Let’s not beat around the bush, life can be mundane. Even the most adventurous individuals often succumb to the monotony of a weekly routine. As we grow older, the excitement of things like driving a car, graduating from school, or getting a job seems to slowly dissipate like the false promise of a desert mirage. Of all the hopes and dreams we have in our lifetimes, only one endures the test of time. That is beauty.
We all pursue beauty in a myriad of ways. While some are less obvious, many are presented without disguise. Television commercials, billboards, album covers and magazines all trumpet humanity’s collective desire to catch even the smallest whiff of beauty’s intoxicating perfume. And while it is entirely possible that no one fully understands why it even exists, perhaps the most important expression of our search for beautiful things can be found in tales of romance. This can be traced throughout history in every form of art. A preponderance of the greatest paintings, poems, plays, and prose have all been created in the name of love. Anime, too (though it is a fairly modern medium), often succeeds in satisfying our itch for good love stories.
Interestingly enough, I recently found myself at a unique crossroads between art and romance. Not long ago there was a time that I would have scoffed at the idea of watching an animated series about love. “Pick a genre, any genre, but not this,” I thought. “Never this.” Fortunately, I selected Your Lie in April on Netflix one day by accident, and it changed my life. It wasn’t long before I was browsing every forum on the internet for more romance anime suggestions.
Needless to say, I enjoyed some shows more than others. But there was a single thread that connected many of the more popular series in an enigmatically elusive way. What could titles like AnoHana, Golden Time, 5 Centimeters Per Second, or Your Lie in April possibly have in common? Each has a wildly different setting, plot, character cast, and style. Even the music is extremely varied. However, none of these shows are complicated.
And then it hit me. The reason that all these titles are so incredibly good is that they point out the simple beauty in many of the things we take for granted every day. There are plenty of sappy romance shows that deliberately flaunt imaginative plot twists or innovative settings, but they offer little more than fleeting entertainment. If you’ve never heard of Rosario to Vampire, Dragon Crisis!, or A Bridge to the Starry Skies, it’s probably because they aren’t good. While each one delivers something flashy and unique, they don’t convey a meaningful message. Their lack of depth, along with that of countless other romance anime titles, often deters people from giving the genre a fighting chance. But it’s this very contrast between shallow complexity and deep simplicity that brings out the beauty of many love stories.
The fact of the matter is, there is beauty all around us. Every breath, step, or bite of food we take contains the incalculable wonder of existence. The problem with the world isn’t a lack of roses; we just don’t stop to smell them. Take AnoHana, for example. From start to finish, none of the characters travel far from home. There are no superpowers, no exceptional talent, and no daring deeds. The premise is far-fetched, but it serves only to amplify the all-too-common reality of debilitating grief. In the end, the simple beauty of a promise made in childlike innocence becomes the resolution of Jinta Yadomi’s greatest burden.
Tragic events like this could happen to any of us (and probably have), which can help us open our eyes to the things we often miss as we become increasingly desensitized through repetition. Golden Time doesn’t stray far from this mantra, placing a perfectly ordinary couple at the forefront of its plot. Characters like Banri Tada and Koko Kaga, with all their youthly imperfections, encourage us to reflect on the real significance of years that we may have taken all too seriously in all the wrong ways. Their run-of-the-mill romance is nostalgic, and it underlines the power that even the simplest memories can have.
5 Centimeters Per Second follows this concept all the way to adulthood, capturing the life of Takaki Tono in a brilliant three-part series. The ordinary events of Takaki’s life become extraordinary when paired with the beauty of his surroundings at each moment in time. Long train rides to see a friend, young love under a starry sky, or the unexpected glimpse of a familiar face: all of us have probably rushed through some of these events without a second thought. But the sights, smells, and sounds that surround us each day are woven ceaselessly into the tapestry of our lives. Even the title of this series suggests the enduring power of a moment captured in our memory. Beauty is a cherry blossom hovering in the air, ever so briefly, before it reaches the ground. 5 Centimeters Per Second left me feeling sad, but not because it was tragic. Instead, it was because of the sombre realization that nothing can remain the same forever.
For many of us, it may take a lifetime to fully understand that concept. But a few love stories provide us with a glimpse of sorrow that helps uncover this peculiar facet of beauty. Your Lie in April falls, without a doubt, into that category. This show’s brilliant colors and vivacious style provide a visual representation of youthful optimism. Given time to mature, we often forget how incredible the possibilities of life really are; but with our forgetfulness comes a mild disdain for the memory of childhood dreams. The characters of Your Lie in April, however, are forced to understand the reality of death amidst the glory of their teenage years, and the resulting message is incredibly deep. At every stage of life, beauty is bound with love; but love is likewise inextricably bound with loss.
From the tragic to the ecstatic, stories like these are all united by their ability to portray the spectacular beauty of life’s unspectacular moments. They capture our hearts, precisely because they capture what we miss in our mad dash towards the next big landmark in our journey. They challenge our concept of existence and strengthen our resolve to live each day with both eyes open to the simple wonders that surround us all. Whether you already like the romance genre or purposely avoid it, don’t be afraid to expand your repertoire. I’ve presented you with a few worthwhile examples, but there are many more to be enjoyed. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start watching!
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