Ok, so I said I was going to write about whatever the hell I feel like at the time, and I just don’t feel like doing the Tales of Grace f part 2 quite yet. Accordingly, here is an entry on my favourite romances in Anime. I know the title says genre review, but this is more my favourite romances, not my favourites in the romance genre per se. Romance may not even be the primary focus of the show, but I liked the way the relationship between the characters in question developed, or found the romance otherwise noteworthy.
The elephant in the room, but here’s the thing, I don’t actually think the romance is even the predominant element of Clannad. It’s really more about family, and the duality of hope and despair, and the romance in question is really just a vehicle for those themes. No show better illustrates the basic human need for people to love and to be loved by, so props to the guys at Key, and props to Kyoto Animation for their superb adaptation job.
Another pretty big name. I must admit, I’m kind of over the high school setting, but as far as love dodecahedron, adolescent love stories go, it’s undoubtedly one of the best. Enormously charming, consistently funny, and often surprising. If you’re a fan of romance, you shouldn’t miss this show. Heck, I’m not really that big a fan of the romance genre, and I still had a great time with this one.
Spice and Wolf
A recent addition to the list, and a series I haven’t yet completed. Took me completely by surprise, not just by being good, despite being a romantic slice-of-life show about an incredibly moe, frequently naked wolf girl, but also by being very natural, extremely well-paced, not at all pandering, and altogether mature. Out main protagonists are both complex, likeable, and very well developed. In particular our female lead, Horo, manages to be simultaneously confident, strong, independent, charming, vulnerable and distinctly feminine. Unfortunately, not that many shows have a female lead as complex and associable, indeed the characters are the most exemplary element of this show. No clue how accurate the copious quantities of economics in the show are, but it certainly had me fooled.
While the romance is definitely a core element, I probably wouldn’t put this in the romance genre, but it has one of the most charming, down to earth, and dynamic romantic relationships in any show I’ve seen. Senjougahara, our female lead, is a little like Horo, in that she continuously subverts expectations, and displays the strengths and fragilities of a real person, albeit a fairly messed up one.
Of course, strong characters don’t, by themselves, constitute a good romance. There needs to be a strong dynamic, and memorable interactions for a good romance, and this is where Bakemonogatari excels. The power play, the complex motives, the subtle hints of underlying intent. What’s more, things develop early and fast, which is a bit of a rarity, and enormously refreshing. It’s also nice to see sex well integrated into the dynamic of a relationship. In Anime, there is a tendency for physical intimacy to be ignored altogether, and in popular western fiction, there’s a tendency for characters to jump into bed together the moment they meet. Bakemonogatari strikes a pretty good balance by having sexuality as a very real aspect of the characters and their relationship, but keeps the emotions thoroughly at the forefront. It does use this as an excuse for fanservice too often though.
Welcome to the NHK
Again, I wouldn’t put this one in the romance category, even though it is a core element. This series is really about our protagonist’s romp through social dysfunction, and the various ways his relationships with other people help and hurt him along the way. Nonetheless, the romance is definitely integral, and it’s all very touching, and real, and well developed, and a bunch of other nice words. What particularly stands out is the way the show plays with the saviour figure. At first, Satou, our protagonist, thinks Misaki is an angel who’s come to save him, but it becomes increasingly clear that she has her own problems, and her own selfish reasons for her actions.
Satou wants to put his trust in her, but he’s so desperately fearful of being hurt, and he’s still proud, and somewhat independent, and these factors all create very real barriers for their growing relationship. This show speaks to a basic human truth of inter-personal relations, and it never takes the obvious or easy path in its developments.