Today I want to tell you a little story about an anxiety-riddled 24 year old Japanese man and the 27 year old Russian sadist that like a creeping vine slithers into his life. You may also know this little narrative as Yuri On Ice. I got a lot of flack for my disliking of the show and really it is pretty tsundere of me to keep talking about it but hey, blame my lifestyle as a panelist. I have to know what’s popular and for some reason everyone loves ice skating now. But it illustrates my point very well. In friend and fan circles I get accused a lot of just not liking canon pairing and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love canon pairings when they make sense. YoI has the same problem so many canon pairings do: the romance is not earned. What does Yuri do to earn Victor? Sure, he skates around a little but what changes did he have to make? More important, what in the name of all things good and holy did Victor to do earn Yuri? This is a young man that to imagine erotic love has to compare his lover to food. Fun fact, most relationships based on food imagery aren’t exactly healthy. The relationship may be cute and vanilla but it isn’t earned.
Now, when I say earned what do I mean? An earned relationship is one that just makes sense. The chemistry is solid, the tension is valid and it has to be satisfying. Satisfying does not always mean happy, just satisfying and most importantly the characters have to be on the same field and deserve each other. A great example of this for me is InuYasha, actually. Kagome is a piece of wood as far as characters go and InuYasha treats her like hot garbage. They abuse each other all throughout the series and it was frankly predictable and disappointing to see the series ship them off after years of them just yelling at each other. On the other hand, InuYasha and Kikyo were surprisingly balanced from what we’ve seen while they were both of the living. They challenged each other, they were on equal footing and most importantly they treated each other with love and respect. InuYasha with all his angst and baggage knew that being cruel and indignant to Kikyo wasn’t a way he could treat her and she then treated him with kindness and empathy since that was really all that he needed. She demanded more from him and she got it.
To contrast, think of Naruto. Naruto the series spent 15 years trying to ignore Hinata as a character despite her ardent love of Naruto the character. Over the run of the series Naruto runs away from the girl actually paying attention to him to run after either Sakura or Sasuke and then Shippuden tries to ham-hand Hinata in and she deserves so much more. It was nice to see her get her happy ending but you know what else would have been nice? Seeing them actually make a connection and fall in love.
The same actually happens in Bleach. The series goes very far out of its way to set up Ichigo and Rukia as comrades and equals. They spend a comedic amount of time together, they respect each other and they are on equal terms as far as strength for quite a while and Rukia can and does stand on her own. Who does Ichigo end up with? The wet paper bag that is Orihime. Why? Because fans can’t have nice things.
Let’s also discuss the topic of cinnamon rolls. For those assuming that we’re talking about pastry you aren’t wrong but let’s talk about the term as it is used on the Intertubes. For fans: a cinnamon roll is a pure character. An untainted and unexplored territory who is too good for this world and does deserve better than anyone can offer. You do all you can to keep cinnamon rolls safe from the horrors of this cruel world.
Yuri Katsuki is a cinnamon roll. Nunally in Code Geass is a cinnamon roll. Matsuda in Death Note is a cinnamon roll. Alphonse Elric is a cinnamon roll. Got it? Awesome. This list is technically subjective but most people do agree on who is a cinnamon roll and who isn’t. Cinnamon rolls are interesting because of who the series often pairs them with and for some reason cinnamon rolls are paired with the more time-worn characters thus creating the “hijinks” that ensues when an experienced man tries to “take on” a virgin or the subtle but not rare use of the cinnamon roll: the damsel that needs to be protected.
I’ll poke a hole in one of my favorite series: Gravitation for one of the best examples. At the start of the manga and before the publishers changed the ages around because things were getting uncomfortable; Shuichi is 19 years old, just starting his music career and doesn’t have a single cruel bone inside of him. He then almost immediately meets Yuki Eiri, a man who originally was meant to be nearly 10 years his senior and has seen some stuff to put it very lightly. Yuki is cold, crass and frankly, abusive to his younger partner but the series plays it off like things are just fine. So do I not ship Shuichi with Yuki because I’m a Mary Sue and want Eiri to myself? No, actually. I’ve been cosplaying as Eiri for years: why try and Mary Sue with him when I’ve been him?
I do put Shuichi with someone. I put him with Hiro. Hiro is hardworking, understanding, kind and most importantly they did date before and things were more than healthy. Do I leave Yuki alone? Not at all, a headcanon of mine actually places him with Ryuichi. Why? I feel like they have more to bond over both being creative people. Back to the cinnamon roll point, Shuichi in the run of the manga is brought down to so many of his lowest points because of Yuki. Shuichi deserves happiness and support and he needs that and he will not and cannot get that from his Cool Beauty. Shuichi deserves Hiro while Yuki is best off honestly being a bit of a playboy. Cinnamon rolls are too pure for this world, need our protection and for some reason series are terrible about forcing these characters into the arms of the most corrupt and battle-born characters.
Now are there characters that have benefited from being around someone lighter and more loving. Yes, completely. Antique Bakery has a great set up where even though Ono is a less than ideal person he does his best to impress and actively be better for the man he loves, Chikage. He does all he can to be better so he doesn’t cause trouble for his partner and there is something admirable about that.
So that pin you’ve been holding about characters getting what they deserve is important now before we wrap up. I come from a troubling generation of fandoms and writing. Acts that are flat out criminal were considered cute and things that are objectively abusive were considered to be loving reminders from an attentive partner. When terrible things happen to good characters and the perpetrator isn’t punished in the series, it feels like a rather personal attack. It fundamentally bothers me now to see characters in any series get away with something awful and those actions be either ignored or praised. Let’s pause here to talk about especially in anime and manga: this is a weird topic. So many acts that are on paper misogynistic are less stigmatized in Japan because reasons that really could be its own blog post so I won’t pull many anime examples from this but I will pull an American comic example. Harley Quinn is a character that almost no one seems to approach well. She was first brought into the famous Batman the Animated Series universe and was quickly so popular that she became a part of the main lore and canon of the entire Batman franchise. Harley, for those that have been living under a rock for 25 years, is the loving sidekick to The Joker. The Joker is a complex character and an awful garbage person who has done terrible things to Harley and has abused her almost from her inception as a character. But in recent depictions especially the things that The Joker has done have been turned into now for some reason endearing acts of love and devotion to his beloved Harley. He pushes her out of buildings because her cares. He punches her until she passes out because he loves her. He leaves for for dead in countless situations because they are meant to be. The movie Suicide Squad perpetuated many of those concepts and suddenly you have a bunch of kids running around calling one of the most abusive relationships in media ever as #RelationshipGoals. Harley, the victim of brainwashing and abuse she is, deserves so much more. It’s one of the main reasons I was so happy to see her shipped off with Poison Ivy and they now can work on healing her emotional and physical scars and help improve her mental health.
The flip of that in comics is probably everyone’s favorite bisexual demon hunter, John Constantine. Constantine is a hilarious character and a noted garbage human being and he feels the consequence of every bad choice he’s ever made. That demon he gambled with? They remember. The girl he tried to pick up in Hyde Park? She remembers. Constantine is constantly told off, slapped, hit and made aware of the mistakes he’s made so when he does apologize, when he does admit to an error it has some weight to it. He can see he made a less than ideal choice and he can at least admit to it and try to do better (he never does better).
Remember, kids. Make sure your relationships are earned. It’s much more fulfilling in the end.
That was fun, wasn’t it? Let’s do this again sometime.