5 Good Anime Coming-of-Age Love Stories
When most people think of love stories in anime, they probably either think something for girls like Sailor Moon or a harem comedy like Tench! Well, these are some of my picks for what I liked among anime romances.
5. Video Girl Ai (電影少女, Den’ei Shōjo)
Video Girl Ai is a 6-part OVA from 1992. It chronicles Yota as he rents a video in order to help himself get over the fact that Moemi, the girl he liked, was in love with his best friend Takashi. Little does he know that the video contains a “video girl”, who is supposed to cheer him up. Another unexpected development comes up when Yota attempted to play the video back on a broken VCR (do people use them anymore?), resulting in Ai, his video girl, to have real emotions and actually fall in love with him. Despite the fact that I have seen this OVA back when I was in high school, I remember it generally being one of the better romantic dramadies I have seen. While Yota is supposed to be the stereotypical “nice guy who can’t find a girlfriend” that you see in almost every anime romantic comedy, I had a significantly easier time relating to him than someone like Hideki from Chobits. While Hideki was dumb, perverted, and a borderline porn addict, Yota was simply a shy kid with genuine feelings and an artistic talent. He didn’t repulse the girl he liked as much as he simply couldn’t work up the courage to tell her how he felt. In general, what I distinctly remember from the OVA was how realistic Yota’s emotional reaction to his situation was as I was going through it myself (weren’t we all?) as a foolish lad in high school. Not only that, but Ai was a wonderful female lead. She was cute, funny, and in general exactly what Yota needed, despite having what many other anime would consider strikes against her desirability, namely the fact that she was small-breasted and a horrendous cook. While Video Girl Ai had terrific presentation (the animation quality and music were both top-notch, especially when one considers its age), it was an anime that was ultimately more about what’s below the surface. The only gripe I had was the rushed ending, which I believe was the result of the studio having gone overbudget and thus needed to wrap the OVA up as soon as possible.
4. From Up on Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から, Kokuriko-zaka Kara)
As I stated in my review, From Up on Poppy Hill is a coming-of-age story that took place during the time when Japan was cleaning itself up in preparation for the 1964 Olympics. In the midst of it, Umi meets her classmate Shun. While the Umi/Shun relationship was almost messed up on the level of that between Luke and Leia in Star Wars, it was a very cute movie overall. Unlike many Ghibli movies I have seen, I remember From Up on Poppy Hill was much more character-driven. Despite being firmly grounded in reality, both Umi and Shun were more than capable of carrying the movie and thus not allowing it to slip into the territory of Real Life of a Middle School Girl: The Anime.
3. Vision of Escaflowne (天空のエスカフローネ, Tenkū no Esukafurōne)
Vision of Escaflowne is, in my opinion, almost the perfect anime series, with a tight story where every one of its 26 episodes was extremely important to the plot, classy animation, and what is in my opinion Kanno Yoko’s best musical score. It is about Hitomi as she winds up in a parallel world and has to sort her own feelings out as war erupts around her. The audience is always kept up-to-date as to what Hitomi thought as she came to grips with her own emotions. We’re let know that she wasn’t always rational, and thus was completely human.
2. Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen (るろうに剣心：追憶編)
Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen is the OVA about where Himura Kenshin all started. Trained from a young age in the art of swordsmanship and soon after drafted into service as a trained killer, Kenshin’s humanity is called into question until he met the mysterious Yukishiro Tomoe. As I’ve said all the time on this blog, Tsuioku-hen is not only the best thing to have ever happened to the Rurouni Kenshin franchise, but it is one of the best anime I have ever seen in general. Kenshin’s relationship with Tomoe developed slowly and naturally over the course of the 4-part OVA. While Tomoe didn’t appear in the TV show directly as she was created in the later chapters of the manga, her impact on Kenshin’s life rippled into events that many years later. In fact, the Rurouni Kenshin live action movie decided it would be remiss if it didn’t make a passing reference to the events of Tsuioku-hen. It is the OVA that shows how Tomoe helped shape Kenshin into the compassionate swordsman he was in the series as opposed to the cold, heartless killer he was well on his way to becoming.
1. Macross (超時空要塞マクロス)
In my opinion, Macross is the ultimate coming-of-age story, where hotshot pilot Ichijo Hikaru was pulled into the war between the SDF Macross and the alien race known as the Zentraedi. Hikaru’s experiences are not only shaped by the war itself, but two women: the songstress Lynn Minmay, and commanding officer Hayase Misa. I will say that I don’t think I have ever seen an anime series where I felt this invested in the characters. While it was clear as to which girl was ultimately going to win Hikaru’s heart from the beginning, what made the series interesting was seeing how Hikaru dealt with the difficult decisions he had to make as he learned more about both Minmay and Misa as well as himself.
I classify Macross as a sheep in wolf’s clothing. That is to say, it is a love story pretending to be a science fiction wartime epic. In fact, I think the writers could more easily make the love story a mature one by setting it with a space war as a backdrop. It was a character-driven space opera where everyone deals with the harsh realities of love and war, and the story just kept on building right up until its last “Oh snap!” moment in the last episode, appropriately named “Farewell to Tenderness”.