Ore Monogatari and Quixotism

Ore Monogatari is currently  available on Crunchyroll.

There is, to understate it, a mile-long list of various problems with the way that anime and manga tend to portray relationships.

Some of it I’m probably not the best person to throw around statements about, being the double-whammy of a person completely outside actual Japanese culture and someone with plenty of social advantages  in the first place.

Some of it is painfully obvious, like the blatant focus on clearly-underaged characters through lenses appropriate for characters more than twice their apparent age.

Then there’s the trickier grounds of how these relationships are structured.

There’s a lot of perpetual will-they-or-won’t-they in these series – I’m throwing a hard sideways glance at the shoujo demographic in particular – that seems to be a side-effect of their basis in serialized manga. If you’re going to keep readers coming back week after week, it’s hard to significantly shift the focus of the story, after all.

And it’s not just limited to whether the main couple is or is not a couple; you’ve gotta keep that status quo rock-solid. If they started out with no physical contact, you’ve gotta effectively put a restraining order’s distance between your main duo. No holding hands, no sharing straws, nothin’. And don’t you dare think about using his first name, you gutter-minded sonofagun.

(To be fair, that’s another one of those it-kinda-makes-more-sense-with-context things, but even so.)

But Ore Monogatari (translated as My Love Story, which is appropriately-corny and so distracting to use as the title) manages to double down on this by applying these ideas to a couple in an inhumanly stable relationship.

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For real, these two are too sweet. Dial it back before we all get diabetes just watching you.

Before you even get to the point, there’s the matter of how the male and female leads actually get together. To be fair, it’s a huge relief to see that happen relatively quickly – within the first three episodes or half of a manga volume, in fact – but as cute as it is, it leans real heavily into “save-the-girl-get-the-girl” ideas that have been peddled since the start of romantic fiction, which a thousand different critics can tell you has its own damaging baggage as a format.

But then, those characters just… stay there?

It’s a different kind of status quo, but this being a romance series, there’s never going to be any serious threat to it, by God. And that would be perfectly fine for a couple that wasn’t the focus of the whole show, but since they are, it kind of results in the same thing, week in and week out.

Not that I mind that sometimes – especially with such an upbeat series as Ore Monogatari, I don’t mind more of the same. But it’s definitely going to make it harder to watch if I ever circle back. That natural break between volumes and episodes is oddly what keeps the relentless positivity from being exhausting in a way.

In fact, this show was kind of uncomfortable in its stubbornly sanguine slant. From the beginning to the end, none of the proposed threats to the usual state of affairs ever really materialize. The characters are either too well-meaning or just too dense for anything to stick to them. And then there are stories where there’s no danger to their emotional state at all, but these are just spread out enough that they can never feel like a “calm-before-the-storm” moment.

It’s just… too easy, to the point of feeling off-kilter.

Granted, I’ll absolutely gripe about shows that go in the opposite direction. The alternative never-ending stream of relationship drama is a key reason I’ve fallen off the live-action DC-based shows at the moment. But clearly some of that needs to be present, or else you get… this.

It’s just not a realistic standard. Not only do they compose themselves in front of other people, but over the course of 12 books and 26 episodes of a show, not once do they have a major disagreement. The closes they ever come is getting anxious and bashful in front of one another, which does not make for much of a dramatic dispute.

(I will concede that there is one major shake-up in the last volume, but it feels like a token offering at that point that lasts for about a chapter and a half. The show never gets to that point, leaving it largely conflict-free.)

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All smiley, all the time. And Sunakawa.

So we’re left with the emotional equivalent of the power fantasy – the hero character who cuts down any challenge in his way and wins every battle they’re thrown into.

And –  well, we have a lot of those in modern fiction. Regardless of what the writers might have you believe, the wealth of superheroes on parade through movies and television nowadays are never going to seriously lose in their own series – not in a way that can’t be undone in the next installment. We’ve had action heroes of all stripes for the last thirty or forty years that save the day without fail, because that’s the sort of triumph that feels  good to see play out. And in measured doses, I’d argue that a persistently optimistic show aimed at a different demographic can do the same thing for us.

It’s not like the show is completely devoid of interesting ideas, either. The major curve is that Takeo, the male lead, has all sorts of visual language to his design that would flag him as the bumbling schoolyard brute in a different show – maybe “the big guy” in a Voltron-like team-up if you’re being generous. But here he’s just a sweet guy trying to do right by his friends and his family.

I’m falling a bit off the point, but it’s this: not every show has to be seriously dramatic. We’ve got plenty of pleasant hero-always-wins stories, and plenty of stable friendships making for a continuous stream of popcorn-like shows. There’s no reason why we can’t have a love-always-prevails show in the same vein to act as a reliable source of idealism and good cheer.

We just have to understand that’s what it is: pure idealism, not realism.

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