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

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

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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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.

Sliding scales of male tsundere

Sliding scales of male tsundere

A tsundere is a character who is both ‘tsuntsun,’ (aloof) and ‘deredere,’ (sweet). While most anime and manga fans associate the term tsundere with female characters like Haruhi (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) and Taiga (Toradora), many male love interests in shojo series also have tsundere qualities. Some of them are cold and gradually warm up over the course of the series (usually because of the main female character), while others seem hotblooded yet are actually shy. Because of this range in tsundere personality types, I feel as though the following male tsunderes are sliding on a scale from cold to hot. Of course, this is all my personal opinion, and some of the characters I’ve listed I’ve never seen labeled as tsundere yet I feel fit right in.

Naoki Irie (Itazura na Kiss – 1990)

Level of Tsundere: Neptune is warmer…

The paragon of the cold tsundere love interest. He’s a genius at everything from academics to tennis to cooking. He doesn’t get close to people, so he’s hard to figure out. Naoki has a lot of pride and is confident in his abilities,  but when it comes to love he barely lets on that he cares. In favor of romatic gestures, Naoki prefers to brutally tease Kotoko about everything from her (lack of) grace to her body, publicly rejects her love letter and dismisses her in front of her entire class. Most importantly, he can run circles around her in terms of intelligence. Thus, Naoki is someone who is ‘above’ Kotoko – she’s out of his league and she has to work hard to earn his love. And because melting moments for him are few and far between, it takes a while for the audience to warm up to him.

Shinichi Chiaki (Nodame Cantabile – 2001)

Level of Tsundere: a Slurpee

A music prodigy, Chiaki sees everyone around him as an idiot. From to his perfectionist music style to his tidy apartment, Chiaki does everything by the book. Like Naoki, he’s pompous, is a good cook, and is admired by many of the students at his school, especially women. However, he isn’t ‘perfect’ at everything and does have weaknesses, including a fear of flying that is preventing him from accomplishing his dream of travelling to Europe so he can study to become a famous conductor. And despite his arrogance, he often gets roped into doing favors for his classmates (usually due to Nodame’s whims), so while he may be berating them he’s still helping them out. In particular, he shows concern for Nodame when she does something foolish (which is often), which reveals his feelings for her. As the series progresses, Chiaki realizes how snobby he used to be and starts to loosen up.

Rui Hanazawa (Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango – 1992)

Level of Tsundere: Dippin’ Dots

Now, I’ve never seen anyone label Rui a tsundere – usually fans just describe him as being quiet and very mysterious. However, I consider Rui a tsundere because like Naoki, he doesn’t interact with people much or get attached to them. He’s also bipolar – sometimes he’s really harsh and acts like he doesn’t even like Tsukushi (let alone love her), yet other times he’s nice to her. Naoki acts this way too, but it’s usually realizing the depth of Kotoko’s feelings for him that makes him act nicer – but Rui’s switches don’t seem to be for any particular reason. Even though Rui has been shown to be a ‘prince charming’ later on in the manga, he’s not perfect at everything like Naoki is. He also seems superior to Tsukushi – probably because she acts really awkward and unlike herself around him. The complexity of his character makes him hard to figure out, especially when his feelings for Shizuka are still in the mix – so perhaps this is why the audience preferred Tsukasa as the main love interest, and Rui lost his leading role.

Yuu Matsuura (Marmalade Boy – 1992)

Level of Tsundere: Marmalade-flavored shaved ice

He’s good at academics, sports and cooking, but he’s not ‘perfect’ at everything like Naoki is. He teases Miki, but in a less cruel way than Naoki and less childishly than Tsukasa – if anything, his teasing is pretty affectionate in comparison. Although he doesn’t get attached to people, he does smile and acts friendly towards others in a distant way (whereas Naoki won’t even bother with people). And like Naoki, he seems to be ‘above’ Miki, who is average, and has many girls who like him. However, unlike Naoki, he doesn’t seem to have any problems with admitting his feelings to Miki. He’s ‘hard to read,’ according to Miki, but slight signs of jealousy reveal his feelings for her to the audience, which makes him less mysterious than Rui. However, he does have other hidden secrets he is tormented over… Perhaps because his character isn’t as extreme as some of the other ones, he doesn’t stand out as much as other ‘cold’ male love interests.

Izumi Sano (Hana-Kimi – 1996)

Level of Tsundere: Tap Water…and just as boring

Another one who is not normally labeled a tsundere, but I will because he warms up over the course of the series, which is a typical tsundere trait. Cold Angtsy Guy #3571, there’s nothing very different about Sano in comparison to other tsunderes. He’s generically athletic, smart and popular with girls even though he goes to an all-boys school. Even though he’s had family problems, he explains that the reason he initially treats Mizuki coldly is because he apparently doesn’t know how to talk to girls (which is makes no sense considering how easily he was able to talk to his former manager who is female).  At first, he bottles up his anxieties  about the pressure he faces to high jump. However, he openly laughs and smilies, so he’s not as closed-off as Akito. Sano’s friends point out that he’s like a ‘mother-cat’ with Mizuki, and that he’s changed since meeting her. Thus, even though Sano’s friends say he’s closed-off, like Yuu, Sano’s not anywhere near as cold as Naoki. There have been times it was more difficult to tell what Sano is thinking than Naoki – not because Sano’s more mysterious, but because I simply didn’t find him interesting enough to care.

Akito Hayama (Kodocha – 1994)

Level of Tsundere: a Junior Frosty that’s been out in the sun

I consider Akito to have a unique blend of traits from both cold and more volatile tsunderes. Even though he’s only 11, he’s quiet and a ‘lone wolf’ who does his own thing. While he’s smart and athletic, unlike Naoki, he’s not perfect at everything.  He’s cynical and never smiles, yet he also won’t lie, even to people he dislikes. However, he does have a fiesty side – he has a temper that causes him to kick things (though he’s not as violent as Tsukasa). However, unlike other tsundere love interests, he and Sana feel like equals. Even though he’s popular, she’s one of the few people who understands him and they both can only be themselves around each other. Sana herself is spunky and one of the few people willing to stand up to Akito when he causes trouble in their classroom. Unlike Naoki, Akito does at least accept his love for Sana, and tries to express his emotions the only way he can by saying he ‘doesn’t hate’ Sana. Furthermore, he has a few close friends, and is looked up to by the other guys in his class, so he’s not a complete loner.  We can see how his tragic background shaped him into the person he is, who can only see things negatively, and rather than thinking he’s a jerk, we really feel sorry for him.

Tasuku Kurosaki (Dengeki Daisy – 2007)

 Level of Tsundere: Medium salsa (since he doesn’t like tomatoes)

Kurosaki slides more on the hotblooded side of the tsundere scale. He is a reformed deliquent-turned janitor who loves to tease Teru by pulling her hair or calling her a ‘puny A-cup.’ Like most other male tsunderes he is resistant to admit his love for Teru. However, this is because Kurosaki feels guilty about his past, and thus his teasing isn’t meant to be cruel like Naoki – instead, he is doing it because he feels like he doesn’t deserve Teru and doesn’t want her to know of his feelings. He’s quick to anger and violent with anyone who threatens Teru , but he rarely blows up at Teru beyond teasing her. Like Kyo, he’s actually shy around the girl he loves but tries to hide it – he blushes when Teru compliments him or shows him any affection. One thing I love is that Kyousuke Motomi, the author of Dengeki Daisy, makes fun of Kurosaki’s tsundere ways in a very tongue-in-cheek manner.

Kyo Sohma (Fruits Basket – 1999)

Level of Tsundere: Kimchi
He’s prone to violent outbursts, just like Tsukasa – however, he doesn’t pick fights with strangers like Tsukasa does and instead has a grudge solely against one person, his rival Yuki. The curse of the Zodiac has made Kyo uncomfortable in social situations, and since he feels unaccepted by his own family, he doesn’t get close to others. Unlike most love interests who are popular, Kyo is often teased (especially by Tohru’s friends). His tendency to yell and lash out at people comes from his shyness and inability to express himself. This is also true when it comes to Tohru, who he worries about in his in own way (which often involves yelling at her whenever she’s careless). Although he’s hot-blooded, Kyo shares similarities with colder tsunderes – for example, he rarely smiles. And like other fiesty tsunderes, he’s often awkward and at a loss for words during tender moments, which brings out his dere-dere side.

Tsukasa Domyoji (Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango – 1992)
Level of Tsundere: The sun seems like frozen yogurt in comparison…

He’s pompous like Naoki, but he doesn’t actually have the skills to back it up considering he’s not that bright. Instead of being cold and disinterested, he ‘s loud, violent, and teases Tsukushi like a child. Unlike other male tsunderes, who rarely let their motivations show, Tsukasa’s childish goofiness makes him transparent, thus hurting his ‘cool’ factor. But it’s because of his childishness that he and Tsukushi feel like equals despite the fact that he’s rich and powerful – and that they’re both quick to anger, and stubborn. Unlike most other male tsunderes in shojo manga, Tsukasa has no problem telling Tsukushi he loves her once he figures out his feelings for her, and is willing to give up everything to be with her. So rather than being mysterious, Tsukasa is obvious and overt, which makes him both hard to handle and hard to resist.  All of the contradictions in Tsukasa’s character – that he’s violent yet gentle, arrogant yet selfless – ultimately make him not only unique, but very lovable.

There are many other male tsundere characters, from Shaoran in Cardcaptor Sakura to Hikaru in Ouran High School Host ClubThis page provides a good list of other examples.  I feel that in many cases, the more tsundere the love interest is, the more interesting the romance is because there tends to be a lot of push-pull between the male and main female protagonist. I seem to like tsunderes who are extreme, like Tsukasa, or ones whose reasons for being jerks are interesting and cast them in a sympathetic light, like Kurosaki and Akito. Do you guys like male tsundere love interests or not? And who are your favorites?

How to get your guy, shojo-style

How to get your guy, shojo-style

Many shojo anime and manga feature heartrending love stories, some of which are painfully realistic and others that put any Fabio-clad romance novel to shame. I have compiled a list of great romantic advice from some of the most popular shojo series, which will help you capture the heart of the man of your dreams. With a lot of determination and a little luck, these tips should help you get any man you desire!

  • Blackmail him: Shojo heroines often have to contend with guys who are way too cold and smart for their own good, so if the girl wants to bring him down and make him realize she’s his perfect match, she’s gonna have to fight dirty. Just look at Sana’s experience in Kodocha – when bad boy Akito started causing trouble in their sixth grade classroom, Sana decided to take his ‘monkey reign’ down by threatening him with a picture of him with his pants down. It didn’t take very long for Akito to fall for her (though that whole putting his family back together thing may have helped). Kotoko in Itazura na Kiss also used this tactic in volume two, when her heartless crush Naoki made fun of her stupidity at their class’ graduation party, and she got revenge by showing off baby pictures of him dressed up as a girl. Oh sure, Naoki yelled at her for doing it, but his next reaction was to kiss her, so not only will blackmail get you your desired results – you’ll get them fast!  And for any guys looking to shojo manga for advice to help improve your love life, blackmail works just as well when guys use it on their girls, such as in His and Her Circumstances when Arima got Yukino to do all of his schoolwork when he found out that her ‘perfect student’ image was an act, while in the first volume of Hot Gimmick, Ryoki manipulates Hatsumi into becoming his slave when he sees her buying a pregnancy test for her younger sister.
  • Stalk him:Don’t believe people when they say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ – in a battle as complex as love, you have to be at the front line at all times. At the beginning of Peach Girl, Momo mentions that she chose which high school to attend because of her crush – talent and career goals be damned. But the most extreme example has to be Mizuki from Hana-Kimi: she moved all the way to Japan, pretended to be a boy and enrolled in an all-boys school just to be near Sano, the high-jumper she’d admired for so long. Sano falls for her cheerful stubborness, but I have a feeling the fact that Mizuki was around him 24/7 didn’t hurt, either. It’s even better if you manage to move in with him like Miki does in Marmalade Boy (although that was her parents fault). It won’t take him too long to decide he loves you, even if he does see you without your make-up on – because having a live-in girlfriend saves time. 
  • Sponge off of him: If you do manage to get into the same school as the object of your affections, chances are the tuition will be so high Donald Trump would weep. Take advantage of the perks of not being in the Top 1 percent by having your guy spoil you! Your guy will be so fascinated by your strange ways (like making bento lunches and taking out the garbage) that every chance he gets he’ll shower you with lavish gifts and vacations, like Tamaki does for Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club. Of course, you can’t expect or ask him to be your sugar-daddy – when he gives you that necklace that’s worth more than the entire McDonalds franchise, promptly scold him for spending so much money on you. Because then he’ll know you’re not with him for the money, which will make him love you more and he’ll buy you even more stuff. But if you’re as brazen as Ran from Super Gals!, you won’t need to hide your intentions to mooch off your man: Ran has every guy in Shibuya lining up to buy her everything from takoyaki to limited edition watches so they can be her guy, but it’ll take more than that to win her heart. Take notes ladies, take notes.
  • Beat the crap out of him: Guys in shojo manga tend to have girls fawning over them all of the time, so the best way to stand out is to make it clear that you aren’t interested in him at all with a nice slap and he’ll be head-over-heels in no time. The best example of this occurs in Boys Over Flowers, when Tsukushi stands up to rich bully Tsukasa by giving him a hard kick to the face, and it doesn’t take long for him to fall for her. Similarly, in the first volume of B.O.D.Y, when Ryoko finds out Ryunosuke works at a host club and he comes onto her, she gives him a swift punch to the face. This intrigues him so much he decides that he wants to win her heart. Once your guy sees how spunky you are he’ll do anything to make you his – whether you want him or not!
  • Cheating works.

    Cheat on him: What better way to get your man’s attention than to show him he’s got competition? Shojo gals tend to have a spare guy or two interested in them, so they may as well put them to good use! Kotoko does this twice in Itazura na Kiss – she goes on several dates with nice-guy Taketo in places where Naoki can see her in order to make him jealous, and later on in the series when Kotoko believes she’s lost Naoki for good, she decides to accept her hopeless suitor Kin-chan’s marriage proposal, prompting Naoki to confess his feelings for her. Another example occurs in High School Debut volume five – when Haruna tries to hook up her friends Mami and Asaoka, her boyfriend Yoh gets annoyed when Haruna constantly compliments Asaoka, and the two end up in a fight. In order to get Yoh to apologize, Asaoka decides to take Haruna out on a date in the hopes that Yoh will follow them and admit his jealousy (Haruna gets kind of swept up into his plan). After going to dinner and a movie, Asaoka decides to up the ante by telling Haruna she should cheat on Yoh with him and tries to kiss her. This finally lures Yoh out and the two make up, and Haruna begins to realize how much Yoh cares about her. This tactic works so well that not only do you and your guy not need to be an official couple – you don’t even have to cheat on purpose! For example, when Fuji forces a kiss on Ann in Sand Chronicles, her boyfriend Daigo blames himself and the two grow closer. So anytime you find yourself doubting your guy’s love, a little tryst on the side should work wonders.

So there you have it! With these tips in hand, you’ll be able to get the man of your dreams in no time! And if you’re lucky, he’ll be a seemingly mean pretty boy who is sweet only around you and happens to heir to a multibillion dollar company – just like every shojo leading man out there!

*Results not guaranteed. Actually, some of these could land you in jail. Please proceed with caution if you choose to attempt any of these. You have been warned.

So…Japanese girls like it rough, huh?

So…Japanese girls like it rough, huh?

In keeping up with the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d take a look at the most popular romantic scenarios in anime and manga. Last year, Goo asked its female users the following question: “Of the typical scenes in a romance manga, which would you want to experience in real life?” Here were the top 10 choices:

  1. Being hugged from behind and told “I love you”
  2. Being asked out in a slightly forceful manner, e.g. “You’re going out with me today”
  3. Being patted on the head and told to “Do your best!”
  4. Discovering that their male confidante was in love with them
  5. Turning to look behind them and being kissed by surprise
  6. Having someone worry about them and look into their eyes while asking “what’s wrong?”
  7. Being fought over by more than one man
  8. Being grabbed by the chin and kissed suddenly
  9. Seeing him off at the train station and being dragged on to the train at the last second
  10. Having him wipe their tears away while saying “Don’t cry”

    Romantic, huh?

Number three seems more like how you’d treat a pet than a girlfriend, so I don’t see the romance in it at all. I’ve definitely seen it, though – I believe Sano does this to Mizuki in Hana-Kimi. Being asked out on a date in a forceful way I’ve seen done by Tsukasa in Boys Over Flowers, which lead to a disastrous (yet intriguing) date. I’m definitely not a fan of number nine – someone dragging you on a train at the last moment seems pretty selfish to me, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen this one in any anime or manga. Some of these scenarios are very fun to read whenever they occur in manga, especially numbers five and eight. These two just scream Yuu Watase: probably my favorite forced kiss is with Takiko and Uruki in volume of Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden. Another great example is between Naoki and Kotoko in volume two of Itazura na Kiss, which is the first sign that Naoki has feelings for her. And, for some reason, many of the forced kisses I can think of in anime are initiated by the rival (losing) love interest like Soshi in Absolute Boyfriend and Fuji in Sand Chronicles. And being fought over by more than one guy is in pretty much every shojo manga and it’s mother (although once again Yuu Watase is the queen of this cliché. No wonder she’s so popular). But in real life, I’m pretty sure having more than one person interested in you, while a confidence-booster, wouldn’t exactly be fun.

Takiko and Uruki

Naoki’s ‘take-that’ kiss with Kotoko:

Naoki and Kotoko

 And yet another forced kiss:

Soshi and Riiko
 

What’s interesting about this list is how forceful a lot of these scenarios are. In my opinion, a lot of these scenarios aren’t so desirable or sweet once you place them into a real life context. Being grabbed by the chin and kissed or being asked out in a demanding way are only romantic depending upon who does it: if a guy you don’t know or don’t like did this you probably would be pretty scared or pissed. But what it really comes down to I guess is different cultural values: many Japanese males are shy, especially when it comes to romance, so this helps explain why Japanese women want more assertive men because there aren’t as many men who are openly romantic, and thus this is reflected in manga. So this begs the question: which came first? Did the fantasies of real life Japanese women influence the pervasiveness of romantically assertive men in manga, or was it that these male characters in manga shaped women’s real-life desires? Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. And some of these fantasies definitely appeal beyond Japanese audiences: I have to say, I’d love to have number one done to me. I guess I like it rough, too. 😛

Yuu hugging Miki from behind
The couples of Marmalade Boy: Meiko & Satoshi (oh yeah, and Namura)

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Meiko & Satoshi (oh yeah, and Namura)

Meiko and Namura

After discussing couples Miki & Yuu and Ginta & Arimi, it’s time to move on to the last central couple in the series: Meiko and Namura. Or maybe not. I’ll actually be talking about Meiko and Satoshi, the losing rival for her affections, alongside Meiko and Namura. Of all the couples in the series, Meiko and Satoshi probably register with me the most, because Marmalade Boy is the only series I’ve encountered where I preferred a pairing that doesn’t end up together over one that definitively does. I know I’m not the only fan to root for Satoshi over Namura for Meiko’s affections, but I think my reasons are different than most. While some people root for Meiko to end up with Satoshi because they dislike Namura’s character or the fact that he’s her teacher, I prefer Meiko and Satoshi simply for their own interactions. Satoshi is nice, cool and he is my favorite male character in the entire series, so it’s easy to root for him simply because he’s so likable. This also makes it easier to pity the fact that he ends up alone. But I think the Meiko-Satoshi pairing has enough of its own merits to root for them beyond the likability of Satoshi’s character.

When Namura moves to Hiroshima after the school finds out he and Meiko have been dating, I felt sorry that Meiko lost the person she loved. Namura was more than a boyfriend for her; he was an escape from her unhappy home life. When Satoshi enters the series, he uses his playboy charms to try and convince Meiko to go out with him, spouting cheesy lines like ‘I want to see your smile.’ But as the series progresses, it becomes obvious how sincere Satoshi’s feelings for Meiko are, and she begins to take him more seriously and slowly moves past Namura. During this time, Satoshi compliments Meiko on her writing, and encourages her to write more than just reviews for the school newspaper. Meiko grows more confident in her writing and eventually wins an award for a manuscript Satoshi had entered in a contest without her knowledge. The couple’s dynamic is fun as well. She’s one of the few people to bring out the shy, sincere side of his typically charming demeanor, and he knows how to make her laugh even though she’s typically so reserved. He’s also one of the few people to make her angry, especially when he’s acting childish, but she forgives him because of how thoughtful he can be towards her. As the series went along, it became obvious how much Satoshi brought Meiko out of her shell and helped her become a better person, which is the main reason I wanted to see them together. But as soon as it seemed as though Meiko was falling for him, Namura came back into the picture, and into Meiko’s heart.

Meiko, Namura and Satoshi

When Meiko travels to Hiroshima to see Namura, she tells him that she won’t be happy without him. But I just couldn’t figure out why. Even if Namura had been her shoulder to cry on, he hadn’t done half as much for her as Satoshi. If anything, I saw Namura as the father figure Meiko was missing in her life, and I just couldn’t see them together as an example of ‘true love.’ This is especially true because Namura comes across as controlling, when he decides they can’t be together and he’s doing it for her sake because he’d ‘ruin her future’ because she was still so young, which really just sounds like he’s making poorly-backed up excuses. Even when they get back together, he asks her if she’ll follow him anywhere, as if their relationship revolves around him. The author of Marmalade Boy, Wataru Yoshizumi, must have realized that many members of the audience were unconvinced about Meiko and Namura, because she included a scene where Satoshi explains why Meiko and Namura should be together. But, just like with Miki and Yuu, this was told instead of shown, and I’m still firmly unconvinced that Namura even deserved Meiko. If there’s one thing I respect about this pairing, it’s that I commend Wataru Yoshizumi for having the courage to depict a student-teacher relationship, without the raunchiness you’d expect to find in such a pairing. But I’d still prefer if she’d given Meiko and Satoshi a happy ending instead.

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Ginta & Arimi

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Ginta & Arimi

Ginta and Arimi

After discussing Marmalade Boy‘s central couple, I thought I’d move onto some of the side relationships. Of all the couples in Marmalade Boy, Ginta and Arimi are definitely my favorite. At the beginning of the series, Ginta is in love with Miki while Arimi is in love with Yuu. When Yuu and Miki get together, Ginta and Arimi wind up falling for each other. Thus, they stand out to me, because they’re the only losing-love-interests-turned-couple in any anime or manga that I really like. While a lot of ‘pair the spares’ couplings are boring or don’t make much sense together, Ginta and Arimi are really cute together. And while most side couples in shojo prove to be no more than just foils, Ginta and Arimi often stole the spotlight from Miki and Yuu. They’re probably the most sane and functional couple in the series, and I think they work really well together. First of all, I like Arimi much more than Miki because she’s not indecisive and paranoid. I also really appreciate that both Ginta and Arimi learn from their mistakes. Ginta makes it clear to Arimi how he feels about her right away because he lost Miki for lying about his feelings, while Arimi learns to stop playing games in her relationships.

Most of all, unlike Yuu and Miki, who exacerbate each others’ faults, Ginta and Arimi mellow each other out. While Ginta tends to overreact and can be very impulsive, Arimi is more mature and aware of others’ feelings. For example, in the New Years episode of the anime, Yuu teases Miki and Ginta starts uncontrollably laughing at her. Miki is annoyed that he’s laughing at her, so Arimi nudges him and he quickly stops. And when Ginta jumps to a conclusion and punches a guy he thought was cheating on Arimi, she chews him out for jumping to a conclusion and he learns to stop being so rash. If Yuu and Miki’s relationship is so full of drama that it’s like marmalade – sweet with a hint of bitterness – then Ginta and Arimi are pure milk chocolate.

Aside from the fact that the two help each other grow, I realized my appreciation for the couple when I noticed how many of my favorite scenes in Marmalade Boy are of Ginta and Arimi. Watching the anime, I would get really excited whenever this couple would come onto the screen. I love the scene when Ginta and Arimi agree to team up to try and make Miki jealous. As cherry blossoms swirl in the background, Arimi wistfully mentions that Yuu won’t be jealous, and Ginta realizes for the first time how pretty she is. Another favorite scene of mine is when Ginta and Arimi see each other for the first time after Yuu and Miki start dating. While Ginta says that he’s found letting Miki go easy, Arimi laments that she can’t handle it. Seeing her sad face makes Ginta want to reach out and hold her, initiating his romantic feelings for her. Finally, another scene I love is of Arimi describing her feelings for Ginta after they’ve started going out. She says that she’s comfortable around him and feels safe when they’re together, and he gets so moved by her words that he kisses her. There are so many great scenes of this couple, that if Marmalade Boy ever got a sequel, I would want it to be about Ginta and Arimi.