I’m watching Blue Spring Ride this season. (To be honest, I started because I love Futaba’s hairstyle, and I’m still debating with myself whether or not it’d be too awkward for everyone involved to bring a picture of an anime character to a hairdresser.)
Blue Spring Ride is ostensibly a shoujo romance show, but I think Beneath The Tangles hit the nail on the head when writer JP summarized it as an anime about learning to be yourself. Like a lot of teens, Futaba tries on personalities she hopes are more “likeable” than her own. She is unable to discover whether or not she’s in love with handsome Kou until she discovers herself.
This is all well and good as a coming-of-age story, but for me it’s not a very satisfying romance. Stuff like Kimi No Todoke is endearing at first, but can you believe it’s been 24 episodes and they still can’t confess? As I’ve gotten older and gotten married, I’ve learned that romance is about a lot more than the butterflies in your stomach when you’re trying to admit you like somebody.
I’m not just talking about sex. There’s learning to trust each other, dealing with jealousy regarding other love interests, sharing each other’s identity and physical space, and learning to resolve the inevitable argument without saying something you regret.
In order to get stories like this, you have to move beyond the shoujo genre into josei, which is geared at older women (but I’d argue that my favorite josei anime and manga, just like my favorite seinen stuff, are for everyone). These all involve straight relationships, but if you know of one that breaks that mold, I’d love to hear about it!
My favorite is 1998’s His And Her Circumstances. Yukino and Arima are both seemingly-perfect students who find they can be themselves around each other. It’s a rare high school romance that answers the question, “What happens after the first kiss?” One reviewer called it director Hideki Anno’s “personal case study of relationships.”
Both of Ai Yazawa’s most well known works, Paradise Kiss and Nana, involve more mature relationships, too. The characters in these shows have sex and contemplate or commit to cohabitation. They have arguments, resolutions, and sometimes, amicable separations.
Moving on to manga, there’s Happy Marriage?, the story of an office lady who has to marry a man she doesn’t know in order to keep up appearances. Perhaps since they live together, they’re able to get beyond the “does he like me?” tier of the relationship into subplots about infidelity and reconciling each others’ obnoxious housekeeping habits.
At any age, that very first “I love you” is the biggest rush you’ll ever feel. But as we get older, we aren’t fooled that it’s all “happily ever after” from here. I have a craving for more anime and manga that smartly and wholeheartedly explores the messiness of a romantic relationship.
Do you have any favorite romance anime or manga?