By MICHAEL MAUER
When you think of a romance anime, what comes to mind? Not in terms of favorite shows in the genre, but in terms of tropes and conventions. When you watch a romance anime, what do you expect? Perhaps a love triangle or harem? Definitely a beach episode. At least a few moments of “Oh no, I’ve tripped and fallen into breasts.” A kiss scene at the very end (Exception: Naruto, making a bold move for the NaruSasu fangirls early on).
One particular romance convention that I want to draw attention to is this idea of a kiss at the end. There is an undeniably strong trend in anime (and in other media, I suppose) towards writing romance plots or subplots that hint at or culminate in a relationship rather than develop an existing one. Angel Beats, Clannad (ignoring After Story for a moment), Kokoro Connect, Nisekoi, A Certain Magical Index/Scientific Railgun and Toradora are all popular shows that are in some way guilty of this.
This is, in my opinion, quite a shame. To clarify, there’s nothing explicitly wrong with this approach. In fact, I love all of the shows I listed. What I see as a shame is the lack of shows taking the opposite approach. The only such ones I can immediately think of are Golden Time, Kare Kano, and Clannad: After Story. I’d add Chuunibiyou season 2, but honestly Yuuta and Rikka only just manage to hold hands after dating for a month, so I’ll file that under “absurdly cute” rather than “serious romantic themes.” It also occurs to me that the Kirito is dating Asuna for the bulk ofSAO, but as far as I can tell Reki Kawahara has been trying to write them apart since Phantom Bullet (with Alicization only making it more obvious). But I digress.
Why, I wonder, is starting with romance so uncommon when compared to the other two possibilities? These such shows in the genre are both popular and highly reviewed, yet there are so few of them. One possibility is that I don’t watch the right kind of shows (in which case point me in the right direction!). I watch predominately seinen and “cute girls doing cute things” anime, so my sample size might be too small. I also think that authors like leaving parings up to debate until the last second, though it can border on all-out war (evidenced by Nisekoi’s Great Waifu War of ’14). I also suspect that shonen perpetuate these tropes because their target audience is a demographic that should be “falling in love” rather than actually maintaining a relationship. Granted these shows aren’t necessarily romance shows, I think that they set a precedent of hinting at romance rather than exploring it (and if the series ever decides to finish, then maybe, just maybe, making one ship canon – good job Naruto, Hinata best girl. Come at me, haters).
Maybe my intrinsic dislike of shonen is just clouding my judgement. Maybe I need to watch more shoujo (or josei besides Eden of the East). However, I really would like to see more explorations of romance rather than be teased with inconclusive harem endings or have to wait two seasons for a kiss (I’m impatient, okay?). In the meantime I suppose I’ll continue enjoying shows like Nisekoi because I still enjoy shipping the impossible #TeamTsugumi and waiting eagerly for resolution despite my desire for a serious analysis of romantic themes.