There is much more to good character writing than just the characters themselves; there is also the matter of relationships with other characters. Whether in romance, friendship, family, or as part of a larger group of nakama, good relational writing is an important part of good shows. With that said, let's start looking at some of my favorite relationships from the last year.
As before, only one entry per series per list. And while I'm sure there are plenty of great art for all of these couples, there will be no pictures in this post. If you want some pictures, check out my Tumblr, where I'll be posting some pictures of the couples and groups listed here over the next week or so. And, beware of some romantic spoilers in the Top Romantic Pairs list (though nothing too surprising).
Top 5 Romantic Pairs
Ah, romance. And only a couple of days late for Valentine's Day. An important note here: this list only considers those relationships that have either explicitly become romantic (through an intentional kiss or confession) or are pretty clearly headed toward an exclusive relationship.
#5. Shinichi & Myucel, Outbreak Company
These two don't make a whole lot of progress compared to other couples on this list, but it's pretty clear that they're the main couple of this show. Moreover, there's a lot that these two represent to each other: for Shinichi, an acceptance of who he is and an inspiration for what he is to do in the world of Eldant; for Myucel, an opportunity for a new life and a realization that she does not have to be held back by her low social ranking.
#4. Kaito Yashio & Akiho Senomiya, Robotics;Notes
This osananajimi (childhood friend) couple is one of those that just works really well overall. At first, it seems like Akiho is the one that is more proactive in doing things while Kaito seems rather apathetic about things (though he seems to like seeing her digitally dressed up in a cat-maid costume), but as the show goes on, it's pretty clear how much he cares about her, frequently working behind the scenes for the sake of his friend. That the two of them do not only confess, but also share a kiss toward the end of the show means this couple actually has more progress than most of the couples on this list, which is a nice bonus for romance fans.
#3. Yutaka Hasebe & Lucy Yamagami, Servant x Service
Again, I've already written about this couple before, looking specifically at the moment where Yutaka's playful teasing of his cute (and strangely-named) co-worker turns into genuinely falling in love with her. From there, Yutaka starts to try to show Lucy how much he really likes her, which leads to a fair change in his ways. Lucy, on her part, tries to respond as best as she can despite her insecurities, which leads to plenty of cute moments between the two.
#2. Yoshihisa Manabe & Haruka Kotoura, Kotoura-san
For all that Manabe likes to have perverted thoughts of Haruka and mess with her mind-reading ability, it's pretty clearly shown just how important he is to her, especially in how he is the first person to accept her, mind-reading ability and all. And Manabe is much more than just a perverted flirter, frequently helping her out when she runs into trouble with her ability. Their relationship is really cute, with a very heartfelt moment for them at the end.
#1. Jin Mitaka & Misaka Kamiigusa, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou
My favorite couple of 2013 is actually not a main couple, but a beta couple. They're the second osananajimi couple in this list, although in this case, there's much more drama in their relationship, as Jin feels like he is unworthy of the very talented Misaka's attention, causing him to rebuff her displays of affection and instead seek the company of other girls, at least at first. It's a long road for their feelings to finally reach each other properly, but when they finally do get together, it's a moment that really does feel like it was worth all the troubles getting there.
Top 10 Same-Gender Pairs
This one mainly concerns friendships between two girls, plus one between two guys. Some of these flirt with the yuri line, but they all refrain from actually crossing it (once you've seen an episode of Sakura Trick, it's pretty clear that these relationships are not actually yuri).
#10. Hotaru Ichijou & Komari Koshigaya, Non Non Biyori
Probably the one in this list closest to yuri, though mainly in the form of a one-sided crush on Hotaru's part. Nevertheless, they share a fun and cute relationship with plenty of comedy as Hotaru tries to get her cute little senpai to notice her--and makes plenty of Komari plushies in the process. (Where can I get one of those?)
#9. Nagisa Motomiya & Chieri Sono, AKB0048
Old friends that are both good friends and fierce rivals, these two encourage each other a lot in becoming better idols, in addition to helping each other through some of the tough spots the group gets in. It's not always the friendliest relationship between the two, but it is definitely only with each other's help that they are able to grow into what awaits them in the finale.
#8. Harunobu Madarame & Kenjiro Hato, Genshiken Nidaime
The only pair of two guys in this list, and one of them is one some might not even consider a guy, though by and large when these two interact, Kenjiro identifies as male (though his "female" side is enjoying all the yaoi potential with these two guys). Nevertheless, these two have a very interesting dynamic, one that isn't without some awkwardness, but still has plenty of solid friendship established in spite of differences.
#7. Riko Kurahashi & Natsuo Maki, Love Lab
These two in one of 2013's more off-the-radar shows are quite the duo, but behind their love-researching antics lie a friendship that has its rough moments but comes out all the stronger at the end. It's all the more notable for Natsuo, who hasn't had many friends before. Riko might not be the love-master that the others think she is, but in the end, the friendship these two girls have is the strongest relationship here.
#6. Myucel & Petralka, Outbreak Company
At first, these two do not get along, mainly because Petralka had been brought up to see Myucel as a lower being. However, as the show goes on, Petralka starts to cast aside her prejudices and see Myucel as an important friend and more of an equal, best exemplified in the soccer episode, where the entire land gets to see the empress be friendly with a "lowly" half-elf. This is the type of friendship that is not only strong, but also revolutionary.
#5. Shinobu Oomiya & Alice Cartelet, Kin-iro Mosaic
Kin-iro Mosaic has two great friendships, and without the "one per show per list" rule, both would have made the list. The honorable mention goes to Aya and Youko, who have a nice friendship in which Youko reaches out to the shy Aya to befriend her, but the friendship that makes this list is the cross-cultural one between Shinobu and Alice. Especially notable is how it is shown in the first episode, where the two don't even speak each other's language and still manage to develop a very sweet friendship. Their friendship remains a nice and strong one even when they are high schoolers, too.
#4. Yukino Yukinoshita & Yui Yuigahama, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
Yukino's the sort of person that you don't expect to make friends, so it's quite a step for Yui to not only be her first real friend, but to also be recognized as such. Yukino still tends to keep Yui at arms length, but thankfully, Yui is the friendly, outgoing sort that is able to reach out to Yukino despite this. For a group of characters as dysfunctional as in this show, the friendship between these two girls is quite significant.
#3. Yui Ichii & Yukari Hinata, Yuyushiki
I really wanted to put the entire trio here, but this is "top pairs", so I'm focusing on Yui and her longstanding friendship with the oddball girl from a rich family. That said, Yui and Yuzuko's friendship is also good, and really, all three of them have a closeness that really helps make this show as enjoyable as it is. And I might as well also honorable-mention Yui and Chiho Aikawa… you know what, I might as well just put the whole show in this spot.
#2. Haruka Kotoura & Hiyori Moritani, Kotoura-san
Sometimes, the best friendships have the worst starts. Hiyori starts off by outright bullying Haruka for spending too much time with Manabe, whom she likes--she even goes as far as to get people from her dojo to "rough up" the girl a little. All this is rather despicable, but when Manabe gets hurt and she realizes she has gone too far, she then repents and goes to find Haruka, seeking to become friends with her. Haruka is thankfully the forgiving type that does become her friend despite what she's done to her. This is definitely a case of how powerful forgiveness and grace is in redeeming people and making friends out of enemies.
#1. Fuu Sawatari & Chihiro Miyoshi, Tamayura ~more aggressive~
Tamayura is another series that is a goldmine of great friendships. There's Fuu and Kaoru, Norie and Maon, and, new to this season, Fuu and Kanae, which was definitely a close contender for this spot, as well as Chihiro and Tomo. But my favorite friendship of 2013 is definitely that between Fuu and her longtime childhood friend, Chihiro. Not only do they support each other even after Fuu moves away, but they also treasure the memories between them, and the moment in episode 8 where they finally fulfill a longstanding promise with each other is easily one of the best moments in anime in all of 2013. (I'm pretty sure I've mentioned all of this before when Chihiro won Best Supporting Female Character of 2013…) These two have their own lives to live, but despite the physical distance normally between them, it is clear that they will continue to be great friends for life.
Top 10 Other Opposite-Gender Relationships
Just because a guy and a girl are not romantically involved doesn't mean that they cannot have a meaningful relationship. The guys and girls in this list are not officially couples; some are clearly headed that way while others are cases where at least one of the characters clearly has someone else they are interested in. Nevertheless, their relationships are still great and show that romance is not everything in this world.
Though just because I can, I will also indicate to what extent I ship the pairs in this list, on a scale of 1 to 10. Mind you, regardless of canon I have already set up alternate universes where the pairings are together, so a 1 is simply a "alternate universe set up, but don't really care otherwise", whereas a 10 is as close to a one-true-pairing as someone who sets up alternate universes for every remotely plausible couple in a series can have.
#10. Kyousuke Kousaka & [spoiler alert! Ruri "Kuroneko" Gokou], Oreimo S2
Ugh… spoiler time! [Unfortunately, while this couple was canon for a while, Kuroneko eventually broke it up in order to help repair the relationship between the Kousaka siblings and herself, and alas, in the end, Kyousuke firmly rejects her in order to pursue a "relationship" with his sister. But I already complained about that. I still think that Kyousuke and Ruri make a better couple, but regardless, Ruri's dedication not only to Kyousuke but also to his sister and her friendship with his sister makes this pair a very strong one even after their romance has ended.
Ship rating: 9/10 - Kyousuke x Manami is also not bad though the ending kind of took some of the love out of that one - maybe a 7/10 on the generous side. As for Kyousuke x Kirino… nah. Maybe a 2/10?]
#9. Tamako Kitashirakawa & Mochizou Ooji, Tamako Market
There's not really too much to say about these two. They're definitely close, and there are some pretty nice moments between the two, but the slice-of-life format and the presence of the talking bird doesn't give them a whole lot of time, at least in the TV series. Still, they do make a good pair. The real question is, what will the upcoming movie, Tamako Love Story, bring for these two?
Ship rating: 8/10 - Looking forward to that movie.
#8. Sadao Maou & Chiho Sasaki, The Devil is a Part-Timer!
Chiho most definitely has a crush on Sadao, and has even [spoiler: confessed to him, which he did acknowledge, even though he did not return the feelings yet himself]. Nevertheless, the two have a good working relationship and off-work relationship--in particular, one can say that Chiho is the one that brings out Sadao's more human side, showing that he is not just the heartless Demon King that was his name in his past world.
Ship rating: 8/10 - I like this one more than Sadao x Emile (I'd give that a 4/10; I feel that one works better as one of simpler mutual respect despite their history).
#7. Kodaka Hasegawa & Rika Shiguma, Haganai NEXT
During the first season, Rika mainly just makes lots of verbal sexual advances on Kodaka, so they're not too interesting. However, in the second season, Rika really starts to push for what the whole purpose of the Neighbors Club was in the first place: making friends. The results are best shown in the finale, when [spoiler: she becomes Kodaka's first official friend]. It's a definite improvement over the first season, and one of the things that makes the second season of this series much better than the first.
Ship rating: 3/10 - I like them a lot as friends, but I think friends is what they are best as. As for preferred ships? Kodaka x Sena barely has the lead at 7/10 over Kodaka x Yozora with 6/10. Yeah, I'm not really feeling the romance that much in this one, but hey, it's about friendship, right?
#6. Shinichi & Petralka, Outbreak Company
Whereas Shinichi and Myucel are the fairly-clear couple in this show, Shinichi nevertheless has a nice relationship with the empress Petralka. This is best exemplified in episode 8, in which he reaches out to the girl after she has shut herself in her room--an episode that I covered in another blog post in more detail. That episode is definitely one of my favorites of the year, and it really goes to show how strong a relationship can be even when it is not romantic. There's also quite a difference in their authority levels, which makes it even nicer that the highest ruler of Eldant wants to befriend someone like Shinichi.
Ship rating: 5/10 - I wouldn't mind an alternate universe with Shinichi x Petralka. Shinichi x Myucel is still the preferred ship at 8/10, though.
#5. Hachiman Hikigaya & Yui Yuigahama, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
Yui really is a great character, being key to not only Yukino's first real friendship, but also to helping Hachiman start to step out of his own antisocial ways. It's not easy for her; she first becomes interested in Hachiman because [spoiler: he rescued her dog from being hit by a car, getting himself hurt in the process], but when he learns about this, he thinks that she is just pitying him, and pushes her away. The two do manage to make up, though, and from there, the two of them start to have… something resembling a social relationship. It's not much, but it's definitely a start, and for this show, that's saying a lot.
Ship rating: 8/10 - I prefer this just slightly to Hachiman x Yukino at 7/10. Though that might just be because I really like Yui.
#4. Makoto Saeki & Satoru Kamio, Gingitsune
Here's a pair that is pretty hard to pin down exactly what their relationship is like. They're not particularly interested in each other romantically as of the end of the anime, despite some teases; in a way, they are more like siblings, though even that is not quite accurate. Perhaps the best way to describe their relationship, though, is by what they share in common: an ability to see heralds. This gives them a connection that they do not share with anyone else, which definitely works well for both of them and makes this pair quite an endearing one.
Ship rating: 8/10 - I think this could work. That they can both see heralds and can thus understand each other in that way is definitely a plus for them.
#3. Sorata Kanda & Nanami Aoyama, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou
Romantically, while Nanami definitely has feelings for Sorata, Sorata and Mashiro are definitely looking like the canon couple here. Still, Sorata does understand Nanami quite well, as they are both struggling artists trying to make it despite not having natural talent, and encountering many failures and setbacks along the way. It all culminates in one particularly heartbreaking scene in which, with both of them at rock bottom, they are able to find solace in each other. For Sorata, it's a fundamentally different type of relationship than he has with Mashiro, whom he looks up to as someone already well-established in her art. One can definitely question whether Nanami or Mashiro is better for him, but one thing's for sure: there is something very important in Sorata and Nanami's relationship, even outside of romance.
Ship rating: 6/10 - For various reasons, I prefer Sorata x Mashiro at 8/10; I'm pretty much neutral on Sorata x Nanami.
#2. Yuugo Hachiken & Aki Mikage, Silver Spoon
Given how things are going in the current season, I wouldn't be surprised if this couple moves up to the Top Romantic Pairs next year. But for the first season that aired in 2013, they remain firmly in this category, though very much a high-ranking one by just how much they mean to each other regardless. Aki is definitely appreciative of how much Yuugo is concerned about her, even if she gets worried because he isn't as concerned about himself. For Yuugo, though, she is more than just his crush; she represents a lot about the new life he has found himself in, particularly during the time when he helps out over at her family's farm, especially how they accept him even when he makes a costly mistake. Their relationship continues to develop in this current season and is definitely one of this amazing show's many highlights.
Ship rating: 10/10 - Pretty much the OTP.
#1. Koyomi Araragi & Shinobu Oshino, Monogatari
These two definitely have a complicated relationship. It is explored especially well in the Kabukimonogatari arc, where we see not only how much the two mean to each other, but also what an alternate-timeline Shinobu, at full strength but without Koyomi, feels about her condition. It's too bad we still don't have the story of their first meeting yet, as that could give even more depth to the very fascinating relationship that these two have. Nevertheless, for their closeness and the complexity of their relationship, Koyomi and Shinobu are my favorite opposite-gender pair of 2013.
Ship rating: 9/10 - The cool thing here is that, technically, a hypothetical Koyomi x Shinobu pairing is perfectly compatible with the canon Koyomi x Hitagi (also a 9/10) that unfortunately did not get much coverage this season. After all, given that Koyomi is part vampire, he and Shinobu will outlive Hitagi and the other human girls, so, barring untimely deaths, eventually, they will only have each other.
And while I'm here, a moment of silence for another pair from this series I really like, Koyomi & Mayoi, [spoiler: unfortunately cut short as Mayoi had out-stayed her welcome on earth. May you be happy in the Koyomi x Mayoi alternate universe I have set up for you--but perhaps age up a bit before going there?]
Top 8 Sibling Pairs/Groups
I'm a big fan of sibling relationships. This list is dedicated to siblings: brother and brother, sister and sister, brother and sister, and larger families with multiple brothers and/or sisters. (As for why 8 instead of 5 or 10… all I can really find this season is 8, but I didn't want to kick out any of them… so eight it is.)
#8. The Koshigaya siblings, Non Non Biyori
Komari and Natsumi definitely have a sisterly relationship, but the real star here is older brother Suguru, who despite his silence remains a faithful and helpful older brother… most of the time. (He sure has a fast escape when faced with an angry mother, though.)
#7. Amy and Bevel, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
To normal human eyes, these two are a pretty normal big sister and little brother, given that Bevel is somewhat sickly and spends most of his time bed-bound. Where this relationship is important is for Ledo, who for the first time finds someone who would normally be discarded by the dystopian society he comes from, instead being loved and cared for, not just by his sister, but also by everyone else on the Gargantia.
#6. Kyousuke & Rin Natsume, Little Busters!
Kyousuke is definitely looking out for his little sister, even if he is not quite sure if what he's doing is the best way to go about it (especially in Refrain!). Kyousuke is also the one that initially helped the shy Rin make friends with the other Little Busters! as children.
#5. Rin & Gou Matsuoka, Free!
First of all, Rin is the older brother, Gou is the little sister; not very obvious just by looking at the names what genders are involved. But that aside, Gou is clearly concerned about her brother, and for all of Rin's problems, he does care about his sister.
#4. Kyousuke & Kirino Kousaka, Oreimo S2… up until episode 10
…you know what, rather than re-iterate things I've already said, I'll just link to a post that explains what I like about these siblings… and a post about why I refuse to acknowledge what happens after episode 11 of the second season.
#3. The Minami sisters, Minami-ke Tadaima!
These three sisters are always such fun, and part of the reason why this series as a whole is such a good one. Sure, the youngest Chiaki and the middle Kana don't exactly get along, but they do still care about each other, and just overall provide a great example of what makes a nice, fun comedy family.
#2. Hachiman & Komachi Hikigaya, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
My favorite brother/sister pair of the last year, Hachiman and Komachi are surprisingly… normal. In that, on one hand, they're not horribly antagonistic like sometimes brothers and sisters in fiction can be portrayed, but at the same time, there's no sense of unnecessary sibling complexes for incest fetishists (though they do seem to make a game of who can make the most sibling-complex-like lines). They're just a normal brother and sister who care for each other reasonably, with the sister helping out her brother in various ways, particularly with regards to Yui.
#1. The Shimogamo siblings, The Eccentric Family
Well, the "family" is right there in the title. There really isn't too much to say here; this show definitely does a great job of showing the closeness of a family, especially with regards to the various events surrounding the death of their father and the guilt some of the family members have over that event.
Top 10 Overall Casts
Finally, I'd like to give a quick list of the 10 shows that I feel have the best overall casts, particularly with the core characters and their overall interactions with each other both individually and as a group. I'm not going to really comment on these, as a strong group dynamic is something that is way too complex to explain (at least, when it is early in the morning like it is while I'm writing this).
10. Love Live!
8. Tamako Market
7. Little Busters!
5. Minami-ke Tadaima!
4. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou
3. Tamayura ~more aggressive~
2. Silver Spoon
1. AKB0048 next stage
Next time will be a spoilerrific post on some of my favorite moments, episodes, and finales of 2013. I've already talked about many of them in this series already, so expect a lot of things to be familiar.