Anime & Romance – Generations of Societal Sadness

Human relationships have become a rather curious concept in the last fifty or so years of Western society, and the impact of our take on romance has started to work its way out into other parts of the world as well. In both good ways and nightmarish ones.

Overall, we live in a world where dating percentages are trending down. Relationships last shorter and shorter time periods. Marriage is at the lowest rate it’s ever been at in recorded history. Many people are even becoming convinced that “love”, at least conceptually speaking, may not exist on a societal level for us anymore.

If I’m being honest, from looking at the landscape of statistics in front of us, I’d be inclined to believe they’re correct.

It’s interesting, then, that in a world where relationships are suffering on a scale never before seen in humanity’s history, that the allure of relationships as portrayed within animation is at an all-time high.

Today, I’d like to open a conversation with you about why I believe that is, and to consider what we can hope to learn and gain from it, as people.

First, A Needed Disclaimer

I’ve been dreading the day that I’d publish this article for years; mostly, because it’s a very sensitive topic and the vast majority of readers to it will have strong views in certain directions. In addition, most readers will have either been in the position before with relationships, even if just conceptually, where they’ve either sustained heavy physical, emotional, or financial damage from them – or even been the one on the damage-dealing end of the equation, themselves. I know I have.

For those that know me, you know that I carried pretty strong convictions on this subject in the past. I’ve been in bad relationships before – ones that received and dealt damage on both sides of the spectrum. I’m from a divorced home. My dating experiences in recent years were such barren roads that I’ve decided towards being a bachelor for life at this point, but from the perspective of finally being at peace with myself about it.

I had to let go of a lot of anger to write this. I had to walk hundreds of metaphorical miles in life to get to the point where I could have a civil conversation about the subject of romance. It’s my hope that if you’re not at a position in life where you can say this about yourself, perhaps my words here can spur some consideration that might get you moving in the direction you’re looking to go in.

I’m going to strive to keep this article as even-keel as I can on the sides of both genders, although I will naturally err more on the side of men as I’m a guy, and guys constitute the majority of anime viewers as well.

Another thing I’m going to strive to do here is keep observations as “objective” as possible, and leave more “subjective” topics to your personal, private consideration. We’re going to strive to stay within the realm of facts, and ones that I can statistically, holistically prove.

Alright. Shall we begin?

Why Is Romance In Anime So Popular?

Simply put, there’s several readily-identifiable reasons as to why:

  1. Anime often portrays a pretty, rose-tinted picture of relationships that can provide mental respite for those who either haven’t had such a relationship themselves and wanted one, or wanted to bask in what a “perfect-world” relationship can look like from a variety of angles.
  2. Many people find the portrayal of romance in anime to give them a measure of hope that such a relationship can exist where two people truly trust each other in the long term – statistically, a rare concept in today’s world.
  3. Relationships that are “disproportionate”, “undeserved”, or with what in real life would be considered impractical couple parings can lend peace of mind, confidence, or creative thought to those who possess circumstances in the real world that could cause them to relate.
  4. Anime’s view of relationships can create an ease for a longing for a relationship that an individual has lost, can’t obtain, or can’t sustain – regardless of the reason why.

​Interestingly, men’s reasons and expectations towards looking at relationships in anime are very different from women’s reasons and expectations. This tends to run parallel to what each respective gender wants out of a partner in life in terms of rough generalizations, and, as you can probably guess, having anime as a stop-gap solution for those “wants” can really only go so far.

​Anime fits into a very interesting niche in terms of portraying romance in this way, because it sits alongside live-action drama and VR as the most immersive way to view what many people look for relationships that are far closer to “perfect” than their experiences have been. Anime has to portray relationships this way, largely because it’s what draws in so many viewers and it’s what most people’s wants pertain to.

Similarly to live-action drama and VR, anime tends to alleviate cravings in this area to a comparable degree as it fuels them. Have you ever watched relationships in anime and thought to yourself, “Alright, this relationship is absolutely perfect. My life is complete. I can die happy, now.”, or did it only add more fuel to the inner fire you have as a person to try and obtain a relationship like that for yourself?

In this regard, anime is one of the media platforms that carries a truly terrifying amount of addictive power with the way that it passively fuels a desire for relationships. This is part of the reason why SO MANY animes carry relationship themes either in active fashion, or as passive undertones or subplots. Countless people latch onto these portrayals, and when you mix in the amount of money that passes through the doujinshi industry every year along with other fanservice offerings, you’re now staring at an entire revolving culture around the idea of romanticizing anime relationships to the point that they’re bleeding over into real-world living. “No waifu, no laifu”, as male members of this community would say.

The “Real” Deal

Have you ever mentally put yourself in the position of an anime character to fantasize about a romantic relationship with their partner?

Frankly, all of us probably have at one point or another. The reasons for why you’d do this are as diverse as your choice of partners, too. Perhaps the anime character possesses physical characteristics that you’d want in a partner. Maybe it’s personality traits that you feel attraction towards. Skills or abilities can play an active part in the equation, too. Maybe it’s something they possess – money, or resources.

​What most of us would admit is that if we could find something remotely close to the real-world equivalent of this person’s partner in anime, and they were interested in us, we’d probably forsake the notion of fantasizing about the anime character and develop attraction towards the actual person.

Herein lies the incredible power that partner portrayal in anime holds over so many people; it gives you just enough of a glimpse of what the unattainable can look like to get you to commit part of your mind to it. In fairness, the same can be said of romance novels, many live-action dramas, movies, and so on.

​Thing is, there’s often a pretty good set of reasons why what we normally see in anime would otherwise be unattainable for us back home in the real world. We may carry a set of personal problems or personal conditions that discourage potential partners from being attracted to us. Our expectations, or expectations towards us, may be poorly founded. We may be ultimately looking for something that either doesn’t exist, or is statistically nonviable to exist within the scope of our lives.

The key detail in this equation is that what’s portrayed in anime for relationships is really just a tiny slice of what a character persona holistically is. If you watch a two-season anime where your “dream waifu” gets a grand total of six hours of screen time, you’re seeing six hours’ worth of who that person is. You’re seeing the best possible traits that persona could have, in the best possible ways that they weave into the storyline. If we’re being fair with ourselves, and we absolutely need to be, we know next to nothing about who that character really is if they were to be an actual person.

My thought is that we’re often mentally super-imposing perfection into our dream partners as portrayed in anime because we’re seeing just enough of their personas to believe that they’re perfect or could be perfect, then are being handed a raw deal when we look at the real world for something similar, and can’t find anything remotely close to it. Often, the stark opposite, in fact.

The core problem that we too often stumble into in the course of looking for romance or attraction in anime characters…   is simply that they aren’t actual people. They’re a stereotype-based collection of attributes and characteristics that don’t exist in tandem in 99.9% of the populace, and in the 0.1% that they do exist in, they’re accompanied by a selection of flaws and objective weaknesses that each one of us as people inherently has.

The Choice, & How To Make It

At some point in your life, you’ll invariably come to a decision-making crossroads on this subject, and often come back to it multiple times. What’s interesting about this particular crossroads is that you can come down any road leading to it, find yourself at it, and go down any road out of it – including the one that you arrived at it on. However, whenever you change roads, you slightly lower your total mental prowess as well as your odds in life of being truly happy.

The question: “Where do I want to try to go?”

If you want to find comfort and peace of mind in the concept of relationships in anime or other media variants, you’re pursuing the most perfect-world system out of your choices and it has the greatest stability (because it’s not dependent on factors outside of you), although it offers the least completeness and by far the least depth. You also have to accept that the longer you choose to stay on this road, the more “chip damage” you’re going to sustain with regards to your ability to transition to a different road successfully. Costs some money, but not a large amount.

If you want to pursue relationships with actual people, you’re going to have to mentally prepare yourself for a nightmarish ride – and take months, if not years, of time and effort to put yourself through a process of personal improvement to eliminate or reduce your objective personal flaws to make yourself a prospective candidate, know what to look for in others, and go through a trial and error process of trying to make things work. Has the lowest success rate of your options, and will always force you to settle with things you don’t like or want – but that’s part of being human. If this road turns into something you commit to for the long haul, you don’t have the option of transitioning to another road later on. Costs the most out of all options by far.

Alternatively, there’s always the road of choosing to simply not pursue relationships or romance in any form. Can open you up to the most options in your life, although it can leave you with little personal direction if you’re not driven and motivated. Requires you to adopt Stoic Philosophy, and become dead to human love to a degree. Not for the faint of heart – your success depends wholly on you. Puts you in the position where you have to live with your greatest ally and most heated enemy: yourself. Mixed success rate, mostly due to the fact that your desired end-game scenario may change over time. This road is the longest road, as well as the widest road, but it “tops out” higher than all of the others combined. Cost is whatever you determine “cost” to mean for you.

It should be stated: there is no inherently right or wrong road to go down.

Personally, I’ve spent time on all three, and changed my mind multiple times on each one. That being said, I’ve been on the ‘lone road’ for years now, and found that it’s what works the best for me as a person. Why is that? Because it gives me the most personal fulfillment, and brings me the closest to what I’m really looking for out of life.

What are you truly looking for?

The Arch-Enemy Is The Mind

The real reason why so many people (men, in particular) find themselves at anime’s doorstep in terms of fantasizing about relationships and romance is that they’re using it to fill a void in their lives that exists because something of a human nature couldn’t fill it for them. It’s probably not the ideal solution, but it’s the solution that many of us use (or used, in my case).

What’s interesting to me are the men who state that they’re choosing to live within the realm of anime for their choice here with no intention of ever leaving it. They’re seen or experienced something in relationships with real people that placed them on this path, and now they’re readily willing to accept the loss of relationship depth and completeness for something that’s closer to what they’re looking for. It gives them mental respite from the outside war.

This doesn’t happen for no reason. It never does.

​For many people, we can safely admit that a large part of the reason we’re brought to this point in life is we ourselves are lacking. We aren’t in a position to strive towards a more perfect-world romance because we can’t balance out the equation we’re looking for ourselves.

The test that I gave myself that ultimately brought me to this realization, albeit not for those who aren’t prepared to start down a road of heavy introspective real-world change, was to put together two lists. The first list must contain 50 things that are objective personal flaws on your own part. The second list must contain 100 instances in the past where you objectively caused some degree of personal damage to another life.

When I say “objectively” here, picture that you have two groups of 50 random people. One group is comprised of men, and the other group is comprised of women. “Objective” problems are personal issues that would be seen as negative in a dating sense by at least 30% of the group that aligns to your gender, and at least 60% of the group at aligns to the other gender.

As an example, the fact that I have green eyes rather than blue eyes is a subjective problem, not an objective problem, because it wouldn’t be viewed as directly negative by enough people in these theoretical random groups to qualify. It’s generally viewed as a personal preference; not an objectively negative trait. By contrast, the fact that I spent years of my life in the past as a raging alcoholic and am scared to touch alcohol again in the present time for fear that I’ll relapse is an objectively negative personal trait, as few people would see such a massive personal problem in a positive light.

Coming back to the concept of our two lists, the caveat to them is that if you can’t bring yourself to the point where you can complete either list, you have to enlist the help of family and friends to aid you in completing them, and ask that they be brutally honest in the process.

Once your lists are done, if they’re anything like mine, they probably look pretty ugly. The first list probably hits pretty darn hard, as all the items on it are issues you’re actively facing as a person. Some of them may be things completely outside of reasonable control for you; some may be within control but are issues you’ve struggled against for years. The second list may be slightly easier to bear as some of the items on it were caused by personal faults that you worked through in the past, and may not be the type of issue you’d repeat in the present – but it doesn’t change the fact that you did them in the past and can’t take them back.

If you look at the two lists once they’re done, even with the complete understanding that every human being in existence could make similar lists that are probably equally terrifying, can you honestly say that you’d be willing to be in a relationship with someone like yourself, who’s done the things you have and has the faults you do?

For me, that answer was a ‘no’ when I first completed my lists. The root reason wasn’t because of the fact I had personal problems – all of us as people, do – but it was due to how many issues on the first list were things that were perfectly within the realm of things that I could fix. I’d just deliberately gone through life up to that point without ever giving thought to them, or thinking that they were things I needed​ to fix. For all the flak that I’d tried to dish out to the “world” or the opposite gender for putting me on the path to relationship satisfaction within anime, I was just as much a part of the problem as anyone else.

​Finding yourself in this position can go one of two ways: right, or left. You can decide to start down a road of self-improvement to better yourself as a person and start doing damage against the first list, or brush it off as being too much of an obstacle for a variety of reasons. Your approach to that situation will likely serve as the foundation for why you choose a particular road at the crossroads we talked about earlier, and you’re going to have to live with yourself for that decision…

​…you can’t make someone else live with you for it.

The Best Of All Worlds?

What then should we do, Caleb? What are you truly recommending?

Well, here you are:

  1. Whatever you get the most out of as a person, builds the most value in you for you yourself, and gets you closer to where you’re looking to go – that’s the best decision you can make. And, as we looked at earlier, there is no right or wrong road – it needs to be the road that works for you.
  2. Be of a mentality to constantly work on your shortcomings as a person, regardless of what the long-term objective outcome you’re looking for is. Learning is a lesson for life – those who aren’t willing to learn have capped out their potential of being able to truly “live”. Don’t be one of them.
  3. Any decision can be a “bad” decision if you turn it into one. Don’t.
  4. Learn that others’ opinions of your choice is a two-way street. While you don’t want to eliminate needed criticism from the equation that can help you personally grow, also accept that many people view life “molds” other than the one they’re part of in a less-than-favorable fashion. A good question to ask is: “Is the person criticizing me genuinely concerned about my well-being and helping me get to where I want to be in life, or are they not?”
  5. Balance possibilities vs. probabilities. If you’re a ‘4’ in the dating market and you’ve set your sights on a ‘9’ as being what you want, you’ve got a pretty long road of personal growth and development you’re going to need to go down before you can realistically balance out that equation. You may also have to eat a bitter pill that some aspects of what you’re looking for may be permanently out of reach due to factors you absolutely can’t control (such as making yourself physically 4″ taller). Live the life you can live and pursue the dreams you can pursue. Otherwise, leave the stars in the sky.
  6. The only person you have absolute control over is yourself. You can’t control other people, nor should you want to – they’re permanently going to be factors outside of your control. If you feel that you’re on a road in life that’s out of control for you, the reason for this can be that other people are attempting to control your life for you. The best place to start in investigating this is to ask yourself some hard-hitting questions, and take a step or two back from the world in doing so.

No discussion of this subject would truly be complete without echoing the famous words of Hikigaya Hachiman:

          “Love betrays many, but hard work betrays few”.

The point he was getting at was that emotion is, in itself, a volatile item. It can shift at a moment’s notice, and can lead in directions with regards to other people that are disparate from the less emotion-fueled road that you yourself want to go down.

By contrast, hard work, particularly work in building value into yourself as a person, is something that can’t change. Personal value that’s attached to your abilities, your skills, or what you can bring to the table is something that’s moderately immutable – it can’t be taken by others because it’s fundamentally a part of who you are as a person.

If you’re finding that you can’t get what you want out of life by being on an emotional road, perhaps it’s time to consider changing gears to something with less emotion, and more objective reason.

Summary

OC offers romantic animes on our site in a variety of flavors, and that will never change. It’s become an intrinsic part of the industry today, as well as a lifestyle choice for many others.

As with anything in life, anime is best enjoyed alongside a solid understanding of what it is, who you are, and where you’re going.

If you can check those boxes off the list, you’re pretty much set for whatever life holds in store for you.

Me, though? I’m a solo player

Caleb
Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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