“Romance” and “shonen anime” hardly ever belong in the same sentence. Remember those 60 odd episodes of courtship in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood that awkwardly skipped to Edward and Winry having kids without the two ever sharing a single on-screen kiss? Some stripes of anime are so averse to mushiness, it seems entirely plausible that Japanese TV’s standards and practices forbid cooties.
That’s not to say you can’t find some heartwarming scenes, though–you just have to search harder. And if you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places, take another gander at the titles listed below. Some might seem entirely about punching, or souped-up mechs, but hear us out. They really do tug at the heart strings from sharp and unexpected angles.
REDLINEPhoto Credit: Manga Entertainment
In a galaxy where all dials are cranked to 11, it absolutely fits that even a tender embrace would have all the elan of a high-speed collision. (Luckily, it has none of the creepy fetishism of Cronenberg’s Crash, though). Longtime rivals, Sweet JP and Sonoshee McLaren, give in to years of romantic tension at the last possible moment, joining together to finish RoboWorld’s Redline race as a team. So explosive is their love, they literally blow up JP’s TransAM20000 racer and rocket through the finish line together–entangled in what could only be described as a “rocket with two backs.” Now, that’s love.
YU YU HAKUSHOImage Credit: FUNimation
If there’s a romance in a show about teen adventurers, it hardly ever involves a mature relationship. Not that it needs to, necessarily, but this show’s final arc is refreshing in how it addresses that very subject so directly. Our hero, Yusuke, finds less and less reason to maintain a normal life in addition to his career as a Spirit Detective. Once a fella’s saved the world a few times, that high school diploma starts looking pointless, no? So, there’s little to hold him back from spending three years in the Demon World. Little… save his girlfriend, Keiko.
The two meet before he leaves, and their awkward talk shows how they’re just a couple of dumb kids who don’t really know what love is. Or at least, Yusuke doesn’t. He promises Keiko he’ll marry her once he returns and–in a surprisingly honest moment– she flatly responds that she won’t wait for him. At this sad moment, you realize they haven’t had much of relationship for the whole series. Still, you do hope they get back together. Somehow.
DEATH NOTEImage Credit: VIZ Media
To be clear: Light is a despicable sociopath. He and Misa Misa have nothing close to a healthy relationship. Nobody every said romances had to concern admirable couples, though. So, when “Kira” goes down in an ignoble blaze of ruins, there’s something undeniably poignant about his #1 fan holding a lonely vigil for him. Their relationship starts with the twisted situation of a pop idol stalking a serial killer, and it ends with a “life sentence” that’s ironically fitting. Light did awful things to Misa, but she also did awful things for him. Such a pathetic, lovelorn fate is probably what she deserves most.
THE WOMAN CALLED FUJIKO MINEImage Credit: FUNimation
A more pleasant flip of Death Note‘s “vicious love”–if only just a little. Crafty ol’ Lupin has been a fool for Ms. Mine in nearly all his appearances, but this deconstructionist take adds an additional layer to their ever-unrequited romance. After tense political intrigue in Cuba and a sobering exploration of the secret program that produced Fujiko, the master thief declares his love to this femme fatale in a moment of true clarity. He knows she’s bad for him. He knows she’ll never reciprocate his feelings. But nevertheless, he pledges to follow her, and support her, no matter how many times she double-crosses him. He’s a fool in love, but at least he understands and accepts that.
VISION OF ESCAFLOWNEImage Credit: FUNimation
Maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that this show– with its cooing theme song and an intro replete with starry gazes–might have some lovey dovey stuff. Still, Escaflowne is wholly meant to confound expectations; incorporating shonen (boys anime) and shojo (girls anime) elements as if to flaunt their usual separation.
The mix is perfectly distilled in the show’s love triangle, wherein girl-next-door Hitomi suffers a classic “two princes” dilemma. Allen is the older man, a refined and dandy gentleman, while Van is brash and bullheaded–no different from the immature boys at her high school. It’s clear who Mr. Right is, but when Hitomi does land him, the moment presses some bittersweet buttons. It’s that classic soap opera moment: Allen and Hitomi kiss on a bridge while a jealous Van watches from afar. The couple’s hookup is being manipulated by one villain, so even what feels so right also feels ever so wrong.
Featured Image Credit: Manga Entertainment