About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nice Girls: They Just Can't Win

"No one's going to side with you, you're stark-raving mad!" - Ash Ketchum

"Oh yeah? Just ask your mother..." - Giovanni

"That's all in the past!" - Ash Ketchum

"Listen to me, little boy, nice guys finish last, last...!" - Giovanni

Given the endings of many of the animes with romantic conflicts, that I've recently watched, Giovanni could very well be talking about nice girls instead. Indeed, that could explain why Ash Ketchum keeps moving on from one girl to another to another. Ash is internalizing what he was told by one of his greatest enemies, and hence he's not letting any of the nice girls that he's met end up with him...

A harem-esque Pokemon anime might be a lot of fun... ;)

In complete seriousness, though, I can't help but to be struck by how nice girls keep losing almost all of the major anime romantic conflicts that I've watched recently.

Massive spoilers forthcoming for several different prominent romance animes. Please turn back if you don't want to find out which nice girls get shut down by their competition...

The Great Akasaka: Champion of Moe Girls Everywhere!
His heart bleeds at the very thought of how the following girls have had their hearts broken... :(

In True Tears, the pretty Peter Pan-esque poultry protector Noe Isurugi, who is as caring and supportive a girlfriend as one could ever hope to find, ultimately loses out in the romance triangle of her anime.

In Sola, Mana Ishizuki's dauntlessly determined dedication to her best friend (and likely romantic interest) Yurito Morimiya avails her naught. She, like Noe, is very caring and supportive to the guy that she likes, but it matters not in the end.

In Shakugan no Shana, the subtly sweet soft-spoken Kazumi Yoshida is the first to expertly explicitly express her love to Sakai Yuji, but by most accounts, she is losing the conflict for his heart to the ultimate tsundere.

And, most recently for me, I watched Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, in which the friendly and faithful Haruka Suzumiya goes through a situation that's far more melancholic than anything a certain other Suzumiya went through...

Indeed, not only do these nice girls finish last in romance, they tend to be put through quite the wringer in losing too. Injury is frequently added to insult, literally so in the cases of Noe and Haruka.

And these are not nice girls from obscure animes. These are some of the most prominent romance animes out there, with all four having their own subforums on Anime Suki.

Beyond even these four, I also recently watched a yuri anime named Kashimashi: Girl meets Girl.

In this anime, there is a love triangle between a tomboyish tsundere (the girl with the twin tails), a shy and sweet girl (the girl with the white headband), and the Yui Hirasawa-like boy-turned-girl that they both are deeply in love with. The second last episode basically shows the shy and sweet girl prevailing. Then, however, the last episode undoes that entirely, as that shy and sweet girl essentially changes her mind, and dumps the girl she once adored, leading the tomboyish tsundere to success by default.

So, in romances both straight and yuri, nice girls have this way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

I can't help but to find this intriguingly intensely interesting. There's a certain pattern to it, and I can't help but to wonder if this pattern is in any way related to the predominant writing style, or thinking, of the makers of these animes, or the makers of the source material that these animes are based on.

Is there some sort of theme that the authors and producers behind these animes are trying to convey?

Is Noe's lost to Hiromi in True Tears meant to suggest that "all is fair in love and war", and hence you need to competitively pursue the person that you love, if there is a competitor standing between you and that person? In fairness to Hiromi, she's usually a nice enough teenage girl herself, but she puts aside niceties when it comes time to compete for the young man that she loves. Noe is much less combative here, I must admit.

However, if "all is fair in love and war", how do you explain Kazumi Yoshida's lost to Shana in Shakugan no Shana? In that anime, Kazumi made the first real move. She competed with all of her strength for Sakai Yuji. Yet, it looks almost certain that she will fail.

Furthermore, even the mother of all anime romantic comedies, Ranma ½, was like this. Ranma Saotome was given a choice between several girls, the most hot-headed and violent of which undoubtedly being Akane Tendo.

Neither the Ranma ½ anime, or the manga that it is based upon, ever resolves its complex multifaceted romantic conflicts completely. However, both strongly suggest that Ranma and Akane are the canon couple of the work. This in spite of how Ukyo, a childhood friend of Ranma's, tends to take a much gentler approach in her attempts to win over Ranma than what Akane does.

Nonetheless, all of the young women who desired Ranma's hand in marriage competed hard for him. All very much went with "all is fair in love and war". Yet, even here, the nicest girl in the competition appears destined to lose.

Why is this, I wonder? Why does anime tend to resolve romantic conflicts this way?

I find it highly ironic since many anime fans probably consider themselves to be pretty close to the stereotypical nice guy. Many of us probably cringe at hearing the line "nice guys finish last". So you'd think that an entertainment medium aimed at the "nice guy" demographic would feature happier endings for "nice girls".

In fairness, perhaps Jun Maeda caught on to something here. His works stand apart from the other romance anime in the crowd, in that nice girls tend to win in his works...

"We love you, Maeda-Sama!!!"

So Jun Maeda is to anime writers what Akasaka is to anime characters. In other words, with out him around, the nice moe girl doesn't have a chance...

You know, given that the nice moe girls tend to lose a lot in anime romances, I'm surprised that critics of moe are so vociferous in their critiques of it. Outside of Maeda works, being moe is no guarantee of having a happy ending with the person you love. Quite often, it means getting your heart broke...

If anime wanted to support the idea of simple-minded submissive sweethearts being the ideal woman, you'd think that more Haruka Suzumiyas would come out on top, and fewer Haruhi Suzumiyas.

But, of course, many of these nice moe girls are not simple-minded or submissive to begin with. So I don't think that destroying chauvinistic ideas is the idea behind them losing so often in anime, either.

So why do they lose so often, then?

I honestly can't figure out why here, so I welcome feedback on this question from any and all blog readers. :)

Also, I'd rather watch these nice girls win more often. And if somebody reading this blog knows of some romantic conflicts where the nicest girl ends up winning for a change, please tell me, as I'd like to watch it. :)

But for now, I think that the following quote sums up the chances of the nice girls of anime when it comes to romantic conflicts...

"You Just Can't Win!"


  1. Not sure how you did it... but you actually made me hate what I considered to be an awesome villain. =P

    Oh, sorry about my absence lately. A lot of things had come up, hope you understand. Anyway, since that's out of the way, I'll get to my actual comment. ^^;;

    Nice girls finish last... sounds about right, for the most part. Only "nice girl" outside of Key works I can think of that actually -won- was Fate... though that result should've been obvious from the moment Nanoha saw her eyes. ;)

    Anyway... unfortunately the only series I've seen that you brought up as a "nice girl losing" example was Shana, so I can't really say much about the others, but... poor Kazumi. This is part of the reason I -really- don't want to watch anything after Second. ^^;;

    And... I hate to rain on the parade, but... while one nice girl won in Clannad, another most definitely -lost-, though Ryou not being named in the OP should've been enough evidence that she was destined to lose. Bit of a shame, too, as I was actually rooting for her despite that fact. ^^;;

    To answer the question, I think the underlying reason behind it all is to try and push the "nice guy" into actually -trying- to win over the girl he likes. After all, if the nice girl loses for not being as strong-willed about her love of the guy, what chances would a nice guy have if he does the same? (Of course, Kazumi puts a bit of a damper on this theory, as she certainly tried a lot harder than Shana ever did...)

  2. Some thoughts:
    I believe that the “reversal” episode of Kashimashi was DVD only. I don’t think it’s considered canon so much as “pick your ending”. (Of course, since I wanted to see him get paired with the guy who liked him before he switched genders, I kind of lost anyway.)

    I haven’t seen all of the shows discussed here but I do want to note a couple things about Sola. First, I would classify Mana actually is a blend of the tsundere/tomboy type and the nice girl type. Think about it – she’s more Kyou than Nagisa. Second, she loses to another nice girl (who eventually gets screwed by the ending).
    I wouldn’t say that Mana lost because she’s nice, she lost because she’s the childhood friend in a so called “magical girlfriend/sudden girlfriend appearance” anime. In my experience, childhood friends almost always lose in these shows. In my opinion, even Key’s works conform to this rule – Nagisa beats Kotomi, and while Ayu technically is a childhood friend, she’s also the “magical girlfriend” character and beats out Nayuki. True Tears admittedly subverts the rule, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the writer’s intention.
    There’s definitely a few cases I can think of where a tsundere/tomboy childhood friend loses to a nicer newcomer – Miyako and Kei in EF come to mind, as do Mashiro and Ami in Tayutama (which I actually enjoyed as a harem comedy but which is definitely not a show of the same caliber as the other recommendations I’ve made).

    There’s also a tradition of pairing male leads with tsunderes in other anime genres, which I suspect plays a case in Shana.

    Also, Maeda’s record on this one is not unblemished – Ryou didn’t even get a route in Clannad and loses Tomoya to her sister after she starts to date him in her sister’s arc.

  3. /ragemode START

    There seems to be two reasons:

    1.) The nicer character is boring, because there's just not much room for development. Usually if you have a character start out as childish or annoying they have room for growth. Now this isn't because nice characters are inherently boring, it's just that people just lack the creativity to make them that and 3 dimensional.

    The easy example here is Kazumi from Shana, who could easily be an interesting character, being the outsider to a supernatural environment but the show doesn't do anything really that interesting. And when it does, it just keeps running in circles. I feel sorry for the poor girl because well... there's just not much to talk about her.

    Let's also talk about Ryou from Clannad. Honestly, she feels more of an afterthought than anything else. She's nice and shy... and yea! I dunno. And then the Kyou special where she has a personality, she just gets screwed cuz her name's not in the episode title.

    My thoughts is that they just aren't given much thought, but they have to do something with them, so they are made at least not annoying and hateful. They're nice and pleasant, and ... yea! So sadly, the nice girl is often just the placeholder.

    2.) Many male leads are stubborn, or assholes. So thus, they can never appreciate the love of the nice girl, and you know what? They don't deserve that attention either.

    In any case, I truly think it's due to cowardice on the writers' part. To stray from the status quo is scary. So what if the nice girl gets with the guy, what will the future be. The status quo might be broken because we'd have to develop her personality.

    The future is scary, so yes I appreciate the few series that dare approach this as opposed to the ones that just sweep it in the rug.

  4. Archon_Wing - Good points. That's a good theory.

    tigermoon - Hope you don't hate Giovanni permanently because of what I wrote, lol. ;) You're probably right that it's easier to challenge a guy to try to win over a tsundere (for example) than to win over a nice girl.

    0utf0xZer0 - Thanks for the info. You could be right that the tendency of nice girls losing could be due to some of the other "rules" of romance anime that tends to work against them (such as childhood friends typically being doomed).

  5. Yo, Ghost here. First time responding to a blog. (Is this thing on?)

    Aside from the points others have already brought up – that it makes for more dynamic storytelling to focus on the aggressive and romantically dysfunctional girl – have you considered that part of this may be an issue of pathos?

    It occurs to me that, from a storyteller's point of view, the question of ”who loses?” is just as important as the question of ”who wins?” Especially in a love triangle, where someone always ends up hurt. (Excluding harem endings, natch.) In the end, drama is about making the audience care. Whether you are happy or sad about it is less important.

    Now, I'm just theorizing here, but if the tsundere-tomboy with poor social skills loses, we may – at least on some level – reason that it was her own fault: That she could have won if she was a bit nicer and a bit girlier and a bit more sociable. However, this comes with the uncomfortable implication that ”the reason you fail at love is because there is something wrong with your personality.” And I don't think that's something we who watch this kind of thing wants to believe.

    Whereas when the nice, harmless, generally likable girl loses, it's because life is unfair in general and especially in matters of love. Since, like you point out, most of us are likely ”nice guys who finish last” so to speak, we can really relate to that sort of thing. So we feel sorry for the nice girl and just want to give her a hug and go: ”Don't worry, the pain will pass, and you will find a guy who likes you back and you will be happy, honest.” Because that's what we want to believe.

    What I'm saying is, perhaps it's a way of trying to maximize the emotional response in the audience? We get to feel good about one character succeeding despite her disadvantages, and we get to feel sorry for the girl who lost despite all her good qualities.

  6. Actually, there’s another theory I want to throw in here too: if the show has an identifiable “lead girl”, she will almost always win. From the shows you mention in your post, I’ve seen Sola, True Tears, Shana, Clannad, and Kanon. True Tears is the only one that I feel lacks an identifiable lead girl. In every other case… there is a lead girl, and she wins. Some of the “nice girl wins” VN adaptations I can think of also demonstrate this rule, for example, Utawarerumono and Tayutama.

    I think that for the most part, there’s kind of an unwritten rule in the anime industry that “once you have picked a “lead girl,” you can never go back on it.” Fans expect the lead girl to win, and I think there’s a fear of a fanbase revolt if, say, Kazumi beat out Shana. Ditto for Zero no Tsukaima, which uses essentially the same triangle dynamic. I’d probably say the same about Naru vs. Mitsumi in Love Hina – sure, the show may have played up the harem, but did we ever really doubt who the lead girl was?

    That said, that does raise the question of what happens in the shows where the girls are presented equally – AKA where the outcome of the polygon is actually in doubt. In our sample here, we have True Tears, KGNE, and Kashimashi. So two nice girl loses and one where the nice girl won in the broadcast but fans were given an option to reverse the outcome on the DVD. Interesting, but I’m not sure we have enough data to really make a conclusion.

    Also, Nagisa and Ayu look like sisters when you see those pics side by side.

  7. The section on Ranma 1/2 is objectively wrong.

    Akane is the nicest and least violent female in the cast. Ukyo actually significantly more violent.