Romance is one of the most popular genres around and it’s easy to see why. The idea of love is so easy to build around for writers and write conflicts in. For the viewers, the tension before a confession is like that of a thrilling action show. Of course, the events that lead up to the confession is filled with so much heartbreaking drama. For many, this excitement is exactly why they watch a romance.
However, what I want from a romance is slightly different. I don’t walk into romance to watch some tense, heartbreaking drama with characters I enjoy suffering from; I walk into romance to get the sweetest depiction of a couple.
Of course, I don’t dislike all drama filled romances; there are a lot of tense romances that I like. But I can easily say I can’t find myself enjoying a lot of the normal romances like Clannad, Oregairu or Your Lie in April very much because of this exact reason.
One of the aspects that I want to look at from the shows I find hard to watch is the love triangle. Ah yes, the love triangle. The most classic, omni-present aspect of so many romances nowadays. These shows do their hardest to include different types of archetypes to get as much audience as possible. You know, the shy cute girl, genki girl, studious cool girl, etc. But it’s not the number of characters that’s a problem, in fact, a lot of these characters all end up usually being fun characters. Rather, it’s more so what they do with the characters.
Most of the time, because of how vastly different these character types usually are, it naturally divides fans into their favorite character. I also have characters I like that I usually cheer for in these types of shows. But with love triangles, all characters can’t win. Even with the winning character, they always end up sad at points because the author needs to divide time somewhat evenly not to give away the ending couple and create dramatic tension throughout the show. So unless you are gonna watch a harem with a harem ending, you can’t get a romance with love triangles with a bright, happy atmosphere.
Can this love triangle be done well? Sometimes, of course. A show like Toradora is a show that I think does this well fairly realistically. It captures the emotions of characters who don’t end up as couples really well, it provides a fluid transition into that love triangle relationship from the more normal romance that it is in the first half. But as a person who really enjoyed Minori’s character more than anything else in the show, watching Taiga being pretty horrible to Ryuji at times and end up being with him at the end anyways was incredibly maddening to watch. I know this is purely personal preference but that’s what enjoyment always comes down to. And watching your favorite characters end up on the bad side in some situation or another can’t not end up frustrating. Of course, when the focus of the episode is not on your favorite character, it’s naturally gonna get boring.
This is where the “dilemma” comes from with these shows. Conflict is really easy to build and most of the time are very exciting to watch. But this is only if you are able to get yourself uninvested into any of the characters and take a bird’s eyes voice approach to the whole show. Basically, for anime, a medium that depends on character fanship most of the time to get the popularity, this is pretty much impossible for audiences.
On the other hand, let’s look at a show like I can’t understand what my husband is saying. I can tell you immediately that the main female character is a pretty far opposite of what I look for in female characters I like. But regardless of this, I found myself loving the relationship that the two characters build throughout the show. This is because the show does all it can to build on the relationships of two characters rather than focusing on selling the character. What this creates is more of an observable third eye’s view of this really sweet relationship that makes you feel so cozy regardless of whether or not you are attracted to the main character. Through this, I’m not just invested in one female character winning the relationship, I’m invested in the couple’s happy life.
I would try to provide some type of change that I wish to see in love triangle shows to make it more enjoyable. But frankly, I don’t see this working at all under any circumstances. The best thing I can ask for is just to push artistic directions and make the character’s emotional portrayals the best as possible like Toradora. Despite my criticism beforehand, Toradora ended up being really enjoyable because of how well they were able to make it. This would at least make the show just normally good instead of relying on any character’s for sales like the cheaply made shows of nowadays.
Another part of these romance anime is the stupid interactions with dense male leads. Though, I believe this is more common with just bad school romance harems than anything. The best example of this is Nisekoi.
It’s great to see Onodera and Raku having a date with a lot of really sweet moments. But when these dates end with a confession that fails because Chitoge or someone else barges in or Raku sleeps while Onodera is talking, it’s hard not to turn off the show in rage. Yeah, the show has some fun characters and is fantastic artistically, but these frustrating moments overshadow so much of the show because of how frequent it is. Even if it’s not with Onodera, there are just so many moments throughout the show where Raku is just being pretty stupid.
Another example where I felt was with Nozaki-Kun and its ending of the anime. They spent most of the show building up Chiyo as a character, essentially forcing us on to the presented romance. But once Chiyo finally builds up the courage to confess (or unconsciously confess) Nozaki, being the dense man that he is, confuses the subject of the confession. Of course, I understand that Nozaki-Kun isn’t really a normal romance and is closer to a comedy filled with misunderstandings. That’s the point of it. But even still, it was frustrating to watch a romance that I was invested in not happen or fail not because there was a legitimate reason for rejection but because there was noise pollution nearby.
Though I don’t really think that this is that big of a dilemma. This just feels like something they just can not add. But the thing is, it’s hard to write a romance, especially long running ones, without a dense character. If the male lead is smart, the guy is going to find out that the girl likes him, confess, and the show will be over. Of course, this would only work in a situation where the characters are already going out rather than the stages leading up to the confession.
The final dilemma is the drama. I’ve explained briefly before why I dislike the drama. It’s pretty frustrating to watch. But the thing is, romance is hard to write without drama. Unless the author wants to try to take this closer to a slice of life route, it is hard to give the characters a lot of different ways to interact.In the end, there are only so many things that lead to romantic situations in real life.
So to make the show more exciting, most writers add some type of drama. Whether this drama is with the characters involved with the romance, characters close to those in the romance, or a sudden shift in the environment these dramas are enough to fuel one whole arc very naturally. These arcs are like the father appearing in Toradora. Sometimes romance is written inside one huge drama like Kara no Kyoukai.
I very much enjoy drama that has romance written in them. Monogatari Series or Hyouka are shows that have romance written in fantasy and mysteries, respectively, are great shows that I love. They have romance in them but it’s not usually what fuels the show.
My problem, however, comes with shows that are mainly romance shows that force drama. This feels unnecessary and forced a lot of the time and ends up ruining the good atmosphere that they build up with the relationship.
If we look at a show like Engaged to the Unidentified, for example, we get almost that perfect sweet interaction I love to see. But where the show shakes is when that slight drama arises with Konoha. To give a brief explanation, the show is about two characters, Kobeni and Hakuya who are engaged. However, in the middle of the show, Konoha ends up asking Hakuya to marry her. Unfortunately, Kobeni sees this and starts questioning different things about the relationship. This is literally just throwing cold water to the cute, loving, youthful relationship that they were building up throughout the 8 or so episodes. It wasn’t even as though it felt like they were running out of stories; the episodes beforehand felt brimming with fun energy that rose just from that slice of life and the romance. I still enjoyed the show because this drama ends relatively quickly and the two return to their normal cute relationship, but the slight stop really ruins the bright atmosphere that they had going.
So to avoid this from happening, manga like Tsubaki-Chou Lonely Planet attempt to fill out the show more with pure interactions between characters with drama that relates purely with the two characters rather than outside influences. However, it still ends up with a lot of weird drama that’s frustrating throughout the manga. Understanding this, the manga tries to run through most of these dramas really fast within a span of a couple chapters. Unfortunately, this makes the drama feel even less fleshed out while ruining the flow of the show.
I’m not saying a show with any of these issues are necessarily bad; I enjoy a lot of romance anime and most of them fit into either of the problems I mentioned.
Can a romance check all these boxes that I want without being boring? I definitely think so. Shows like I can’t Understand What my Husband is Saying, Nodame Cantabile, or Engaged to the Unidentified are shows that I absolutely love. These shows don’t have a lot of these problems that I mentioned and are filled with sweet romantic moments. But I can definitely see how most of the time, if not done perfectly well with the perfect relationships, these types of shows can be boring without the drama to fuel 12 or 24 episodes.
But hey, I used to think you can’t have a slice of life show that isn’t boring until I watched K-on. So maybe, someday, someone makes a normal, continuously heartwarming show about a couple with continuous smaller arcs to keep us entertained without being too cliche that ends up being really good like the shows I mentioned above.
Horimiya seems to be something like that, at least in the first few volumes, but I also heard that drama gets involved in later volumes. Hopefully, I can enjoy the anime when that comes out.
This ended up being more like a rant than a proper analysis but regardless, tell me in the comments if you have any romance tropes that bother you, or why they don’t bother you. Thanks for reading!
7 thoughts on “The Dilemma With Romance Shows”
Romance in this medium is one of my favorites, I love stanning in harems, I love cute funny romances that have popped up a lot since 2016. Series like Horimiya, tsurezure children, or even tonikawa over the moon for you. But when I think back to romances that really did an impression I’d have to give those to drama filled, overly complicated messes like Domestic Girlfriend (I haven’t seen the anime but I have finished the manga) It hooked me hard, it threw every romantic taboo angel possible, put its foot on the accelerator and never let off. I do feel the same about love triangles however, they are usually a mess and most of the time I end up not caring for one of the three anyways. Kiznaiver is the only series I can think of that took that concept and broke me with it, but there is a lot going on in that show outside of romance.
Really good read btw, nicely done.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the comment. I think a lot of it is just the personal preference in what you look in a show. But I also think drama filled showed can be interesting like you mention if done well. Domestic Girlfriend (I also have not watched the anime) establishes the messiness pretty early on and it focuses more on the drama than trying to awkwardly mix the two. So if done well, I think dramas can be good, just for me, the sweeter ones hit my spots better.
When I read about the “love triangle” part and how you said it can be done well sometimes, my mind jumped to a series called “We Never Learn” – about a guy named Yuiga who has to tutor three girls to help them get to their college programs. Instead of having the lead end up with one person only, the manga takes this a step further and has three different endings, so basically the fans can pick whoever they want to win out in the end. I wonder what you think of this format? 🤔 For me it seems lazy but hey at least they give the fans what they want and can avoid the post-series drama.
I think it works obviously because it gives a bit of satisfaction to everyone but at the same time it doesn’t really feel like the manga is complete. For me, since I really only cared about Furuhashi in that show, I was completely disengaged in the other sections that didn’t involve her. Though I did appreciate the specific ending I like. I think it’s a good way to ensure that everyone stays happy like you said, but I don’t think any show that does this will ever become like a masterpiece rom-com show people look back on.
Same, I was on team Fumino ever since she and Yuiga had that thing with her mother’s laptop. You do make a good point though, it kinda leaves the manga awkward even if the premise is unique.
Yeah, though, in this case I’m more happy Fumino got an arc at all since it looked towards the end like she wasn’t going to get anything
Honestly it was the best written arc of them all.