You might say… the childhood friend trope is my childhood friend. Maybe.
This is the sixth of my entries into 2017’s rendition of the 12 Days of Anime aniblogger project. For more about the project, read appropriant’s introductory post. Please also check out the spreadsheet containing the work of all the bloggers participating!
The Romance of Non-Romance
In the Honeyworks film, I’ve Always Liked You, the childhood friend doesn’t so much win as carry the day with an overwhelming textual force. It’s as advertised on the tin, a romance from the perspective of a girl who has always liked her crush—her next door neighbor who was one-time childhood playmate and current-day object of affections. Spoilers: They get together at the end. They overcome the fearsome barrier that is the fear-of-what-might-be-lost, and begin to build something rather special in the sunset-streaked wake of the shift. But at the end of the film, the status quo is more or less restored—and thus is the true appeal of the childhood friend trope unveiled.
Childhood friends have been criticized as boring, overly convenient, and lacking in narrative interest. These are all assessments that may be true of individual executions, but fail to grasp the subtle brilliance that lies, intentionally or not, behind it all: the childhood friend romance is a non-romance, because the romantic work has already been done.
The critical paradigm shift between childhood friends—as I’ve Always Liked You makes clear—is not that two people have learned to love each other; rather, it is that two people who already love each other commit to an extension of that love. When Yuu “accepts” (lol) Natsuki’s offer to become her boyfriend, there is a sense of finality. They may very well have gotten married, because their now romantic relationship is not built on some fragile scaffolding of infatuation, but on the solid concrete of friendship.
Does this make sense? A childhood friendship that becomes a romantic coupling mimics a truer sort love than any fantasy with a glitzy newcomer can, emulating a healthy kind of romance founded on a relationship of deep-seated, habitual mutual care (see: Akagami no Shirayuki-hime) for each other. This is why Yuu’s genuine response to Natsuki’s feelings brings with it both a sense of relief and fails to result in a meaningful change in their daily lives. The film concludes with Natsuki waking Yuu up, just as she has always done—and you get the sense they will continue to do this for the rest of their lives.
In short, this film was pure fanservice for someone like me who is so fond of the childhood friend trope. It takes the usual pining of the childhood friend character, desperately desiring the boy or girl who has eyes of love for them but eyes of romance only for others, and fulfills it in a way that acknowledges the value of the long-standing friendship that resides at the core of the trope. It captures the essence of the true conflict, the agony of uncertainty and the “certainty” of loss should the affection go unreciprocated when voiced. In short, the childhood friend may be convenient as a trope, but when taken seriously it contains more than its fair share of validity.
Oh? What does this have to do with color and discovering my own tastes? Sometimes, if you chase after a trope you’re fond of long enough, you’ll be rewarded with an iteration of it that gives you the potential you’ve always seen in it. From experience, let me say—it’s a pretty good feeling.
A continuation: Are there any “wish-fulfillment” anime tropes that you have a particular affection for that goes beyond their pandering aspects?