On Realistic Romance (plus a little Toradora and Bakemonogatari)

November 13, 2009


It is precisely because opinions are functions of lived experience that they claim to have a certain knowledge of emotions. Opinions prevail on human passions and their eternity. But one has the impresion that opinion misjudges emotional states and groups them together or spearates them wrongly...a great novelist is above all an artist who can show us a world of new sensations outside our lived experience in the becoming of his characters. - Deleuze

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.


What matters is not, as in bad novels, the opinions held by characters in accordance to their social type and characteristics as we perceive them, but rather the relations of counterpoint into which they enter, and emotions that these characters themselves (as well as us audience) experience in their becomings. - Deleuze

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.


Can you cheer for the beautiful relationship between 27-year-old Koshiro and his 15-year-old sister in Koi Kaze as someone who would object to it in real life?

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.

Kare Kano and Bokura Ga Ita, my other two favourite romance anime

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


18 Responses to “On Realistic Romance (plus a little Toradora and Bakemonogatari)”

  1. Also, reality can get very, very strange. Should I imagine my own experiences I as anime, it would seem quite outlandish, albeit different from the high school milieus in anime.

    My stories would only be ‘realistic’ in its many letdowns (nowhere near tragic) and minor wins in between the more dramatic moments.

    I think we associate realism with life’s boring plateaus and foothills, or at least require the stories to acknowledge the quantity of these moments. Right now I can’t think of a better example than Miyazawa and Arima’s ‘boring’ early couplehood when the narrative switched focus on to other characters since if the romance isn’t yours, happy couples are annoying, cloying, and boring; and the slices of their lives need to be played up as situational comedy to be anything beyond bearable — which may lead to a departure from realism.

  2. animekritik Says:

    So great romance is great because the characters go through a sensible development, regardless of parallels with reality, that speaks to us out of its own inner logic, its own force….

    I must admit I haven’t seen any of these shows..shame on me!

  3. 2DT Says:

    I think you’ve touched on something really good here.

    For example, just as an exercise, have you ever tried transcribing a conversation in real time exactly as it occurs? It would drive anyone batty in minutes, trying to capture all the meaningful words in a cloud of “ums” and “ahs” and “like you knows,” false starts and pauses… Fictional dialogue isn’t real talking. I mean, it’s never for-realsies-real.

    A little bit of abstraction is necessary to allow fiction its fullest powers. And a little bit of ourselves, too. If you haven’t read it yet, you should read this post by Martin on Mono no Aware: http://mononoaware.concretebadger.net/2009/09/14/sputnik-sweetheart-senjougahara-fascination-and-fanboying/


  4. Baka-Raptor Says:

    The most realistic anime romance that comes to mind is Makoto x Kotonoha from the early episodes of School Days.

    I am not kidding.


    No joke.

    Makoto gets into a relationship based primarily on physical attraction. Then he gets bored of the girl once he finds out what being a relationship with her is actually like. That’s real life. I can’t believe how angry everyone was when Makoto said that he thought having a girlfriend would be a lot more fun. It’s much more realistic than your typical anime relationship in which the characters are initially attracted to each other physically and then discover they have conveniently long-term compatible personalities.

  5. animekritik Says:


    I agree that it was very realistic, almost disturbingly so. But the question is, why animate it? I mean, this is supposed to be fun/interesting stuff, right? If School Days had just kept going with that Makoto x Kotonoha it’d have been pretty boring..

  6. gaguri Says:


    Haha, well as for my life, I’m just gonna quote Mister Haruki Murakami when he was being interviewed: “unlike my novel, my life wasn’t very interesting”. I wouldn’t go as far as ‘uninteresting’ but probably not interesting enough to write a story about it. But then again, I’ve only lived 2/3 of your life span so far, so plenty of time to change that!


    Although not really romance anime, I think you’ll love Bakemonogatari. You should check out its first episode at least, then it’s only a matter of time before you get hooked =)


    Funny you should mention that post of Martin’s. I actually linked to his post in my previous Bakemonogatari post, and this one is actually written partly because of what he said: “I don’t experience the same empathy and affection for anime characters as I do for real people but I can’t escape the fact that I can still be on the edge of my seat or the verge of Manly Tears when a really emotional moment happens.”

    Indeed, we don’t feel for anime characters as we do for real people but we still become enraptured by them, because when we are open to them, and the anime does its job so good, they become ‘real’ (in its own way), just as we sense irritation, charm, melancholy, etc from real people.


    Didn’t watch School Days to comment much on its realism but from what you say, maybe people would have complained less if the anime did a better job of making people feel Makoto’s disappointment of those relationships? I don’t know it’s just a guess, because from what I hear he was portrayed as a lucky bastard who had wonderful sex with numerous beautiful girls before biting the dust (since not many fans would have had realistic relationship to make a sound judgement on whether it was realistic or not).

  7. omo Says:

    I think Baka-Raptor just described a realism that is exactly not what this post is about.

    Good write-up. It’s something that a lot of criticism of anime loose track of.

  8. kadian1364 Says:

    I think most viewers are complicit with some exaggerations and untruths for the sake of watchability, like the highlight reel approach to storytelling or dialogue that’s always way more articulate and clever than it ever is in real life. The audience’s suspension of disbelief should extend to apply to those fictional situations or circumstances, they require a bit more imagination after all.

    I think the only sort of realism that matters is emotional realism, and even then it doesn’t have to be really real, just naturally developed and understood.

  9. gaguri Says:


    Glad to hear you liked it =)


    You’re right in that the audience’s suspension nof belief helps, so it’s a really two way street. There is anime’s part in trying to make the characters and relationships stand on their own, and there’s our part in trying to be open minded as possible to let those sensations flow through us.

    And yes, emotional realism is the most important realism that matters in fiction imo too =D.

  10. Martin Says:

    Another excellent post…I had to wait a bit for the time to read it properly and give it the attention it deserved.

    For me the short answer is that for a story or circumstances to be convincing they don’t need to go as far as being realistic or ‘true to Real Life’. As long as it all makes sense within the context of their situation, that’s somehow enough for me.

    The relationship between Hitagi and Araragi is full of unique peculiarities and eccentricities but there’s still a set of universal things behind all that: the desire for understanding, for someone who cares and will be there when you need them, and so on.

    I’m not sure what it is that makes Kare Kano my favourite too, but possibly it’s the direction again (Anno fanboy here) but also the way that it goes so deep into their minds and feelings. You follow every nuance of their thought processes so even when the story goes in directions that my own life never has I can still appreciate it.

  11. OGT Says:

    I tend to be of the opinion that the less realistic a story is, the more honest a story it is. I don’t know how universally applicable that is, and all stories are fundamentally unrealistic anyway, resting as they do in the realm of fiction–trying to make stories realistic is often a Sisyphean ordeal.

    Realism seems more like a conscious, intellectual trait anyway–it’s possible that a realistic story will make us think it is better, whereas an unrealistic story will make us feel it is better.

    But it’s especially true for a romance story, for romances are rarely designed to engage the rational faculties of someone. They are most often written to make you happy, sad, moved, or any number of more complex emotions, and–for me, at least–realism can just get in the way.

  12. gaguri Says:


    Haha, thanks for that. I think it’s definitely Anno’s direction that sells Kare Kano for me too. I mean, Miyazawa just talks sooooooo long, but I was never bored, always compelled to listen to her trying to find herself.


    I partially agree with what you’ve said. I think it’s possible for a story to be honest but also for people to relate it to the real world. But yea, trying to draw that very parallel is more of ‘thinking’ thing. What is more important is feeling the becoming of characters, story and the world of fiction. If one can later relate that to the real world, that’s something else (which is not necessary anyway).

  13. vendredi Says:

    Although 2DT points out fictional dialogue is a lot smoother than real conversation, I think that’s what makes these fictional characters seem “real” – there’s a sort of raw awkwardness to their interactions, with both parties sort of fumbling around.
    Both Toradora and Bakemonogatari have fairly awkward kiss scenes; the characters trying to figure out “okay, how do we get this started?”

  14. gaguri Says:

    O god the kiss scene in Toradora…I literally melted in that scene ;_;

  15. akira Says:

    Well, so far from all the realistic anime’s I have seen, SUZUKA was the best.. though the anime version is just half the story of what you could read on a manga.. I do hope they would make a season 2 of it though.. Please do take time to watch it guys and if you do like the anime take time to sign the petition for a season 2..

  16. gaguri Says:

    It’s always nice to see such zeals from fans…

  17. zotasansai Says:

    loved Toradora, pity it had end, really like the toradora gals esp dressed in Christmas costumes

  18. Kaneshiro Says:

    I loved toradora too maybe too great, but its such a sheer heck, for a shallow guy like me (probably or badly) who does have a good way of life, it really takes me over. specially the last parts of episode 19 and 21. this is my first pure romance anime that I ever watch. I merely encountered it on TV about two years ago and now thing are like this. the wish of watching it in it’s fullest drive me to try to learn japanese but I failed about 4 months later from doubt to be able to. (Im such a loser for giving up) time passed as ToraDora fade away to oblivion. As I negligently rewatched it again recently. those nullified emotions and the scenes returned and haunting me again in my thoughts. I even gone beyond searching further on it out of disire to find an english dub and curiosity from it and unwarily read the light novel just realizing that the basis is much better and just adulterated it. I only read the parts where episode 19, 21, and the ending are but i feel like the Anime sucks compare to it, too fast and altered. Its ok for read the novel but i don’t wan’t to use my imagination and let it drift or it turning into illusions and it degrades insipidly. now I even have the desire to read the manga, the closest compensation for it but it’s not yet complete. heck just mere 29 chapters exist and look’s like no more will due to the scanlators are threatened with legal action. I’m suffering bad already so I’m abstaining my desire and trying to freeze everything for the better. The only things that I think that it benefits me are becoming my inspiration. and touching my heart. It feel good almost all episode except 3. I return to studying Japanese but I lost much time. how shameful and I badly regret those. I swore amends and never again, but heck this is super lousy and shallow. I do not wish to see another one like this or better until I can understand Japanese. (My Life Suck But I don’t have any better, it sure runs on it badly).

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