The flow of time in shojo manga

The flow of time in shojo manga

After marrying Naoki, Kotoko struggles (but ultimately succeeds) in becoming a nurse.

There are many things shojo manga does extremely well. Crafting multi-layered characters, engrossing romances, and addictive melodrama are all staples of the best shojo on the market today. But one element that is often overlooked that stands out to me is the way shojo subtly handles the passage of time. While many shojo series seem to be stuck in the golden years of high school, several of my favorite manga take place over many years of the protagonists’ lives. This allows us to get an all-too rare glimpse at the adult phases of life – careers, marriage, and the start of a family. One of the very things I love most about Itazura na Kiss is how much time passed over the course of the series. At the start of Naoki and Kotoko’s rocky relationship, both charcaters are seniors in high school. They quickly enter college and are faced with important life decisions – especially Naoki, who despite his father’s expectations for him to take over his toy company, starts to dream of becoming a doctor. But I think watching Kotoko’s career path is even more fulfilling – because for so long in the series her attentions are only focused on Naoki. When Kotoko fails to graduate on time and considers dropping out of school, Naoki scolds her for shirking her responsibilities and never giving any serious consideration to her future, she ultimately decides to become a nurse because her dream is to help Naoki. Through the passage of time we can see the characters mature and not only overcome their foibles, but also learn how to accept responsibility.

Photos and Ann’s iconic hourglass shows the importance of the passage of time throughout the series.

One series in which the passage of time, especially the passing of the seasons, is especially important is Sand Chronicles. The series follows main character Ann from ages 12-26, and each chapter is given a title using the Ann’s age and what season it is (e.g.: Winter, Age 18: First Star). The seasons add to the mood and forbode important events, such as the death of Ann’s mother during the snowy winter or the end of Ann and Fuji’s relationship amidst the late fall trees. But the passage of time is most clearly represented through Ann’s hourglass, which was given to her by her mother at the beginning of the series. After her mother commits suicide, Ann breaks the hourglass, but it returns to her hands when Daigo buys her a new one because she shouldn’t ever let go of the things that are most important to her. On that day, Ann makes a wish: that she and Daigo will be together for the rest of their lives. But when Ann’s depression from her mother’s death begins to consume her, she breaks things off with Daigo and puts the hourglass away – a symbol for Ann being stuck in time. Their decision to live by the sand once Ann overcomes her depression and reconciles with Daigo is meaningful because it shows that time has started for her once more.

But series don’t need to take place over years and years to feel the passage of time. One series that makes use of a detailed account of time is Red River by Chie Shinohara. In Red River, 15-year-old Yuri Suzuki is sucked into 14th Century Anatolia. Shinohara intergrates real-life historical figures such as Kail Mursili, prince of the Hittites, and Egypt’s Nefertiti. Historically-accurate events such as the death of Zannanza (Kail’s brother and a prince of the Hittites, who became pharaoh of Egypt but was killed before he could take the throne) give me great respect for the series. But the series in which the flow of time feels the most authentic is without a doubt Nana. Cell phone conversations are given exact dates and times, enveloping the series within the real world.  Beginning at volume twelve, the series occassionally flash-forwards several years into the future, giving the audience clues of what will happen during the present. We Were There also uses this technique after it’s main couple goes their separate ways, and the audience is thrust five years into the future to figure out little by little what happened to each character. Thus, there are many interesting ways to use the passage of time within a series to make it feel unique. Overall, I think the main reason I have such a fondness for series which take place over a long portion of the cast’s lives is because it allows the audience to grow even more attached to the characters and their personal stories. Watching characters grow over a specified period of time makes them feel real, as though their stories are taking place somewhere else right as we speak.

Power and gender in Kamisama Kiss

Power and gender in Kamisama Kiss

There are many problematic power dynamics presented in shojo anime and manga. Too many series feature weak, passive girls in romantic relationships with jerky or outright abusive boyfriends, often placing female characters in a subservient role. The currently-running Kamisama Kiss anime and manga has impressed many fans with it’s willful heroine Nanami, who becomes a kami (deity) to a local shrine after her dad leaves her (and his debts) behind. On the surface, Kamisama Kiss subverts the traditional power dynamics intertwined with gender relations by featuring Nanami becoming the ‘master’ to her shinishi (a creature who is controlled by a kami) Tomoe. I’d like to further explore in which ways the series subverts and reinforces stereotypical gender relations –  in many cases, at the same time.

Many bloggers pointed out that right from the start, Kamisama Kiss subverts traditional shojo cliches by having Nanami steal a kiss from Tomoe, while in most series it is the female protagonist who typically has a kiss stolen from her. But as I have mentioned before, it’s interesting that when a female character initiates a kiss, her intentions are not romantic or sexual – instead, she kisses Tomoe in order for him to become her shinishi and guardian. Thus, because the kiss was not romantic in it’s nature, Nanami’s ‘purity’ is upheld. And although Nanami is put in a position of power as kami of the shrine, it is interesting that she becomes the kami of love and relationships, which has always been associated more with women.  Another way in which traditional gender roles are upheld is that Tomoe, as a fox yokai who is far more powerful than Nanami, becomes her protector. The reason Nanami kisses Tomoe and enters the shinishi contract in the first place is because she is being attacked by a yokai who steals the souls of humans and needs him to fend off the monster. And as a newcomer to the shrine, Nanami relies on Tomoe for everything from learning how to use ofuda (strips of paper used to write spells) to catching the bus on time. Tomoe himself, though a wild fox yokai, is very much like most ‘bad boy’ love interests in shojo manga: he has a mysterious past and can be cruel to Nanami (often to teach her a lesson). In these ways, stereoypical gender representations are reinforced.

However, it’s been pointed out that while on the surface Tomoe may rescue Nanami, ultimately Nanami always ends up saving herself, thus neutralizing Tomoe’s status as her protector and setting Nanami apart from the typical ‘damsel in distress.’ For example, in volume six, when Nanami is attacked by a spider yokai at school Tomoe is the one who kills the monster. However, the school becomes thick with miasma from the yokai, and Nanami is ultimately the one who is able to purify the monster despite Tomoe’s stronger powers.  There are also several instances where Nanami ends up saving Tomoe. In volume four, Tomoe gets kidnapped by a sea yokai and is saved by Nanami when she returns to the past to retrieve the eye Tomoe stole from him. Thus, Tomoe and Nanami are constantly switching positions in their power dynamic. However,  as the series progresses, Nanami finds herself in situations where she can’t rescue herself more often, and ends up relying more on Tomoe (such as when Nanami is sent to the Land of the Dead in volume eight). While this may seem to suggest that the series is regressing to traditional gender dynamics, I am not bothered because much has been done to show that Nanami always makes an effort to get herself out of sticky situations, which is more than can be said for the stereotypical passive female character. And more importantly, the emphasis of the series is clearly to show that Nanami and Tomoe are strongest when they work together. As a kami, Nanami is becoming more confident in her powers, while Tomoe is beginning to realize that humans aren’t as weak as he thought they are. Because of her influence in his life, the shrine feels warmer, and Tomoe is slowly learning to trust Nanami not to abandon him as his previous master Mikage did once before.

In terms of the growing romance between Nanami and Tomoe, however, is where the ever-changing power dynamics must come into question. By having Nanami kiss Tomoe first, it would seem as though Nanami has the upper-hand in their relationship. But I would argue that Kamisama Kiss upholds traditional gender relations in all areas concerning romance. Nanami is the first to realize she loves Tomoe, and when she hypothetically asks what he would do if she fell for him, Tomoe tells her that he “will not fall in love with a human.” Nanami is heartbroken, and at this point any romantic relationship between the two of them is completely in Tomoe’s hands. Kurama, a tengu, warns Tomoe that Nanami may fall for him simply because she’s a young woman, which perpetuates stereotypes about teenage girls being shallow and boy-crazy. And when the shinishi contract between Tomoe and Nanami is broken in volume eight after he rescues her from the Land of the Dead, it is up to Tomoe, not Nanami, to reinitiate it. He tells her not to automatically assume that he’ll be her shinishi again, and he uses the time to wonder why he can’t stop thinking about Nanami even though their contract has been cut off. And while Nanami had no fears in forcing a kiss from Tomoe at the beginning of the series, now that she has romantic feelings for him she doesn’t do anything, upholding traditional gender roles that only males should be romantic agressors, especially in physical terms. It is Tomoe who kisses Nanami in her sleep in order to become her shinishi again, undermining the atypical power dynamic praised at the series’ start. But is this enough to ruin the series for me? Not at all – I’ve enjoyed series with far more problematic gender roles, and I still can admire Nanami for being cheerful and hardworking without coming across as annoying. More importantly, my interest in the series has grown now that we’re beginning to learn more about Tomoe’s past. Yet while the decision to have Tomoe become the romantic initiator may be chalked up as a female fantasy it is important not dismiss this, and instead think about how deeply-embedded such a female fantasy is in our society and why. So while Kamisama Kiss may subvert traditional gender dynamics in some ways, in other ways it holds on tight.

The idealization of the ‘nice guy’

The idealization of the ‘nice guy’

Some fans of Fruits Basket still wish that the kind ‘Prince’ Yuki had ended up with Tohru instead of Kyo.

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.

In Sand Chronicles, Ann chooses the average nice guy. Fans didn’t exactly jump for joy, however.

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.’

Maid-sama! – leaving behind the formula

Maid-sama! – leaving behind the formula

Lately, I’ve been watching the popular shojo anime Kaichou wa Maid-Sama! The series follows Misaki Ayukawa, a girl who worked hard to become class president to represent the female student body in her formerly all-boys school. Like many a shojo heroine, Misaki comes from a poverty-stricken background, and must work hard to make ends meet. What her classmates don’t know is that Misaki works at a maid café! Misaki’s secret is soon discovered by Takumi Usui, the most popular boy in her school. He begins coming to the café (Maid Latte) everyday to watch Misaki work, and promises to keep her secret because he wants to keep enjoying his fun by himself. From the start, Kaichou wa Maid-sama! clings to common shojo clichés. Unfortunately, oftentimes it feels as though the series has these clichés just for the sake of having them. In the first episode, Misaki seems to hate Usui because he’s a playboy. That’s fair enough, except every time she’s seen him with a girl he’s rejecting them, which would actually make him the opposite of a playboy. At another point in the first episode, Misaki learns that she came in second to Usui on their exam, which infuriates her. However, in the thirteen episodes I’ve watched so far of the series, not once since then has Misaki’s academic inferiority complex to Usui been mentioned. While I’m glad this particular thread hasn’t been resurrected so far because it’s so clichéd (honestly, His and Her Circumstances did it first and did it the best), I feel it’s bad writing to mention something and never bring it up again. It’s almost as though the series is unsure of what it wants to do and where it wants to go next.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only time the series relies too much on telling instead of showing. In the first two episodes, characters often comment on how strong Misaki is. Usui and another maid who works with Misaki have a conversation about how hardworking Misaki is and that it sometimes keeps her from allowing help from others. I’m not a fan of when series tell me how strong or unique a character is without actually showing me – but I’ll cut Maid-Sama! some slack because it does get there eventually. Misaki proves time and time again to be a very determined girl with a strong sense of values. When she is offered a free scholarship to a rich academy, Misaki turns it down because she’s afraid that Seika High School will minimize the role of it’s female students if she’s no longer a class representative there. In another episode, Misaki saves a student from a falling ladder, injuring herself in the process. But my favorite scene is in episode five, when Misaki is left by herself in Maid Latte. She’s attacked by two perverts who handcuff and gag her, and after Usui sees from the window he rushes to rescue her. Just as he kicks through the glass, Misaki breaks the handcuffs and attacks the perverts herself! This scene made me laugh out loud, as it was setting up to be a damsel-in-distress moment and ended up going against the grain.

Another way Misaki is a unique character is that she’s the first female shojo protagonist I’ve come across who is…well, sexist. As class president, Misaki often ignores the boys’ opinions in favor of the girls’. She often punishes the male students with extreme severity and thinks that by doing so, she’s improving the repuation of Seika High. However, Misaki is confronted about her bias very early on in the series. When Misaki assumes that the boys in her classroom of reading a dirty magazine and asks to confiscate it, the boys call her out on only checking their magazines, and Misaki quickly agrees to read the girls’ magazines as well to make sure they’re appropriate for school. And during the cultural festival, when Misaki ignores her male classmates’ input, they decide to rebel by not helping out with the café. Misaki apologizes and realizes she was wrong, but it’s clear that her dislike of males is still an issue for her. Her hatred for chauvinism goes directly against her role as a maid, and Usui questions her about her feelings toward her job. Misaki admits that though she initially had problems with her job, she’s warmed up to playing a maid because of her friends at work, who taught her the importance of making others happy. However, Misaki’s attitude toward males makes a later scene somewhat confusing. In episode seven, the women at Maid Latte decide to dress as men and serve only female customers for a day. Misaki thoroughly enjoys it, and prompts her to tell Usui she’s more of a male at heart. This statement feels as though it came out of nowhere and makes no sense, however, because of how much Misaki fights for women and distrusts guys, and thus doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series.

Still, there are many things about Maid-Sama! that are fun and interesting. Usui is an interesting example of a male tsundere – he’s slightly less cruel in his teasing than the average shojo male love interest yet somewhat unfazed by his surroundings. Despite this, he’s more open about his feelings for Misaki than the average male tsundere is, which I like. His ability to show up wherever Misaki is is made fun of in the series, and is really funny. So far, not much is known about Usui’s background, and I’m looking forward to finding out more. The episode where Misaki and her friends trail Usui to find out what he does outside of school has been one of my favorites so far. Misaki’s friend Sakura gets the idea that Usui must be rich (a common trait among shojo male love interests), and he purposely goes to a luxury tailor and ultra high class restaurant just to mess with them! In many ways, the series uses shojo formulas for both good and evil. When it’s bad, Maid-sama! is an uneven but watchable series. But when it’s good, Maid-sama! feels like a shojo anime that’s actually worthy of the popularity it’s received. I hope that the second half of the series learns to let go of the clichés – or at least learns how to twist them a little bit more.

Let’s talk about sex…

Let’s talk about sex…

About 80% of Absolute Boyfriend’s plot is Riiko deciding whether she should sleep with her robotic boyfriend Night.

I’m always curious whenever I see people describe shojo romances as ‘pure’ or ‘innocent.’ While the average shonen manga may contain more panty shots and jiggling breasts than every single shojo manga combined, shojo series are actually far more likely to explore the topic of sex. Many newcomers to shojo manga are surprised to find that a good portion of shojo series feature couples who eventually do the deed. This surprise may stem from the assumption that materials intended for female audiences are automatically ‘chaste,’ since (supposedly) males are the only ones interested in viewing sex. Sex shows up in everything from ‘fluffy’ series like Absolute Boyfriend to more gritty fare such as Nana and Sand Chronicles. But the presence of sex in shojo manga can be very divisive. While some fans prefer for the topic of sex to be explored in romance manga, others feel bothered when shojo series cross the line. Part of what may influence fans’ reactions to sex in shojo manga are their expectations from manga as a whole.

Many of the fans I’ve seen complain about sex in shojo manga prefer idealistic romances. They don’t want to see teenagers in bed – instead, they look to shojo romances as an escape; a fantasy that should be ‘pure,’ and sex often gets in the way of that illusion. Meanwhile, fans who prefer shojo series that do include the main couple consummating their relationship don’t just like it for the kinks (though that can factor in too, of course). These fans tend to like sex in shojo manga because they think it’s unrealistic for teenagers to be so pure that they never think about or discuss sex. As for myself, I tend to agree with the latter opinion. In my post on what makes a good couple, I purposely left one criteria out: physicality. Knowing that a manga couple is physically attracted to each other (through kissing, sensual hugs, etc.) is important in getting attached to them, and this attraction includes, and often leads up to, the couple consummating their feelings. But let me clarify: I don’t think every shojo manga with teenaged characters needs to show that the main couple is sexually active. However, what I do think is that shojo series should at least show the main couple addressing the issue of whether they should have sex or not. It’s more important for me that a series includes a scene where the main female talks with her girlfriends about not wanting to have sex with her boyfriend yet or the main couple has a conversation about sex than for an actual sex scene to occur. Regardless of what the media and those right-wing PSAs will tell you, in real-life not every teenager is having sex, and thus, it’s not unrealistic for a character to not be sexually active in a romance manga. But it is unrealistic for a teenaged character to have no thoughts about sex, even if those thoughts are that they’re not ready for it yet.

Still, to some extent I can see why there are fans who don’t like to see the topic of sex come up in their favorite shojo manga. Over the past few years, shojo manga has grown increasingly smuttier. While this may or or may not be problematic in itself, what is troublesome is that smut often takes place of developing interesting plots or characters. My opinion of sex within a manga is often affected by how many sex scenes there are and how they are depicted. I’d much prefer for sex scenes to be depicted sensually and for there to be few of them than for a series to be all-out smut. Not to mention, how a fan reacts to the presence of sex in a shojo manga really depends on the manga itself. For example, I came into Kimi ni Todoke expecting a very pure love story, and seeing Sawako and Kazehaya in any sort of physical relationship would be somewhat disconcerting given Sawako’s naïvété.

Mayu Shinjo is known for creating smutty series, including Ai Ore!

But what’s interesting is that regardless of how many shojo manga include sex scenes, very few series have a female protagonist who is not a virgin. The only series I can think of whose main female characters have had sex prior to the story’s start are Mars, in which Kira was raped by her stepfather several years before falling in love with her boyfriend Rei, and Gatcha Gatcha, which implied that it’s main female character had sex with at least a few of her past thirteen boyfriends. Even once female manga characters do have sex, intimacy is always placed in the context of ‘progressing’ the couple’s relationship – very rarely do we get to see the female’s thoughts on the pleasure of the act itself.  So while it may seem like shojo manga are very ‘contemporary’ by showcasing couples who eventually have sex, in reality they’re still upholding very traditional values of what a ‘good’ teenaged girl should be like by reinforcing the female protagonist’s virginity at the start of the series. Still, I don’t think saying that all shojo series should or should not include sex is the right answer. Instead, there should be a range in the depiction of love and sex, and I would argue that shojo manga already does this: if you don’t like to see couples between the sheets, there are plenty of chaste alternatives out there. So what do you guys think? Does it bother you when you see characters having sex in a shojo manga, or do you find it to be unrealistic when they don’t? Share your thoughts, guys!

Anime Blogger Interrogation Game

Anime Blogger Interrogation Game

I’ll be participating in the Anime Blogger Interrogation Game, which both Simpleek and Soaringwings have tagged me in. Since I’ve been tagged twice, I’ll answer both sets of questions in this one post. Let’s get started!

Rules (copy/pasted from the original)

  • Each person is supposed to follow the rule of fives.You are allowed to ask 5 questions, after which you can tag up to 5 bloggers by hyper-linking to their blog; 5 questions because it’s not too many to flood another blogger and occupy too much of his/her time, but yet a large enough number to ask your most important questions, and 5 bloggers to avoid spamming. Hence, prioritize your questions, and who you wish to ask!
  • Those tagged are obliged to answer the questions in a blog post, and after which, they are entitled to create their own 5 questions and tag 5 other bloggers, so on and so forth. You are allowed to tag the person that tagged you in the first place. Also, copy and paste this section on your blog so others can understand how the game goes.
  • In the case where a blogger strongly refuses to answer a question, he/she must instead post a nice anime image, wallpaper or cosplay picture, et cetera in response to that question.
  • To make things interesting, a blogger can include wildcards in his/her 5 questions by placing an asterisk, (*), after which those tagged are obliged to reveal something interesting about themselves that others did not previously know. There is no limit to the number of asterisks one can place (which means there can be up to 5 wildcard questions).
  • Anyone can feel free to start the game; you don’t necessarily need someone to tag you. Just create your 5 questions and tag your 5 people of choice. However, the catch is that you must answer your own 5 questions as well.
  • To potentially prevent an endless game, this round of games will end on the 8th September 2012, 12pm JST (GMT +9). After which, no more bloggers can tag others to answer their questions. Read more
What makes a good couple?

What makes a good couple?

I love a good love story. I find watching the struggles of two people come together to be more exciting than any action-adventure story or fantasy setting could ever be. But just what is it that makes a good love story, and even more importantly, a good couple? There are literally hundreds of romance manga, yet only a handful of couples have carved a place in my heart as my favorites. After thinking about it, I came up with several elements all that are present in all of the love stories I’ve enjoyed most, so I thought I’d share them with you guys.

Interesting characters: No matter how great a love story may be, if either of the characters in a relationship with each other are boring or unmemorable, I won’t feel the need to care about them. Take Hana-Kimi, for example: I never found myself particularly attached to either Mizuki, who is a cherrful-yet-typical shojo heroine, or Sano, who is pretty-yet-dull, and thus they never stood out to me in comparison to other manga couples. Even if one character is unique, if the other character is flat or outright annoying it makes it impossible for me to have strong feelings towards a couple, such as in The Devil Does Exist, which features a pretty intriguing male lead in Takeru but a disappointingly dense heroine in Kayano. This is probably why my favorite couples also consist of my favorite characters, particularly Kodocha‘s Sana and Akito.

I like fun, teasing couples like Dengeki Daisy’s Teru and Kurosaki.

The power balance is equal: There are too many series that glorify romantic pairings in which the woman is in a subservient position. While I probably don’t even need to mention magical-girlfriend/harem series such as He is My Master, a (sadly high) number of shojo series feature relationships in which passive girls are dating guys who hold power over them – which they use to the fullest extent. In Black Bird, Kyo’s often cruel treatment of girl-next-door Misao is treated as ‘romantic’ because he is her protector, while in Hot Gimmick Hatsumi is blackmailed by her jerky neighbor Ryoki, which eventually turns into ‘true love,’ warts and all. Dengeki Daisy offers an interesting case: although Kurosaki is Teru’s protector and a few years older than her, the worst he ever does is tease her, while Teru’s brighter and spunkier than either Misao and Hatsumi could ever hope to be. Thus, they feel more like equals than many other manga couples, and this has helped me latch onto the couple as one of my most recent favorites. But it’s not just the power balance that’s important: both characters also need to feel equally in love with each other. In Itazura na Kiss, Kotoko spent six years pining after Naoki Irie before he confessed his love. The two married shortly after, but Naoki still rarely showed his affection for Kotoko, often putting his work ahead of her and being just generally indifferent to celebrating anniversaries and going on dates. Even though it’s obvious that he does love her, it’s hard for me to love Naoki and Kotoko as a couple as much as I love their love story because their relationship feels so imbalanced.

They’re comfortable around each other: Over at Beneath the Tangles, TWWK wrote a great post on the myth of chemistry. As TWWK writes, if Kimi ni Todoke‘s Sawako and Kazehaya were a couple in real life, many people would say that they ‘don’t have chemistry’ because they are always blushing and awkward around each other. The post goes on to say that chemistry is unimportant because finding out more about the other person is more important than focusing on your own feelings. However, I have to wonder: isn’t being nervous around someone the opposite of getting to know them better? Getting to know more about the other person should allow both individuals involved to be more comfortable not only in their relationship, but in showing their true selves.  All of the couples I love in anime and manga bicker with each other, and while on the surface that may seem dysfunctional, it actually shows how close they are that they’re confident that an argument won’t tear them apart – and confident that they know the other person well enough to call them out on their crap. I appreciate how unique Sawako and Kazehaya are as a shojo couple – he’s not the stereotypical bad boy and both of them are adorable together – but they’re missing that ‘spark’ that I need to completely fall for a couple, and thus I think I admire how different they are more than I actually like them.

We actually see them fall in love: I cannot stress enough how important this is.  The most important factor in determining my feelings towards a couple is that I understand their reasons for falling for one another. Thus, I tend not to care much for shojo series where the girl has feelings for her boyfriend-to-be prior to the series start. This is not only because I enjoy watching the process of characters falling for one another, but also because the backstory of why the girl fell for the guy tends to be pretty shallow (e.g, he lent her a handkerchief while flashing a dazzling smile)., and don’t convince me that the couple was meant to be together. But it’s not just important for me to know why a couple loves each other: it needs to actually be shown. One of the problems I had with Marmalade Boy‘s Miki and Yuu was that Yuu’s reasons for liking Miki were told instead of shown. He tells her that he loves her because she’s honest, which to me seems like a very vague reason to fall for someone because it could easily be applied to another girl in the series who had a crush on him. Thus, we need to see the ‘chase’ as the relationship unfolds: how the characters met; the struggles they went through to realize they’re in love with each other, in order to fully share the couple’s joy once they finally get together.

Kodocha’s Akito and Sana

And then they build a relationship: Several anime bloggers have pointed out that a flaw of romance anime is that they often focus solely on the drama before two characters get together. Many fans believe that very few series highlight the main couple maintaining their relationship, but actually I’d argue that there are many shojo series that do (His and Her Circumstances, Sand Chronicles, Mars, and Love*Com are several examples among many others). It can be kind of unsatisfying to see a couple you like confess and kiss at the very end of the series, without ever getting to see them be happy together. This type of ending often leaves me wondering: what kind of couple will these characters be like together? What separates couple A in series A from couple B in series B is their dynamic with one another, and I feel this is best shown once the characters are dating. Of course, there is some truth to the opinion that the ‘before’ is more interesting because the characters’ are faced with odds that prevent them from being together, and because once the couple has gotten together there aren’t many storylines left. But I think seeing a couple build on their relationship to become closer to each other and watching them resolve problems that young couples naturally face (going to different colleges, etc.) can be interesting if it’s done well. Thus, most of my favorite couples are from series that highlight both the before and after: we get to see them meet and slowly fall in love, then they eventually together and we are allowed to truly get to know and feel for them by seeing how they’ll make their relationship work. Both Akito and Sana from Kodocha and Tsukushi and Tsukasa from Boys Over Flowers go through each of these stages, and that is why they are my favorite couples in anime and manga.

There are many reasons why the audience might love one couple over another. What is romantic is subjective, and in terms of manga at least, readers may all be looking for different things. While some people prefer romances that are written as though they could happen in real-life, others prefer fantasies that some would label ‘dangerous.’ For those of you who have couples you love: what is it about those couples that makes them stand out above the rest? And what do you feel is the most important factor in being engrossed by a romance? Share your thoughts, guys!