Romancing the Jellyfish
Alright. Yeah. Kuragehime’s a nice anime and all. It’s cute, it’s funny, and I enjoy it for the most part. But seriously, it’s a glorified Hollywood-styled rom-com at its heart. That’s by no means an inherently bad thing if you ask me.
A lot of this can be said of most anime/manga romantic comedies, but since Kuragehime’s the one on most people’s minds I’m gonna use it to illustrate my point. Almost every romantic comedy plays off of the whole “opposites attract” angle. Usually one of the characters is stuffy and stuck-up in some way– either they’re self-serious or devoted to their career or wrapped up in another relationship that’s clearly not meant to be. The other character is someone that breaks the rules in some way– they’re a rebel or a misfit or carefree or whatever.
We have that with Tsukimi and Shuu. Tsukimi may be a timid, socially awkward otaku, but she’s someone that breaks all of the rules that Shuu’s life is built around. Shuu’s a politician that has to adhere to the rules of the political game while Tsukimi’s a virtual shut-in who gets by in life through a combination of family support and odd jobs. Everything’s been set up to this point where their differences will act as the catalyst for their inevitable relationship: Tsukimi’s interest in him will allow her to eventually break out of her shell while Shuu’s fascination with her will likely allow him to break free of his political shackles in some manner.
As for Kuranosuke, while he may seem to be the third corner of a love triangle, that isn’t the real role that he’s playing in this series. Outside of a surprise twist ending, there’s no way in hell that he and Tsukimi will become an item. She’s still weirded out by his crossdressing nature, and she’s even more weirded out by his masculine side. He’s far too much of an “other” for her to ever feel comfortable around him. Rather, Kuranosuke is the token minority sidekick that you see in so many rom-coms. He’s the gay best friend or the sassy black woman buddy– he’s Queen Latifa made into a Japanese dude in drag. He’s there to act as a catalyst– without his actions, the relationship between Tsukimi and Shuu would never develop, much like how these sidekicks in rom-coms act as an icebreaker for the intended couple. The “love triangle” angle is a nice feint that tricks the audience into thinking there’s more to the story, but as far as I can tell it’s just a minor detail that’s proverbial icing on the formulaic cake that is the anime’s plot.
And I think that’s why most people seem to think that this is some radically different story. Any romantic comedy has to add bits and pieces to the overall picture in order to distinguish itself from every other cookie-cutter storyline. One of my all-time favorites is Romancing the Stone. While it has a plot dealing with Columbian drug lords and jewel thieves and all sorts of action tropes, at its heart the movie is a romantic comedy between Kathleen Turner’s stuck up city girl and Michael Douglas’ carefree scoundrel. They go through the motions and fall in love in the end, but the fact that some bullets fly and people get kidnapped doesn’t change the underlying formula at play. Change “Running away from South American criminals and rescuing your sister from them” into “I think I like the chick that’s helping my fiance plan our wedding” and you get The Wedding Planner, and if you change it into “I like jellyfish and I think I like that dude that doesn’t recognize me when I don’t have make-up on” and you get Kuragehime.
It’s all in the details, but said details say more about us as fans than it does about the series or movie in question. I think The Wedding Planner sucks, but that’s largely due to the details in question. I don’t give a damn about some regular dude falling in love with some chick that’s setting up his wedding, but I do care about a dude and a chick fighting drug lords and I do care about an otaku chick loving a stuffy virgin. And the fact that Romancing the Stone plays like an action movie and Kuragehime is animated add to the equation, but again, that says more about my inherent biases as someone that watches shit than it does about the basic formula at play.
Kuragehime plays by the same rules as every other rom-com, and that ain’t a bad thing in and of itself. It’s all about whether you dig on the minutiae.