On Realistic Romance (plus a little Toradora and Bakemonogatari)
November 13, 2009
For me, the essence of romantic relationships in fiction isn’t about realistic characters or situations we can relate to from our own experience. One does not need to have met a girl like Senjougahara to appreciate her eccentricity in Bakemonogatari. Her first encounter with Araragi, as well as her confession to and first date with him, are all extremely bizarre and ‘not realistic’ in conventional sense. Who makes her father drive on first date anyway, or rambles on about invisible ghosts before calmly saying “I love you”? And yet, so empowered is her character by great script and Shinbo’s direction (as well as excellent vocal performances) that there is no sense of these romantic situations being forced or contrived. This ‘unrealistic’ character of Senjougahara becomes alive before us and we are to believe she is a person capable of doing exactly that. I don’t want realism of characters, I want becoming of fictitious characters.
There is nothing wrong with relating oneself to characters and relationships. That’s what makes it personal and nostalgic. But doing so isn’t necessary when appreciating them, becoming with them. When we follow the bond between Ryuji and Taiga in Toradora, there we find violent (yet warm) affect of care and love, like a kinship between two beasts of same pack in rough wilderness. And just as we shouldn’t be looking up a psychologist’s thesis when Dr. Lecter examines Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs, there is no need to discuss realism of high school students doing stupid things, like eloping after a rather lightning romantic development. Instead of realism based on our own experience, what is left is that bittersweet sensation like vanilla sprinkled in salt, a ghost-like entity that shouldn’t be seen through our opinionated eyes, but only to be felt in their becomings.
And yet, we desire stories we can relate to, something easier to connect to and makes sense to us. The challenge for great romance, as in series like Koi Kaze, is then executing appropriate stylistic elements to make us actually feel how much Koshiro loves his 15-year-old sister, rather than telling us (and giving us wordy reasons) why he likes her. A good dialogue (like in Senjougahara’s awesome speeches) creates a syntax that makes words pass into sensation of softness and hardness, rhymes, pauses, repetitions and in general that music of dialogues bouncing back and forth in conversation, which makes the standard language stammer, tremble, cry, or even sing. It goes without saying that seiyuus’s interpretation of this, as well as good direction accompanying the performance are important as well. Animation of Toradora can be ‘choppy’ at highlighting moments and Kugiming’s vocal performance over the top, but the way Taiga ran so violently and let out a howling cry for Ryuji in episode 19 just so perfectly expressed her feral longing and desire for him.
I know I said this before in one of usagijen’s post but when you cease to ask, “hey I haven’t seen these characters act this way in real life” and start becoming immersed in their stories and sympathetic towards their thoughts, feelings and actions, then that is realism enough for me.
*Passages quoted from Deleuze in his book, What Is Philosophy?, Chapter 7. Percept, Affect, and Concept