First, a huge thanks to Hayashi Sora, for the enlightening posts that made me want to write stuff other than the sensationalist drama bullcrap I’ve been writing a whole lot about.
Now that that’s over, it’s time to explore an oftenly visited aspect of any modern entertainment: love. Yes, it’s in the movies, in bullshit YA fiction, on the net, and even in anime. It’s always an interesting subject to talk about, as it is highly subject to taste and personal preference. Considering the nature of the topic, I’ll just say here that this post is just my highly subjective take on love in anime; how it’s portrayed and what I think the future of love should be in anime.
That Fickle Thing Called Love
Defining “love” has long been one of the top 100 philosophical questions that has been highly debated during the course of human history. Neuroscientists often define love as simply the work of hormones that make the brain go crazy; artists picture love as a beautiful, fluffy feeling that invites a sense of passion and compassion; philosophers can argue at length about a one-fits-all description for love; and Twilight thinks love is all about possession. Love is indeed a fickle thing.
As a form of entertainment, anime also has its own take on love and the works. Love in anime takes on a myriad of forms; from banal, carnal longing for the flesh to deep-seated affection for the well-being of one another. Thus, I would like to arbitrarily categorize love into three broad levels. The lowest being lust, then camaraderie, until finally taking the form of “true love”.
Seems like a lot of work for 2D characters.
Lust: Basically Basic
Let us start with the most basic of love forms: lust. Perhaps the easiest to portray of the three categories, lust in anime is a commonly used theme that usually gets the plot running, or may be the central aspect on which the anime is structured on.
As one of the most basic forms of love, lust can be easily portrayed in any art form. The Indians made an entire book on sexual positions, the Japanese have enshrined erotica into ageless tapestries, and forms of Western Renaissance art were also inspired by lust. In anime, lust is commonly evident in harem romance comedies that emphasize on a single male protagonist being surrounded by physically attractive females. While many examples exist, like OniiAi, Zero no Tsukaima, and Nisekoi, I believe To Love-Ru is the most relevant example. Rito, the protagonist, is constantly surrounded by attractive love interests that increase in amount over time. To Love-Ru‘s main selling point is basically the interactions, often motivated by lust, between the protagonist and the female love interests. A large portion of screen time is dedicated to showing either Rito being seduced by the females or Rito being put into sexually suggestive situations, like voyeurism or the unintentional viewing of a female’s undergarments, or sessions colloquially known as “fan service”.
Mirai Nikki also fits the bill… somehow. I’m talking about Yuno Gasai, the twisted yandere that everyone seems to adore. The Yuki-Yuno relationship is one that you would say is “healthy”. In fact, it is based (almost solely) on Yuno’s lust towards Yukiteru. Now, I’m speaking of lust in an entirely different matter. Yuno’s love for Yuki is utilitarian in nature. In simple terms, Yuno simply “lusts” for Yuki because she sees Yuki as just another “tool” to achieve her goals. Of course, Yuki doesn’t know this; she just think she’s hot.
Because lust is easily demonstrated and understood by majority of otaku, whom are mostly men, it is often the go-to category used to hook the audience. As the old saying goes “Love at first sight”, which I believe should be altered to “Lust at first sight”. While in moderation lust can be a motive for further, more sophisticated forms of love later in the plot, at most times (and it is increasingly become relevant and ubiquitous) it is used as a diversion for the viewer. Increasing amounts of fan service distracts the viewer from the subpar plot and character development. The characters themselves are nothing but objects to satisfy the hidden lusts of the viewer. Thus they are trapped forever in a cycle of panty shots, intentional and accidental voyeurism, and in some extreme cases, sexual abuse. Ultimately, lust does not mature into true love; it continues to stay carnal and shallow, a never-ending exchange of boobs in the face and sexual innuendos.
Camaraderie: No, Not the Friend-zone
Camaraderie is another form of love that is portrayed in anime, especially shounen fights. Well above lust, camaraderie is portrayed by a strong mutual trust in comrades, be it of similar or different sexes or even different kin. It is a type of love that perhaps reflect the soul of youth (seishun) in Japan, and as such, caters to teenagers.
In anime such as Bleach, Naruto, and Fairy Tail, we see camaraderie in the form of guilds or groups. Friendships are forged between a protagonist, who somehow becomes a member of the main clique, and members of the group. Events occur, problems arise, and sometimes blood is shed as tests to these bonds of friendship. In the end, friendship wins out and emerges stronger than ever. Some relationships eventually evolve to romance, but it is only implied and only explicitly revealed in short bursts as it is not the main focus of the story.
A quite literal portrayal of camaraderie brings me to the Persona series. In Persona 4: The Animation, Yu Narukami’s Social Links are a direct manifestation of camaraderie as a form of love. The bonds of friendship between Narukami and his group are strengthened and tested by various events in Inaba, until culminating in the ultimate test of friendship: a battle against a literal goddess of the dark.
In sports anime, this theme is most often encountered. The manly classic, Slam Dunk, almost entirely focuses on the friendship between bulky high-schoolers and their passion for basketball. Sakuragi’s love story is a side story, while the main story is buff guys playing basketball. Kuroko could have done the same thing… if fujos didn’t start shipping the dudes with one another.
Sometimes, the best relationships are not romantic.
Now, the hardest one. True love is a vague, catchy term which meaning totally depends on who you are and what anime you like. True love may start off as hateful strangers, but then developing into a romantic relationship after a couple of mishaps. It may also truly blossom after the hero and heroine have slaughtered many foes and saved one another countless times. Maybe to you, true love is picking one girl out of a few choices and then focusing mainly on her. True love may also be found in uncanny forms, like a sister loving their brother beyond the context of platonic love. Perhaps true love is Platonic. There is no one-fits-all description.
And in anime, this theme is perhaps the most widely explored through different takes. Of course, romance anime would be the ones to watch if you want to observe this kind of love. I would leave romance comedy out of the picture because they use romance as gags. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find true love in non-romance anime; it’s just not the right place to look.
I seldom watch romance anime. It’s not my cup of tea because I like action and laughing. But Angel Beats! is one of my favorites when talking about true love, specifically the Kanade-Yuzuru ship. I know that most of the anime is gags and pseudo-deep Maeda shit, but still, the Kanade-Yuzuru ship is perhaps one of the best ships ever. They encounter one another as enemies first, but as their stories are revealed, they form a romantic (is that the right word?) relationship that moved me to tears. I mean, Yuzuru literally gave his heart (well donated… but don’t ruin it!) to Kanade. If that’s not true love, then I don’t know what is.
True love can also be found in the weirdest places. Fullmetal Alchemist comes to mind. The Elric twins’ love for their mother is the what I’m talking about. So much, that they would try forbidden alchemy and lose a limb and a body just to bring her back from the dead.
So.. What Next?
Love is a deep, complicated subject that can be explored to no limits, and I believe that it is the proud duty of the people in the anime industry to keep exploring the theme and present the viewers with their own perspective of love.
I would like to see more anime try to explore themes related to true love. Of course, it would be up to us, the viewers to interpret that. However, I doubt that my wishes will come to reality, considering the state the anime industry is in. More and more shallow anime relying on a shallow premise of love that is merely lustful come out, just for a quick buck. They merely entice people with superficial, physical attraction and do little to explore deeper themes. I know the industry also has it hard, especially with otaku being a niche population.