Ask John: Why Do Lovers in Anime Never Stay Together?

Question:
A friend of mine has this theory, that in the anime world, if two people love each other openly and admit it and can be together, one or both of them is going to die. This is why, she reasons, so many characters cannot be together. Examples of this include Treize Khusrenada and Lady Une, and Heero and Relena in Gundam Wing; Van and Hitomi in Escaflowne; Jubei & Kagero in Ninja Scroll; Kenshin & Tomoe in Rurouni Kenshin. Is this statement partly true, or have we been watching particularly depressing anime?

Answer:
This is a question of context, both literary and cultural. Unhappy romantic conclusions occur frequently in part because of their literary significance to the story, and occur because anime is created for Japanese audiences that seem to have a fascination with tragedy and unhappy endings. It is true that loving couples in anime often suffer; however, it’s far from a constant rule. Conclusions of this sort occur foremost in dramatic and romantic anime- either literally romantic, or “Romantic” in the sense that they deal with larger than life, world altering characters and events predetermined by fate. On the other hand, romantic relationships in comedies or more light-hearted shows often result in positive, affirming endings. The reason for this may be two-fold. Happy endings in dramatic series simply aren’t as interesting or compelling as tragic endings. “Happily ever after” suggests that nothing else of any significance is ever going to occur after the end of the story. Tragic endings linger in the mind and resonate more strongly in the viewer’s psyche. While a happy ending is easily forgettable, a sad ending urges a viewer to analyze and sympathize with a show more deeply and personally. Unhappy endings are simply more affecting than happy endings.

It’s almost a natural instinct for people to be fascinated by love affairs with tragic endings. Just as Western literature is filled with love affairs that end badly, including Orpheus and Eurydice & Romeo and Juliet, Japanese legend also has its Kaguya Hime and Tsuru no On-gaeshi myths that eternally part the lovers in the end. X, the Rurouni Kenshin OAV series, Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne, Berserk, Orange Road and Angel Sanctuary all conclude with endings that, at the very least, can be considered less than “fairy tale.”

On the other hand, in the case of comedy or lighter themed anime, it’s not at all uncommon for lovers to come to a “happily ever after” conclusion. Maison Ikkoku and Cutey Honey F both end with the lovers marrying and living happily ever after. Urusei Yatsura and Love Hina both end with the couples admitting their mutual love. And Macross, Risky Safety, Ah! My Goddess, the Rurouni Kenshin TV series, Mamotte! Shugogetten, and Steel Angel Kurumi all conclude with couples destined to remain together forever.

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