On Rabu-Rabu [part one]: The Beauty of the Conflict

by eternal on December 14, 2008

We all know that I’m a romance fan, right? Well, if you don’t, then now you do – it’s no coincidence that Memories of Eternity isn’t exactly the manliest name around. Being the fan that I am, upon reading anime blogger ghostlightning‘s recent post on shoujo and the nature of the “happily ever after” endings that we so often see, my mind was left in a daze – the good kind of daze – and I was inspired to write something of my own. It’s a somewhat unrelated topic, but it falls under the same general category anyhow; I’m talking about the appeal of romance anime, and the effect it has on its fans. Contrary to popular belief, there very well may be layers of depth to the genre that people don’t often think about, and it’s my duty as a fan and as a blogger to see what I can dig up. So, if you’re in the mood for some reading, then I welcome you to join me on my quest through the wonderful world of rabu-rabu.

Before we start, my definition of romance is pretty much equivalent to what common sense would tell you – regardless of the number of bishounen or moe girls, a love story is a story about love. That’s all there is to it. Therefore, in almost every mainstream romance story, we see elements of escapism – for both genders, mind you – but I’ll save that for later. Right now, I want to examine and discuss what I believe is the highlight of every love story: the conflict.

As biankita pointed out in her guest post on We Remember Love, shoujo is all about build-up; the events that occur after the couple get together are never of much concern to the viewers. We can pretty much just assume that they lived happily – might as well add an ever after to that while you’re at it – and that, assuming they were still in high school at the time, they split up at some point on even terms. If not, then who knows, maybe they actually got married in the end? We’ll never know, because as mentioned in the previous discussion, the magical land of “happily ever after” isn’t something that we want to tamper with. Stories don’t delve into that concept for a reason – because the viewers don’t want to taint a perfect 25 episodes with a little epilogue that says the couple broke up in three months.

Fruits Basket, which I often jokingly call Reverse Key, is a good example of the importance of conflict in romance – and also, on an unrelated tangent, the importance of conflict in escapism. Anyone who has read (or even watched) Furuba would know that the conflicts faced by the main love triangle aren’t normal. A completely ordinary plot using the same characters would have been complex enough – Tohru, kind and giving but a little oblivious; Yuki, calm and confident but awkward on the inside; and Kyo, hotheaded and practically tsundere when it comes to his true feelings. However, when you add the psychological scars left by the Sohma family, the drama escalates to a whole new level, not unlike the kind of stuff we see in male-targeted romance like Kanon and Tsukihime. This is where I believe conflict lies at the heart of our enjoyment – because conflict, in a love story, is the embodiment of the feelings that the characters share for one another, and these are the feelings that the viewer draws from the story.

I’m going to step back for a moment and assume that the main reason people watch romance is because they seek to be enraptured by emotion; the same emotions that the characters within the story feel. Just as shounen fans (presumably) enjoy the feeling of strength and power, and VN/moe fans enjoy the feeling of being needed and depended upon, my guess would be that fans of romance enjoy becoming a part of the world within the story, getting to know the characters, and watching from the sidelines as the situation develops. Much like how playing “matchmaker” in real life is said to be fun (supposedly said to be fun; I don’t know anyone that actually says stuff like that), our enjoyment stems from watching the couple in question fight to overcome their problems.

However, this is where the problem lies: how can a writer create the emotion of “love” within a story?

Let’s say, for instance, a writer wanted to write a story that gives their readers confidence and makes them feel like they could do anything. Writing a speech wouldn’t work, because it has to be a work of fiction; writing about an inspirational speaker giving said speech wouldn’t work, because that would be the most boring story ever written; and making up a plot wouldn’t work too well either, because the original meaning would be lost in a sea of betrayals and epic plot twists. So what should the creator do?

They should find a method, a device, to portray the feelings of confidence and courage in their story.

This is where, I believe, conflict comes into play in our rabu-rabu goodness. What would happen if a writer wrote an entire story about the everyday life of a happy couple? It might be interesting, if the writer were a genius, but chances are the plan would backfire and it would be horribly boring – because no matter what happens, the viewer exists in the 3D world, and the story takes place in 2D. To bridge this gap, to envoke emotion within the viewer’s heart, conflicts are needed; conflicts that challenge the characters’ feelings for one another, conflicts that put their love to the test. A life without conflict would be happy (relatively speaking; this isn’t a philosophy essay, don’t challenge me on that one), but a story without conflict would be utterly pointless. Likewise, just as trials and difficulties in real life are more often than not painful, the trials that the characters undergo in anime are the source of the show’s entertainment, because it is only through these trials that we will ever see into the characters’ minds…and I hesitate to say, hearts.

Why did I enjoy watching Ayumi suffer for two seasons over a guy that she loved but would never love her back? Because it was relatable, for one, but also because it let the viewer see into the character’s mind, as if she were a real person, and it created a connection between the character and the viewer. That, I believe, is the thesis of this entire tl;dr of mine: through conflict, the viewer can understand the character, and through understanding, the message and theme the author wished to portray will be conveyed. And when that message is conveyed – when we feel Ayumi’s pain as she’s saved and destroyed by even the slightest of Takumi’s actions, when we feel Tohru’s single-minded yet sincere wish to free the Sohma boys from their chains, when we feel Yuuichi’s helplessness when his loved one disappears before his eyes – we remember why we adore the genre.

In summary, the point that I’m trying to make – and that I hopefully did make – is that the fans of romance enjoy the genre because of the conflicts the characters face, even when those conflicts turn out to be impractical. It’s through these conflicts that we come to understand the characters and their feelings, and if the purpose of romance anime isn”t to do that, then I don’t know what it is. It’s the battle that the couple must fight to get there that pushes the feelings of the author to the surface and draws out the emotions of the audience in the form of fervent animesuki/blogosphere posts, and it’s this battle that holds the entire genre together. The happily ever after questions may still remain a mystery – and as ghostlightning said, it isn’t something that we should toy with – but as long as the conflict allows us to feel the characters as well as we would feel the emotions in real life, then I’ll be happy. That’s why I watch anime, after all: for the emotional drive created by good romance, and for the tears I shed while enjoying it.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

animekritik December 15, 2008 at 12:27 am

That makes sense. Conflict reveals the characters’ hearts in an accelerated fashion, otherwise we’d have to sit there and read through the characters’ diaries!! So the role of conflict in romance is a means, not an end as in other (shonen) genres.


M12 December 15, 2008 at 4:48 am

Very nice. Conflict drives any story. But you know, with romance, I like it when things work out. You know, just so you can be like, “aww”. If that makes sense XD.

M12s last blog post..M13 Hates Overpricing


ghostlightning December 15, 2008 at 9:37 am

Back in school we were taught that without conflict, the narrative is a news report and not literary.

Boy meets girl.
They fall in love.
They get married.
They die in a plane crash…
along with 200 other people.

Conflict makes a story out of this narrative. The couple’s families are opposed to their union (it becomes the couple vs. the world). The female lead uses Geass powers to resolve the conflict so they get married. Male lead finds out about such abuse of powers so he tries to call it off (lead vs. lead). She geasses him, conflict resolved. On their honeymoon their plane was piloted by one of the wedding guests who got geassed. His memories of piloting were adversely impacted which caused the crash.

The story sucks, but I intended to illustrate how conflict generates the drama in the story. So what’s the central conflict in the narrative? Is it love vs. Geass powers?


ETERNAL December 16, 2008 at 11:00 pm

@ animekritik: …Actually, yeah, that’s a much easier way of putting it. I’ll have to keep that in mind if I ever talk about this again ;P

@ M12: For me, the strength of the conflict makes the moments when it finally works out even more “aww”-worthy xD

@ ghostlightning: A short but concise way of summarizing the train of thought. By using a few simple elements in the story, several different forms of conflicts can be created that turn the narrative into more of a storyline and less of, as you said, a news report. It would then culminate into a scenario in which the Geass ended up harming the leads rather than helping them, leaving the viewers discussing (and probably analyzing) how the power of Geass was able to overcome the power of love and resulted in the tragedy. It’s a bizarre situation, but it illustrates the point clearly.


Blowfish December 17, 2008 at 8:34 am

Pretty good essay!
ghostlightning summed it up pretty well so ill just leave it at this:
Good job!

Blowfishs last blog post..Nose Art Girl


Bluesnow December 19, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Nice read=3

As someone who likes Romance anime myself~ I generally only classify it as Romance if it makes me cry once from Drama breaking outxD So I agree that conflict is the heart of the story.

If you have not Read the manga Or watched the anime (Anime only covers the comedy/Brief intro to the manga)~ KARE KANO~ I highly Suggest you do. It is in my opinion the core of what every romance story should try to be. For one the story itself is very realistic (for the most partxD)~ So the Conflicts that arise are believable… Actually some of them feel way too close to home o.o… For two… The question “What is love” is raised… And alot of other emotionally DEEP DEEP issues which actually start getting REALLY Dark… but love itself is the small light holding everything together by a small thread… Take the family problems in Furuba and multiply them by like… at least 3 xD And the emotional development of the characters… Take Takemoto from Honey and clover and multiply by like 5… I cried way too many times to Kare Kano o.o


ETERNAL December 22, 2008 at 2:40 pm

@ Blowfish: Thanks!

@ Bluesnow: I read the Kare Kano manga from where the anime left off (classic Gainax’d ending), and I enjoyed it immensely as well. Arima’s arc reminded me quite a bit of the darker moments of Furuba as well 0_o


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