boyfriend in Love*Com). Series with the latter types of beta couples feel less like harem series.

  4. Noura said,

    I actually love and appreciate secondary couples more than the main ones most of the time. However, I don’t think it is necessary for all characters to end up with someone or to have a happy ending. It just feels unrealistic to me and that’s why I was happy that Sojiro didn’t end up falling for Yuki. They are not a good match, IMO. Yuki was the shy type and Sojiro was the playboy, so I can see how such girl would fall for such guy and the thrill that comes with it but it usually doesn’t work out in the long run. I know it is a shoujo manga but I still like to see something different. I don’t like it when all girls in a said series end up with a love interest. As for Rui and Shizuka, I kind of wanted them to be together but I wasn’t disappointed that they didn’t end up together. It could be because I was mainly interested in Domyouji and Makino.

    Another secondary couple I really love is Ryu and Chizuru from Kimi ni Todoke. I’m more interested in Ayane and Chizuru’s love lives than Sawako’s. Well, we can’t say Ryu and Chizuru is a couple yet but I love them together. As for Ayane, the one I would love to see her ending up with is Pin. Kento is definitely a potential love interest for her but I don’t like them together. They lack the chemistry and spark unlike her and Pin. Not to mention that they seem a bit forced. Now I know that teacher/student relationships are usually frowned upon but I still love these two. I wouldn’t mind if they got together after Ayane finishes school just as long as they are together but it doesn’t seem likely to happen for now.
    Another secondary character I love in this series is Kurumi. She was Sawako’s rival and I have to say that she is one of the best rivals created in shoujo manga. I so would love to see her happy with someone but I’m not sure if Shiina-sensei has anything planned for this character in the future. I actually thought she might end up with Kento eventually but it doesn’t seem likely at this point given that Kurumi has been absent in the last 10 chapters or so. I totally think she and Kento could work out and I think they are a good match but the question is whether it will happen or not.
    I would like to add that this is one of the very few series where I like all characters without exception. It is usually rare for me to love all characters in a shoujo manga as a lot of them tend to get on my nerves and annoy me but I would say that Kimi ni Todoke has a great cast and I’m so interested in seeing how things will be for all of them.

    In S.A, I liked Tadashi and Akira but I have to say I was leaning towards Yahiro more. Part of me wanted Akira to love him but I knew it wouldn’t happen. I didn’t like the idea of Yahiro and Megumi together but I could see it happening in the future.

    This is such an interesting post.

    • starsamaria said,

      Thanks for commenting! I agree that Sojiro and Yuki didn’t work as a couple. I thought her crush on him was cute at first, but then I realized that whenever they talked the only topic of conversation was usually Tsukushi and Tsukasa – they had nothing in common. Plus, when Sara was introduced I immediately liked her and thought she and Sojiro made a good couple. But I thought it made sense why they didn’t up together either. As for Rui and Shizuka, I didn’t find them to be a particularly interesting couple but I guess I was expecting (at least early on in the series) for Shizuka to return his feelings. But I can appreciate that Shizuka puts her goals first and can’t really move past seeing Rui as a friend because of how long they’ve known each other.

      I thought of Kimi ni Todoke when writing this post – it’s one of those series that develops beta couples who weren’t romantically interested in one of the main love interests, which is refreshing. I’m not that far into the series, however, not to mention the series does fall into the trap of shifting focus onto Sawako’s friends after she and Kazehaya get together rather than balancing all of the plots together (not to mention, it’s an excuse to avoid writing about the main couple’s relationship after they get together, which many authors tend to do).

      I can kind of see why you’d like Yahiro better. He’s interesting, more so than Tadashi; not to mention Akira’s feelings for Tadashi came out of nowhere in my opinion.

  5. hoshiko said,

    I actually remember more of Arashi and Miwako’s relationship than Yukari and George’s. It’s not because the latter couple isn’t interesting, but rather the former couple strike me more as the unusual pair. Even so, their personalities compliment each other very well.

    • starsamaria said,

      Arashi and Miwako’s relationship stood out a bit more to me once I rewatched the anime. I like that they go through problems yet manage to solve them and still be a happy couple. But of course I can’t help but be swept up in George and Yukari’s dysfunctional yet fascinating romance.

  6. soaringwings said,

    Hm, I’ve only got a single volume of Marmalade Boy. It looks like I should probably continue it if only for the beta couples. x3 I don’t believe I got to the point in ParaKiss when Arashi’s jealousy comes to the forefront. I remember there being hints of problems, but nothing explicit yet. I do believe I got to volume 2 at my highschool library. Now that it has a reprint, I am going to pick it up and I’m definitely looking forward to see how those problems are resolved (or not resolved). :3

    I definitely agree with you that pairing everyone off is not very realistic and I feel it often comes off as overly corny. I definitely appreciate any manga and anime that can write a good unrequited love story or a failed relationship. I haven’t gotten to that part in Hana Yori Dango yet, but now I’m really looking forward to Yuki’s story. I always liked her. :3 That said, I usually enjoy beta couples because they give you another relationship to follow in case the main one doesn’t cut it. Sort of wish there was one like that in Fushigi Yugi now. :(

    • starsamaria said,

      “I usually enjoy beta couples because they give you another relationship to follow in case the main one doesn’t cut it.”

      That’s how I kind of felt about Marmalade – I wasn’t crazy about Miki and Yuu (not that I was against them or anything), so I was grateful for the parts of the story that focused more on Ginta and Arimi. And for a more extreme example – a lot of people especially liked the beta couple in Hot Gimmick for this reason.

      • soaringwings said,

        Yeah, I could definitely see someone sticking with Hot Gimmick for the beta couple. They were less problematic. Still I actually didn’t like Akane and Subaru together. I’m probably one of the few, but I just couldn’t see them lasting at all. Akane hates everything nerdy and that’s pretty much Subaru. They had absolutely nothing in common. Also, I was disappointed that the message was “if you want a girl, you better change your nerdy ways.” It should have been, “if you want a long lasting relationship, date someone with similar interests.” And that’s pretty much why I didn’t like the couple or ever believed they could last.

        I don’t blame you. I’ve only got one volume but Miki and Yuu didn’t really make an impression on me either. It was why I put it on hold so long ago.

      • Pearl's said,

        I stuck to reading the entire series of Hot Gimmick because I had a little bit of hope that Hatsumi would wise up to Ryoki and leave him be and that she would be alone at the end to figure things out for herself. I understood she was only a high schooler, so she had time to grow and at that age, hormones are running wild for most folks; but my goodness her constant defending of Ryoki’s actions is unbelievable. I had hoped someone, like her former childhood friend Azusa, would point out what an abusive boyfriend Ryoki was; that she didn’t have to take that kind of crap from anybody.

        In the end, it was hopeless; there was nothing anybody can do to change the girl’s only decisive choice of sticking with Ryoki.

        As for the beta couple (Akane and Subaru, don’t get me started on them. From a shallow perspective, they look cute, but as you soaringwings said, “They had absolutely nothing in common.” I somewhat agree with that because I didn’t think Hatsumi and Ryoki had anything in common and yet they worked out just fine (for all we know). Akane saw that Subaru had a crush for Hatsumi; but one nice thing he did for changes her way of looking at him. No longer was he the nerd secretly liking her sister; he was her sister’s nerdy friend who did ONE nice thing for her, and suddenly he was a hero in her eyes. And what Akane wants, Akane gets – which grated my nerves at how manipulative she could be (i.e. asking Hatsumi to buy her a pregnancy test when she was old enough to disregard people’s opinions of her having sex at a young age, but couldn’t get the test herself because people will talk. Well I say, honey you should have thought of that before sleeping with boys. And Hatsumi was easily a pushover, doing whatever her sister ordered).

        I wanted someone better for Subaru; instead we were stuck with him and Akane. The only Narita sibling I liked was Shinogu, but even then I thought his ending sucked because Hatsumi isn’t worth it. (No offense; I am not saying a person isn’t worthy of someone’s love, but I wished Shinogu would realize that Hatsumi will never accept his love and that he needed to move on in order to find someone who will love him for all his worth like he deserves.)

  7. [...] discusses beta couples—second bananas—in shoujo manga at Shoujo [...]

  8. bonnie said,

    i’m getting tired of “drama” (love rivals, love triangles etc) in love stories. It was cool at first but now it’s getting bothersome. Not every story has to have “spice” inorder to be good. A striaght forward love story would be a refreshing change.

  9. Pearl's said,

    I recently did an article on scene-stealers in manga. One beta couple that will always be number one to me is Ursula and Kash from Red River. I cried at their premature romance because [SPOILERS]Ursula died when she falsely confessed to murdering the king in order for her hope of seeing Yuri take on the title of the Hittie Queen[SPOILERS]. I guessed you can’t call their relationship premature because they were in love and had hope for their future as husband and wife (with lots of kids T.T). Their love story was short, simple, and sweet, but it didn’t make it through the long run like Yuri and Kail, who are the main pairing. People had to die in that world of politics and court corruptions. I will always be grateful to Chie Shinohara for the long-lasting impression Ursula and Kash’s love story had on me. I will always cry like a baby, just thinking of what could have been for these two.

  10. yaykisspurr said,

    *scream* into the heavens…I’ve been wanting to read Paradise Kiss for so long. I feel like if I break down and buy it then I’ll just not stop buying shojo and frankly my pocket book can’t handle the expense. Still your post makes me want to run out and get it! I too tend to really love the beta couples, sometimes better than the alpha ones. Still they serve their purpose of showing how the leads are the unusual pairing. i.e. something special. This isn’t the right post but that’s why I always loved Tohru and Ryo/Kyo? hehe, as a couple. To me Yuki is a good kid and something the world should have moreover. Hopefully the hard lives of the leads are less likely… Cheers.


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