Why are relationships between characters still not recognized and taken lightly in light novel and manga?
One thing that has been bothering me, well always bothering me, is how the authors of light novels and manga write their stories in a way that the main character is oblivious to the fact that they have people who want to be in a relationship with them. I’ve always wondered why this is so hopefully some of you can explain this to me.
Why is it that we have so many characters across so many stories that just don’t get it? One really good example is of course “Bakarina”, I’m going to try to stick to JNC titles to make this easier, but that is the classic comical harem troupe and I get that. But then you have characters like Veight who isn’t a clueless idiot who clearly likes his female counterpart but is just unwilling to admit it to himself outright. Then you have Asuta and Ai Fa from “Cooking with Wild Game” which is a semi-cute and semi-abusive relationship, all of the abuse going towards Asuta of course. But why is it we have so many stories that continue along these seemingly hard-core relationship lines.
Now at long last we do have some stories in which relationships are openly expressed and accepted like in “Realist Hero” and “Smartphone” which I think makes for a more enjoyable and interesting read. Granted these are both the harem genre again but at least relationships between characters is accepted and expressed which is still not widely used in the light novel and manga scene.
My ultimate question is why haven’t the stories evolved into ones where relationships are understood and accepted and why do we still see an abundance of titles where they just aren’t? Any ideas?
I've always believed authors like to tease possible routes without committing themselves in case the eventual lead chosen is not to taste of some or all readers and thus alienate them.
Their are some big examples where this has happened recently and in the past, cough cough Oreimo.
So usually 2 routes happen. No one is chosen and everything is open ended, or it is chosen at the last minute.
Sadly, it is usually the former and why harem series feel awfully empty after reading.
A big part of it is that it is convenient. Light novels and manga are both really short and a harem style set up makes it really easy for the author to move around the pieces. Why was character C in the same town as the MC and character b? Because they were jealous and spying on the two. Boom, easy. No need to set up some complex series of events or converging motivations.
That also feeds into the second part of this which is most LN and manga are done by amateurs and then picked up later to be edited and reworked. Since it is a super easy troupe to work with, a lot of the newbie authors and have it in their works so they can write something week to week and really aren't yet good enough writers to be able to propel the stories using my nuanced or intricate writing.
It's also popular. If you have many girls/guys interested in the MC then to an extent everyone is happy that their best girl/boy has a shot/relationship with the MC. In some series, it is kind of gross, in others less so, and there are probably enough people that just like the power fantasy of the harem as well.
So as to why they make the MC ignorant of the feelings is just to be able to use that setup. If the MC knew and picked a single person, suddenly all that popularity and convenience would be gone and the writers would have to think up less contrived ways to make the pieces move, and that might be too difficult for them.
I have known (and been, at one point) incredibly dense persons regarding romantic interest. Personally, it doesn’t strike me as terribly unrealistic.
Light novels do exaggerate things, for both comic and dramatic effect. But those things have to exist before you can exaggerate them.
One of the things involved in safety training is getting people to recognize a problem, so they can deal with it. Humans tend to ignore what they aren't looking for, even when it seems obvious to others.
"Childhood friend" trope happens often enough in real life. One side misses the transition from "friend" to "love interest", while the other not wanting to risk break up the friendship.
"Sudden popularity" also happens often enough in real life, where someone becomes popular because one person of the opposite sex took an interest in her/him, and the others want to find out what they missed.
Combine the two, and it can look like a harem trope.
I think that the trope is popular because it’s a form of wish fulfillment. If we assume that the MC in a story is (at least sometimes) intended to be an avatar of the reader, or at least we are supposed to empathize with them. Imagine back in the day when you were in high school: maybe shy, likely awkward to a degree. Wouldn’t you love for the tables to be turned? The idol of the school, and hime-sama, and your childhood friend, and the tennis star...were all interested in you? You wouldn’t worry about getting up the nerve to ask whoever out, she’d be pursuing you. And if the MC was aware of his (or her) popularity, they wouldn’t be as relatable or sympathetic. Now, if that density doesn’t change, if the MC doesn’t grow as a person, if relationships don’t evolve...readers will grow to empathize less with the MC and get frustrated with the story. And we have infinite stratos
I recently read an interview about the isekai light novel/manga series Seijo no Maryoku wa Bannou Desu and there's one question rather related to this:
── Within the iseikai genre, what differences do you feel exist between works primarily targeted for men versus those for women?
K: Men tend to like the set up of one hero with a lot of heroines, whereas I get the impression that women like for the love interest to be set in stone and for the process of how they got together to be depicted in great detail, even if there are a lot of attractive men in the story. This doesn't just apply to iseikai. Men's and women's comedic romance follows similar trends...
Bakarina is more shoujo so it's rather an exception, but could it be this belief in the industry causing many titles aimed at male readers to endlessly waver in the relationship department? (Regardless of whether or not it's a founded assumption concerning the fans' attitude). We can see JNC Heart titles like Marielle Clarac, Bibliophile Princess or Can Someone Explain What's Going On? has a fixed love interest early on, so the drama doesn't lie in which character is going to end up with MC, but the ups and downs in the relationship.
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The situation itself of having multiple potential love interests is what's actually interesting about "harem" stories, not the development of a relationship. When done well, the different characters become literary foils, ways of reflecting different aspects of the main character, or potential themes of the story, or the make the reader question their own perceptions, etc...
What other said about keeping all route open to tease potential relationship and give everyone some hope for their best boy/girl to win, is true, but doesn't cover all cases.
Like in a lot of series the (potential) relationship is only between 2 characters, but one of them is the one driving the story forward, so you need them to stay focus on that for the story to advance at a comfortable pace.
For example in Undead Adventurer there's no harem, no other real candidates beside Lorraine, but if they were to settle together and Rent focus on their relationship it would likely take away from his drive to become a mithril-class adventurer. And being even less focus is really the last thing that series need.
There's also series where the situation or characters personalities doesn't let much place for serious romance, like in Grimgar where between 2 mind rapes or near-death experiences, the characters probably don't really have the right mind to go through with their feelings.
Same in "Defeating the demon lord is a cinch" where Ares is just too overwork to give anything else time, or "So I'm a spider, so what!?" where being the pawn of a sadistic god doesn't let much freedom.
To put it simply, to me, it seems like romance just isn't the focus of a lot of series, authors incorporate some to their story because it help attracted customers and can help make the reader feel more attached to characters, but they keep it at a level where it won't interfere with the story.