Hajime Kamoshida, the author of the Rascal Does Not Dream light novel series, does something quite fearless in volume six, the recently-released Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl. He pits the love of Sakuta’s life head to head against the series’ beloved heroine and current (and main) love interest, Mai. You read that right—the love of the protagonist’s life is not the girl he’s the currently dating, the one the audience is rooting for, the beautiful, lovely, famous actress, Mai Sakurajima. Instead it’s Shouko Nishimiya, an older girl who came into Sakuta’s life for a brief but pivotal moment two years before the events of the series.
In previous volumes, Kamoshida has done what almost all harem franchise writers do, walking a fine line between having a protagonist who is pure-hearted and ultimately committed to one woman (once the would be couple have revealed their feelings for one another), and who also finds himself surrounded by many other love interests. Sakuta is among a newer era of harem protagonists who still retains that classic bit obliviousness for the feelings of the girls in his harem, but is also strong and full of personality himself. Thus, it’s less of a line between and more a line crossing over from on side to another: Sometimes Sakuta seems a decent or really great guy, and sometimes he’s harder to root for.
Sleepminuminus and I have talked quite a bit in this series of posts about what’s wrong with Sakuta, and I hate to dive into that again. But in this final installment, it’s worth noting his flaws because they illustrate something important. Though in the spirit of seeing people (or characters) for who they are fully, the good in addition to the bad, it’s worth noting that Sakuta usually makes the best decisions he’s able to, limited by a lack of guidance from parents who abandoned both he and his sister, and just the emotional and otherwise charged condition known as “adolescence,” not even needing “syndrome” fixated to the end. Despite these shortcomings, his sincerity and kindness are extraordinary.
But he does make mistakes. And he does say or think things that are often fuzzy and sometimes even clearly problematic. For instance, he’s dating Mai, but when Rio asks him point blank if he loves Shouko, this is Sakuta’s response:
I love her…as a woman.
Sakuta then goes on to try to justify (in his own mind) why it’s okay to be in love with her and with Mai. As ugly as that may sound, it, too, is sincere in some sense, as we often try to justify ourselves when what we desire is right in front of us or when we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. And for Sakuta, in this particular moment, both situations apply.
What he doesn’t understand in his adolescent lack of wisdom and experience, is that he would have been wisest to resolve his feelings for Shouko before entering into a new relationship, at least as best he could. What I think has been clear from early in the novel series is that Sakuta sees Shouko as an idealized woman, one who has a permanent place in his heart no matter whom he would eventually date, even if the girl he’s dating is a famous actress.
Sakuta is unwilling to let go of one who has a piece of his heart, and it’s now become detrimental to his present and his future.
It’s rare—in my experience at least—to in real life face such a situation in romance. One doesn’t typically establish a beautiful relationship with someone only to have the choice of also engaging in a romance with a former love as well.
More typically, but still likely to cause relational harm, is that the spectre of a former love can impact a current relationship. Once your heart and mind start traveling down the road of “but my ex used to be like this…”, you’re taking the relationship down a dangerous path.
Christian purity culture is partly rooted in this idea. When Joshua Harris’ evangelical dating bible, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, became part and parcel of American church culture, it did so with advice to avoid dating, at least in the usual way. The idea in his books was that if you date around, you’re all the more likely to cross physical boundaries and emotional ones that will impact your future marriage, whether it’s with your current object of affection or another.
Since then, an entire movement against purity culture has erupted, with Harris being the recipient of a whole lot of anger from individuals who are broken in large part because they weren’t able to establish healthy relationships due to the extremism of this method. In response, Harris, by this point no longer a kid wonder (his first book was written when he was still a teenager himself) but the head pastor a large, influential church, apologized. And in a shocking turn of events, he recently left his church, but not only that—Harris left his faith altogether.
On the opposite end of the “Christian dating” spectrum, I once read a Christian book once that encouraged lots of dating to help one find a good match. It, as is commonly done, used Song of Solomon as a guide for relationships. I know what you’re thinking, but despite how I’m presenting the idea, I thought this book was mostly full of good advice and much wisdom.
And in fact, I felt and still feel the same about Harris’ books. One of his later ones about purity from a masculine perspective helped me during a time I felt guilt-ridden about my sexual sin; his work was full of a grace that I hadn’t previously encountered and wasn’t receiving from other voices that instructed me, directly or not, about the subject.
But how can I say both approaches—one that says date plenty and another that says be super cautious—are wise when they seem contradictory? And what of many other voices that may add further confusion?
As is often the case, the answer can be found not in looking to each other, but in looking up toward God. I often think about how incredibly complex he must be as the creator of the Universe, so much more complex than even the systems he’s put in place that my teeny weeny brain can’t even comprehend. And yet, the church seems to have him all figured out. We as humans have done the same. “Just do this and that,” and you’re good to go: Read your bible, serve the church, repent daily, evangelize frequently, avoid temptation, etc. Just follow the rules, and a good Christian life you will live.
I do believe that, like a good parent, God simplifies things for us to understand. But he’s also not simple. And we can’t understand all his ways. We, too, take after our father. We, too, are complex. One size doesn’t always fit all. “Purity culture” and “evangelical culture” both feature a lot of godly wisdom, deciphered from scripture. But it’s marred by sin, as well. It is not “God.” To return to anime phraseology, God is God. And you are you. We are too beautifully complex to have been figured out by the church.
And as individual as we are, we’re each going to be affected differently from the next person in our relationships. Some will be able to easily move on from an ex-partner. Others will be changed profoundly and permanently.
Just like Sakuta.
Thankfully, in all the confusion, God does offer a solution that may play out through as many different paths as there are people, but still rings with a solid truth. It’s this—in any relationship, with any person, the way to treat them is the way Jesus treats you.
In other words, with your own romantic partner, be like Jesus.
Sakuta doesn’t get this yet. He’s 16. He doesn’t comprehend the majesty of love, defining it at this point as “making people feel good and have fun,” and his primary models are a mother and father that are dedicated to each other, but not to his sister. He’s got to feel it all out and learn as he goes along.
And even though Sakuta isn’t a Christian, he’s likely to learn, in different words, what Christians know about love. He’s going to learn that what he really must do is love Mai like Christ loves the church.
It’s interesting, because one of Sakuta’s best points is that he’s incredibly self-sacrificial. He does love in a grandiose way during this arc, more than once, but has trouble doing it on a more micro level, like he could in treating Mai as his one and only and setting boundaries with Shouko.
What a shocker—Sakuta, the protagonist of a harem series, isn’t perfect after all.
And you know what? Neither are we. Neither am I.
I think about how I treated women before I came to Christ, but not only that, how I’ve treated women since, including my now-wife. My intentions haven’t always been pure. My actions aren’t always praiseworthy. My words too often sharp. And so, even knowing better than Sakuta, I haven’t always been a better partner than he is; in fact, I’m often even now, no better.
But thank God for grace—for the grace we can give when we’re critical of others (even imaginary teenage protagonists); for the grace we can give a romantic partner when that person hurts us; and the grace we receive when we fail to love others like he loved us first.
Ultimately, in a world where there’s so much noise about dating, relationships, sex, and marriage, often contradictory, sometimes leading to painful ends (even when taught by the church), we are always held in his hands. We always can lean on his grace.
And if His model of grace is our guide—well, maybe we’ll be able rise above the noise, the church, the harems, and love the way we’ve been loved, the way that love should be.
We invite you read all the articles in this series:
- Tangles Writers Do Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Arc 1: Acknowledging Who You Are (Twwk)
- Tangles Writers Do Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Arc 2: To Drop or Not to Drop (sleepminusminus)
- Tangles Writers Do Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Arc 3: Rio, You Don’t Have To Hate Yourself (sleepminusminus)
- Tangles Writers Do Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Arc 4: Authority Gone Wrong (Twwk)
- Tangles Writers Do Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Arc 5: A Lack of Love (sleepminusminus)
- Tangles Writers Do Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Arc 6: Piece of My Heart (Twwk)
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is released by Yen Press.