Why Do We Love Failed Romances in Anime?
I was literally struggling to not cry big, nasty, unmanly tears in the middle of a Denver laundromat. Why? I’d just finished the manga 5 Centimeters Per Second, based on the anime movie. It’s a tragic romance about a childhood love that never blossoms. Circumstances keep the characters apart until they move on with their lives.
But despite the tears, I was smiling. Because dang, it was a good manga. And a good anime.
Melodrama has become its own sub-genre in the anime/manga world. Shows like Ano Hana and Your Lie in April show up for the sole purpose of making us cry nasty tears, particularly over relationships that have failed to blossom thanks to tragic circumstances.
And we love them. But why? In real life, a failed relationship would be devastating. So why do we crave it in anime and manga? I have a few theories.
Sensationalism Feels Good
It’s just science. Melodrama pokes our brain and activates the chemicals and nerve twitches that make us feel stuff. It’s attractive. And it’s fun in moderation. Also, a good cry can relieve emotional buildup. We all need a good sob now and then.
However, this is only part of it. Even bad shows/books can snag your heartstrings. I personally think Your Lie in April is overreaching, but I still had to choke back the waterworks in the last episode.
There’s much more.
Sadness Is a Part of Life
I’m all for happy endings and triumph in media, but I also appreciate the balance that tells us life doesn’t work like a movie sometimes. In 5 Centimeters Per Second, the setting is ripe for a love-conquers-all story, but it doesn’t go that route. Instead, Takaki has to learn to forget that girl he lost because his obsession with the past is killing him and any other possible relationships. And it’s a good thing he does, for reasons I won’t spoil here.
Sometimes, our hearts lead us astray. Or circumstances really are insurmountable. We have to know that life carries on, no matter what. Art is good at teaching that. It’s sad, but sometimes it’s healthy, too.
And I think we all like knowing that, though we can’t feel it in the moment, tragedy is not the end, life does go on.
We’ll be okay.
Good Art Does That
5 Centimeters Per Second isn’t just a melodrama, it’s a darn fine one. The dialogue, animation, direction, shots, ideas, themes, characters, etc. are all well done. Art that is well done does things to us that are difficult to put into words.
Pastor Erwin McManus said that art reminds us we have a soul. It touches something nothing tangible can, and when the soul is touched, it’s like shaking off the screensaver on your computer. It was always on, but now it’s awake.
We need that.
And when good art invokes tragedy, from anime to Shakespeare, the thing that touches our soul is another person. For a moment, we connect to someone who doesn’t exist. We’re humans (even if the character isn’t). We love to connect, and it’s hard to do in real life. Maybe fiction feeds us something that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Maybe we could use this. Let’s take this catharsis and try to connect with someone next to us. Hear their sob stories, share their burdens, let life get unpleasant for a while, all to connect with them not by hobbies or base experiences, but by tying knots between our souls.
During Valentine’s Day, we put hearts everywhere. Hearts are so much more than romance. They’re containers of our souls. I’m all for flowers, chocolates, and promises you don’t intend to keep, but what if we did more? What if we took the lessons melodrama anime and manga taught us and touched someone else with them, woke up their sleepy heart with our own?
So watch some romance anime, laugh or cry, your pick, but when good art fills your heart, take it and go fill someone else’s, too.