Anime Today: Love is a Fickle Beast, Indeed

Welcome back, Japes! We’ve all missed you! This month has been painful without you! I’m so happy to see you back in action and cannot wait to read all of your upcoming articles and their brilliance!

Aw shucks… thanks, Japes! I’m glad to be back, too! Japan was great and all, but there’s nothing quite like writing for Beneath the Tangles to itch both my theological and otaku scratches.

Okay, now that I’m done with my inner monologue and attempting to swell my head to a size even larger than it already is, I would like to announce that I have finally returned from my short-term missions trip to Japan! It was an amazing experience, but that explanation is best left for an article in and of itself, so I won’t bore you with it here. However, with that said, the last few days since my return have been crammed with simultaneously trying to get over jet lag, catching back up and getting ahead in my classes, and also getting back on schedule with my anime viewing (I missed something like 20 episodes over the course of the trip and also, and only God knows why, I picked up yet another series with plans to pick up yet a second one after that, bringing me up to I believe 16 this season). With much of my time spent doing all three of these things, I found this week’s topic for Anime Today to be a rather easy one to find… so easy, in fact, that it almost seemed glaringly obvious…

If there is one thing that anime has taught me over the years, it is that love is one of the most, if not the absolute most, irrational and inconsistent of human emotions. Catching back up with more than a dozen individual series in a mere day or two has pounded that into my head with the subtlety of a jackhammer. It seems as though the last two or so episodes of nearly every show I am currently following have featured more angst and romantic confusion than perhaps the rest of the season combined. Between the love triangle of Chuunibyou 2, several love triangles as well as complete irrationality in Golden Time, a rather unconventional love triangle in Nisekoi, the love triangle in Engaged to the Unidentified, what can best be described as a love pentagon with several triangles hanging onto it in Nagi no Asukara, an awkward couple in Silver Spoon 2, an unaccepted love in The Pilot’s Love Song, a somewhat one-sided love in Witch Craft Works, and even a bit of erroneously perceived romance in Tonari no Seki-kun, love has been a hot topic. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Yuta, Rikka, and Satone
Art by 栗原まお (Pixiv ID 42144708)

All of these varied shows featuring love as a primary piece of development, or even as a simple gag, have gone to show only one consistent fact: that love is anything but consistent. Characters fall in and out of love. Characters perform irreversible actions that they would never normally do. Characters succumb to jealousy that they would never normally feel. Quite frankly, in the name of love, everybody seems to take matters into their own hands in such a way that defies rationality in nearly every sense of the word. And all of this is due to love. Love. Love. Love.


Or so they would have you think.

Something that has bothered me greatly over the past several years is the modern definition of love. For some reason, people seem to refer to Hollywood as life’s greatest teacher on the subject, and this has left many, many people disappointed. Love is almost always portrayed first as a romantic emotion and second as an emotion between friends or family. “Love conquers all” seems to be the general sentiment, although perhaps it should be rephrased as “Glorified lust conquers all”.

On the plane to Japan just two weeks ago, I finally had the chance to watch Frozen, a movie that has been recommended to me time and time again since its release in theaters. While I was not overly impressed by it, I really must hand it to Disney for, without spoiling the movie, taking an unconventional (at least relative to modern terms) approach to the subject of love. An approach that bravely attempts to dismantle the modern definition that places romance above all other connections, and remind people of other, more secure types of love that humans can show for each other.

The fact that something like this ever had to be redefined at all is a rather perplexing thing in and of itself. The concept and feeling of love has existed since time immemorial. Whether from a Christian or non-Christian standpoint, people have been connecting with each other since birth, with mothers tenderly protecting their children, families sticking together, and so on. Rarely has the most long-lasting, identifiable idea of love been in the romantic sense. In fact, from a biblical perspective, I can think of very few times where romance was actually portrayed as an ideal form of love. Off-hand I can only think of the Song of Solomon and its imagery of a bride and his groom and some of Paul’s New Testament descriptions of the love between a husband and wife. However, particularly in the latter of these, this love is not defined by its romantic aspects but only enhanced by them. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul admonishes husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Now that is an intimate love, but is it a romantic one? Not exactly.

In fact, rarely are the ideal forms of love portrayed as between a man and a woman at all. The love shown in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is that of a father for his son, the love described by Jesus in Matthew 22 and Mark 12 is to love all others as yourself, and the love in John 3:16 and countless other verses describes the love of God for His people. If this is any indication, then it seems to me that love is nothing like what modern society likes to say it is. True love is not governed by the release of endorphins that comes from infatuation and, quite literally, makes the brain behave irrationally. True love is something that is shown by people appreciating others and be willing to sacrifice for them regardless of whether sexual attraction is present.

Now all of this is not to say that romance is at all unimportant. Successful marriages usually have some sort of physical attraction involved, which is necessary for aspects of marriage that are absent in other relationships defined by love. However, all successful relationships of any sort of intimate kind, romantic or not, are defined by love in the sense of appreciating that person and wanting the best for them.

When contemplating all this and comparing what I’ve seen in anime as compared to what actually lasts, I was immediately brought to Paul’s famous definition of love, often read at weddings1:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In anime, love is often very impatient and even anxious, and Golden Time exemplifies this. Banri and Koko push each other in often unhealthy ways.

In anime, love is kind, but only to a point. Sometimes you see the yandere trope in which the pursuer is willing to go to extreme measures to maintain the “love” through ways that are the opposite of kind.

In anime, love is boastful and prideful almost always. Many times one or both partner brags constantly about either who they were able to date or what they were able to get away with with that person.

In anime, some of pursuing a romantic relationship is in dishonoring others to get there. If someone is “in the way” of the love that a character wants, they are rarely above pushing that person down in order to achieve what they want.

I could go on, but I think the point is clear that such love as is portrayed in anime is simply not realistic nor is it healthy. In fact, off-hand the only current running anime relationship that seems to harbor any semblance of a truly loving relationship is the one between between Rikka and Yuuta in Chuunibyou. Although perhaps defined by inadequacies in both of their persons, both characters show a passion for each other in the purest sense. Lust plays very little into the relationship and only to a realistic extent (and lust in and of itself is not a bad thing, for it is what preserves the romantic area of a married couple’s relationship, making it only bad when out of that context). Their love is patient and kind as they look out for each other, waiting for the other to be ready without pushing. They are not envious, boastful, nor prideful of their relationship as they pursue only each other through it with no dubious intentions. In being patient with each other they are also not easily angered with each other, instead choosing to work things out and to seek the betterment of their partner over themselves. Thus far, anyway, it seems to exemplify God’s intention for love, particularly in the romantic sense, and that is both a surprising and wonderful thing.

In the end, I cannot say that I am truly upset by anime’s portrayal of love. In fact, I might even be more entertained by it in its current form than if it were more realistic, for who really wants to watch escapist media that exactly reflects a reality that is usually more disappointing in how it plays out practically. I am a complete sucker for generic romantic comedies, romantic dramas, and romantic “anything”, really. But, this does not mean that we can accept what we see in our chosen media nor let it influence our expectations of real life lest we fall into the trap of many otaku and hikikkomori who have long since given up on the real world. As with many areas of anime and fiction in general, love as portrayed in it is something that can rarely be emulated outside of the show it is in.

For this reason, love truly is a fickle beast.

1 Editor’s Note: My then-fiancée and I did indeed select this passage for our wedding message.

8 thoughts on “Anime Today: Love is a Fickle Beast, Indeed

  1. Lust is always a bad thing! Lust is not merely “sexual desire” but “concupiscent sexual desire.” Otherwise, lust would be a virtue!

    Anyway, that’s a great post. The Fall has done terrible things to the relationship between men and women, hence the pagan myth of Ares lying with Aphrodite–the mix of war and love.

    But, I think that you downplay the irrational part of romantic love too much. It is a kind of madness, but a divine madness. Those things that we love best, we love spontaneously–without calculation or judgement. Without that feeling of spontaneity, love is a labor. Spouses in particular need to know how to love each other purely from the will, but one always hopes to regain that spontaneous “I Thou” feeling.

    I would say that our relationship with God is similar. People occasionally suffer a dark night, where they love God purely as an act of will without sensible affection. But, they still yearn for “I Thou” moments or the feeling of God’s presence. And God knows how much of a feeling of separation we can take.

    1. I would disagree with that sentiment on lust. In English and Greek, lust literally means a strong desire, and that is not inherently evil. Proverbs and the Song of Solomon provide pictures of passion of a husband towards his wife that could be construed as lust. Outside of the context, however, it is bad.

      I’m absolutely not an expert in the romance department, so I can’t really speak much from personal experience (at my current stage in life, romance is just not practical), but I do know that the feeling of infatuation releases chemicals in the brain that emulate something pretty close to insanity to a degree. Spontaneity is good, and it helps a relationship (which I think I hinted at), but it is not strong enough to be the core of a “true” love. I think that’s all I really meant by that.

      Thanks for reading and for your insightful comments, as always. I look forward to them every time I write an article!

      1. And I look forward to your comments as well, especially when I can talk about Greek. 🙂 You’re right about the Greek. Epithumos can mean both lust or a strong desire which is not necessarily bad. But, the English word lust always implies a tainted love to my mind, e.g. Lust for power, lust for money, lust for knowledge. The last might seem a good thing, but Umberto Eco refers to the villain of The Name of the Rose as lusting rather than loving knowledge because he has no desire to share the fruits of his study.

        Romantic love certainly has its problems. You’re right to point out that, without charity or love acting from a good will, romantic love can easily be corrupted. A very good point for lovers to remember.

        1. Perhaps a better word, taken from one of psychology’s models for love, is “passion”. It has the same meaning of “strong desire” without necessarily having a positive or negative connotation (it certainly can be both good and bad).

          This is a good post, by the way. As someone who studied psychology (well, cognitive science) in college, love is definitely one of my favorite topics. Though, as far as anime is concerned, I tend to like portrayals of friendship-love and familial-love (particularly sibling love) more than those of romantic-love. At least, the former two tend to be written better than the latter… Though I do like a number of the romantic-love portrayals this season, especially in Chuunibyou and Mikakunin.

          Perhaps I should write a post on various psychological models of love on my non-anime blog…

          1. Passion would certainly covers both negative and positive spheres. I suppose it points to the idea that emotion is neutral. We just need to direct it in the right way.

            My interest in psychology happens to derive from my love of interesting characters. I’d love to read such a post!

          2. Thank you!

            Oh gosh, Mikakunin has been a surprise hit for me this season. I was definitely expecting complete mediocrity, which is not what I’ve been getting from it!

            I’d love to read that article if you wrote it!

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