Happily ever after…at least until another love interest shows up

Happily ever after…at least until another love interest shows up

You’d think Mimi would have taken note…

Love triangles tend to be very hit or miss among fans. While some fans consider love triangles to be a fun way to heighten drama, other people see love triangles as predictably clichéd. Many fans, including myself, often find themselves on both sides of the argument: when a love triangle is done right it can captivate the audience, yet oftentimes it is obvious who is going to end up with each other right from the beginning. Simpleek wrote a post discussing the appeal of love triangles in manga, and I’ve written before about the love triangles in anime and manga that most stand out to me. And while I’ve come to accept the presence of love triangles, there is one type of triangle I absloutely cannot stand: when a character is introduced as a love rival after the main couple has already gotten together. This type of triangle pops up because once the main couple has finally confessed their love to one another and has gotten together, the author faces a dilemma. You can almost hear the author saying ‘Oh noes, I’m running out of plot! What’ll I do?!…Wait…I can create a new love interest! This way, the couple can break up over some stupid misunderstanding and the heroine can sulk around and find comfort in the arms of her rival. That’ll buy me a few chapters!’ There are multiple reasons I can’t stand this cliché. First of all, it is extremely common. The first series that comes to mind is Love*Com, which introduces Mimi right after Risa and Otani became an official couple in volume eight. Mimi can’t stand that Otani has fallen for someone taller than him because she also is taller than him and didn’t think she had a chance. Even though Mimi is a somewhat sympathetic character and I really like Love*Com, I didn’t feel as though her introduction into the story was necessary. Another example of a rival love interest showing up after the main couple had already gotten together occurs in The Devil Does Exist. The ‘love triangle’ in this series made no sense at all because Rumi’s reasons for liking Takeru were unclear, and more importantly she wasn’t even his type, so she wasn’t even a threat to Kayano and her relationship with Takeru. Rival love interests often pop up in Absolute Boyfriend, and they usually have ulterior motives. After Riiko and her robot boyfriend Night announce themselves as a couple at school, Mika tries to seduce Night because she’s only interested in other women’s guys. Later, a rival robot appears to try and win Riiko’s heart so he can replace Night. Overall, I find it to be much too contrived that a love rival will always show up just as the main characters have happily gotten together.

This cliché is also stupid because we know that the rival has no chance and the main couple will stay (or get back) together, which is most obviously shown in Marmalade Boy. When Kei Tsuchiya is introduced, he immediately interferes in Miki and Yuu’s relationship to win Miki’s heart. The couple fight and break up thanks to Kei’s presence, yet when Kei tries to make his move on Miki she’s not interested in him at all. It doesn’t take long for Miki and Yuu make up, and everything returns to normal. What bothers me most is that this plot was played for angst even though it was useless and trite. All I could think when I was watching the series was ‘Uh, hello, it’s called ‘Marmalade Boy!’ She’s obviously gonna end up with the ‘marmalade boy!’ So even though I love Marmalade Boy, I’m not a huge fan of this particular storythread and I wished the author would have just skipped it.

However, even though I generally can’t stand the late introduction of shallow love interests who are often uninteresting and barely fleshed-out, it can be done right. When Keita Kamogari shows up in volume eight of DMP’s release of Itazura na Kiss, he is training to become a nurse alongside Kotoko. Kotoko has trouble finding her footing with the medical field (which causes Keita a lot of pain, since he is the person she practices giving needles to), and when her genius doctor-in-training husband Naoki coldly tells her there’s no way she can be a nurse, Keita is bothered by how unsupportive he is. When all three go to a party with the other medical students, Keita calls Naoki out on spending his time socializing instead of with Kotoko, and yells at him for “not being to fond of his wife.” Naoki soon realizes that Keita is in love with Kotoko, and when he and Kotoko get into an argument, Keita confesses his feelings to her. Naoki soon begins ignoring Kotoko, and when he declines after she asks him to celebrate their second wedding anniversary, Kotoko finally snaps. She begins throwing books at him and saying their marriage doesn’t feel like a real one, and she tells him she doesn’t feel like he ever loved her. Kotoko decides to spend the night at a friend’s house, and the next day when Keita finds out about their fight he asks if she wants to move in with him because Naoki acts as though he doesn’t love or need her. Naoki rushes in to tell Kotoko that she’s completely wrong – he was jealous of Keita, which was a first for him and he didn’t know how to react. He tells Kotoko that he needs her more than anyone and he can only be himself around her, and the two make up. While the reasons behind Keita’s feelings for Kotoko are a bit underdeveloped, unlike so many other rival love interests Keita actually serves a purpose beyond creating unnecessary drama. Kotoko admits that deep down she was always insecure about why Naoki loved her, and she always felt she loved him more than he loves her.

Keita may not be fully fleshed out as a character, but he works very effectively as a plot device. When Naoki and Kotoko first got married in volume six of the manga, I had problems with them getting together because for so long, Naoki denied his feelings for Kotoko. The two were married only two weeks after he proposed to her, and I still felt that their relationship was too imbalanced. Bringing Keita into the mix helped not only air out these problems, but also brought them to a resolution. The stakes of having a rival love interest in Itazura na Kiss are also higher than in most other series because by the time Keita shows up Kotoko and Naoki were already married, which made the possiblity of their break-up much more sad than frustrating. In all, rival love interests often bring empty tension to a series – but when used right they can provide insight into the main couple and make their bond seem not only more realistic, but stronger.

10 thoughts on “Happily ever after…at least until another love interest shows up

  1. I am not crazy about the love triangle trope either. My biggest problem with many love triangles is one you mentioned too, it is obvious who our heroine will end up with. There is no REAL tension in the story.

    One that really drove me mad lately was Kento in the Kimi ni Todoke S2 anime. I was pulling my hair and telling him to please fall off a mountain in each episode. Seriously, if the writer makes me hate a BLONDE they are really doing it wrong!😉

    It generally only works if they are introduced early on. And then the fans can really get invested.

    -Narutaki

    1. It’s almost weird for me to think of Kento as a love interest because I couldn’t take him seriously at all – especially since by the time he was introduced Sawako and Kazehaya were already growing closer. Your feelings toward Kento are similar to my feelings toward Kei in Marmalade Boy – I found him to be so aggravating.

      I think that’s true too (that love triangles mainly work only when the rival love interest has been in the series since the beginning). I don’t mind the love triangle in Sand Chronicles, for example, because I initially liked Fuji as a character more than Daigo and felt bad for him when Ann had to tell him she wasn’t over Daigo yet.

      1. Actually, I think the problem is I couldn’t take him seriously as a rival either. That is what was so annoying! He just kept getting in the way in the most obnoxious manner. This is what drives me crazy with so many of these characters.

        -Narutaki

  2. I haven’t actually encountered the extra love interest who gets tacked on after the main couple gets together too much. At least with the stuff I’ve read so far. The only one you brought to mind was Kei from Marmalade Boy.

    I do agree that it is pointless to have another love interest/rival come along to shake things up for the main couple after they get together. As you pointed out, most of the time they aren’t well-developed characterwise and their only purpose is to cause angst. If the writer fears running out of plot, they should just stick to keeping the main couple apart until the very end. Unless the writer can come up with a better way to make the extra love interest work well into the story then they shouldn’t be added at all.

    1. Even better than creating unnecessary drama and angst, it’s nice when authors highlight couples when they’re happy and functional. The day-to-day stuff rarely gets shown because it’s ‘uninteresting,’ but I actually think it’s more interesting to read about because it’s rarely depicted. But I guess it’s because manga-ka are not only influenced by manga cliches, but also because it’s hard to depict reality and/or the ‘mundane’ well. Unless the rival love interest has something else going for him/her (like a secret background, etc.), they rarely add anything to the story, and sometimes I find that I dislike the character.

      1. Yeah, I’d like to see more of this as well since it’s so rarely done.🙂 And I agree with your post all around. Rival love interests only work when they add something substantial to the manga. Just shoving them in for drama sake really isn’t interesting. Albeit, sometimes I do enjoy that drama. ^///////^

  3. You have an excellent point. It happens especially in shojo manga when the writer has completely run out of other ideas. It is basically a lazy way to introduce conflict in to a plot, without really giving it that much thought or planning. It only works if the third person is an incredibly compelling personality in their own right.

    1. Oh yes, bringing in a love interest after the couple has gotten together just screams ‘the author has no idea what to do next.’ You’re very right that it only works well when the third person is interesting (or if it brings some genuine tension to the already established relationship as in Itakiss), but unfortunately that rarely happens.

  4. Definitely, your average plot is just very amateur in that way, and fails to bring the tension or understand how important having a stable, core couple is the first place. You can’t exactly feel very bad about something being meddled with or ruined if it wasn’t very strong or sturdy in the first place. I mean, if its just supposed to be a harem of several characters competing for the affection of one, I guess it doesn’t matter that much but usually they make the mistake of just tossing someone in the middle for the heck of it to create a fake conflict. .

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