Well, it’s the month of love, folks, and after spending the entire month of January talking about non-anime related things… Sorry about that, but a guy needs a break once in a while… I’ve decided to come back full force for February. I’ll be reviewing a good romance, followed by a bad romance, but I’ll be kicking it off today with a tribute to some of the worst romances in anime history. The Anime romance genre can be a wonderful, tear-jerking place, but it can also be a horrible, misogynistic, perverted, abusive, or just plain lazy place as well, and that’s what I’m here to explore.
Well, to be honest, these aren’t the worst, so much as they’re my least favorite. I’m nowhere near qualified to give a factual, objective countdown, so instead, I’ll be the rating system that I’m using. I mean, hey, what can you trust more than your own personal opinion? Unless you’re a paranormal romance fan, that is. There’s a lot of anime I haven’t seen, being that I’m only human, so if the romances you hate didn’t show up here, I implore you to leave your own entries in the comments below.
Before we begin…
Honorable mention: Inuyasha and Kagome, from Inuyasha
I don’t care about Inuyasha one way or the other. I saw the first 26 episodes, dropped it, and I barely ever think about it. Then I saw Bennet the Sage’s review of it’s first movie, and… Yeah, this is one pretty messed up romance, isn’t it? Like, on so many levels.
The reason it didn’t make the list isn’t because it’s less awful than the entries following it… Far from it. It’s because I don’t really feel comfortable talking about an entry that I didn’t personally research, and who I can barely remember anything about other than “These two characters are god-awful annoying.” So instead of becoming a mouthpiece for Sage, I’m just going to give you a link to his video and let him do the talking for me. If you don’t know him yet, he’s awesome, so make sure to like and subscribe for MORE of his awesomeness.
That being said, let’s kick things off with number ten!
10: Edward and Winry, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
And right off the bat, that whole ‘personal metric’ thing becomes evident. Okay, well, I’d like to be clear about something before I begin with this one… No, I was not against this pairing becoming a canon couple. I don’t think they had a chance together in the first series, as they were more surrogate brother-sister than anything else, but in Brotherhood, they were developed differently, and there was some room for a romance to bloom. I wasn’t against this at any point, and was eager to see what the series would do with this relationship… But I found out, to my ever-dwindling shock, that they weren’t going to do jack shit with it.
“No,” you cry, “They got together at the end!” Yeah, that’s the thing… At the end. Like it was nothing but an after-thought to the writers. The only build-up this relationship received were two scenes where we saw Winry in the bath, and then we saw Ed walk in on her changing… That’s some straight up Love Hina bullshit right there. “Hey, fans! Look! She’s got boobs! We’re not afraid to show them off in a very PG-13 way to remind you that she’s a viable partner for your hero!” Lazy.
And then there’s the actual reveal. Ed makes a cute little love confession in the final episode… After a lot of pointless waiting, apparently… And it ends on a joke, with the confession accepted. Then, in the epilogue, we see a photo of them in the future with a couple of little crotch dumplings. Whoopdefreakindo.
“Look, they’re together! You wanted that, right? Oh, and that’s not all, they had babies at some point! Your wishes have been fulfilled! Oh, and that’s not all, we’ll even pair Alphonse with May for no reason!” Okay, now I’m getting ahead of myself. Sorry.
Yeah, the couiple was confirmed, but it’s like Dumbledore being gay… It’s a nice idea, but it had nothing to do with the story. At all. It’s literally just a fanservice, like tossing a bone to a dog to get them to shut up. And frankly, these two deserved a better romance than that. If you’re not going to do them right, then don’t do them, and leave it to our imagination.
9: Jean and Nadia, from Nadia: Secret of Blue Water
Much like #10, I wasn’t against these two becoming a couple. I mean, I felt a little uneasy with the fact that they were the only appropriately aged love interests that each other could have possibly had on that ship, so the lack of other options played a significant part in it… Which kinda reminds me of an awkward moment between Simon and Kaylee from Firefly… but at least they were a somewhat likeable couple.
Well, I’m not judging the couples in this list, I’m judging the romances. And the vast majority of their romance happened during the Lost Island and Africa story arcs, two of the absolute worst chunks of story that the anime medium has ever spewed out. (I still haven’t gotten over going into those blind.) Those of us who were rooting for them up until that point had the joy of watching Nadia go feral like a monkey, and then fall in love with Jean for the same reason that a sick dog falls for the human who cared for it. Their first kiss took place while Jean was unconscious… Because it’s not rapey when girls do it, I guess… And then after their second kiss, which actually WAS kind of romantic, she goes ape-shit on him for not remembering the first one. Which he was unconscious for. Just about every interaction they had on that island followed the root of “Nadia’s a horrible idiotic person, and Jean is the perfect little perfect perfecthead who has to put up with all of this loveable nonsense. Ain’t girls and boys different, folks?
I could go on and on about that arc, and I plan to in a review in the future, but to be perfectly honest, the arc that follows is even worse for them. They land in Africa, and Nadia falls in love at first sight with some black teenager who takes the whole tribal thing to higher levels of racist than Tanya from Battle Athletes Victory. She starts to hate Jean again for no reason… Not even a bad reason this time, just no reason at all… And I’m sick of talking about this. Next.
8: Every boring harem lead.
This entry is low on the list because it’s kind of a cheat. It represents a trend, moreso than an individual romance. I don’t hate every harem lead… But the margin of them that I don’t hate is kind of like the margin of good Nickelback songs. I can’t remember any of them off the top of my head, but there had to be at least one, right?
Specifically, I’m talking about any harem lead who was able to earn the desire of all their options, despite doing nothing that can be tangibly explained. And no, this is not limited to male characters… Shows like Amnesia and Brothers Conflict are not off the hook here. But yeah, it’s mostly male characters. They somehow attract the opposite sex like super electro magnets, because out of all the available men in the world, this one boring, personality-deprived simp who shows no interest towards any of them, and takes the nervous, sweaty moral highground when any of them tries to make a move on them, is their mutually idealized dreamboat. It pisses me the hell off thinking about just how transparent a self-insert fantasy this is for both the writers and fans, who don’t care about how demeaning it is to an entire gender of people.
Noteworthy examples of this include Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends, So I Can’t Play H, School Days, Girls Bravo, My Mental Choices, Oreshura, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, the Monogatari franchise, GJ Bu, Shuffle, Air, Kanon, KissXSis, Knights of Sidonia… The list goes on. It’s a cliche that I’m getting sick and tired of, and yes, every single romance represented within grates on my nerves.
Hell, even two shows I genuinely like… Clannad and Sword Art Online… Are plagued with this problem to a skin crawling degree. Yes, I liked the romance between Tomoya and Nagisa, but why did the twins love him? Why did Tomoyo and Kotomi love him? Yeah, I enjoyed Kirito and Asuna’s romance, but good god, does that guy carry around a thermos full of pheromone juice or something?
There was one good harem, where the romances the main character attracted were both well-explained and complex, and I’ll be reviewing it next week. For now, bring on number 7.
7: Shirou and Saber, Fate/Stay Night
“Hey look, everybody! That guy’s dating his sword! What does he polish it with, hand lotion?” Yeah, that’s not why this is on the list, I just wanted to get that masturbation joke out early so it wouldn’t linger in my mind.
There’s a lot of things to hate about this series, and for me, this pairing was The Big One. Shirou has joined The Holy Grail War, and as such, he’s been assigned a historical warrior to fight for him. He gets the legendary King Arthur, but she doesn’t come as the gallant hero that we all remember riding a stick and banging two coconut halves together… SHE is a teenage girl, and while that sounds like a good idea on paper, it turns out to be kind of a creepy idea when you make her the sex-target in an adult video game.
In any case, they join the war, with Saber kicking wholesale ass on his behalf, while he stands behind the action and whines about how unlady-like her fighting is, taking this scenario to Ikki Tousen levels of sexism. But it gets even worse when a horribly awkward night together at another girl’s insistence actually changes her personality… It was some weird dragon in the series, but in the game, yeah, that dragon was his dick. And that dick was porking her. And because of his magical porking dragon, she starts to worry about how unfeminine her muscles make her look… She becomes weaker, which makes their love stronger. The ideas behind this make me want to puke.
There are other romances that could have made this list for similar reasons, like the aforementioned Ikki Tousen, but what pushes this one over the edge is the fact that this same franchise would put itself in it’s place! In Fate/Zero, Saber meets Lancer, and the two of them are instantly drawn together as potential opponents. They yearn to duel each other to the death, and while that’s not the same as a romantic relationship, the fact is that they still long for each other purely out of respect, and the desire to see what they can offer each other AS IS, and they don’t want to change each other to do it. Yeah, I’m afraid Saber has a more romantic attraction to the guy she wants to kill in Fate/Zero than she has with her actual love interest in Fate Stay Night. Any more questions?
6: Kazuhito and Kirihime, from Dog and Scissors
If there’s one thing you should realize about the entries on this list, it’s that at no point are they going to get any better. To wit, when I was only six episodes into this show, it had already carved out a nice little spot on the (pun intended) tail end of this list, only to crawl up to this spot as the series progressed. To give you a little background on this one, as well as to state almost everything wrong with it, Kazuhito is an obsessive bookworm who heroically gave his life to protect a random woman in a diner, and woud up being reincarnated as an adorable little purse-dog puppy. She adopts him, because… No exaggeration, here… She can hear his thoughts, and wants to murder him for it. Then she realizes who he is, and decides he’s her new boyfriend. And yes, she often wistfully wonders out loud what her first sexual experience will feel like if it’s with a dog. I didn’t put any romance on this list lightly, so one of anime’s few(as far as I know) attempts to truly cross into literal beastiality was of course going to be a serious contender.
She’s an awful human being… She’s always accusing him of cheating on her when other girls pet him, calling him a pervert, and threatening his life with her pair of scissors. I mean, yeah, she only ever cuts his fur, which grows back like silly putty, but the threats themselves, from gutting him like a fish to chopping off his ears, are just appalling. But he’s not all that sympathetic, either. He’s constantly criticizing her for being sadistic, and even more so for being flatchested… Because that’s totally worse than being a sick monster who threatens to mutilate puppies. Hell, his attempts to get revenge on her are just him taking advantage of situations to insult her breasts… Which are like upper-B in most shots, so what’s he complaining about? He instigates, she tortures, forming a messed up self insert dominatrix fantasy… It’s the most comically awful entry on this list, but the only laughs it deserves are the ones that keep you from crying.
5: Naru and Keitaro, Love Hina
When I first had the idea for this list, I thought pretty much the same thing you did when you started reading it… What number would the primary couple from Love Hina get? The answer is number five, which is a much more moderate number than either of us initially expected.
This romance is famous for containing lots of violence. Lots, and lots, and lots of woman-on-sortaman violence. And that just serves to make an already uncomfortable series even more uncomfortable. I’m not going to join the crowd in demonizing Naru Narusegawa as the sole factor that drags it down, however, as Keitaro Urashima’s no prize himself… I mean, late in the manga, despite already having his feelings for Naru reciprocated, he had to literally pick her out of a line-up of all his other choices, and actually needed help doing it… No, he wasn’t blindfolded or anything, he just didn’t know if he should pick his girlfriend or not… But yeah, she’s still a demon, and it’s even worse in the much more poorly written series.
She doesn’t only punch him when he deserves it, although I’ll admit, there are definitely times when he deserves it. She punches him when HE is the one being walked in on. She punches him when other people are at fault, or just plain soccer punts him WHILE HE’S TIED UP with no rhyme or reason, and with a hair trigger temper. It’s kind of unsettling to watch if you don’t find it funny… Which I don’t.
My biggest problem with this romance isn’t just the abuse. Hell, in the manga, once he returns from an internship with an archaeologist, things actually start to smooth out and the relationship gets a lot more tolerable. My problem is that no matter how long the manga was (14 volumes) and no matter how long the series was intending to be before the budget ran out, it was obvious right from their first meeting that these two were going to wind up together. I can’t stand harem shows with blatantly obvious results in the first place, but Love Hina is so much worse with it. No matter how bad Naru became as a character, no matter how much better her competition became… I was personally pulling for Mutsumi or Motoko, although next to Naru, even 13 year old Shinobu would only be the second worst choice… You knew damn well how it was going to end, which made this romance particularly unbearable.
4: Light and Misa, from Death Note
It took me a while to decide whether or not this romance deserved to be on the list… On the one hand, it’s the story of a douchebag who takes his lady for granted and manipulates her for his own purposes without any regard for her safety, but on the other hand, he’s the villain of the story, and one of my favorite villains at that… So it’s basically a Joker and Harley type of romance, and the skin-crawlingly despicable dynamic is supposed to make you hate the villain even more.
Then I realized two things; One, no, people don’t hate the villain, Kira has legions of fans who believe that what he did was right. Hell, even Watchmojo.com listed him as an anti-hero. Yeah, if he’s an anti-hero, then Johan Liebert is Jesus himself. And second, the Joker had to take his time with Harley, getting under her skin and systematically manipulating her through affection and sympathy until he could use her. But Misa, on the other hand, was at least halfway motivated by the fact that Light was hot. Yeah, she respected Kira as a protector of the innocent, but she wouldn’t have gone nearly as far down the wrong path if she hadn’t fallen in love with him at first sight. This is what the Joker/Harley relationship would have been like if Harley had been a plot device instead of a character.
Yes, Misa is entirely a plot device, as everything she does either helps Light through his latest caper or causes trouble for him whenever the story dictates it. Harley Quinn has a lot of redeeming qualities that Misa doesn’t have… One of them, of course, being a self-preservation instinct that actually makes her significantly MORE sane than Misa… and come to think of it, so does her boyfriend when compared to Light. If they didn’t, you’d just have some 100% devoted waif throwing herself at her loveboat, looking for every possible chance to be useful, even at the cost of her life, while he just sits there not caring whether she lives or dies… Which is exactly what Light and Misa come out to. Only in this case, Misa came into the situation pre-crazy, taking all accountability for her behavior completely out of Light’s hands.
3: Ai and some little boy, from Popotan
Oh, Popotan… You’re the only anime I ever gave a zero to. I’ve been just as eager to return to you as I am to curl up into a ball and return to the womb. So, my little pot of awful, what are we discussing today? It couldn’t be pedophilia, could it? It could? How wonderful! I was feeling way too happy to be alive until just now, thanks for tipping the scales in the other direction!
So, as the only piece of animation that I hate more than Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, there are a lot of awful things that make this my lowest rated anime ever. But the awful thing that helped it to make this list happened right in the first episode… And again towards the end.
See, the main characters of this show are introduced to us through the eyes of a little boy who’s trespassing on their property. While he’s running through their house, he runs into Ai coming out of the bathroom, and he gets a faceful of giant naked boobs. It was an accident, I guess, so that’s understandable… But then later in the episode, he takes a bath with her. Okay, I know it’s considered okay in japan for little kids to bathe with older people of the opposite sex, but since they’re not related to each other, my American sensibilities still have every right in the world to find it creepy.
And then… And then… Hold on, I can’t write this without taking a shot of Jameson first.
And then she becomes his substitute teacher. Yup… This strange woman who he’s bathed fourth-base naked with is now his substitute teacher. And at the end of her very brief tenure their, she french kisses him in front of the class. That’s why I’m counting this as a romance, and not JUST an incredibly creepy amber-alert moment. I haven’t had enough whiskey to make something like that up, either.
Granted, there are other shows that do pedotastic things like that, but I’ve never seen Kodomo no Jikan, and UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie isn’t fresh enough in my memory. And I am NOT suffering through that crap heap again just for the sake of this post.
2: Chihiro and Renji, from Ef: A Tale of Memories
To be fair, I did love this anime… I loved the characters, I loved the writing, and for once, the off-kilter animation and art design from Shaft didn’t feel pretentious or way too overboard… I consider it one of their best anime ever. But when you dig below the surface, things start to get very creepy… Just slightly moreso than the last entry.
For those who haven’t seen it, this romance begins when Renji makes friends with a mysterious girl at a defunct train stop. He learns that she has short-term memory loss, and can only remember up to thirteen hours back at any given time, so every day she wakes up, she wakes up like it’s the morning of her accident… Four years ago.
They get closer together, even as her situation looks more and more dire, and eventually, they make love on the roof of the local school. And after this… She finally starts to remember him!
Okay, let’s look past the whole ‘magic dick’ trope, and examine this situation more thoroughly. Every morning, Chihiro wakes up in her bed, wondering where she is and why she’s grown so much in a single night. She then freaks out until the diary she’s been keeping for all these years gets her up to speed. Basically, from an emotional and mental standpoint, she’s twelve years old. So, for all intents and purposes, she’s twelve years old. And if you have sex with a woman who you know won’t remember it the next day, then that’s pretty much rape.
So… When you get right down to it, Renji raped a twelve year old girl. And it was portrayed as the most romantic thing ever. I felt physically repulsed while watching this little romance play out. Yeah, I know, she’s physically the same age as him… But is that really what matters? The driving logic behind statutory rape laws is that until a certain age, people aren’t emotionally or mentally ready to start having sex… And mentally and emotionally, Chihiro is still a twelve year old girl. By having sex with her(in public, mind you), even though he believes she won’t remember it, he is straight up stealing the virginity of a twelve year old girl. And if you’re going to argue that it isn’t rape, it sure as hell FEELS rapey, and giving that story a flowery positive outcome just makes it even more skin-crawling. Yet, I still love this anime as a whole, so… I don’t know.
1: Kouta, Yuuka, and Lucy from Elfen Lied
After dedicating two straight spots on this list to pedophile romances (An oxymoron if I ever heard one), you may be surprised to find out that Elfen Lied’s entry on this list has nothing to do with the plight of the orphan Mayu. No, her situation wasn’t portrayed as romantic… It was portrayed as dirty and dark as it needed to be, which is fine by me. I can’t really say that about the main love triangle of the series, which can frankly just die in a fire whenever the hell it wants to.
Out of all the unfortunate romances I’ve mentioned on this list, I haven’t come across as off-putting a summary as “I cheated on my cousin with the woman who murdered my family in front of me,” so even though the lovers in question are all consenting adults, let’s examine why exactly it gets so far under my skin.
First, we have Kohta. It’s mentioned in the story that he’ll give affection and a home to those who he feels are lonely and abandoned by society. That sounds great, until you realize just how far he takes this. Kohta won’t just give these people a home, he’ll give them exactly what they want… He never showed any genuine romantic affection to either Lucy or Yuuka until he realized that they wanted it from him. I guarantee his thought process in that one rain scene was ‘Huh… Yuuka loves me? I guess I should love her back. I’ll kiss her so she’ll feel better.’ When he kissed Lucy at the end, Yuuka’s name is never brought up… He even told Lucy he loved her! He is an empty shell who doesn’t have the ability to want things for himself, and the sad thing is, I don’t think that was intentional on the part of the writers.
And even if it was, and he was explicitly written to be an emotionally traumatized puppet, you can’t excuse Yuuka so easily. Yeah, I’m fine with the whole cousins thing, as I’ve said before, but did she seriously just dedicate herself to him for ten years? She went through middle school and high school without any thought for any other suitor because her cousin that she’s barely seen might be in love with her? I’m willing to excuse this in love Hina, as Keitaro spent ten years being pretty much undatable, but you really can’t say that here. She even rejected offers from several good colleges just to get into a lesser one with him! What if he rejected her, huh? Was she just gonna stay committed to a dumb college for the long haul? This is what kept Oreimo off the list, people.
And even with all that aside, she spends every opportunity to act possessive over him, and whiny about how he doesn’t pay attention to her. She even gets jealous when he’s worried about another girl’s safety.
And then there’s Lucy and Nyuu… Nyuu, who wants to be forgiven for what she did, and Lucy, who wants to get the hell away from Kohta to protect him. That’s all well and good, and she’s the closest this triangle comes to redeeming itself, but the fact that she gets jealous of Yuuka just pushes the whole thing over the edge. That last scene of her and Kohta kissing makes me want to beat my own head in with a brick every time I see it.
The squicky circumstances of this romance are one thing, but there’s also the fact that this story never needed any romantic sub-plot in the first place. Take all romantic feelings between these three characters out(Save for the flashback stuff), and it wouldn’t have harmed the plot one damn bit. I had some doubts when I started writing this, but now that it’s done, I don’t even remotely regret giving this romance the number one spot. All three of these characters deserve so much worse.