The Failure of the Soap Opera Romance in Manga and Other Mediums

I mention in an earlier post that it helps a shōjo manga if the characters have jobs. I've decided that, at least for me, it also helps if there are actual difficulties for the romance characters to overcome.

In Library Wars, Kasahara has to give
up her memory of the perfect guy
and deal with (grouchy) Dojo as he is.
She learns to do this as they work together.
This criterion creates an instant conundrum because I despise the soap opera romance, where the difficulties explode across every page to the utter disbelief of even the most accepting of readers.

So romance ("luv") by itself shouldn't run the story but neither should the crazy events (she had his baby, then he lost his mind, then his long-lost sister with whom he has an incestuous relationship returned after which the heroine was kidnapped by a wealthy motel owner . . .)

On the OTHER hand, I find Tail of the Moon--with its constant adventures--immensely charming. In fact, most manga series rely on continual external problems for their middle books. (And some manga writers are so good at continual problems, their series' endings fall a little flat.)

So, what's the difference (and I maintain there is one) between the romance run by a good problem and the soap opera romance run by (rolling my eyes) complications?

I think the difference is a direct heir of the "characters needing jobs" motif. The soap opera romance is run by whether or not the couple will fall into bed this time and is less effective (in my eyes) than the romance which is run by how the characters get along as they tackle a specific problem.

The falling into bed may happen in the better type of romance/manga, and it may even be the point, but it will take place within a context that allows the characters to bond and grow, not simply shriek, "You never told me that your long-lost father is my uncle!" Castle rightly determined that simply keeping the relationship unconsummated by increasingly manufactured interferences was rather pointless, especially since the consummated relationship offered far more story potential.

I've said it before. I'll say it again: no one did "romance
while a story is going on" better than Mulder and Scully.
We'll have to see if they can pull it off again.
Now the unconsummated romance of Darcy and Elizabeth IS the point of Pride & Prejudice but the issue on the table is not whether or not Darcy and Elizabeth will be kept apart forever (oh no, Lady Catherine de Bourgh just burnt down the Bennetts' house!). To an extent, their union is a given. The question is HOW Darcy and Elizabeth will come to understand each other as they tackle balls and errant sisters.

Increasingly bizarre and wild complications that separate a couple are far less satisfying than increasing understanding between two characters who face a single obstacle together. Such an approach also convinces the reader that the characters will survive as a couple. All the soap opera approach does is convince one, "Man, that relationship is doomed."


FreeLiverFree said...

Hello first time I've posted here.

I've noticed that the romances in fiction I really get into are the ones in books and tv shows that are not primarily about romance. However, if it is about something else I can get really involved (assuming it's well written.) There are two reasons for it:

A. I'm a guy.

B. As you point out, it's more interesting to see characters fall in love and began to understand while say solving a murder than a story about romance that has increasingly ridiculous complications.

The X-files is a good example because I watched for the monsters and the mysteries (which the writers messed up since they did not come up solutions to the mysteries before hand.) I was fairly involved with the Mulder and Scully romance (though unlike some fans that was never my main interest in the show) because it involved actual character growth. It's not enough that two people fall in love.

Let me put it this way.

A plot could be about a person committing murder. But a story which a person just goes and commits murder is not going to be interesting. A story about why the person does will be is interesting. (There is also about how he does it and how he gets caught or gets away, but I digress...) Ones a random scene of violence. The other is Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

A story where two people just fall in love isn't very interesting. A story about why they do or how they do is.

Katherine Woodbury said...

I agree! I recently skimmed through an anthology of romance fiction and came to the conclusion that paranormal romances all have the same problem possibly for the same reason: they concentrate too much on the romance, not enough on the story.

Regency romances, on the other hand, have a better chance of producing story, not just a series of romantic scenes.

I think one reason is that Regency romances depend on how the characters handle the rules of society (hopefully in a clever manner). The "how" reveals the characters' personalities, values, capacities for growth--by the end, the romance will (hopefully) appear as inevitable to the readers as it did to the writer.

Paranormal romances, on the other hand, utilize fantasy settings but often fail to supply consistent rules. There should be rules (good fantasy depends on an internal consistency)! But unlike with Regency romances, paranormal romances don't come with an automatic set of historical-based rules (rules in fantasy have to be created which is, admittedly, difficult).

Unfortunately, the end result is two-angels-or-demons-or-vampires-or-magically-gifted-individuals-who-fall-in-love-for-who-knows-what-reason. There are no rules for the characters to accept or scorn or outmaneuver or change or overcome. Consequently, there's no "show" to convince the reader that the characters belong together in the first (or last) place. ("They're hot" is simply not a good enough reason.)

I agree about Mulder and Scully. They thankfully never descended into Moonlighting territory: the "will they/won't they?" issue was completely irrelevant. In many ways, they were already a couple working towards a common goal (ah, the job!). How they managed in that endeavor was the whole point.

FreeLiverFree said...

I think that the Mulder and Scully relationship was the one part of the X-files that did not suffer in the later seasons.

As I said, I don't read much pure romance. Jane Austen seems to be the exception for much the reason you said. There are other reasons. Austen avoids the cliches that always bug me. People do not fall in love at first sight in her novels. The good looking bad boy does not magically redeem himself et cetera. There are probably ways to make those cliches work, but usually they don't work.

Most of the great romances weren't even really about falling in love. Pride and Prejudice is as much about not judging people on first impressions than anything. Romeo and Juliet is about the futility of the cycle of vengeance.

Katherine Woodbury said...

I have watched (and own) Seasons 1-6 of The X-Files. I intend (one of these days!) to watch Seasons 7-9. I admit, however, that I lost interest when Season 6--which includes some of my favorite episodes--introduced the new or rebel aliens. To me, The X-Files aliens were always supposed to be mysterious, in the shadows, dangerous and incalculable. Suddenly giving the aliens some kind of real story ruined that for me. (I usually prefer my villains to have a face, just not in this case.)

FreeLiverFree said...

It was after 6 that the X-files really went down hill. I don't quite remember how I reacted to the rebel aliens. It's been awhile.