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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Paradise Kiss: the art of the happy ending (spoilers!)

Paradise Kiss: the art of the happy ending (spoilers!)

It should go as no surprise that I think Paradise Kiss is an amazing series. I’ve already praised Ai Yazawa quite a bit, but there are so many things to love about Paradise Kiss that it’s hard for me to choose what to talk about. From George and Yukari’s glamorous-yet-thorny relationship, to fun characters like Miwako and Isabella who are more than what they seem, to the wonderful clothing we all wish we could wear in real life, Paradise Kiss is so detailed it feels like it’s own world. But the strongest impression the series left on me is definitely its ending. At the end of Paradise Kiss, George decides to go to Paris to try to become a haute couture fashion designer, while Yukari stays behind in Japan because her modelling career is beginning to take off. The two part, and without either of them needing to say so, they know that their relationship as come to an end. Yet one day Yukari receives a package, with the key to George’s storage room inside it. She rushes to the storage room, finds all of the dresses George has designed, and breaks down crying. At the end of the series, we find out that Yukari has married Hiroyuki, a classmate she had feelings for prior to meeting George, and they will be attending a show with costumes designed by George. It’s a bittersweet finale; one that makes me think about the art of the happy ending.

Whether you like them or not, most people are accustomed to the happy ending. Disney films always end with the couple living happily-ever-after, while even the majority of romantic-comedies end with the couple finally getting together. Because we are used to happy endings, we’ve come to expect them and are often surprised when a film or a book ends on a down note. Then there are people who enjoy bittersweet or downright sad endings because they find them to be more realistic than happy endings. Many people who appreciate sad endings enjoy them because they aren’t as common and clichéd as the traditional happy ending. Still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great reasons for people to like happy endings either – they often genuinely care for the characters and want to see them happy. Many people feel media are fantasies and therefore are meant to allow the audience to escape from harsh realism, while others simply prefer traditional endings because they strongly feel that only a ‘happy’ ending can be a ‘good’ ending. I generally love happy endings myelf as well because I tend to be very emotionally invested in the characters’ lives in my favorite series. And yet, I love the finale of Paradise Kiss. It stands out from most endings not only because is it realistic (since not only do George and Yukari break up but Yukari’s modelling career is described as being only moderately successful), but it also makes me question the true meaning of the ‘happy ending.’

There are several things I appreciate about Paradise Kiss. One element I love is that the series shows that the person who influences your life the most may not be the person you spend the rest of your life with. Even though she marries Hiroyuki, in the six months Yukari was with George he gave her the courage to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and allowed her to become more open-minded. More importantly, Paradise Kiss shows that it takes more than love to make a relationship work. Yukari loves George, yet she constantly feels as though there is space between herself and him, and she is unconfident in their relationship. George never tells Yukari he loves her and always jokes about having a mistress, which makes Yukari feel as though she’s always the one who has to make the first moves in their relationship. At times, George can be very cold toward Yukari, especially when he feels she’s not making her own decisions or that her priorities are in the wrong place. For example, when Yukari doesn’t tell George about the possiblity of her getting signed to a modelling agency so the two can have sex, George gets mad at her for not putting her career first. This is quite hypocritical, since later on in the series George makes the decision to not pursue a career in designing clothes without confiding in Yukari first. And yet, when he drives away after dropping Yukari off on their last date, George has tears in his eyes. And when Yukari enters the storage room, she remembers George telling her that the clothing he has designed has too many precious memories for him to sell them, and she breaks down into tears at the sight of the dresses he’s left in her care. This was the sign both Yukari and I had been looking for to show that he really did love love her. By George and Yukari not ending up together, we can feel their love for each other even more than if they had had a traditional happily-ever-after. Thus, Paradise Kiss has one of my favorite endings of all time – not because it subverts the happy ending, but instead reinvents it.