Romance Tropes in Anime vs Romance Novels

Posted on June 29, 2015 by Richard Goulter
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Recently I’ve finished playing Valkyria Chronicles and If My Heart Had Wings.
Valkyria Chronicles, recently released for PC (earlier released on PlayStation 3) is a strategy game; featuring a bunch of cute boys & girls in cutesy uniforms with rifles in an almost WWII-esque setting.
If My Heart Had Wings is a ‘visual novel’; the story is about friends at a school who build & fly a glider.

Spoilers prob’ly follow. You’ve been warned.

Both of these stories are anime-esque (coming from Japan), and both feature elements of romance; though, IMMHW is more focused on this aspect.
I’d love to compare how the elements of narrative used in these stories compared to the (written-in-the-US) Romance Novels I know & love.
Admittedly, it’s a rather small and not particularly representative “sample”; I doubt many of the comparisons here extend too far.

VC is awfully concise in its narrative; there’re some very sweet romance-y bits in the story, though. The story is a bit camp, but one of the lines which sticks with me from the romance between Alicia and Welkin is Alicia’s declaration: “with you I’m not scared anymore”. (Or something like that).
– Compared to RNs: it wouldn’t be so out of place; though, VC naturally lends itself to a much more action-oriented plot than most RNs tend to have. - My impression, though, is RNs, with so much focus on for-women-by-women, will tend to try and have more ‘girl power’ to them. So, dialogue like “I can’t live without you” isn’t uncommon, but I’m sure I can’t recall any story where anyone said “I rely on you” to the other.
Overall, VC doesn’t spend so much time on its romances. The boy and the girl like each other. They do stuff together. There’s kindof a “look I love you” moment, but not particularly any ‘internal conflict’ between the characters. But it’s not particularly a huge focus of the game/story, so oh well.

I’d’ve thought IMMHW would’ve had more sex scenes in it, from the hoo-hah everyone seems to make about the restoration-patch, and all the “people think I’m a loser, but jokes on them, I’ve got a wheelchair-girlfriend” type comments/reviews on Steam.
See, in some of the sexier RNs, there’s gotta be sex by, like, page 20 otherwise it’s considered boring. – IMMHW isn’t so quick to the chase. (Difference in medium may have something to do with that.).
– Sexuality/identity, and sexual representation are waaay different in IMHHW than in the RNs. I mean, those who’re inclined to be offended by a ‘sexist’ trope would find plenty to complain about in IMMHW.

– Part of this is inevitably due to the difference in media between VNs and RNs: even in RNs plenty of people will get upset at the way a story was told. (Things like: ‘the hero was kindof a douchebag, the heroine deserved better’.). With VNs, choices are made which determine the outcome of which girl the main character ends up with.
Sometimes IMMHW did this nicely; you choose which girl you want to spend time with, and the dialogue builds intimacy between the characters. – One particular choice, though, “whose swimsuit/boobs look the best?” is … certainly not something you’d see in RNs.

– On the otherhand, perhaps there’s also plenty to celebrate? In IMMHW, there’re many female characters: The school council’s president is female: authorative, fair, and compassionate. The senior student who was building the glider is female: she’s slightly eccentric, super smart, though with some faults. The other members of the glider club, who study hard to understand aeronautics, work hard to build and maintain the glider, are female. – None of these girls are treated as less for being female; the narrative shows no surprise or novelty that these characters are female. These characters aren’t treated as one-dimensional sex kittens.
– It’s a cute tease, but IMMHW does pass the Bechdel test. (Not sure how many RNs would pass that; though, Bechdel test seems more of an arbitrary thing for people to be able to cry ‘sexist’ over, so shrug.).
RNs main strength is character; mostly just the main hero/heroine. IMMHW has many characters, perhaps not all with the same depth as the H/H in RNs, but not paricularly flat characters, either.

That there’s a ‘choice’ of which partner to pick is somewhat quaint.
In (modern) RNs, it’s fairly conventional that by the end of the second chapter or so, you’ll know who the main Hero and Heroine are, and that they’ll be end the story Happily-Ever-After. - In IMMHW, it’s not (to me) as apparent, given the breadth/depth of characters featured.
(I’ve only played through one ‘route’ of IMMHW. I’m not sure how inferior/shorter other ‘routes’ of the story may be. – In some sense, VNs compare to Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Choose Your Own Romance?).
– Maybe a bad example, but if Twilight where CYOR, it’d make the whole ‘Team Edward’/‘Team Jacob’ thing more fun. ;P

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