In Bed: The Kiss, 1892, by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec features two women caught up in passion.
If a painting doesn’t get you warmed up for today’s blog, maybe this?
This is an OWLS post. What is OWLS?
OWLS stands for Otaku Writers for Liberty and Self Respect. We are a group of otaku bloggers who promote acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being.
This month’s topic is “lover” and all that word implies.
According to Google, “lover” means:
- A person having a sexual or romantic relationship with someone, often outside marriage
- A person who likes or enjoys something specified.
So I am a lover of the late Doris Day but (sadly!) could never be her lover.
Oh, BTW, I have included a few links here. Some go to outside sites. Some go to other posts on my blog. I’ve also interspersed poetry and art and videos to further distract you. It is a long post with a few small spoilers so if you just look at the pictures and read the poetry you will still enjoy it!
Caution! Big distraction ahead.
As I grew up, I understood the term “lover” to denote any member of a physically and emotionally intimate relationship, usually outside of marriage. It might be a single torrid night. It might run its course when the heat of passion burns out or last forever as the functional equivalent of marriage without contract.
Ideally, if you have a spouse they are your lover. Marriage (at least in my culture) implies love and passion to some degree, not every culture includes romance as an expected part of a marriage. It is often a simple business partnership. Even when “to love, honor, and cherish” is an expected part, marriage all too often goes on without love.
People may look outside it to a paramour for love. If you are a French politician, this is almost expected. In some cultures adultery is criminal with lethal consequences.
Happy and fortunate is the person whose marriage retains the spark of romance despite the demands of work, finance, child rearing and just getting by in the world. Not everyone has that.
Belinda Carlisle made this video with her husband in 1986. They are still married today despite overcoming dression, drug addicition, eating disorder, and alcoholism. She credits her husband with saving her life. It is one the the great love stories of the day.
I didn’t get married until I was 30. Along the way there were periods of terrible depression caused by awareness that I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt utterly alone and even for a natural loner that wears on you. It sapped any sense of purpose out of my life. It matterd to me if someone was close enough to be a lover. A lover gave me somewhere to belong. Avoiding the grief of someone I cared for became a reason for living.
But that was just me. You are not me. You are you.
Along the way I had a fair number of lovers, a patchwork of oases across the desert. Mostly female but there are guys along the way I remember very fondly. Up until recently I could remember the face of every one of them but my memory is starting to go as I age. That is how much I treasured every one. I can still remember the important ones like yesterday. The very earliest ones and the ones who stayed for a while.
The rest? Now all I have is the memory of the memory. Each new lover saved me.
Having a lover gave me a reason to live and kept me off ledges.
A lover has no formal protection, just faith in your partner not to split without warning. Without love, lovers soon part. It is can be a dangerous and vulnerable place to be.
You could have multiple lovers. Your lover could have multiple lovers. Serial monogamy is having one lover at a time but changing them when the passion fades. Many people find it preferable to a lifetime commitment to something so fragile and demanding. And that is okay.
I will never love you
The cost of love’s too dear
But though I’ll never love you
I’ll stay with you one year
And we can sing in the sunshine
We’ll laugh every day
We’ll sing in the sunshine
Then I’ll be on my way
We are all hedgehogs of sorts. Some have more prickles than others. Some have a higher pain tolerance. Some of us, like Kino in Kino’s Journey, simply don’t need romance and life can be an amazing journey regardless. It is all good. In the modern west, there is no reason to force yourself into an unrewarding relationship or to accept abuse just to have a partner. Marriage or even romance are not requirements that we must all meet to be proper humans.
In taking on a lover there is much to be gained but also much to be lost. How the scales tip is an individual matter.
Lovers are vulnerable to each other, supportive of each other and trusting of each other. All are big risks. When it fails it can feel catastrophic. What is required to brave the risks are optimism, passion, and intimacy. For a couple to be “lovers” does not necessarily require sexual intercourse. But – unless you’re in the “I must wait for marriage” category (And there is nothing wrong in that!) – then something beyond necking is likely on the menu.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“Friends with benefits” are lovers, even if they would deny it.
And that is what I’ll talk about. Unmarried people in emotional and physical intimacy. Pity sex, prostitution and anonymous one night stands don’t count.
I have yet to see a successful ménage à trois in anime. There is comparatively little high quality anime about male gay lovers. I concede there’s a fair amount of shounen ai and heavily stylized BL out there. Personally, I find the heavily standardized and tropified approach in most BL to be uninteresting.
Hmmm… lets see where Given goes on that. There is a male character who had a pretty intense gay love affair in the past. I guess he’s “bi” because he goes out with girls too. Seems pretty honest about it.
Mafuyu and Yuki were also lovers in the past. Yuki couldn’t handle the viscitudes of life and comitted suicide, which nearly destroys Mafuyu. Now he is beginning to rediscover life and love after meeting Ritsuka.
In my own life, the pain I might cause Mafuyu would have kept me off the ledge.
Given is what I condider an “idealistic” anime that treats being gay as a perfectly normal and unexceptional thing. This is as compared to a “realistic” anime where they’d be swimming upstream against social convention and experiencing some acceptance issues. Or as opposed to a tragic anime where they are ultimately destroyed by their nonconformity.
The optimistic anime tend to dominate the market. Romance anime are ultimately fantasies and few people fanatsize about negative outcomes.
An example of anime that is realistic about unconventional love would be the final arc of Yosuga no Sora, the one where the brother and sister become lovers and must flee to be together because of cultural hostility. They are swimming upstream agains a very powerful current.
What happens to Yuri after that amazing kiss in Yuri on Ice is as important as what led up to it. Before that point Victor never gives Yuri the emotional closeness that one expects from a lover. Until then Victor was all about Victor and only then does he become emotionally intimate. Now they really are lovers.
The gay aspect is absolutely there without being explicitly stated. One could see the director involved in maneuvering around corporate demands every bit as athletically and gracefully as Yuri would move around on ice. (Or in a pole dance…) The executives wanted Plausible Deniability for an obvious gay relationship.
I don’t expect anime to show us sexual activity in any detail. Female nipples and any genitalia or pubic hair, even in a completely nonsexual context, usually get the dreaded “hentai” label and often won’t get decent distribution. Or get the crap censored out of them. But, you know what? Romance happens. Nakedness happens. Passion happens. Sex happens. People of any combination of genders enter into intimate relationships without the benefit of a legal contract. They become lovers. Josei and seinen should reflect this.
The market is older than they think. We need more honest josei and seinen.
All this dancing around the point with subtext is absurd. You don’t have to get graphic about it but you ought not be such cowards about it either.
A glimpse through an interstice caught,
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a corner,
Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,
A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.
The Glimpse by Walt Whitman
In Naruto, he and Hinata are never seen as lovers. Series ends and next series they are married with a baby Boruto. Something similar happens with Sasuke and Sakura. But – let’s look at a couple of secondary characters.
Kurenai and Asuma were lovers in as deep a sense as there can be. Everyone in Konohagakure knew about the relationship and nobody was disturbed by it. She caries his child and has it after his death. A Kurenai/Asuma wedding would have been a very big deal in the show. It didn’t get to happen and that only deepens the tragedy.
The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes
Leaping upon the mountains,
Skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Behold, he stands behind our wall;
He is looking through the windows,
Gazing through the lattice.
My beloved spoke, and said to me:
“Rise up, my love, my fair one,
And come away.
For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove
Is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth her green figs,
And the vines with the tender grapes
Give a good smell.
Rise up, my love, my fair one,
And come away!
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Another example of lovers in the background is in Bloom into You, Riko and Miyako. By dint of their relationship, they have become advisers to other girls who are confused by their adolescent sexuality. There is an incredibly touching scene where Miyako distracts Riko from a phone conversation by nuzzling her. It felt so natural, something that a lover (or spouse) might really do. I desperately wish they would explore that relationship a little more. Heck, give it its own series!
Wandering Son also has a pair of background lovers, a trans woman with a man. The trans woman also plays a counseling role. I wanted to see more of the relationship. I guess the manga presented more of it but it was pretty shallow in the anime.
I would remind you of our wonderful times.
For by my side you put on
many wreaths of roses
and garlands of flowers
around your soft neck.
And with precious and royal perfume
you anointed yourself.
On soft beds you satisfied your passion.
And there was no dance,
no holy place
from which we were absent.
Sappho, fragment 19
Aoi Hana – Right off the bat we see Aoi in the throes of having ended a torrid sexual affair with her cousin Chizu. (No subtext here!) Her lover thought it a temporary dalliance until marriage but Aoi was fully in love. The breakup of the relationship leaves her vulnerable to the next girl to show an interest. But wait! Aoi also has a friend from long ago she’s just made contact with.
From the OP there isn’t any doubt who her future lover will be. During the series itself? She doesn’t have a replacement lover, just a rebound crush that doesn’t get beyond a kiss.
One thing I really like about this show is the honest nakedness in the OP. I may be atypical but I’m not feeling any overt appeal to eroticism, just two people who are completely at ease and in love with each other. Sure, there is obviously sexuality in the mix but right now we’re being more sensual and loving. Casual, yet intimate. They aren’t just a pair of nudists on a date.
As a purely psychological experiment, keep the art style and the sequence the same but change the gender of one or both characters. Does it change how you feel about the story being told?
The lover in your embrace is naked, even if still clothed.
Domestic Girlfriend has an immature high schooler (Natsuo) having an affair with an even more immature teacher (Hina), similar to the Sarah Fowlkes affair. I was never able to generate any sympathy for either one.
OTOH, his opening relationship with Rui, who only wanted to find out what sex was like, was entirely believable and in its own way touching. I could even sort of get into the “almost adult schoolboy affair with an older woman” trope. (IMHO, has been better done many times.)
Natsuo is only a few months from graduation and then the student-teacher relationship would no longer be an issue. Their impetuosity and carelessness really felt more like stupidity to me. They are old enough to know better. (I am sure that IRL, 99% of all similar illicit student-teacher relationships never get discovered. The participants are smarter than that.)
Either story by itself could have been interesting. Combine them and now you have a triangle. When Rui and her big sis Hina ended up his stepsisters and moved in with his household (a kind of deus ex machina intended to set up a crisis instead of solving it) everything went off the rails for me. Drama became farce. YMMV.
Wait for graduation and swap genders. How many people would be complaining if an 18 y.o. woman had an affair with a 24 y.o. man? Think about it.
This is how you do love between a younger boy and an older woman.
Or maybe this…
Michiru and Haruka of Sailor Moon are obviously a pair of gay lovers. Before it could air in America and despoil the morals of our children, the Bowdlerization committee of DIC Entertainment (a Disney subsidiary at the time) had the marvelous idea of making them cousins. Great. Now we have obviously gay female cousins flirting and gazing into each other’s eyes while saying strange things, unrelated to their body language and actions. Text and subtext no longer match. Very confusing.
I understand that Viz bought the US rights, took responsibility and redubbed it to match the original. Pork buns are no longer doughnuts and Sailors Uranus and Neptune can again be lovers.
The great classic, Cowboy Bebop, has Spike and Julia as star crossed lovers. Even though
we only see her in flashbacks until the last two episodes, Julia is the power behind Spike. She lacks Faye Valentine’s obvious and overwhelming sexuality yet it is her he dreams of. Jet asks Faye what kind of woman Julia is, she had this to say;
“Ordinary. The kind of beautiful, dangerous ordinary that you just can’t leave alone… Like an angel from the underworld. Or a devil from Paradise.”
Spike and Julia were syndicate enforcers who became lovers and tried to leave. She was supposed to kill Spike but couldn’t. They went their separate ways until they didn’t. A love that time, distance and the syndicate could not sever. And that is Spike’s story in Bebop in a nutshell.
For my money the greatest film version of the greatest love story ever written with the most beautiful girl in the world (Olivia Hussey) playing a 13 y.o. Juliet.
And yet I wish but for the thing I have.
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2, page 6
Koyomi Araragi and Hitagi Senjougahra become lovers in Monogatari. Look how well they handled it!
The Monogatari franchise is notorious for its fan service, yet once they are lovers there is none of her at all. Even before they are lovers, during the famous shower scene, Hitagi’s nudity isn’t just fan service. She’s testing Araragi’s reaction. She has been traumatized and nearly raped with her mother’s blessing on the rapist. If she is going to pursue this relationship she must know if he is trustworthy and she uses her own nakedness to test him. Despite his reputation for lecherous behavior, Araragi-kun passes. Later they become lovers in the most touching confession scene I’ve ever seen in anime.
It brings tears to my eyes.
Senjougahara understands something very important about being a lover. Trying to keep your partner’s interest over the long haul is actually work. Both parties need to keep at it or it will fade. She states that she is trying to be the best possible future wife for Araragi. She even likes it when he approaches the line of infidelity but doesn’t step over. Virtue is meaningless without temptation. But when Araragi-kun asks her if she’d leave him for someone else who was better qualified to be her lover her answer is an unqualified, “Yes.”
A tiny bit of insecurity in a pair of lovers’ relationship may be good for it. As a constant theme, it is poison.
The very best josei I have ever watched is Otona Joshi no Anime Time. This is real josei, not just shoujo with a dark plot twist, some skin flashing or a little sex. Four different anime about believable mature women. No big eyes, no shy or giggling girls, no panty shots or impossibly hour-glass figures. Nobody breathlessly searching for the love to end all loves.
The life of the Japanese woman is not necessarily the one of unbounded possibility anime so often presents. The promise of true love to last a lifetime is often untrue. Still, these women present to the world an uncommon level of courage and strength in the face of common adversities.
Mimi has left her husband and lacks any sense of self worth. She meets a man who rekindles her love of life. But her new lover is a garbage collector…
Hatoko is a still-single middle aged office worker who gets no respect. Then she attends a class reunion and meets an old flame…
Noriko is planning to divorce her husband and visits her parents’ home with her child. Her once lover still lives nearby and runs a sweets shop. Memories of the way they were and thoughts of “What if?” start to enter her mind.
These are older women dealing with what life dealt them instead of what anticipating what it will be like when their dreams come true.
A faint clap of thunder,
Perhaps rain will come.
If so, will you stay here with me?
A faint clap of thunder,
Even if rain comes or not,
I will stay here,
Together with you.
Makoto Shinkai – The Garden of Words
Kuzu no Honkai – This is the one that makes everyone uncomfortable.
“Effort is always rewarded in every endeavor but one. That’s love. That’s why I hate it.” – Hanabi Yasuraoka
Hanabi is in love with a teacher (Narumi) she has known since early childhoood. Mugi was already a teacher’s lover (Akane) in the past and would rekindle it but cannot. The logical thing to do is to take each other on as substitutes for what they cannot have. Right? And then Akane goes after Narumi just to see the tears on Hanabi’s face.
But wait, there’s more! Sanae was in love and lust with Hanabi ever since her quick thinking to save her from a molester. Hanabi isn’t really feeling anything romantic towards Sanae but is going along with her because she doesn’t want to risk losing a dear friend.
Tell me that teenagers don’t have sex for a lot of reasons other than love. Tell me that some people don’t use their attractiveness as a weapon. Tell me that students don’t actively pursue teachers and that teachers don’t sometimes pursue students. (If you did, you’d be completely wrong.)
Lurking on the sidelines we have yet another player, the wannabe himedere loli, Noriko. She would have Mugi as a lover and will do whatever it takes to get him.
The title of the anime in English is Scum’s Wish. The only character who comes close to “scum” is is Akane. She is the only one trying to be hurtful. The questions are what is driving her and whether you think she is a better person at the end.
There are other incredible anime I might have included but I needed to keep this from becoming even longer. Nana, for example, is about the interactions between several lovers in two different bands, one at the peak of their careers (Trapnest) and another one up and coming (Black Stones, aka Blast). It is a huge musical soap opera of lovers’ relationships.
What I like the best about the lovers in Nana is that being lovers itself is treated as unremarkable. There’s no “Wow!” factor at all about people living and sleeping together and having sex, either with or without love. It is treated as how life is lived. It is the evolution of those relationships that rivets us, not the fact they exist and not whether they fit social conventions. Like Otona Joshi no Anime Time, it is an adult look at life and sex and love and doesn’t try to heat you up with titillation or forbidden fruit.
The best rock track in all of anime!
I hope you have enjoyed this brief survey of different approaches to handling lovers in anime. In case you missed it, on the 16th we had Auri discussing Makako-san. On the 17th we had Crimson with No. 6. On the 20th we have Pop Culture Literary on deck.
The tragic story of Janice Joplin, starring Bete Midler. The pain and beauty of love and its loss expresed in a way no one else ever has.