Friday’s Feature: On Bad Romance in Anime

Last week I looked at some of the common elements of anime romances from the positive point of view. This week I want to look at some of the more problematic aspects of anime romance that seem to crop up again and again from personalities to full on stalking and imprisonment. As always I’d love to hear your point of view in the comments below.

01. The guy doesn’t just come off as being a bit of a jerk, he is actually a jerk. Maybe there’s a reason for his damaged and warped personality but what he does is emotionally destructive to his love interest. Yet somehow, we’re supposed to be convinced that the girl will put up with this and should actually pursue this character despite the emotional trauma she’s dealing with, and that this is romantic. While I know that there are many, many people trapped in emotionally abusive relationships it would be nice if so many romance stories didn’t glorify this. For a non-anime example we could most definitely point straight at Twilight. Edward is a controlling bully and his leaving Bella caused her to become nearly catatonic. This is not healthy. However, let’s go back anime and look at Wolf Girl and Black Prince. Whatever redeeming qualities Kyoya Sata may have or may develop later in the series he is a bully and the argument that Erika got herself into the mess with her lying doesn’t make it any better.

Of course there are plenty of other candidates out there for girls putting up with guys who manipulate them. Then again, we could easily turn that around and look at some of the truly horrendous girlfriends anime has given us over time.

02. Following on from number 1, we have the guy who wants a more physical relationship than the girl and is willing to push for it even when she clearly isn’t comfortable. While in comedies the guy in question will usually get slapped and dropped to the floor or beaten with a broom (hilarious, really) in serious romances what usually happens is the girl allows herself to be convinced. Generally speaking I avoid anime that goes down this road. One I did watch was Say I Love You. While it isn’t too far over the line, Say I Love You definitely hovers on that borderline during the earlier episodes before the relationship starts to balance out a bit. For the most part Yamato is a generally nice guy (with a couple of rough edges) who helps Mei out and seems to like her but he is definitely more experienced in relationship and at times he is clearly pushing for more than she is willing to give.

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Though mostly this is nothing compared to what happens to some guys in a lot of BL so maybe we should just be thankful for that and move on to the next point.

03. Anime romances tend to normalise stalkerish behaviour. Secret photo taking, finding out someone’s entire schedule, likes and dislikes of food, their home address and phone number, it seems nothing is off the table for some determined would-be partners in romantic anime. It would be an adorable display of affection if not for the creepy real world consequences of actual stalking. However this particular behaviour has been normalised to the point where it is now parodied in comedies and played for laughs. Momokuri last year with Kurihara took this to extremes and while in the show it was played cute and for laughs with Kurihara having no ill intentions, one has to wonder what would happen if Momotsuki had ever tried to break up with her. Of course, we see the far darker side of this behaviour in Mirai Nikki through the notorious Yuno Gasai who will genuinely do anything to keep Amano ‘safe’ including tying him to a chair and holding him in captivity.

This is probably my least favourite trope in anime romances.

04. The characters know nothing about each other but declare they are in love. How many times do we see the scene where the girl confesses to the guy having never actually spoken to him before? Why are you in love with someone you don’t know? There are so many assumptions being made here and it really makes me wonder how they expect a relationship to last when they can’t even speak to the guy properly. Of course, there are just as many male characters confessing to girls they’ve only ever admired from afar so this isn’t exclusively a problem of the heroine of the story. I love it when they follow this up with an internal monologue that says they’ve always been watching that person. Yeah, because that will tell you everything about them, or you are journeying into the stalker territory from number 3.

05. The girl starts changing herself entirely based on the guy’s preference. She asks his opinion on everything and ceases to actually make any decisions on her own. It is like being in a relationship was akin to lobotomising the character and suddenly their brain has stopped functioning independently. I know this one isn’t fair but a character who pretty much has no identity outside of her relationship is Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess. Realistically, what little we see of her before Keiichi makes his wish doesn’t really reveal much of a personality to start with (other than sweet) and then she’s bound by his wish for most of the rest of the show. In this instance it kind of works but I still find these sorts of characters frustrating.

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That’s it from me on bad romance trends but feel free to suggest your own or provide more examples of the ones above.


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Momokuri Series Review

Overview:

Kurihara is obsessed with taking photos of Momotsuki (a boy who is a year younger) and once she has taken 100 photos she asks him out. They begin dating but both of these characters have a few issues.

I did review this week to week so if you are interested in individual episode thoughts go here.

Review:

I’m going to preface most of this review by pointing out I thought this series was actually kind of adorable and sweet and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I’m going to spend a few paragraphs tearing it apart.

Firstly, the central relationship is beyond unhealthy. If one of the characters had been a bully I’d have torn this anime to piece from the get go about how it was trying to normalise emotionally abusive relationships. While I don’t expect anime to portray perfectly happy and stable relationships all the time, what this show does is still pretty unhealthy in its own way, even as it tries to cover over all of the ‘odd’ aspects with pink sparkles and humour.

Starting with Kurihara, she is obsessed. She’s a stalker. She collects Momotsuki’s used straws for goodness sake. She learns his time table, talks with his friends, and generally does everything that if it had been a guy doing it to a girl would have been unacceptably creepy. If the receiver had any self-awareness they would have genuinely found it creepy. Playing it down by making her totally oblivious to the weirdness of her actions and having her partner question whether that level of attention was normal and then dismiss it as ‘over-thinking it’ doesn’t make it any better.

But Momotsuki isn’t coming out of this any better. Apparently he didn’t get enough attention from his parents so rather than finding Kurihara’s attentions a little over-zealous, he actually get’s upset with her (more than once) for not getting jealous when he was speaking with female friends. How dare his girlfriend not be completely possessive and actually allow him to have a life? What makes this worse is he actually knows he is in the wrong on some of these occasions but still manages to make the situation all about him.

The two of these characters complement each other perfectly (given she’s overly attentive and he is attention starved) but that doesn’t make this a good relationship. The two of them are feeding each other’s worst traits and that just seems like it can’t possibly be sustainable long term.

Secondly, the side characters. At times these characters are far more interesting than the central couple but they do not get any real development. At times there are hints that they have their own relationships forming and own issues to deal with, but these are quickly swept away and then forgotten as we plow along following Momotsuki and Kurihara.

The other issue with the side characters is the balance. Kurihara has one female friend (and a lot of people she bribes and deals with to get info). Her friend is awesome and supportive and one of the saner characters in the story (good for Kurihara really). Momtsuki has a group of male and female friends but none of these seem particularly close. Several of his friends regularly tease him and are about as supportive as a brick to the face and largely the girls just seem to think he is cute (though not in a romantic way).

As a result, while the friends are in the story, and occasionally used for key narrative points (like getting the main characters moving at all), they are pretty under-developed and underused.

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Thirdly the visuals are less than impressive. We get a lot of reused facial expressions, still images, frozen reaction shots, and occasionally just background rather than the characters who are talking. Not to mention, everything is kind of pink (there’s a lot of pink in this series). While this series clearly isn’t going for visual masterpiece at times episodes do seem lazy.

Last criticism… Other than the central romance there really isn’t a story. You are just going to watch these characters go to school, go on dates and go through the usual anime clichés (sick visit, pool, picnic, etc).

Okay, assuming you are fine with watching a romance that isn’t supposed to be healthy and don’t mind side characters that go nowhere and you aren’t watching for the visuals, what will you enjoy in this show?

The comedy is not usually the laugh out loud kind but it is that sweet romantic comedy style humour and it hits the mark more often than it misses. Kurihara particularly is an inherently funny character (once you stop trying to think about what she would be like as a real person) and the extremes she goes to sometimes are funny in and of themselves (though the reactions of others are also amusing).

Outside of the comedy, despite what I said earlier about the relationship being unhealthy, these two characters do help each other to grow and change and they do this is slow steps. At the end, Momotsuki is still crying for attention and Kurihara would still love to steal his garbage, but they are both learning something about moderation and about consideration for what the other is feeling so they have travelled some distance. Honestly I preferred that to the characters doing an instant 180 and suddenly being totally stable. It felt like a more realistic character journey than some I had seen.

Down to a recommendation. Would I recommend this? Not initially. Unless I knew you, and knew that you loved romantic comedies and that you had exhausted most of the more common rom-coms in the anime field, I probably wouldn’t suggest watching this. Would I discourage someone from watching it? Not really. It’s a pleasant way to pass the time and, as long as you don’t over think it, the romance is pretty sweet.

What are your thoughts on Momokuri?

 

Momokuri Episodes 25 + 26

Review:

This went much the way you would expect, though the scene change to a hot spring was kind of out of left field. While we had already done pool and beach it didn’t seem like the show had any way to contrive a hot springs visit. How I underestimate anime sometimes. Apparently you can always find a way to send a group of unaccompanied teenagers to the hot springs. Anyway, the romance is nicely wrapped for the main couple and the other characters get as little development as always and it all ends sweetly (if a little creepily) ever after so the show maintained it’s consistent tone throughout.

Momokuri is available on Crunchyroll.

Momokuri Episodes 23 + 24

Review:

This episode was definitely less impressive than the previous ones but continued to be cute and sweet. My real issue was it was (as the title suggested) a simple reverse of a situation we had already seen. Instead of Kurihara taking care of a sick Momotsuki, we see Momotsuki visit Kurihara when she is sick. Even with the add in of it being Christmas, there really isn’t enough new material here to make this engaging.

That said, I am also going to reiterate a previously raised point: Momotsuki needs better friends.

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Another point that seems fairly standard for anime is that Kurihara actually took care of Momotsuki when he was sick. Momotsuki just kind of holds her hand and blushes a lot.

Anyway, one more episode to go and we’ll see how it all ends.

Momokuri is available on Crunchyroll.

Momokuri Episodes 21 + 22

Review:

It’s nice that both Kurihara and Momotsuki have just kind of accepted that they are both weird and they like each other. I also like that Momotsuki is starting to teach Kurihara a little and their interactions feel a bit more natural (at least in the first half of the episodes). Another pleasant feature this week was some tension amongst Momotsuki’s friends caused by a misunderstanding. I’m looking forward to seeing that sub-plot developing so let’s hope it doesn’t just fade away. My least favourite moment this week was probably the ending where Momotsuki gives in to unreasonable jealousy when another guy pulls a cobweb out of Kurihara’s hair. All and all, if you’ve watched the show this far, this is a good episode. Is this anime amazing? Not so much. But the characters are cute and quirky and some of the weirder parts of this relationship seem to finally be getting sorted.

Momokuri is available on Crunchyroll.

Momokuri Episodes 19 + 20

Review:

Momokuri delivered a solid episode this week, which surprised me because when I saw it was a festival episode I expected everything to just kind of generically run along.

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Instead we got an episode that made significant advances in Momotsuki’s and Kurihara’s relationship, including Kurihara finally telling Momotsuki most of the truth about her obsession. I did not see that coming.

Also, Rio and Momotsuki make the cutest couple ever even though they aren’t the actual couple in the show.

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Now of course we need to wait a week for the fall out. Hopefully everything ends well for our actual couple.

Momokuri is available on Crunchyroll.

Momokuri Episodes 17 + 18

Review:

Dating clichés continue with a visit to the amusement park. That said, this was a particularly cute episode. I love how the characters are all becoming slightly more aware of each other and themselves so it doesn’t feel like we are just treading over the same ground all the time. They may be slow to catch on, but they are catching on. All and all though, Momotsuki and Kurihara are close to becoming the cutest anime couple I’ve ever seen. Not my favourite couple and certainly not my favourite romance anime, but they are kind of adorable together. How many other anime characters can pull off the ‘my hair is stuck in your button’ routine without your eyes rolling clear out of your head?

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Momokuri is available on Crunchyroll.

Momokuri Episodes 15 + 16

Review:

Is it bad that this week I spent a lot of time counting just how many scenes were actually static images that we were panning over? Or that most of the dialogue is delivered by characters off screen and we are shown a static reaction shot? Right from the start, Momokuri hasn’t exactly gone out of its way to be visually impressive so it seem harsh to judge the series now but I think the fact that I was paying attention to that this week meant that I was not that interested in the episode. Admittedly, the end of the second half, where Noriko confronted Kurihara head on about her obsessive practices, was probably the strength of the episode, but the earlier trip to the pool and subsequent hand holding while walking home just felt like more of the same. This show is still sweet (and Kurihara is still adorable in a cute and creepy kind of way) but I feel like this week was just going through the motions.

Momokuri is available on Crunchyroll.

Momokuri Episodes 13 + 14

Review:

So Momotsuki is sick and his friends decide the best person to look after him is Kurihara which leads to the expected and standard girl looking after boy in room with embarrassed blushes sequences. What I did like was how they used this episode to show Kurihara is growing as a person.

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Momotsuki’s sleeping face entrances her and she reaches for her phone and then she puts it down. She realises that she’s been staring at his picture and not at him. It’s a significant step in moving this relationship from slightly creepy to actually completely adorable.

The final sequneces where we see them trying out each other’s first names, with the extreme blushing is just a nice way to finish the episode and shows us that while they are moving forwad they aren’t taking any sudden leaps.

Momokuri can be found on Crunchyroll.

Momokuri Episodes 11 + 12

Review:

Each week this show delivers a pleasant little story but it isn’t doing anything particularly noteworthy. This week Momotsuki and Kurihara go to a festival, get separated, and then find each (with some help from Rio). There’s a few other things happening but mostly that’s it. Momotsuki continues to be plagued by various self-doubts and he really needs to wonder a bit more about how Kurihara knows everything about him sometimes but otherwise the show doesn’t really do tension or drama. Everything is just kind of level and plodding along.

Momokuri is available on Crunchyroll.