When it comes to anime, we often focus on the main characters. It makes sense. They are the most important people in the story. They’re generally what the whole plot is built around, or at least the main actors that convey that plot. I’ve already talked about them here quite a bit.
Characters are one of the building blocks of any story, so it stands to reason that the most important ones would be discussed the most. But that doesn’t mean we should forget about side characters. They can, and often do, matter just as much.
This post was inspired by an anime airing this season you might have heard of called My Senpai is Annoying. It’s a rom-com with a somewhat misleading title, or at least it doesn’t matter as much as you’d think. It’s mostly just an office romance story about a really short, timid girl, and a really loud, big guy.
I bring this up because the most popular couple/ship in that series isn’t even Igarashi and her annoying senpai. It’s the relationship slowly developing between two of their coworkers, Sakurai and Kazama.
This isn’t at all because the main couple isn’t interesting. They have all the making of a very popular relationship. Both are likable people on their own. They have interactions that will warm your heart, there’s a little bit of teasing and cute blushing from Igarashi, they have the size difference, which people always seem to enjoy. They have it all.
Yet Sakura and Kazama, two side characters who only have a few minutes dedicated to them per episode, are somehow far more popular than the focal couple of this romance anime, despite having all the makings of a fan favorite.
And as I was thinking about this, I realized this isn’t exactly a new thing either. Just a few seasons ago, we had another romance anime with strong side character relationships called Horimiya. Horimiya, unlike Annoying Senpai, doesn’t really have a draw. It’s just a cute romance, but one that also has a lot going on in the background.
For as much as I liked Hori and Miyamura, the couple I was probably invested in the most was Sengoku and Ayasaki. I found them to be incredibly wholesome in a series that was already pretty damn wholesome to begin with. Yoshikawa and Ishikawa have probably the most drama in the whole series, and they’re not even the main characters.
It’s not as if side characters can’t be popular. Depending on who you ask, side characters can be more endearing than the main cast. But in this case, things are a little different. We’re talking about side romances in a romance anime, being more beloved than the actual romance the series is supposed to focus on. In Horimiya, I wouldn’t say the romances are more beloved than the focal couple, but they’re still very present, and that fact is certainly true for Annoying Senpai.
So I wanted to think about why this could be for a little bit, but more importantly, I hope to open up a discussion about this because I think it’s pretty interesting, albeit a bit anti-climatic.
What do we like about the couples we watch? A lot of different things. We can like how they complement each other. We can like how they cause each other to grow. We can like the chemistry between them. We can like the drama. We can like the realism of their relationship. Any number of things, but ultimately, what I get the most joy out of is a combination of all of those mixed with their gosh darn cute interactions.
Taiga and Ryuji from Toradora? Yeah, they showcase how not knowing what you want in life can destroy the people you care about with your unhealthy relationship, but they also have some pretty damn cute scenes together. Tomoya and Nagisa from Clannad, yeah, they kill me from the inside out, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t cute as hell! You get my point.
The point of watching these couples in the first place is to see these two people join their lives, find happiness together, and watch all the interactions unfold. At least, that’s how it is for me. It’s about rooting for these two people to overcome every obstacle and get together or sort through their problems so they can stay together. It’s about love and being in love, and it’s wholesome as heck.
Seeing the focal couple in love and happy together is like a reward for all the hardships they’ve likely endured to get to that point. It feels great! Or you can just skip all of that and get right to the good stuff. That actually works too. Look at Sakurai and Kazama. Little to no drama anywhere in sight. Just two cute, adorable people who have feelings developing between them. No struggle. No drama. Nothing. Just happiness.
Big Senpai and Little Igarashi still have plenty of cute moments. Basically, every episode has like two or three, but it still never goes anywhere. You know it won’t either. Do you really think they’ll get together? Of course not. If they did, the series would end. That’s why a lot of main “couples” end up not getting together. There’d be no way to continue the series in its current state. It would have to change.
Some series manage that. Clannad does it wonderfully. Chunibyou manages to handle the relationship without altering it too much, which is, I think, my preferred way. But if your series is about two people falling in love, something has to change once falling in love isn’t the point anymore. For Annoying Senpai, you know if they ever did get together, it would be at the end of chapter 453 or something absurd like that.
So while they are cute as heck, you know nothing will actually go anywhere. Meanwhile, Sakurai and Kazama hold no real sway as far as the main plotline goes. They can do whatever the hell they want. They can fawn over each other constantly. Confess. Hell, they could get married and have kids, and the plot could stay the same.
They’re the side characters that do their part to influence the plot, but what they do in their spare time doesn’t matter. They can be as cute as they want, and we love to see that.
While I do love watching the struggle to find and keep love, sometimes it’s just nice to watch a relationship slowly develop without the need for any conflict to stop it. Sure, that can seem pretty basic, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It doesn’t need a draw if they aren’t the main focus of the show.
Of course, Horimiya showed us that not all romance series need a “draw” in the first place. They were able to show a pretty normal love story, and it was ridiculously popular. Maybe it’s time we simplify the genre again.
We don’t need all these bells and whistles or strings attached. We just want to see cute shows about cute people who become cute couples that do cute things. That’s all we heckin want.
Of course, not every romance series should be like that. I love my complicated romance as much as the next guy, but I do believe there’s a spot for more simple romances, and I believe the popularity of Sakurai, Kazama, and Horimiya showcase that.
Am I just pushing my wishes on everyone else? Am I just trying to manipulate everyone into believing what I want? I don’t know. Maybe. I just know I love me some Sakurai and Kazama, Annoying Senpai be damned.
Thank you very much for reading
Why do you think these side characters could be so popular?