Monday, September 26, 2011

The Unlucky Childhood Friend

Being 2nd place sucks, doesn't it? Especially when
you lose to someone who just arrived late to the party.
There are many different anime and manga romance series out there. Many of those series seem to have a similar character, the unlucky childhood friend. I say that this person is unlucky because odds are very high that this person will not get their childhood friend to fall in love with them. It normally develops as a one-sided relationship where someone has unrequited love for someone else. This character type is not limited to anime; it is actually a very common case in real life. On the receiving end of “unlucky childhood friend” myself; I can say it from experience. It is commonplace for anime and manga to put the childhood friend at a competitive disadvantage. Why does it happen? I will also explore how some characters are able to break this evil curse.

Just imagine this; you have been with your friend of the opposite sex since childhood. You know everything about then and you are willing to accept the person’s faults, regardless of who they are. That gives you a competitive advantage, right? In real life and in the medium of anime and manga the answer is no. This is explained by the Edward Westermarck in a psychological theory known as the “Westermarck Effect.” In short, Edward Westermarck argues that people close to each in the first couple of years of life will desensitize romance and future sexual attraction. In many anime and manga series, you see countless examples of how a childhood friend falls in love with the other, but the love is never reciprocated. That is because the childhood friend is viewed as a sibling and thus the relation is purely platonic, not romantic.

Starting to notice a trend here?
There are some series that break this character type, and they have a few things in common. First, the lead character meets this person and has a romantic attraction to them when first meeting them during adolescence or afterward. Second, a common characteristic that challenges this character type is that the lead character doesn’t remember that this person is a childhood friend. The lead character cannot view their main love interest as a “sibling” if they don’t even remember anything about them in the past. Normally, once the realization that they have met before occurs, there is already a romantic dynamic between the characters. The final reason is the most important, because the couple just looks good together. If the story was written well, the relationship should be believable and relatable.

The childhood friend in many instances
is the best girl in the storyline.
In an anime or manga, the childhood friend still represents an important role in the series. In many instances they will not win over the love of the protagonist. They spice up the character dynamic because they would prove to be a formidable rival to the real romantic interest since there is a history between the childhood friend and the lead character. The childhood friend represents the past, of a more innocent time. Yet the childhood friend also represents a bridge from childhood to adulthood. The childhood friend is the transition for the protagonist to accept the responsibilities of being a responsible adult. The childhood friend is also there to relate to the reader, to humanize the relationship between two characters. While the childhood friend almost never wins, they represent an important role in the story that cannot be replaced.

(Originally Posted in Inside AX)

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