Tag Archives: love

The Childhood Friendzone

My hair was not that shaggy back then.

I: A True Story

I was in the 4th grade, and she was a bony-armed, skinny girl with a bob in her hair and big teeth. Even when we were hiding under the cafeteria table for an earthquake drill—believe it or not, Memphis, Tennessee does actually lie along a fault line—and wondering out loud whether we were going to die, we were smiling and laughing. Of course we weren’t, we knew; no one could remember, kids or adults, when Memphis last had an earthquake that damaged any property, let alone killed anyone. Killer earthquakes were for California.

We huddled together because we had always hung out with each other since the second grade. There was a dim awareness that others might notice this. However, we were most assuredly not boyfriend and girlfriend. No, no. “You’re ugly,” she told me casually when the thought crossed our minds. “You’re ugly too,” I replied. We exchanged this repartee for a few more minutes, but we couldn’t help ourselves; we knew how silly and childish it was even though we were children.

Not long after that, I had to move away because my father found new work in a different city. When it came time for us to part, I said, “I’ll miss you.” She said, “I’ll miss you too.” I held her hand. We didn’t hug or kiss. Boyfriends and girlfriends did that, and that was what we were not.

My last memory of her was in that lunchroom, saying those words, on my next-to-last day of class or thereabouts. We never met again, and for some reason, I only remember her first name. But if I wanted to, I could go back home 3000 miles away and find my 22 year old yearbook, still sitting high on a bookshelf in my parents’ basement. I would be able to turn the pages to the third grade class, and I would still be able find her because I still remember her face. Faces aren’t as easy to forget as names.

 

This never happened to me either.

II: The Loneliness of the Long-Suffering Friend

I was first introduced to the idea of the “childhood friend” character in the anime version of Love Hina. The very first scene of the series showed a little boy and girl playing together, and the little girl kisses Keitaro on the cheek. It is immediately followed by a scene where, because the girl has to move, they are sadly parted. “I’ll see you at Todai!” they promise each other.

That scene engraved itself onto my consciousness right away, in the first year of my anime fandom. Immediately, I thought of my friend in elementary school, and how we parted, never to see each other again. Maybe there are many otaku with memories like mine, and I wonder whether this is why the childhood friend trope keeps coming up again and again. But in anime, unlike real life sometimes, there is always a reunion. The reunion either begins or catalyzes the plot.

Of course, for those who know anime, the childhood friend trope usually comes attached with another feature: she is destined not to be with the boy at the end of the story. This is not universally true, but it’s true in the majority of cases. The boy usually goes for the girl who is new and different: the alien (Onegai Teacher, Ano Natsu, To LOVE-Ru, Shuffle), the quirky (Haruhi Suzumiya), the highborn or even divine (Ah My Goddess, Brighter Than the Dawning Blue).

The childhood friend is, by contrast, is a reminder of the past. She is ordinary. She is kind, constant, and longsuffering. She usually can’t admit her feelings too honestly at first. She must smile through her tears and, putting the happiness of her beloved first, cheer on the new relationship from the sidelines.

She is, in short, everyone who’s been left behind in the race of love. The emotional power of so much romance anime is fueled by her exquisite pain.

....

III: The Pain is the Point; or, why Ano Natsu is sometimes better than Onegai Teacher

I’ve noticed something: my favorite romance/relationship-drama anime series and movies tend to be the ones that express that exquisite pain the most eloquently and convincingly. What I remember is often less the main couple but the angst-ridden moments of the girl—it is almost always a girl—who has been jilted.

This struck me hard as I rewatched Onegai Teacher in the light of my current anime favorite, Ano Natsu de Matteru. The moments I remembered most from Oneti (as it’s been abbreviated) were not so much of Kei and Mizuho, but of Herikawa, Kanna’s analogue and Kei’s destined-not-to-be. I remember she sat on a hill with Kei once, talking about their feelings. I remember her crying more than the crybaby Mizuho.

The scene I remembered most from Onegai Teacher.

But as I rewatched the first half of the series, looking for parallels to Ano Natsu, I discovered that whatever similarities they might have in character types and scenes, they are fundamentally different stories. Oneti is much more focused on Kei and Mizuho as a couple, trying to work out how their mismatched marriage of convenience can survive and turn into love. Their friends are second-string characters who only occasionally get great moments, and we see far less from their perspectives than we do in Ano Natsu. It feels much less organic than the natural ensemble interaction of Ano Natsu, and Kuroda relies more heavily on fanservice in order to keep the sexual tension flowing between Kei and Mizuho. It was, in short, a more conventional series, and I had forgotten just how conventional it was. Only in the second half did the tone begin to resemble what I had associated with screenwriter/creator “Yousuke Kuroda” and why I still had such fond memories of the show. But it was still a show with a limited perspective by comparison.

Ano Natsu, frankly, is the better series. I credit director Tatsuyuki Nagai, whose skill at handling large casts—from Honey and Clover II to Toradora and last year’s Ano Hana—was the key ingredient missing from Kuroda’s earlier works. All of the friends in the group get emotional coverage, and often without words: a gaze, a look of longing, a gentle tug on the sleeve, can show much more than long interior monologues.

When the words do come, they are simple, heartfelt, and believable, like in the deeply affecting scene between Kanna and Tetsuro at the bus shelter in the fifth episode. There was no scene in Oneti that matched its atmosphere of quiet, simultaneous despair and dignity. The timing and pacing were much smoother, the music subtler. The pain—the pain, overtly in Kanna’s words, and subtly in Tetsuro’s gaze: two people in unrequited love who feel they can only soldier on and wish the luckier ones the best.  It’s a familiar feeling, no doubt, to many.

“Why can’t you just be honest with your feelings?” many people ask, the characters included. Beneath her mischief, Remon is clearly trying to induce emotional honesty in all the characters, as she tells Ichika straightforwardly in episode 6. Tetsuro advises Kanna to do the same. Her reply, of course, is the reply of every shy boy and girl who’s been in the place of a jilted childhood friend: if I do that, it will ruin the friendship, and I can’t be with him anymore. In many cases, it’s a longstanding friendship. Those who have had long-term friendships, with either sex, will know just how precious those are. We have few of them. Time and distance easily break them. From Kanna’s perspective, and from the perspective of so many people left holding the bag, the price of rejection is too high if that is what’s at stake.

There would be no stories if it were that easy.

And yet, there is something sweet about that “not really lovers but very close friends” zone. It is full of sehnsucht, a big word for the primal, elemental longing that is satisfied with nothing less than the eternal. Or, to use the Brazilian word for sweet melancholy so beloved by our M. LaMoe, it is a state full of saudade. There is longing, and light, in the liminal.

So the childhood friend, at least until the end of the series, holds back. She wants to say what is on her mind, but is always waiting for a better moment to do it. It never seems to come. There are films to be filmed, beaches to visit and play in, fireworks to watch and aimless moments sitting together to enjoy. The moment of emotional suppression is always the most poignant of all for me. That kind, determined smile Kanna gives at the end of the scene was the one that nearly induced a tear.

*SOB*

At the risk of stereotyping my own race, I wonder if there is something East Asian about that, in both why scenes of emotional repression like this happen in anime all the time (5 Centimeters Per Second, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, just to name a few) and even in Japanese cinema. I’m reminded of a scene near the end of Yasujiro Ozu’s movie Tokyo Story, where polite, pleasant family members finally begin to speak what is on their minds after being nice to each other for 3/4 of the film. At the end of the sharp, emotional exchanges, one character finally turns to another and says, “Isn’t life disappointing?”

“Yes,” the main female protagonist says, smiling, nodding slowly. “Yes, it is.”

She has a (loli) analogue in Onegai Teacher too! Bonus points if you can cite where.

IV: Reunion—Another True Story

I did have a reunion, once. There was another girl I grew up with in Memphis, though we weren’t very close. We played with a group of other kids at the houses of our parents’ friends. My main memory of her was that she once lambasted me, in a rather shrill, frustrated voice, “You are such a goody two-shoes and you’re so annoying! Why don’t you have any fun?” I wonder if the same charge could be laid against me today.

Almost ten years later, after my family and I had moved away from Memphis and when I was 16, my parents told me that we were going to meet her again in downtown Washington DC. She was coming to DC to pick up, yes, a Presidential honor for being such an excellent student in high school. (The sort of thing that makes Asian Tiger Parents proud.) I remember waiting for her with my folks in a swank hotel lobby. By then, I barely remembered her, so I had no idea what she would look like.

Lo and behold, when she came out with her mother, she had become very pretty: long straight hair, unblemished face, a kind smile. She was very happy to see me, from that smile and how eagerly she spoke to me. For the two hours we were together, at the restaurant and walking down the streets of DC, trailing our parents, it was like 9 years had melted away. There was little awkwardness. She even exclaimed, and giggled, that she remembered how cute I was when I was little (hard to square with my one memory of her then, but bygones are bygones when she has become that lovely). I pointed to the copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead she happened to carry, which I also happened to be reading at the time, and we talked about its ideas. I tried hard to look at her in the eyes when I spoke, something I had trouble doing back then. She almost never stopped smiling.

We parted not long after that with a hug. But I forgot to get her email or her number, and I still don’t remember her last name either. Last I heard, she had become a doctor.

One does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of youth —Char Aznable

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

JUST AS KEIKAKU

Mai Waifu

As spring approaches, Valentine’s Day is upon us, and even the most hardened anime otaku’s thoughts must turn to love.

Though some resist this destiny, I will not run, scream, or fight. I have always been of the opinion that the most important decisions are those you make in an instant and stick with for a lifetime.

Therefore, in accordance with time-honored tradition,

Continue reading Mai Waifu

The Future of Love

How will they remember love?
How will they remember love?

Many people look upon those who express love for characters as having “given up” or “retreated from reality.” While it’s true that they have turned their backs on their fellow flesh-and-blood humans, it is woefully inaccurate to suggest they have “given up” on romance and love.

Continue reading The Future of Love

Anime Diet’s Hidden Gems – Reviews, Discussions and More

Anime Diet Presents: Best Kept Secret of Anime Diet’s archive, part 1.

Looking for previously unread articles? Then our 10+ hours of work combing through 147 pages to find these little gems is definitely worth every second! Enjoy these as our year-end gift to you!

Reviews:


    Alien Nine: Utter Alienation

    Alteil

    Akira

    Asura Cryin’ 1 Review

    Black Lagoon

    Boogiepop Phantom

    Bubblegum Crisis OAV

    Review: Byousoku 5cm–The Color of Regret

    Cencoroll Review

    Claymore Review

    Code – E

    Eureka Seven: Decompression

    GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class

    Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society Review

    Hatsukoi Limited Review

    Hayate no Gotoku 01

    Jin Roh

    Kaiba Review

    Kannagi Review

    Kobato Impression

    Les Miserables – Shoujo Cosette 1

    Lucky Star Review

    Mahoromatic

    Myself; yourself Review

    Noein Review

    Review: School Days–The Wages of Sin

    Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei s1 impression

    Serial Experiment Lain

    Seto no Hanayome

    Shingetsutan Tsukihime

    Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)

    Welcome to the NHK

    The Zen of Eureka Seven

    Zero no Tsukaima – Futatsuki Kishi Review

Commentaries/Discussions:


    Aversion and hikikomori

    Civil Liberties Continue to Crumble

    Cyberpunk anime – the past, the present, the future (?) Part 1.

    Cyberpunk anime – past, present, future (?) Part 2.

    Cyberpunk anime – past, present, future (?) Part 3.

    Cyberpunk anime – past, present, future (?) Part 4

    Cyberpunk anime – past, present, future (?) Part 5 – Toward the Future I call the “Individulity Project”.

    Discussion on making Japanese title into English

    Discussion on making Japanese title into English pt.2

    Fan Service – What I think…

    Face Off: Ray and Mike Heap Praise on Kurozuka

    Face Off: Ray and Mike on Gunbuster vs. Diebuster (Part 1)

    Face Off: Ray and Mike on Gunbuster vs. Diebuster (Part 2)

    Face Off: Ray and Mike Try to Figure Out Kurozuka

    Horror Anime Selection

    Hayate no Gotoku 21 – Lead Me Home

    Is Anime Deep?

    Is Anime Deep, pt.2?

    Love and Purity in Ponyo

    Mortality in anime and manga

    Persona: Trinity Soul–the awesomest title EVAR

    The cancer that is killing Bleach

Miscellaneous:

    Adventures in Blogosphere: Episode 2, Attack of the Domos

    Claymore 18,19 Parody – The Chaotic War of Cirumcision in the North

    Do You Ever Talk Back to Your Anime?

    So if 86.5% of Japanese do not like lolicons…

    Soundtracks that are Better than the Show

    Weird Soundtrack Cravings

    Yaoi doujin artist arrested.

Interviews:


    AX 2008 Press Junket Interview: Shokotan

    EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW! A Night With The Pillows.

Yomeiro Choice – a poor choice

Yomeiro Choice is all about excuses.

Sakuraga finds excuses to ditch girls and avoid relationships. His female friends find excuses to spend time with him and/or avoid confronting their own feelings. His time-traveling future daughters (yes, that’s right) try to find excuses for him to get their mothers teen pregnant in the present. Mangaka Tenkla uses this improbable setup to justify a ream of fanservice and visual gags.

Yomeiro-Choice_apes

Continue reading Yomeiro Choice – a poor choice

UVA prof finds yuri, takes pic

A University of Virginia professor was teaching to a class of 200 when he accidentally unveiled a massive drawing of two girls in an amorous embrace. A student present reported the outcome:

The teacher finally picks up the eraser. “I don’t want to erase the SOS club’s work, but I have to move on with class.”

“No!!” many voices (guys) in the crowd shout out.

“Oh come on. I’ve got a picture. I’ll put it on your tests.”

Art by Honya
Art by Honya

Reaction from the students was almost uniformly positive.

In a bizarre art-influences-life turn of events, anime blogger and artist Honya has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the drawing, which she claims is part of an ongoing series.

Anime Diet staff reacted to the event:

Moritheil: If this is the future of vandalism, the future is in good hands.

Mike : JUST AS PLANNED

Ray: Yuri: conquering the world since 2007.

Canaan 11 – X-Files + Hopelessness

I never caught on to popular shows in the US, and I’ve never watched many X-Files episodes. But you know, the underlying plot in Canaan is so much like the X-Files – an experimental virus, a political conspiracy among the CIA, China, Japan among other things, a shocking cooperation between the CIA and the Snake (Michael Moore-esque much?)….We have a nearly perfect formula. Add great action, pathos, awesome performances by two tragic characters – Liang and Hakko, voiced by veteran seiyuus Tanaka Rie and Noto Mamiko, and we have a summer blockbuster. Damn, I thought nothing good came out in the summer in the anime world!

Continue reading Canaan 11 – X-Files + Hopelessness

Canaan 09 – What is love? Baby don’t hurt me…no more.

Minds unsettled.

Past revealed.

Ideals VS reality.

Crazy longings and dreams.

It’s the kind of episode that keeps one on the edge of his seat. It’s also the kind of episode that makes others begging the pain to stop.

Continue reading Canaan 09 – What is love? Baby don’t hurt me…no more.

Love and Purity in Ponyo

Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ, Gake no ue no Ponyo) is not a date movie, but it has a lot to say about relationships.

ponyosasuke.jpg

Ponyo is about love. It’s not necessarily about the love of a man and a woman, which we tend to obsess over in Western media, but it’s about a childlike, innocent love. “Ponyo loves Sasuke,” which the title character says over and over, is in many ways the catchphrase of the movie, and it is in Sasuke’s love for Ponyo that we see the sublimation of the samurai ethic of bushido into a modern ideal of relationships.

Continue reading Love and Purity in Ponyo

Kyon-kun, Meta

jpg00016.jpg

As I stated on an Anime3000 podcast, this season of Haruhi seems to be intended for enjoyment strictly at the meta level.  It’s easy to picture Churuya insisting, “Kyon-kun, Kyon-kun! This summer it’s all about the meta!” Even the ongoing controversy over former KyoAni director Yamamoto making an apology for Endless Eight at Otakon only fed the drama.

What’s really going on?

Continue reading Kyon-kun, Meta