Your Favorite Anime Coupleby The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
Even if you don't consider yourself a romantic, most every anime fan has a favorite couple - two characters whose special relationship really connected with them, two people they were seriously rooting for. We asked our critics which two lovebirds (or platonic best pals) they were cheering for the most, and we're dying to hear yours! Head on over to the forums and tell us which anime couple is your favorite - and why!
If you're going to travel a long way and share a small space with someone, it's not enough to have similar goals and interests, and simple physical attraction. You gotta have similar senses of of humor. This is something I've learned in my own relationship, and it's something that I often find missing in the relationships of my favorite anime and manga characters. After all, it's easy to think of your favorite pair of anime characters tumbling head over heels for each other, getting swept away by their own romance, but try picturing them still together, sticking it out, decades later. That can be a bit murky, can't it? But when Ryohgo Narita abruptly dusts off Baccano!’s Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent and plops them into Durarara!, the real joy is in how completely unsurprising it is to see them together, more than half a century later.
Narita's immortal pranksters are the Greek chorus of Baccano!, and really the key to what makes the show so entertaining. In the midst of the show's bloody Prohibition-era conflict and scores of killings, they plot ludicrous robberies. The charmingly daft Isaac and his constant companion Miria can't steal the appreciation of art from the people (they conclude that swiping the door from the art museum will prevent people from entering it), so they settle for dressing as baseball players, just one of an assembly of ludicrous “disguises” that seem cooked up by a 6-year-old and mom's closet, and rip off the mafia instead. Shockingly, this heist works; even more shockingly, they manage to land on the rolling viper's den of a locomotive that is the Flying Pussyfoot without making an enemy of anyone, except one of the show's big baddies.
Looking at the pair, it's easy to see why. Everyone responds to Isaac's easy, utterly unearned confidence and Miria's bubbly charisma; they're an utterly charming couple. Honorable thieves and heartless killers alike rush to ingratiate themselves with the duo, and they leave the story as carefree and energetic as when they entered it. After all, they're off to find their fortune, ineptly panhandling for gold! When that doesn't pan out (ha!), they'll kill time hiding out in a New York speakeasy, creating vast, intricate domino trails together. They're the link between Baccano! and Narita's latter-day hit Durarara!, demonstrating that their chemistry hasn't evaporated at all over the decades when they abruptly appear at an offline meetup for internet gangsters.
One of the amusing little asides in Narita's prose is the revelation that, in the ensuing decades after Baccano!’s main story, Isaac and Miria completely fail to realize that they're immortal, only working it out after they finally wonder why they're not aging. Is it because they're stupid? I don't think so. After all, physical immortality is a trifle compared to the wonder of finding your ideal partner, hitting the road with them, and sticking by each other, for as long as you live.
Two teens who have overcome their coming-of-age self-consciousness to unabashedly love one another—that's Takeo and Rinko. While My Love Story!! is purportedly Takeo tale alone, Rinko's inability to remain in his cookie-cutter fantasy of a pure young girl makes it hers, too. They transcend many roles: victim and rescuer, pastry chef and diner, wooer and wooed—and as in any complex, healthy relationship, that last one alternates with every arc.
You may have noticed that I obviously didn't dip into the archives to find this 2015 vintage couple. Frankly, most anime portrayals of couples disappoint me. In a misguided attempt to keep it clean for all ages, romance is barely even addressed, even in shoujo stories purportedly centering on it. Couples either mutually pine from afar, or constantly misunderstand one another's feelings, leading to an eternal on-again, off-again.
It makes sense that My Love Story!!, which circumvents the typical in so many other ways, also presents a refreshingly straightforward romance. Instead of adding to the confusion, Takeo and Rinko's mutual friend Suna cuts through the BS with a nonchalant, “This is getting really tiresome. Can I just tell you everything?” Once we're over that hurdle in episode three, the rest of the story follows Takeo and Rinko's growing closeness in heartwarming developments that reminds me of my own teen romances far more than any other anime love story.
If anything, Takeo and Rinko seem to have less drama and angst than most teens, while still holding the primary role in an engaging narrative. Most of the conflict comes from what Takeo and Rinko are holding back, and drumming up the courage to share that with one another. On the outside, Takeo is tough and imposing, and on the inside he's a big softy—a contrast the animation highlights to great comedic effect. On the outside, Rinko is a typical shoujo heroine in looks and actions, and on the inside she wants to cuddle Takeo and kiss him and maybe do more. Not only are they complex people; they're also relatable and likeable. I don't just root for their romance, I root for their happiness as individuals. While Takeo and Rinko don't know all of these facets of each other from the beginning, the audience does, and we can see their chemistry together even before they do.
Even if their physical appearances make them appear to be something of an odd couple, emotionally they are anything but. It's beautiful to see their honesty with one another and their budding emotional maturity. Two great characters whom you'd root for even individually—it's the perfect anime romance to live vicariously through.
One anime couple that's managed to hold a spot in my memory over the years is Souske and Kaname from Full Metal Panic. Part of their appeal for me lies in how significant their chemistry is to the show as a whole. Most of their interactions are driven by a find balance between hostility and romance, and it's unusual for a series to succeed in finding that middle ground. They need to clash and argue constantly for the comedy to work, but they also need to find just enough common ground to keep the audience invested in their relationship. Getting that balance right elevates Full Metal Panic from a watchable series to a genuinely good one.
Those constant arguments manage to be endearing instead of merely annoying because Souske and Kaname are equally confident in their own views on the world. Souske has lived in warzones for most of his life, so it's only natural for him to see potential threats everywhere while serving as Kaname's bodyguard. As far as he's concerned, it makes perfect sense to blow up a row of lockers at school if he notices a suspicious item. From the perspective of a normal girl living in a peaceful country, it's just as natural for Kaname to see Souske as a paranoid idiot. As far as she's concerned, it's perfectly reasonable to lose her temper when Souske breaks out the explosives just because someone left a note in his locker.
Like in any “opposites attract” relationship, it's the things these two have in common that allow them to reach a point where they respect and even like one another. They're both driven by a strong sense of justice, and they can be stubborn and resourceful in equal measure when it comes to doing what they think is right. If Souske has to steal a mascot costume and beat up a bunch of gangsters to protect the girl he likes, then that's what he'll do. If Kaname has to take control of a military submarine to help the guy she cares about, then so be it. That mutual willingness to charge headlong into dangerous (or ridiculous) situations draws them together and makes it easy for the audience to cheer them on.
More than anything else, though, the thing I appreciate most about Souske and Kaname is that they never feel the need to give up on their own perspectives. Souske's never going to stop overreacting to imaginary threats, Kaname's never going to stop yelling at him for it, and that's okay. They're confident enough in their relationship that they can argue without fear of breaking up. When so many anime romances seem to hinge on one character changing in order to get along with another, it's nice to see two people who can embrace their disagreements and still like each other.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is about many, many different things, but a big one is “what constitutes a healthy relationship.” Mostly it does that by demonstrating a whole bunch of unhealthy ones, which run the gamut from idealization to womanizing to coercion. But in the finale, the main characters, Utena and Anthy, become the show's models for the ideal relationship – one of equal partners making mutual sacrifices for one another. It's a long road – on the surface, Utena and Anthy's relationship seems to start on day one, when Utena wins Anthy's hand in one of Ohtori Academy's ritual “duels.” But really, they don't get together until the very end of the show, when they both experience personal revelations that allow them to form a true, equal partnership.
As a love story, Revolutionary Girl Utena is about two people who overcome their mutual instinct to use one another in order to find intimacy and, eventually, love. Initially forced into the relationship, Utena comes to use Anthy as an exercise in self-righteousness. The show's first arc is dedicated to exploring the ways in which various characters use Anthy as an outlet for their own desires. Utena falls into the same trap, projecting her own beliefs onto Anthy without the latter's consent. She's convinced that she's acting in Anthy's best interest by fighting to free her from the duel system. But really, in assuming what Anthy wants, she's being just as patronizing as the boorish Touga and Saionji – only more insidiously, since it's all for Anthy's alleged “own good.”
Of course, Anthy is just using the pretense of a relationship to prepare Utena as a sacrifice in an elaborate ritual to retrieve her brother's lost magical powers, so hey, both sides are at fault here. It's only when Utena realizes her mistake and starts making a genuine, selfless attempt to connect with Anthy that the Rose Bride starts opening up. It's a tough road – Anthy is so used to playing at the shallow manipulations of courtship that she has no idea what to do when someone cares about her as a person. Past the end of the first arc, the rest of their romance is Utena navigating the dense defensive terrain that Anthy has built to separate her true self from the world. These include Anthy's dependence on her domineering brother, her tendency to lash out at attempted saviors (including, at multiple points, Utena), and the deep, deep belief that she doesn't deserve any better. At the same time, Utena sheds her childish ideas about relationships (mostly her fixation on the idea of a Prince Charming) and realizes that she wants Anthy, another woman. It's Utena's coming-out-story, and Anthy's story about extricating herself from the toxic psychology of abuse. Just thinking about the final scene, where Utena endures the swords of hate to find and greet Anthy's true self, who lies deeply encased in a tomb of her own making, always makes me tear up.
Heavy stuff. Revolutionary Girl Utena features some of the most complex character work to come out of anime, and this pair serves as its centerpiece.
When many of us think of great romantic stories, elementary school flings typically don't come to mind. However, the relationship between Sana Kurata and Akito Hayama—i.e., the heart of Kodomo no Omocha—truly is an anime romance for the ages. Famous television actress and kinetic ball of energy Sana initially seems like a terrible match for sullen and morose class troublemaker Hayama. After Hayama succeeds in plunging their class into chaos, Sana does the unthinkable by taking a very public stand against the school's resident problem child.
Despite Hayama's best efforts at retaliation, Sana vehemently refuses to indulge the young upstart's behavior. (At one point, she even pulls his pants down and snaps a blackmail photo—oh, the horrible crimes committed by 11-year-olds in this show.) Although he's only a child, Hayama expresses a few characteristics of a Byronic hero—the kind of male lead that isn't conducive to a real life happily-ever-after but has always appealed to me in fiction. He's sullen and stoic, and his rock-hard exterior hides a rather dark past. Ultimately, the relentlessly optimistic Sana is the only one who's able to pull him out of his personal darkness, and before long, he comes to genuinely care for her. (It's quite a while before she's able to reciprocate these feelings.) The Byronic hero and the no-nonsense heroine is one of my favorite fictional pairings, so it makes sense that I always looked fondly on Akito and Sana's union.
Revisiting this from a more adult perspective, I have to wonder if Hayama's past was truly traumatic enough to excuse his behavior. In fairness, the kid goes through some vile, horrible things. His abusive sister constantly berates him and holds him responsible for the death of their mother, who died in childbirth. His father is often absent, both emotionally and physically. Rather than cohabitate with a sister who hates him, Akito spends the majority of his leisure time away from his home and eats most of his meals at fast food joints. When Sana refers to him as a “demon” early in the series, she inadvertently hits a nerve, as that's his sister's favorite nickname for him. Still, his initial bullying attempts and propensity for stealing kisses and groping Sana are a little disturbing, particularly when paired with his emotionless face. (Although Sana's reactions to his behavior are quite funny.)
Despite some of my issues with Akito, I love how Sana—who's been through a fair amount of trauma in her own life—consistently brings out the best in him. Her optimism is so contagious that even the perpetually downtrodden Akito can't help but be enveloped by it. When the time comes for Sana to confront her own demons, her one-time enemy proves to be the perfect rock.
A great relationship is a journey of discovery. You learn more about someone else, coming to understand or at least respect the thousands of quirks and thoughts and feelings that make up their identity, and through doing so you learn more about yourself. You grow as a person, learning to take pride in parts of yourself you didn't realize were worth notice, and struggling to be a person worthy of the feelings your partner raises in you. You become more than you thought you could be.
Katanagatari is a story all about that struggle, though it's framed as a fantasy adventure about gathering swords. Imperial strategist Togame is seeking twelve swords to gain favor with the emperor, and perhaps take revenge for her father's death; honed “sword” Shichika is sworn to defend her, carrying on his father's legacy without knowing it was that father who killed Togame's own.
The winds of legacy and fantastical premise of twelve magical swords form a pretty operatic stage, but Katanagatari is actually a very intimate show. Like its author Nisioisin's other major anime adaptation, Bakemonogatari, it's basically all about talking - a long, meandering thread of conversations between Shichika and Togame, as they traverse Japan looking for swords and slowly getting to know each other.
The two have a great chemistry from the start - Togame's long-winded speeches and brittle pride make for an excellent contrast with Shichika's guileless deadpan, creating a rapport almost like the relationship between Calvin and Hobbes. They're both funny, but funny in different ways; they're both driven and proud of their nature, but their goals and feelings constantly contrast. They have inherent chemistry, and Katanagatari's lengthy episodes give them time to turn that chemistry into texture and romance.
And the two of them change one another. Early on, Shichika is so dedicated to his swordlike nature that he essentially can't parse emotions, his willingness to cut down Togame's foes actually scaring his master. But Togame's banter and pettiness and pride speak to him, making him “vulnerable” by letting him find his own humanity. By the time he openly admits “it hurts me to see you in pain,” it feels like he's learned everything about himself from the woman he loves. Meanwhile, Shichika's steadfast dedication offers Togame a rock after a lifetime of betrayal, bringing her confidence and sadness in equal measure. Though she seeks a more traditional form of revenge, it's Shichika's concern that brings her redemption.
On top of all that, the two are just adorable together. Togame hanging carelessly off Shichika's giant shoulders, or the two of them huddled beneath Togame's hair in sleep. Bantering or bickering or breaking each other's hearts, Togame and Shichika consistently demonstrate how rich and charming a relationship can be.
I have to admit, this was a hard choice. I read a lot of shoujo and josei romances and therefore have a lot of favorite couples, so I had to set myself some parameters or my brain would have just kept spinning away, tossing out names and titles. So these were my specifications: it had to have an anime adaptation and it couldn't be too new so that it was a couple I knew I still liked after the love-of-the-moment had passed. That led me pretty squarely to one of my favorite series in both manga and anime form and its protagonists: Mikako and Tsutomu from Ai Yazawa's Neighborhood Story.
Apart from the fact that it's a travesty that no one licensed this (especially when its sort-of sequel, Paradise Kiss, got two releases), what stands out about Neighborhood Story’s romance is that it's far from perfect. Mikako and Tsutomu are both actual teenagers – they're unformed and unsettled, and they can both be pretty big jerks sometimes. While they do love each other and ultimately end up together, it isn't an easy decision to make or path to follow: both have their own dreams and thoughts about the future and they don't always see each other as being supportive of that. Tsutomu in particular worries that giving in to his love for Mikako will limit the places he can go in life, and he has to reconcile those conflicting emotions. Mikako is not always in control of her emotions or what comes out of her mouth, and her dreams really get the better of her sometimes. She's one of the most relatable heroines I've met in fiction – not as mature as she thinks she is, learning to incorporate her coping mechanisms into her life, and ultimately just doing the best she can, which means it won't always succeed or be easy. When the two of them finally work things out and get together, it's more rewarding than in a more textbook or perfect romance because they've really gone through a lot to get there and thought (and overthought) everything. It also isn't a perfect guarantee of a happy ending, because life and romances don't stop with the main couple getting together. That's just the beginning, and now they have to learn how to go forward together. Neighborhood Story acknowledges that, which I think is a much more hopeful ending than a plain old “happily ever after.”
There are a lot of other couples I could point out who have elements of Mikako and Tsutomu's relationship. Shirayuki and Zen (Snow White with the Red Hair) support each other, Emma and William (Emma) overcome their worries and society to be together, and Mei and Yamato (Say I Love You) grow up emotionally together. But none of those couples do all of those things over the course of their stories like Mikako and Tsutomu, and none of them come off as quite as real and human, each with glaring faults that they overcome alongside trying to make their relationship work. That it ultimately does is much more rewarding because of it and why they will always have a place in my heart.
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