Oftentimes, my favorite aspect of a series is the romance and how uniquely the main couple’s love is portrayed. Normally when I watch or read a series and I become invested in the romantic relationships, I begin to root for a particular couple. I get excited to see scenes of my favorite characters in romantic scenarios, and want to see them get together. But reading Hinako Ashihara’s manga Sand Chronicles was different than any other series I’ve encountered, because even though I loved how romantic the series was, I wasn’t actively rooting for Ann to end up with one guy over another.
Early on in the series, Ann develops feelings for Daigo, who helped her overcome her grief when her mother commits suicide. Over time, their feelings blossom into love, and they become a couple. But even though I enjoyed scenes such as Ann and Daigo kissing under the cherry trees when he comes to visit her in Tokyo, I found myself completely neutral to Daigo’s character. Part of this is likely due to him being the most ‘average’ male love interest I’ve encountered in a shojo: while most love interests are handsome and sweet (such as Tamahome from Fushigi Yugi) or perfect but mysterious (like Yuu from Marmalade Boy), Daigo is not that bright and isn’t depicted as being particularly good-looking (although he still manages to capture the hearts of three girls). But a bigger influence in my non-reaction to Daigo’s character was the presence of Fuji. Fuji is quiet, mysterious, rich, and has a tragic past – all common traits of a shojo male love interest. But it is these traits that also make him a more interesting character. So while it was obvious that Ann’s feelings were always stronger for Daigo and that they would likely it end up together, Sand Chronicles is the first series I’ve come across where I found the rival love interest to be more likeable and interesting. However, I still didn’t root for Ann and Fuji as a couple, and it was clear that when they dated, Ann was trying to overcome her loneliness from breaking up with Daigo. And I still wasn’t attached enough to either possible couple to root for or against either one of them, even though I cared about all the characters involved.
It wasn’t until reading volume seven of the series that I began to feel that Daigo truly was the better man for Ann. Ann’s depression, stemming from her mother’s suicide the winter when she was 12, is becoming more obvious to both the reader and those around her, and begins to consume her. When she meets up with Daigo for a class reunion, she asks him if they can get back together. Daigo then gives Ann some sensible advice; advice she needed to hear throughout the entire series: “The one who can make you happy isn’t me or Fuji. It’s you.” It’s at this point when I began to realize how well Daigo understood Ann and what was best for her, and I finally found myself pulling for the couple.
Of course, romance is just one of many themes in the series. What’s most important in Sand Chronicles is the personal struggles the characters go through. Seeing Ann face her innermost demons to finally realize that she wants to live was just so rewarding. But the fact that it was Daigo who was there for her, and that he and Ann were able to start a fresh, healthy relationship, was simply icing on the cake.