The Romantica Dilemma: Is There Hope for Unhealthy Relationships in Yaoi?

It’s back and oddly enough I am excited that there will be a Season 3 of Junjou Romantica. Maybe it’s because this Summer Season has lackluster titles that I am not particularly excited about at first sight, or maybe it’s because the animation has gotten sleeker, or maybe it’s just because of the yaoi. Either way, I’m conflicted that one of the few shows I’m excited about watching this Summer lineup just so happens to be this one.

Here’s the thing about Junjou Romantica- I like it and I know I shouldn’t. I’m not talking about it as a guilty pleasure, though it might be. I’m talking about the problematic beginnings of the main romance that I know I should not get behind.

Junjou Romantica is both an anime and a manga by Shungiku Nakamura detailing the relationship of Takahashi Misaki and Usami Akihito (as well as sidestories of two other couples.) Misaki is a young college student when the show first starts out, but his older brother is newly married and constantly moving for work, meaning Misaki must now find a new place to live. Luckily, his brother has everything figured out and sets him up with room and board at a good friend’s house. That friend is Akihito, an older man by nearly 10 years who writes romance novels.

From the first episode Akihito clearly makes Misaki uncomfortable for a variety of reasons; the content in his books (erotica between two men) to his constant touching. Things quickly move into clear molestation. Even as Misaki asks him to stop the advances are never ceased. Instead Akihito exhibits classic lines like, “you like it.”

Needless to say the relationship has an unhealthy beginning. For the continuation of Season One Akihito continues to pressure Misaki while simultaneously pining after Misake’s brother. He’s also ridiculously jealous of anyone Misaki hangs out with and manipulates the younger boy whenever possible. Is this really supposed to be our main couple? Are we really suppose to be rooting for a jealous pervert to woo our main protagonist?

The answer: Yes. It is a common troupe (and a very negative one) in yaoi that relationships begin with these sorts of advances. Popular Yaoi manga, FINDER, starts off with a scenario that is nothing less than a rape scene. These sorts of beginning make it difficult for readers to cheer for the main love interest. Instead of an equal relationship spurned by mutual desire we see something forced, unreal.

Relationships built off these abusive ideas show a real disconnect between the artists and the realities of being in a same-sex relationship. Our main characters often live in a world where  the phrase, “once you try it, you like it” thrown around hazardously along with compromising sexual situations. All of this belittles the idea that two men could actually- you know- love each other.

It is almost as if the Manga artists doesn’t realize how psychologically damaging a character like Akihito can be. It’s the Edward Cullen affect, playing off a man’s jealousy and controlling nature as twue lwuve. Shoujo manga also features this kind of character all the time. These characters often have power in the form of money or status that allows readers to excuse them for their misdeeds. If we take that power away and strip them down to ordinary people their actions suddenly become a lot less redeemable. It should also be noted that Shoujo manga rarely demonizes the main love interest by making him an actual rapist, while Yaoi seems not to mind at all.

In 2011 I attended a convention that had a panel discussing such a question, specifically focusing on Junjou Romantica. I was shocked to see so many women defending why they still continued to approve of the abusive tendencies between Akihito and Misaki. The number one reason being, “It’s not a real relationship.”

Of course if this happened in real life we would all be appalled by such abuse, but in the realm of fantasy it is easier to find the romantic side of Akihito’s gestures. He’s jealous because he’s scared and doesn’t want to lose Misaki, Misaki actually really likes the advances, they both really love each other in the end- all of these are ideas we deem excusable in order to get behind the romance.

The thing is, watching Season 2 and now Season 3 of Junjou, you would never think these two had such a rocky start. Misaki has accepted Akihito as a lover and while Akihito is still pushy their relationship has a bit more balance to it. After navigating their own personal faults the two have figured out how to respect and listen to each other- granted there is still A LOT of room for improvement. Over the course of a few years the two have finally figured out how to be a genuine couple.

Which is why I feel so torn watching it now when the start of their story is still very uncomfortable to watch at points. Not to mention Seasons 1 and 2 follow the formulaic jealous-guilty-everyone wants to tear the two lovebirds apart- plot line that plagues so many romances in manga.

With this in mind, Season 3 seems to have promising beginnings. Now that our couple is more solid they’re ready to take on bigger issues than petty jealousy. Misaki must decide if he wants to publicly come out to his brother as well as prepare for a world after college (which might mean a world without Akihito.) Even more compelling is the hint that Misaki’s search for his dream job may lead this story line to intersect with Nakamura’s other popular Yaoi Manga Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi. We already know the two stories happen in the same timeline so it would be interesting to see how the crossover would affect things.

Akihito, meanwhile, is learning to let Misaki spread his wings and have more independence. His struggle to become the love-interest we all want him to be- someone who can put their own needs aside for the one they love- is a growth that I hope will have some pay off.

I have a lot of hope that this Season will be one of the better ones if Nakamura truly explores these ideas in more depth. I know she can do it, since Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi is a Yaoi title that does feature two characters who have a mutual attraction for each other and it doesn’t rely on overused themes to keep us interested in the story.

But still, is it alright that I am now enthralled with a romance that was once so very very wrong. This isn’t the first time Manga has made me wonder this, other Shoujo stories such as Hot Gimmick, Vampire Knight, and Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers) feature a main romance that has roots in abusive behavior.

I think that is why I still feel bad about Junjou Romanitca. Because no matter how promising the new plotline may be, no matter how much Akihito may grow to truly understand and love Misaki, none of that can erase my labeling him as a molester. But the serious lack of Yaoi anime out there has me coming back every time, and if I try really really really hard I can pretend that parts of Season One never happened. Apparently even Misake blocked their initial start out of his mind, so why shouldn’t I?

 

Senshi Study is where Cara Averna looks at anime, fanculture, and movies with squinty eyes and tries to gleam the deeper meaning. These articles are her own opinions based of self-research. 

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One thought on “The Romantica Dilemma: Is There Hope for Unhealthy Relationships in Yaoi?

  1. […] I wrote earlier this summer about my expectations for Junjou Romantica’s third season. After watching only the first few episodes, I was hopeful about the growth the latest season exhibited compared to where the show first started off. There were a lot of opportunities for some great development that would move the series into the romance story it strives to be. […]

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