Love triangles are an integral part of the romance and drama genre. Any anime or manga would inevitably involve the choice of more than one contending love interest for the protagonist(s). A smooth tactic to add tension and added interest for the purposes of plot development, it ideally exists to induce conflicted feelings in the audience which are inevitably divided into camps and ships according to their preferences. Some love triangles which are not well done fail to move the viewer at all, and we as the audience could scarcely care less about who the protagonist ends up choosing. However, there are a few that manage to tear the audience apart, which are arguably a product of good characterisation and character development, and which serve not merely as a means to an end.
Even amongst the ‘good’, there are times where the ship that sails causes an uproar because of the unconventional way the romance turns out. However, depending on the situation, I feel that some of these can be explained and rationalised, so I am perturbed as to the strong opposition to the way things turned out. Then again, perhaps I am seeing things in a too-rational way, so I invite my readers to comment on the following thoughts that I have for the anime examples which I am about to raise. In particular, I would like to discuss the perceived reign of the self-aware, two-faced, bordering on manipulative archetypes of characters in the following anime. *spoilers ahead only in terms of what couple ship sails, skip to the anime you have watched, but if you don’t care, read through everything! xD*
True Tears, a positive example.
Technically, there isn’t just a triangle but a three-point pyramid. However, Shinichiro has two major love interests: namely Hitomi and Noe. Just to briefly sum up their personalities, Noe is the girl who dropped from heaven (no, not literally) who is actually a very pure, untainted yet naive girl; she looks at the world through the eyes of a newborn. but their first encounter was built with the sunshine in the background and the wind blowing her hair … and the world stilled as if he suddenly saw this angel.
Yes, it screams ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’, and has all the setting up of a ‘love at first sight’ scene, commonly the canon ship in anime. Or so it seems. Hitomi is a girl who is living with him at the start of the series due to family circumstances. She is also the girl Shinichiro had a crush on from the start.
However, throughout the turns and twists that complicates the entire web of relationships with revelations that are slowly revealed to the viewer (and to Shinji as well), ultimately Shinichiro chooses to go back to his crush, Hitomi, leaving Noe to nurse her wounds.
There was some sort of outrage in the community; mainly because most people had been rooting for Noe right from the start, no doubt also misled by the way she was introduced into the narrative and believing in the supremacy of reused anime-love forumlae. It probably also helps that Noe is like a moe blob especially in her actions, which sometimes touched the stone-cold heart of yours truly.
However, despite anime logic, the ending of True Tears accords more with reality. Noe is symbolic of a girl in an ideal world, whom Shinichiro would be able grow and discover new adventures with. Like a breath of fresh air, she opens his eyes to possibilities that he has never seen before. However, the downside is that her emotional maturity has stagnated at the level of a child and many years of solitude has made her extremely fragile and vulnerable. Her inability to socialise inevitably puts Shinichiro in the awkward role of a father or teacher, as the dynamics of their relationship thrusts him in a position of responsibility with Noe needing to be taken care of.
Hitomi, meanwhile, has issues that has created a barrier between her and Shinichiro all these while. The nature of their relationship and the revelations about her family and her family’s intertwined history with his has made her inconsistent in how she treats him, displaying a hot and cold attitude towards Shinichiro. Even when the familial obstacles were removed, she uses all sorts of methods to get to Shinichiro, and the way she declares war on Noe showcases her determined, at-all-costs attitude. She is the more realistic and relatable girl of the lot, having her moments of weakness, anger and resentment at how she is treated. Moe does not actually go well with this girl.
As for Shinichiro, he does harbour romantic feelings towards both girls. However, the way he sorts out his feelings is acceptable, as he clearly serves only as a stepping stone for Noe (even she is definitely in love with him) to develop more as a person. After all, the girl can’t love without knowing how to make friends first. Hence, it makes more sense that he chooses back his first crush, whom he has suppressed feelings for all this time due to all the family drama (which was arguably resolved illogically but that is a post for another time.) In many senses, Shinichiro and Hitomi are a better fit for each other because their feelings were reciprocal anyway, and only confused for a while after the addition of Noe.
Ef: A Tale of Memories, a positive example … ?
There are actually a couple of love triangles involved here, but I will focus on the Miyako-Hiro-Kei triangle, which may not have been the focal point of the story but relevant nonetheless. In this case, Miyako is the guy Hiro randomly meets on the streets and discovers that she actually goes to the same school as him, both of them being notorious school-skippers that they never knew the existence of the other until this fateful encounter. Kei is the classic childhood-friend character who is a little bit of a tsundere but also stuck in the imouto-zone. And of course her overwhelming feelings for Hiro goes unnoticed by the latter due to his fixation on his mangaka career.
Unlike True Tears, both girls passive-aggressively declare war on each other once they know of each other’s existence. The drama here resembles more of a tug-of-war game as the girls plot how to weave themselves into Hiro’s heart. There is close to no personality contrast here between the girls when it comes to affairs of the heart because each girl knows how to work unease into the other’s heart. I was personally extremely entertained by how they went about doing everything.
Who Hiro ends up choosing, though, is actually in line with the amount of manipulation that was involved. Despite Kei’s efforts to stop Hiro from thinking about Miyako, Hiro ends up fast-tracking the entire process as the events that ensued forced him to make a decision about his feelings between the two. Nevertheless, I felt that Miyako’s hold on Hiro’s heart was achieved through drastic actions she took that raised his urgency to reciprocate her feelings, as compared to Kei’s little victories. Personally, I felt it was a case of tactics rather than true feelings, given Miyako’s highly clingy and yandere personality that also managed to freak me out.
An apt idiom to capture the essence of the love triangle resolution is: the early bird catches the worm. Of course, being the earliest in his life doesn’t actually help, but concerted and directed effort to get oneself out of the Tragedy of the Childhood Friend should. Though of course, my sympathies will still lie with Kei
because she should have cut herself out her Hiro’s life and come back transformed so that Hiro will see her in a different light instead of well, being there all the time but hey that’s just my humble opinion.
White Album 2, a negative example
I have extolled at length on the heartbreaking and analysis-heavy conclusion of White Album 2 before in a then unprecedented two-post series in links here and here. In order to not sound like a broken record I will now state what my conclusion essentially is: Setsuna Ogiso is a pitiable character and despite all that high handed manipulation that she did, she still lost to True Love.
White Album 2 however, holds the most controversy with regards to the situation the characters found themselves in. While True Tears had a girl who was merely reacting to the situation with the maturity and temperament of a child, in WA2 all three characters are arguably more informed about romantic situation they were all situated in. By reason of being extremely close friends, the three are entangled in a situation where it becomes hard to differentiate the close bonds of friendship and romantic feelings. There are also more obstacles given the preciousness of their shared memories as a team and this has the added effect of true conflict as selfish pursuit of love here is counterbalanced by the bond of friendship, something that was not present in either True Tears or Ef: A Tale of Memories.
Perhaps it is due to this reason that manipulation is no longer a factor that can potentially tip the balance anymore. When everything is a mess of emotions and a true love triangle forms, every decision made means more than one person is hurt. In light of a very messed up situation where every step entails real consequences, emotional fatigue reaches the tipping point and only the purest and strongest form of emotions triumphs.
Peach Girl, the special mention
Peach Girl is known in the shoujo world for having an extremely tight love triangle. It is often also highly criticised because the main female character Momo is perceived to be highly fickle-minded and oscillating in between her two love interests. The over-the-top melodrama where the adage of ‘communication is key in a relationship’ can resolve conflicts doesn’t help either. Nevertheless, Peach Girl offers high entertainment value in classic shoujo form, namely the jealousy, backstabbing, drama and simplicity in plot transition.
However, the famed love triangle will not actually be my focus here. Instead, I will mention Sae, the third wheel in the love triangle who is unanimously the Best Villain (or is it Most Annoying Villain?) of Shoujo of all time. Intent on destroying her friend Momo’s life, she is the master manipulator behind the events in Peach Girl, and she exacts her plans in callousness and ruthlessness. One believes her to be beyond the point of redemption when she repeatedly turns her back Momo’s offers to make up and is intent on ruining her life every single time she has. In fact, she does this enough for you to positively hate her for a good half to three quarters of the series.
However, her redemption comes, surprisingly, in the form of providing positive support to Momo’s love life issues. It cannot be denied that what Sae did in the end was the main driver towards a happy ending for her friend Momo. This 180 degree turn in character does not come without consequence to Sae, given that she encountered real failure and setback and a taste of her own medicine while in Evil Mode that prompted her change. Her true salvation, perhaps, lies in the help she renders Momo in the end that made her a more relatable and holistic character. Not to mention that she was given a similar Happy Ending in her side story, which re-emphasises the message that the bad people can get good ends as well as long as they repent.
There are indeed a myriad of examples of manipulative characters as part of a love triangle or polygon, but whether they ‘succeed’ in their pursuit or not is a matter that depends on the quality and type of relationship with their love interest, and how they match up to their rivals.
Manipulative characters may not sit well with the majority of viewers, and often serve as a opening for debate. However, their similarity to real life situations and the audience’s ability to identify with them (because seriously who hasn’t at least thought of doing some of these things before?) gives them a winning edge at times over the rest. I personally like seeing these characters ‘win’ or being given a satisfactory ending because they personify elements of realism, even if rooting for them is akin to a guilty pleasure of sorts.
Wow, that was longer than I thought! It certainly speaks volumes about how much I think these characters should be brought to the limelight xD The examples here mainly pertain to anime I have seen, but they are in no way exhaustive of all types of manipulative characters in romance & drama anime. Do you like seeing such characters in your romance anime? What are your thoughts about these characters? Are there any other anime like these that gave you any similar impression? I would love to hear your thoughts on these, and anime recommendations are also welcome 🙂