Creative Writing · Literature

A Little More Love: Why I Love Romance, Why I’m Not Ashamed, and How Anime and Manga Made Me Appreciate It More 

First off, hand clap for possibly my longest blog post title to date. Second, after all my ranting and raving about how screwed up the world is, I thought it was about time I go back to form in some capacity and wax lyrical about all the things I love about writing and storytelling. (Addendum: that and now I’m not as annoyed as I was before that I lost 90% of this post before putting it on the back burner before coming back to it, not that I’m bitter or anything.)

And I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to cover romance specifically, but then again, I’m glad it did, because I have a lot more to discuss than I would have closer to this blog’s inception. Because to face facts, love and romance are at the core of what I love best in a story. Give me a story with romance and I’ll give it a shot (usually) even if it’s gotten horrible reception. (Okay well that only really happened with Twilight and since then I’ve learned to be pickier, and moreover, not to let it bother me that I indulged in the first place, particularly in the instance of people gagging at the mention of romance because of Twilight‘s influence (see post here).)

Let me start out by saying that I am also praising this sort of thing at a time when some might take a look at a romance and go “Blargh!” possibly because of the oversaturation of those pesky YA “love triangles”. But like anything, if you can make it work, there’s nothing wrong with including this and other romance tropes (more on this later) in your narrative.

Also, as another addendum to my recent post on Twilight concerning Bella’s lack of agency in the plot, among other things, to be fair, we’re talking about a human being versus a world of superkiller vampires. Of course she’d be pretty useless. Which is where I have to give props to Stephanie Meyer for writing her little “AU fic” with the story of the first Twilight book written with genders of the two romantic leads swapped, just to show that Bella would’ve been just as weak and helpless if she’d been a boy rather than a girl, giving us Beau (*eye roll*) and Edith (meh) instead.

That said, Edward in the original didn’t help matters by procrastinating turning her into a vampire because “angst” and love triangle BS. Didn’t help that the both of them were such wet blankets. Don’t get me wrong, I love angst in a romantic relationship, but it can’t be all there is. Moreover, it can’t be all there is and be unfounded, as in the case of Bella and Edward.

Kay? Got it? Good. Moving on.

Because I would argue that romances, when done insightfully, demonstrate an emotional intelligence.

Why do I love it so personally? Well, aside from the elements I already mentioned above? Ha, ha. No, I’m not gonna say anything like “I believe in the power of love!” or anything corny like that. Well, not exactly.

Let me put it this way:

When I watch the progression of two people growing closer together and forming a bond between them that’s reaffirmed with acts and declarations of affection, it gives me the warm-fuzzies. Plain and simple. It’s part of that larger pattern in storytelling that serves to remind me that there are good people in this world, and good people worth fighting for (or something like that).

Or, barring a progression in the case of a couple that’s already done the meet-cute thing before the reader cracks open the book, or the viewer pops in the movie, as long as the relationship demonstrates that there’s an intimate and affectionate connection between the two lovers, I’m on board the ship, so to speak.

Why do you think shipping is so much fun for fans of stuff? It’s exciting!

Fans of Harry Potter got to spend seven books getting to know all sorts of characters, watch them grow up together and stumble their way through their teenage hormones to find that there’s something really special in finding that special someone.

We got all kinds of love stories, from the almost Lizzy-Darcy dynamic of Ron and Hermione, the rather slow burn of Harry and Ginny (only when you look back in hindsight, really it’s just that it took Harry forever to wake the hell up lol), the unrequited tragic love of Severus and Lily, the delightful surprise of Lupin and Tonks (my fave ship in that series by the way, mostly because since book three Lupin was built up as this scruffy werewolf sad flute who needed a hug BADLY).

You could even argue that there were hints that Dumbledore had something going on with Grindelwald, and I mean in that way that someone is enamored of someone else but it never really becomes a relationship, it just kind of evolves into this soul connection of sorts, further complicated by the fact that Grindelwald turned evil. 😦

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I’ve mentioned in one or two previous posts that the Chronicles of Lumatere trilogy has some hidden gems as far as romantic subplots are concerned, and there’s a sweetness to what Katniss and Peeta had in The Hunger Games that I fear other dystopian YA novels haven’t quite been able to capture (sorry Triss and Four). Though the love triangle of Lena, Alex, and Julian in the Delirium trilogy had its moments, mostly because it at least had a reason to be a triangle in the narrative. (Spoiler: we think that Alex has been axed off at the end of book one, then just when Lena’s finding love again with Julian, we find out at the end of book two that Alex is ALIVE! Dun-dun-DUN!)

Side note, I’m not gonna act like I wasn’t disappointed that Lauren Oliver didn’t exactly resolve this conundrum even by the end of book three, but on the other hand, I like that Lena’s best friend Hana wasn’t just a throwaway best friend character and her and Lena’s friendship was actually part of the crux of the plot. That and, me and my love for side-character romances found myself smitten by what was going on in the background between Raven and Tack, such that I bought a copy of Delirium Stories, which featured a Raven story, just to get more of them (because unfortunately, unlike Alex, I don’t think Raven is going to magically come back from the dead–oh yeah, sorry, spoiler alert, she dies).

Heck, I thought I’d never find a contemporary YA author I could jive to–my escapist tendencies don’t exactly gravitate towards contemporary in general–but then I found Rainbow Rowell. And in conclusion, Eleanor and Park are adorable, and don’t even get me started on Cath and Levi–Cath is like my fanfiction soul-sister for crying out loud, I don’t care that she already has a twin!

Point is, YA isn’t all full of bland, pale, pretentious lip-biters. But that still doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a carbon copy factory of YA books coming out like cars off an assembly line. And that there aren’t certain things I’d like to write for myself with my own YA novel that breaks all that I’m constantly seeing, right down to the hipster male lead! (You know who you are.)

But that’s for another post (maybe).

Because here’s where the anime and manga bit comes in.

(Bit of fun here: some of these pics have links to songs sprinkled throughout that I think appropriately give a good idea of the relationship of the couple featured, so click for feels!)

Like I mentioned in my post on revenge (here), few years ago, my dormant otaku was reawakened when I started rewatching episodes of Sailor Moon. Reflecting on the whole romantic storyline between Usagi Tsukino and Mamoru Chiba  (or Serena and Darien, if you’re feeling really nostalgic), and how part of their romantic connection is the fact that they’re reincarnations of two people who were deeply in love in a past life. This continues to intrigue me, and it’s something which played a role in me finally cracking and grabbing a copy of the Daughter of Smoke Bone trilogy.

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Then I realized I wanted more. The anime bug had bitten me, and I had succumbed to its addicting effects. Because watching Sailor Moon again made me remember not only my love for animation and how much those giant eyes and emotional highs that are hallmarks of anime draw me in, but also the few episodes of Cowboy Bebop I had seen as a kid on Adult Swim–one of which was the last two episodes, left a lasting impact on me, their story and images staying with me decades on.

Yes, I am talking about the tragedy that is Spike and Julia.

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“The person that you’d take a bullet for is behind the trigger.” –Fall Out Boy

That was my first taste of a really adult anime romantic relationship, and even though at the time I was probably too young in many ways to understand all of the nuances of what I was watching, I do remember that I felt sad seeing Julia get gunned down. And despite my not having not yet seen the previous episodes in the series connected to this subplot, I got everything I needed to know in order to feel that sadness compressed into those two episodes (and here’s where I tip my hat to the efficient and effective (affective?) writing of the show.

And that, incidentally, was my first experiences with two other things: Spike Spiegel was probably my first anime crush (before I even heard of things like husbando and waifu), and that was also my first love triangle–that being Spike, Julia, and Vicious. And honestly, you wouldn’t even really think about it being a love triangle until you really thought about it (oh yeah, there are three of them, and two of them love the same person). But that was a triangle done well (more on this later too).

Anyway, getting the chance to actually watch all the episodes and see what kind of person Spike Spiegel is when Julia isn’t involved in the plot, made those last two episodes hit me even harder when I got to rewatch them again in context. I attribute that to the fact despite such a painful past, a lot of the time he was more this reckless, roguish wisecracker. We get glimpses here and there in those three prior episodes in the series that make the merest hints at what Spike’s like when it comes to Julia, and how Julia talks about him in the time she’s been absent from his life. So there’s enough that we can make an inference about the depth of their relationship, and it hits all the harder when after finally getting back together, Julia ends up dead not two seconds later. This simple tragedy contrasts with the more humorous aspects of Spike’s character, another dynamic in romance that I find I enjoy to an immense degree.

And the words “I love you” weren’t uttered once. But the idea was strongly conveyed by the actions of the characters.

Something that always makes me laugh and roll my eyes at this friend of mine who became my anime-watching buddy is when she throws her hands up in the air and yell at the TV or computer screen about how little physicality there tends to be between couples in anime, even those who were actually established as such. I mean, in Clannad, one of my favorite romance animes of all time, the two main leads get married and have a kid, and we don’t even seen them kiss once on screen (some would argue that if we did see them do it, it would technically make it a hentai, but looking at shows like Golden Time or Parasyte: the Maxim, I’d beg to differ, but I digress). However, this turned out not to bother me quite as much as it did my gal-pal.

I tried to think why.

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“You loved me back to life.” — Sia

When I discovered the show Fate/Zero, and all that it entailed in terms of its place in the Fate franchise, the way I looked at love was changed significantly in this case by the character of Kiritsugu Emiya and the complicated relationship he had with his wife, Irisviel von Einzbern. I will NOT go into those details, as that would take another entire post completely, and I’ve probably made mention of aspects of their relationship before. But even I haven’t, feel free to check out their backstory at your leisure. To put it as simply as humanly possible though, there isn’t a moment in the anime where they do much in the way of expressing conventional affection towards each other, save for a couple of scenes, but in those scenes, along with references to their backstory (how they met, seeing Kiritsugu playing with their daughter early on in the show) sprinkled throughout, we get to understand the nuances of their relationship and the intimacy between them gets across to us. At least for me it did, anyway.

It doesn’t hurt that their relationship gets some well-earned angst, but the show doesn’t fawn over it like some others tend to.

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“You taught me honor. You did it for me.” — Sia

This dynamic of such eloquent subtlety and implied beauty absolutely fascinated me, and to this day the two of them remain my number one anime couple. They just had this Arwen and Aragorn vibe about them, if that helps put it into perspective (though Arwen and Aragorn had a rather happier ending, to say the least).

And like with Spike and Julia, Kiritsugu never once says “I love you,” but his actions, if reserved, give us what we need (like the fact that he addresses Irisviel by the pet name “Iri”, and the fact that this address is unique to him alone implies he calls her this out of affection). No kisses,  no declarations, just what we see and what Irisviel says about what he’s done for her in the past (or what we see in the artwork for Fate/Zero’ s second ed).

And this is all indicative in part of Japanese views on love. I’ve read that in a Japanese cultural context, love would seem to be considered a divine feeling (like divine as in godly), and that because of this sacred reverence of love, the words that in English would translate as “I love you”, are rarely used, because they aren’t meant to be thrown about so casually. Not to say that we Westerners never mean it when we say it (well, unless we don’t, ugh), more that we have different ways and means of expressing those words when it comes up. For the most part, it comes from the same impulse. We’re all human, after all.

So in Japan, since it’s so important to use the words “I love you” (and within that there are different versions of saying it based on intensity, just like there are several ways to say “I’m sorry” depending on the severity of one’s transgression) with the greatest of care, it’s used sparingly. So where is the emphasis on the language of affection? Well, in action. Not that that also doesn’t come up in Western culture, but from what I understand, showing affection through action appears to take precedence in Japanese culture (again, from what I’ve read). Specifically in acts of service.

And honestly, I really love this idea (and I mean that ha, ha).

For storytelling mechanics in things like anime and manga, it seems to have greater weight as far as the development of a relationship between a couple. I just find that aspect adorable. That and the fact that the art of animation seems to heighten the sense of everything when it comes to storytelling through action in this way (part of why I enjoy animation so much, no less hold great admiration for it as an art form, considering how much work and artistry has to go behind giving animated action any verisimilitude to real life).

And, to be fair, even anime that aren’t anywhere near a hentai or ecchi, or even just a fanservice show, don’t always completely shy away from things like kisses and other forms of physical affection. In Steins; Gate, for example, the main character Okabe Rintarou falls in love with a fellow scientific colleague-turned-friend Makise Kurisu.

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“No one compares to you. I’m scared that you won’t be waiting on the other side…. But there’s no you, except in my dreams tonight.” –Lana Del Rey

They actually share a kiss once they acknowledge their feelings for each other, even though the show is very much lacking in fanservice, save for those…you know…obligatory shower scenes. (They, by the way, also have a nice slow burn romance that’s built very much on their intelligent minds bouncing off of each other as they work on cracking the puzzle of time travel, and culminates in the two of them risking the dangers of leaping through time to save one another, which is another huge plus for me.)

Speaking of actions….

I have this memory that tugs at me every now and then of one of the courses I took in college for my English Lit major studying theatrical literature. I was a Theatre minor (formerly a English-Theatre double-major), so I think I’d thought it’d be beneficial to me to take a course that studied written plays from a English lit perspective instead of a theatrical one (a perspective I’d already studied in another course I’d taken).

One of the plays we covered was this old Japanese play (Have to look it up I can’t even remember the name of it, darn, and I conveniently misplaced my old textbook.) that we studied and the crux of the plot involved the romantic trope of the double-suicide, something derived, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong), from the samurai practice of seppuku. I personally was intrigued by the concept of the romantic double-suicide, not just for its having been made most notable (I would argue) by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

My prof on the other hand admitted that she didn’t see what was so romantic about the whole double-suicide thing, which made me mentally frown–you know, that way that you do right before you troll someone on the internet for trolling something you really like. I didn’t say anything though, there was no point or reason to argue, it would’ve childish. And she was entitled to her opinion. I could even see where she was coming from.

Didn’t mean I didn’t have thoughts like, “Bah! Methinks you lack romantic sensitivity.” My guess is that it’s flaw could be arguably be that it might be glorifying the act of suicide (as some things do–lookin’ at you again Twilight). But with what I know about what I’ve watched and read about the Japanese love of tragedy in storytelling etc, I think it’s about the melodrama, and the concept of both lovers killing themselves because of how tightly their hearts are bound…that as a couple they’re bound in all actions, including death. Probably. Something beyond that whole, “I can’t live without you’ thing.” Again, if we’re looking at love as being viewed as a divine feeling (something my romantic heart happens to agree with).

Think I came to this conclusion after remembering reading a Japanese short story years previously that also involved the device of the double-suicide, in which a husband and wife kill themselves after the husband is forced to watch his wife get raped. In both this and the play, there’s another plot-point where one of the lovers’ honor gets compromised (in the short story, it’s the wife getting raped, in the play it’s…um, think the guy gets publicly shamed by some jerkwad, but I forget, honestly), and well, in those situations, the act of suicide would be called for. Right up there with committing suicide in the event that you’re backed into a corner–it was more honorable to die by your own hand than by that of the enemy (and in often in the case of women, more honorable to die than to get raped and then killed by the enemy). And seeing as how one lover in both pairings was dishonored and feels the need to reclaim that honor through committing suicide, their partner does the same, as their loving each other means again, they’re linked in all things, including death.

He, he, good times.

But I’m being serious here, and quite honestly, I respect that level of moral conviction. Which is probably another reason I can add to the growing list of reasons I watch anime and (occasionally) read manga. Because yep, you guessed it, this device is totally used in those media too, and appears to have been built up as a significant means of canonizing a couples’ ship in a story.

For this, I point back to another anime couple, one I mentioned in my revenge post, that of Gray Fullbuster and Juvia Lockser from Fairy Tail. Now to be fair, they haven’t gotten to this point in their relationship that I’m bringing up here in the anime, just in the manga, but it has now been confirmed that the final arcs of the manga are getting animated starting in 2018 (and I can’t even count the amount of squees I’ve given over this fact).

To give a quick rundown of what I didn’t already mention previously in that revenge post, Gray and Juvia met as enemies, being members of enemy guilds in one of the earliest story arcs. But then Juvia comes down with a case of “insta-love” (though in this case I can forgive it because A) this is written for comedic effect on the part of the mangaka, Hiro Mashima, and B) they actually make it rather adorable, which is a feat in and of itself since anywhere else it’d be borderline creepy. And in falling for Gray, Juvia finds she really doesn’t want to fight him. And Gray really doesn’t want to fight her in the end, honestly.

Eventually, Juvia ends up joining the Fairy Tail guild as a result of her encounter with Gray, not just because she fell hard for him, but because he somehow managed to take away her curse of always being followed around by rainfall. It’s because of him that she gets to see the clear blue sunny sky for the first time in her life.

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“When the sun shines, we’ll shine together.” — Rihanna

Initially, Gray makes it a point to fend off Juvia’s lavish proclamations of love, because A) he’s a tsunkuudere (a hybrid of tsundere (hard on the outside, soft on the inside)and kuudere (too cool to show I really feel)–wait, maybe that should be kuutsuundere), B) his past history with people close to him has mostly involved death, loss, and sacrifice, and, despite his growing feelings for her, the last thing he wants is for her to end up like all the other people he’s loved who’ve died, and C) it is a bit much overall. (I’m talking lots and LOTS of glomping.)

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“I won’t freeze you out, like I have been.” — Sia
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“If I freeze, you are the flame. You melt my heart, I’m washed in your rain.” — Skillet

That said, the development of this relationship has its own brand of sweetness, as we see that Juvia actually takes her feelings seriously to the point that it’s touching rather than crazy, and, in his own way, Gray warms to her and eventually reciprocates her feelings in the only way he can. Being a man of action, and at the same time not so hot with words (lol, because he’s an ice wizard), he expresses how he really feels through actions as opposed to words, even in those times when he was trying to keep her at a distance for the reasons mentioned above. (There’s that act of service thing again.)

Eventually we get all the way to the final arc of the manga, and by this time, Gray’s at a point where he’s actually come to open up to Juvia in a way he’s never done with anyone else. And several chapters back, the two of them had had a private conversation where he’d promised her that after this last fight’s been settled, he’s going to give her an answer (in other words, confess to her that he loves her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her and have beautiful babies with her waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!).

Then we get a scene before the final assault on the ultimate boss, dark wizard Zeref, where the two of them are confronted by an opponent who forces them to fight each other to the death. Juvia, of course, as we would come to expect of her, eventually makes the choice to kill herself, because she’d rather do that than either kill the man she loves or leave him with the guilt and responsibility of him killing her.

Only for us to see that Gray actually has done the exact the same thing and also fatally stabbed himself. OMG!

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“I don’t need this life. I just need somebody to die for.” –Hurts
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“…I have nothing left, I can’t face the dark without you.” — Breaking Benjamin

If that weren’t bad enough, Juvia just so happened to have taught herself blood transfusion magic in the event of a worst case scenario, so she uses that to save Gray from dying of blood loss, but then that leaves her to die on her own instead. And well, let’s just say the feels levels that comprise Gray’s reaction when he realizes what she’s done for him hits him like a screaming runaway train.

Gah! Man pain! That dreaded trope that has melted the hearts of many a fangirl. (Which makes wonder if all fangirls aren’t secretly slightly sadisitc, and makes me reexamine my own level of fangirling.)

Happily, as was explained in my revenge post, Juvia gets discovered by Wendy, who can use healing magic, and is magically healed, since she was of course just barely holding on, Gray only thought she’d died cuz she wouldn’t open her eyes. (Why does no one check for pulse?) Which leads to Juvia finding Gray and bringing him down from his revenge-splosion. It’s all full of wonderful, wonderful feels.

Speaking of wonderful, the new Wonder Woman managed to use the them of “love conquers all” to actually great effect. Not sure if it’s just the jaded climate everyone’s in right now or what, but somehow something like that manage to ring the right note with people, myself included. That and they made Diana and Steve frickin’ adorable together, which made me include them alongside Peter and Gwen from The Amazing Spider-Man on my list of awesome comic book couples (and in both cases, Steven and Gwen can both join the Hero’s-Bae-Who-Ends-Up-Dead Club).

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“To be human is to love.” — Sia

And wouldn’t you know it, even the Wachowskis can get a good romance out of a story. Like Corky and Violet in Bound. Too bad that film’s so underrated compared to their other stuff like The MatrixJupiter Ascending, and Cloud Atlas. Especially since that film features a really well-written same-sex couple with some damn good chemistry.

But I think I’ll save that for another post.

So I’ll leave off here for now. I might come back to this subject in other contexts, but for now I’ve gotten out everything I’ve wanted to cover as far as what I love about romance in stories. Like in Wonder Woman, it might be corny and cliche, but you work with it right, make it genuine, you can create something really magic between two characters when you have them fall in love.

 

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