Western movies and television will prolong a “will they or won’t they” situation between two people who obviously like each other for as long as they can get away with it, but in the end, the lovebirds will usually at least kiss or formally get together. This even happens in children’s shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Danny Phantom. Anime, on the other hand, prefers to drag out romantic tension for so long that the lead characters may not even confess to one another by the end—we’re looking at you, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun!
But why are romantic gestures so taboo in anime? Why don’t we have more confident characters who just confess their love to the person they’ve clearly adored for years? Well, let’s take a look at why anime romances take so darn long.
Japanese Society Discourages Directness
Japanese culture highly values privacy, politeness, and not bothering other people. As such, public displays of affection are seen as tacky and disruptive, to the point where many Japanese parents won’t even kiss in front of their children and couples won’t embrace in public. Naturally, this makes direct confessions of love much more difficult, not to mention the fact that teenagers and young adults are buried in so much work that they hardly have time to pursue relationships at all. Online apps, singles mixers, and even arranged marriages tend to prevail over one-on-one romantic interactions in this labyrinthine landscape of love.
The prized confession (kokuhaku) comes when someone declares their love for their sweetheart, usually with the connotation that they want to be exclusive and potentially get married one day. “I love you” (aishiteru) is seen as overblown and dramatic, so the more discrete “I like you” (suki) or “I really like you” (daisuki) are used instead in confessions and daily life. Plus, if someone’s crush rejects them, they can save face by pretending they weren’t all that serious to begin with. However, just getting to this point takes a mountain of courage that some people can’t muster, no matter how much they pine for the one they love. Truly, the Japanese dating world is a tricky business.
How This Translates to Anime
Anime tends to follow these same customs, whether the work is set in Japan or not. Sousuke and Chidori from Full Metal Panic took 13 real-life years to hold hands, Natsu and Lucy’s relationship was still ambiguous after Fairy Tail ended, and Kaguya-sama: Love is War took non-confrontational dating culture to its logical extreme by making its entire plot about two tsunderes trying to force the other to confess first. Confident and boisterous characters like Edward Elric suddenly turn bashful when the subject of their crush comes up, and Sayaka from Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica lets her life fall apart instead of admitting her feelings to the boy she likes. It can be infuriating to watch as a Western viewer, but this indirect style of love is so ingrained into Japanese culture that it persists even in fiction.
Of course, there are some anime where love confessions are much more obvious and public displays of affection actually happen—perhaps the most notable one in recent years has been Yuri on Ice, which went for extra audacity points by allowing its two male protagonists to confess to each other, date, and kiss in front of a huge audience (although a cleverly placed arm meant that viewers didn’t get to see that last part). Japanese courting culture is beautiful in its own way, but we’re glad to see relationships fully play out on screen once in a blue moon.
What did you think of our overview? Which anime characters do you think should just confess to each other already? Do you enjoy leisurely-paced anime romances? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!