In a post on the blog Shojo Corner, author starsamaria discusses what qualities the best anime and manga couples possess. Like many other things in the fandom, what makes an anime couple good to one fan could be quite the contrary to another, so it was interesting to read the points she brought up and think about my own criteria for a good anime couple. I’m sure there are some who care little about romance in anime, but I for one am quite the sucker for a good couple, whether it’s a big part of the overall story or not…
*Just to note, for some of the couples I use in my examples, there’s still debate over whether they’re really “official” couples in the canon material or not. But as far as I know, none of these couples have been officially ruled out either, so I’m describing them here to show why I like them*
Interesting/likable characters: This was the first point starsamaria brought up in her post and I completely agree. In order for me to like a couple in anime, I have to first like the two characters involved and find them, well, interesting. The best couples to me are the ones where I like both characters individually as well as together. There has to be something memorable about their personalities and the way they relate to each other. Even if they’re very nice people and their relationship is very sweet and loving, that’s not enough if they’re dull and utterly archetypical as characters. To give examples, I’ve always liked Lelouch and C.C. from Code Geass as a couple. Why? Well, I’m sure most people who’ve seen the show can agree that they’re quite dynamic and unforgettable characters with interesting personalities and histories. There’s ambivalence between them as well as trust, with the occasional banter, and I find it all very interesting. Nothing bland about them individually or how they relate to each other. On the flip side, the relationship between Sawako and Kazehaya in Kimi no Todoke, while cute and fluffy, doesn’t stand out in any way to me nor are either of them particularly interesting characters. For most of the series they’re insufferable polite to each other or insufferably flustered in each other’s presence, and individually their characters are fleshed out very little beyond the typical shojo romance.
Complementing traits: One thing I really love in an anime couple is when the two characters complement each other – they each bring out the good (or the bad sometimes) in each other and the strengths of one complements the flaws of the other. This is why I tend to like couples who exemplify “opposites attract” and are often “tsundere” towards each other, bickering or denying their feelings because it takes time for them to come to grips with the fact that their partner brings out traits and emotions in them that they never knew they had. It’s much more interesting to me than a couple who are both nice or both jerks or both shy and so on. One of my most favorite couples, Inuyasha and Kagome from the long-running series Inuyasha, are a good example of this. Being a half-demon with a rather tragic past, Inuaysha is quite the insensitive, violent, and ruthless jerk at the beginning of the series, but still has a small amount of decency deep within. Spending time with Kagome over the course of the show completely turns his good side into his dominant side, making him much more selfless and righteous while still retaining his tough attitude, but for admirable reasons. Likewise, Kagome seems like a bland protagonist at the beginning of the series, but once she’s smitten with feelings for Inuyasha, we see all manner of jealousy and doubt overcome her, as well as the inner strength she needs to stay by Inuyasha’s side. The two of them bring out bad and good in each other while also bringing out strengths in each other they would not have had otherwise.
Relationship leads to character growth: This one is sort of a middle ground between the point I just mentioned about complementing traits and the one that I’ll discuss below. It basically means that the relationship the couple forms leads to character development for both. Again, going back to my first point of each of the characters being interesting; interesting characters are the ones that have flaws and have both good and bad sides to them, and it feels all the more rewarding when the one that they fall for helps them overcome the bad and emphasize the good. If one or both characters is already “perfect,” or either of them has too much of a one-dimensional personality, then there’s little or no character growth to be had. Inuyasha and Kagome are also a fine example of this, but to give another, I liked the romance in the recently aired Chuunibyou because it emphasized how both characters – Rikka in particular – changed for the better because of their relationship, overcoming her chuunibyou and the emotional turmoil it was masking. Likewise, Yuuta learned that his past chuunibyou-ridden self wasn’t something he should totally hide away because it actually helped someone and allowed him to find friendship and love. One of the reasons I like Haruhi and Kyon as a couple is because their complementing traits also lead to growth; Haruhi is quite tyrannical and interested in anything but normalcy at first, but her relationship with Kyon makes her much nicer (seen more in novel-only stories unfortunately) and open to enjoying normal activities. And likewise Kyon, who was very apathetic and utterly “normal” at the beginning, learns to enjoy the very abnormal things he had rejected long ago and become active in defending his new status quo. Shana and Yuuji from Shakugan no Shana are another couple I like who bring out great character development for each other, with Shana turning from a cold, uncaring tsundere in season 1 to an honorable, good-natured fighter in season 3 with practically no traces of negative “tsun” left. And Yuuji goes from a rather bland everyman to making incredible sacrifices and life-changing decisions in season 3 because of his feelings for Shana.
Understanding the why: I would say this is the most important point of them all. In order for me to really get into an anime couple and truly care about their relationship, I have to know why they should get together – how did they come to love each other and what is it that makes them fitting together? This of course means that the series does a good job of showing us how they first met and all the conflict and emotion that leads up to them eventually falling in love. This is why I can’t really get into “love at first sight” stories. The whole joy of romance for me is seeing how the love comes about and how both characters are changed by it. If they’re already in love from the get-go, then that thrill is gone. There could still be suspense in the story, for example, if they’re in love and something is keeping them apart, but it’s not the same unless we come to understand why their love is so strong. Toradora! does a fine job showing how our two protagonists go from basically awkward strangers to acquaintances trying to do each favors, then to friends, then to something more than friends, then to second-guessing lovers in denial, until finally they realize how they truly feel towards each other. And all the while I can understand how their relationship changes and why they’re meant for each other. For a contrasting example, if any of you are familiar with the old anime/manga shojo series Fushigi Yuugi, the main couple fall in love relatively early in the story, and as much as I can recall, the series never really delves into why they make a good match, i.e,. how they overcome personal flaws or are changed for the better because of their relationship. The romance theme in the story comes from the fact that they fall in love early on and throughout the story, conflicts arise to break them apart and challenge their loyalty to each other. This scenario could be a perfectly good story too, but typically I prefer the romance stories that focus on how the love starts and comes about.
There may be a few cases where I like a couple that posses little or none of these qualities, for example, if they’re just irresistibly adorable or if the writing of the show is exceptionally good. But usually these are the things that make a romance in anime memorable and get me really into a couple. What things to you like to see in your anime couples? =)