Friday, February 14, 2014

Kin'youbi Mosaic Valentine's Day Special: Anime Couples

It's Valentine's day, the day in Japan when a girl traditionally gives out chocolates to friends, families, and of course, the guy she has her eye on. And in the US, couples do couply things. I don't have any sort of significant other and never had, though, so this holiday is pretty much useless to me. Still, in the spirit of the holiday, I thought I'd use this week's weekly ramblings to talk about some of my favorite anime couples.

Be warned that there are some spoilers in this post. There's nothing too big for three of the four shows mentioned in this post (Lovely Complex, Toradora!, Ai Yori Aoshi), as the couples involved are pretty obvious from the start, and even in the fourth show, Clannad, the couple itself is obvious, though a fairly big plot point is spoiled (it will be hidden in black).

Not one of the couples I'll be talking about, but Holo and Lawrence of Spice and Wolf are definitely another one of my favorite couples.


The Norm-Defying Couple: Risa Koizumi & Atsushi Ohtani, Lovely Complex

She's got him completely wrapped around her, uh, arms. (Seems to be official art.)

For various reasons, the norm for romantic relationships is that the guy is taller than the girl. As a rather short guy myself, this does not bode well for my future romantic prospects. Perhaps that is why this show's story of a tall girl and a short guy that somehow find love despite going completely against their expectations strikes a chord with me.

One of the funny things about romance is how it can completely defy our expectations. Things like who is taller or shorter that initially seem like big deals suddenly stop being important in the face of genuine connection. Whereas Koizumi and Ohtani initially considered each other incompatible based on their heights, their shared interests and overall support for each other eventually causes them to fall in love.

That said, the whole "love conquers all" belief is not one I hold to personally. Things that have to do with a person's behavior, especially religion and spiritual beliefs, can affect a long-term romantic relationship much more than "the power of love" can counter it, hence why I do not believe it is a good idea for Christians to get seriously romantically involved with non-Christians. But physical things like height? The power of love trumps that easily.


The Intimate Couple: Ryuuji Takasu & Taiga Aisaka, Toradora!

Another couple with a height disparity, but this time with the traditional genders. (Art by しろたか)

In the field of psychology, one of the models of love relationships (including non-romantic ones) is the Steinberg triangle model, in which every type of love in a relationship can be defined by the presence or lack of three elements: romantic passion, interpersonal intimacy, and raw commitment. A relationship that mainly only has passion is, for example, a short-lived romantic fling; an intimacy-only relationship describes that between platonic friends, and a commitment-only relationship can likely describe the relationship you have with that brother/sister of yours that you generally do not have anything to do with outside of family functions, but whom you'd still rush out to help if they were in trouble.

Many relationships have a combination of these elements; a standard romantic non-marriage relationship may be primarily a combination of passion and intimacy, a whirlwind courtship where two people get married without really getting to know each other combines passion and commitment (for how long, who knows), and a combination of intimacy and commitment can describe close family members, long-lasting BFF-type friendships, and longtime-married couples for whom the passion has largely died out. An "ideal" marriage relationship has all three elements. However, the presence of those elements can change over time, especially passion, which can be particularly volatile.

One can have an absolute field day evaluation relationships in anime under this model, but one particular case where this sticks out is in Toradora! Ryuuji, at the start of the show, and through much of it, is attracted to his classmate Minori; however, the two have not interacted much with each other, and his attraction to her is largely that of passion--not a particularly intense sort, but definitely based more on physical feelings than anything else. Likewise, Taiga has a mainly-physical attraction to Ryuuji's friend Kitamura. On the other hand, while Ryuuji has no romantic attraction to Taiga at first, the two start spending a lot of time together due to various circumstances, and as such they develop an intimate relationship (that also has some degree of commitment) where they support each other to such a degree that they will even prioritize each other over their crushes. It's not too surprising, then, when the two of them eventually do end up romantically involved.

Ryuuji and Taiga represent well the intimacy aspect of relationship, and how that differs from a relationship based more on simple, physical attraction. And personally, I prefer those romances that are built on genuine intimacy that comes from a guy and a girl developing a solid friendship than those that are just based on romantic feelings.


The Devoted Couple: Kaoru Hanabishi & Aoi Sakuraba, Ai Yori Aoshi

Another traditional couple, in more ways than one.
If Ryuuji and Taiga represent the intimacy side of the Steinberg triangle, then Kaoru and Aoi of Ai Yori Aoshi represent the commitment side. Aoi in particular is almost defined by her commitment; she was betrothed to Kaoru as a child, and has under her family's yamato nadeshiko traditions prepared her entire life to be a proper wife. She did spend some time with Kaoru as a child and was definitely touched by his kindness then, but their interactions beyond that have been limited. Still, when she heard that her engagement to Kaoru had been annulled, she seeks out Kaoru herself, and from there, their actual relationship starts to develop.

In the Steinberg triangle model, in addition to the "tolerable family member" example, another example of a "commitment-only" relationship is an arranged marriage (in the many countries where this is still a common practice) where the betrothed are not particularly attracted to each other physically at first and do not have much prior interaction (hence no intimacy); in that case, "commitment only" is oftentimes simply the starting point, as the couple then develop both passion and intimacy over the course of their marriage. In fact, an interesting study has been done in India comparing the amount of romantic love a married couple has over time, and in particular, compared those couples who married for love to those in arranged marriage; the "married for love" group's romantic love levels started off high--around 70 out of 81--but dropped off sharply at around the 2-5 year mark, all the way down to 40; on the other hand, the "arranged marriage" group started off low at around 50, but that number grew over time to around 65 at the 5-10 year mark and staying around that level afterwards. Given how famous romantic love is for fizzling out once the honeymoon period is over, maybe these arranged marriage peeps are onto something in not making that factor in to marriage to start? (Well, there are other possible problems with arranged marriages, so it's best not to look into that too much…)

One way or another, there is something special about commitment in a romance. After all, the whole institution of marriage is based on commitment, not on passion or intimacy--hence, why arranged marriages are a thing. And when it comes to anime arranged marriages that aren't of the "gotta get out of this before I get married to some sleazeball" variety, they provide a great opportunity to look at how commitment can work in the background of such a relationship to develop a romance. This is definitely what's going on with Kaoru and Aoi, made even more meaningful by some of the more painful aspects of Kaoru's past that show how Aoi is the one part of his past that he is truly grateful for. All of this makes Kaoru and Aoi a favorite couple of mine and Ai Yori Aoshi a show I very much enjoyed.

I will very likely have much more to say about these two in a later post. In the meantime, if you want another show that looks at this sort of arranged marriage, why not check out the currently-airing Engaged to the Unidentified? I'll probably end up talking about both of these shows in a post that looks more at these arranged marriage relationships… and what they have to say about a Christian's relationship with God.


The Eternal Couple: Tomoya Okazaki & Nagisa Furukawa, Clannad

Boy, do these two go through a lot to get to this point.

And finally, I have to talk about the couple from one of my favorite shows of all time, Clannad. In and of itself, there's nothing too special about this couple; they're just a cute couple that supports each other and does a lot of things together while sometimes being cutely awkward with each other. It's fairly simple but effectively endearing.

What sets this couple apart is the extent to which their story is told, namely (spoilers ahead): [the fact that they get married, and the show even goes to show some of their married life together. Whereas most anime stop either when or well before the couple ties the knot (even the "arranged marriage" ones typically focus on the engagement period), Clannad After Story goes past that point and into the characters' adult lives.] Of course, there's even more to this story, and I'm not going to spoil past that; nevertheless, this is definitely one of the definitive couples of anime.

A question for commenters: What are your favorite anime couples?

1 comment:

  1. Tomoya and Nagisa are definitely my favorite anime couple, partially because their story is so fresh in my mind, I'm sure. It's true that they're not an extraordinary couple, and I think that's part of why I like them so much; they're relatable. Plus, their deep love and the realistic way they transform one another is wonderful.