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.