Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Alpha Male and Optimistic Partner: Manga Does It Right

Marlo suffers more angst than his/her
boyfriend/husband but is still
fairly upbeat.
On my main blog, Votaries, I complain about the trope of marrying a tragic, alpha male to a tragic, alpha female.

I am a romance lover--shojo, yaoi, paperback romance, Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Loretta Chase, Princess Bride . . . I draw the line at ultra chick flicks (shoe shopping!) but even there, I'll make an exception.

A common character in paperback romances is the alpha alpha alpha male who must find a mate. As I state in the original post:
A number of romance writers end a series by marrying off the MOST alpha, MOST mysterious, MOST dark and dangerous, MOST masculine, MOST domineering male of the bunch. The idea is that finally the readers will learn about that glowering, monotone guy in the corner.

The problem with the MOST alpha, MOST mysterious, etc. etc. is the same problem that haunts the omniscient bad guy and that lurks behind the in-your-face-heroine. In order to be so very dark and dangerous and alpha and disturbed, the final male character is the kind of guy who should send up red flags to any reasonably sane woman [or man]. To a degree, the writers seem to know this, so they give Mr. Alpha Squared Plus a bride-to-be who is the MOST beautiful, the MOST fragile, the MOST desperate, the MOST needy, the MOST . . .
I go on to argue against this type of pairing. The result is always so . . . exhausting. In fact, it is best encapsulated by the Asami-Fei Long relationship as opposed to the Asami-Akihito relationship in Finder (I will address the issue of non-con in a separate post).

The Asami-Fei Long relationship would never have worked, even if that had been Asami's intention (which is doubtful) because two serious-minded, high-pressured mafia lords would require a series of serious-minded, high-pressured conversations followed by serious-minded, high-pressured breakups followed by serious-minded, high-pressured makeups. Everything would take place at a very "high" level--"Oh! Can I forgive you for destroying my family?!" (swoon, swoon) rather than "Will you pick me up because I'm drunk?" (see panel below).

An unnaturally non-sartorial Asami taking a call from
an unnaturally angsty drunk--but funny--Akihito, 
who apologizes in the next panel.
Such a serious-minded relationship reminds me of nearly every 20/30-something couple on television from Ross & Rachel on Friends to oh, everybody on One Tree Hill (I never watched One Tree Hill; my point is, I could probably pick any non-mystery television "drama" out of a hat and it would be filled with these tedious relationships). I cease to care after screaming match #1.

Manga, in comparison, is filled with serious-minded, semi-tragic alpha males who fall head over heels with bright, bold, insouciant, optimistic, irrepressible, and relatively normal (background-wise) partners (male or female).

For example, although the Asami-Akihito relationship is drawn and described (often) in seme-uke terms, the most consistent quality is how endlessly amusing Asami finds Akihito ("He jumped off a building. He's crazy."). In the "extra" story referenced above, although Akihito is drunk, Asami continues to take his calls (in a future post, I'll discuss why this "extra" is so good when so many manga short stories aren't).

Endless amusement can get condescending (one of the potential problems of pairing an alpha with a sweeter partner). And the difference in age certainly sets up opportunities for Asami to point out future hardships to his somewhat naive lover. But a repressible Akihito would bore Asami--consequently, his control never gets too tight (I'm speaking relatively). Asami is the type of person who likes to fix problems. Irrepressible Akihito gives him opportunities to do so.
Sweet-natured Nakai learns about art from his far
more cynical boyfriend: a filmmaker and an art
major, they met in college. This couple is also a
good example of giving romance characters jobs.

Akihito is, in sum, "a handful."

The other positive of irrepressible and amusing partners is their optimism. Asami is fundamentally a pragmatist. Although he tried to help Fei Long, that man's continual self-guilt, self-pity, self-doubt, and angst were clearly a drag on a successful conclusion/relationship.

In manga, the irrepressible, optimistic hero/heroine is almost always the opposite of "let's sit around and mull it over." They act! Mizuki of Hana-Kimi is a good example here. Akihito is another good example. In Volume 3 of Finder, Akihito betrays Asami's whereabouts to save his friends. When he insists on being taken to see Asami (who survived anyway), he says right out, "I'm the one who told the bad guys where you were." Asami's eyes light up. In a world of spying, skulking, lying, and manipulating, how often does anyone admit, "I did the thing that ticks you off. So what are you going to do about it?" (And isn't it refreshing in comparison to romance couples who keep "secrets" for twenty endless chapters/scenes?!)

American romance paperbacks occasionally get this pairing right (as I mention in the original post); manga gets it right surprisingly often.