Right, not best

March 28, 2014

Stories are wonderful; they teach us how to be human. One of the ways they do this is by teaching us how to step into the shoes of another person, to be empathetic. But one place I often see people failing to be empathetic about fiction is when romantic relationships are involved.

This is most obvious in anime, where a character will often have multiple romantic options (harems, love triangles, etc). Take Golden Time – many people were annoyed with Banri because he picked Koko over Linda, who was thought to be the “best girl”.

If I were the protagonist, I would pick Linda. I feel like I would get along much better with her, and she’s more my type of girl. But what does my opinion matter? I’m not the main character. Banri is. For Banri, Koko is the better fit. She’s the right choice, even if she’s not the best.

This reminds me of Sakurasou, where many people thought Nanami was the better girl. Once again, fair enough – Nanami is great. But is she better for Sorata than Mashiro? I would argue no. Then there was Amagami SS, where many people picked their favorite girl based on who they liked, while I focused on the one who fit best with Junichi (Kaoru, obviously).

This is not confined to just romantic relationship. It extends to many things – when a character makes a stupid (but believable) decision, when they fail even though the right choice was so clear, when they choose pride over victory, or undercut themselves when happiness is so near. Readers don’t always focus on what is right and appropriate for the character in question, but rather on what they would do.

And I’m guilty of this as well. It’s natural, wanting the characters in our stories to be better than us, or at least as wise as we are. But we have an advantage. We’re looking in from the outside, and it’s always easier to see the solution when you’re detached, and don’t have to actually implement it.

Don’t look for the best girl, or the best solution, or the best outcome. Look for the right one, the one the character in question would pick if they were themselves. After all, they are. That will give you the most natural story, and it will be all the better for it.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    While Nanami was a lot more shipping, though, I don’t think either choice would have been wrong for Sorata, to me Linda v Koko wasn’t an issue of what felt right to me v right for Banri. I agree 100% with Guardian Enzo that the story was a lot more compelling when Banri and Linda were together than when Banri and Koko were together.

    The elements of a story that hooks me were there in the Linda plot line. In Golden Time’s case, I feel the writer missed out on reaching me, the one who indulges in the story he is entertaining me with, by ignoring a pathway that lead to a lot of interesting things and focused on a relationship that struck me as fake and uninteresting.

    On one hand, you have all the issues of the past that Banri essentially ran away from by story’s end. On the other hand you have a relationship that seems fake and yet survived all this turmoil from a poor usage of amnesia not from a natural progression of relationship but from plot armor.

    TL;DR: I don’t think it’s an issue with what’s right for Banri. IMO, the natural progression of the story felt it demanded that it end with a resolution with Linda, and the writer forced the story into an unnatural progression, which made me feel uncomfortable and take to the twitterverse shredding it to pieces.

    And in my opinion, Kokou never really developed as a character at all, which made it more unsettling that the loser got more development than the winner.

    The whole show was rift with a lot of avoidable flaws that really watered down the product. Supposedly the adaptation also took a different approach to its focus than the actual light novel.

    I was really disappointed, because I was thoroughly enjoying the show half-way through the series.

    1. Reply


      I disagree; the natural progression of the story led to Koko. If it didn’t end for her, well over half of the series would have been completely wasted on pursuing a dead end love interest. Everything was geared towards a Koko End, where Linda was the wrench in the works.

      I’m not going to argue that the story was perfectly well done, mind you; it was hella flawed in both execution and premise (the amnesia schtick was implemented very haphazardly). I don’t see how Linda was the more natural progression though.

      Side note: A lot of your comment was focused on what was entertaining to you, what the story didn’t do for you, what would have been more interesting to you. Beware of that. The story was not yours or mine, it was Takemiya Yuyuko’s; she just decided to share it with us. You’re absolutely allowed to criticize it or dislike it or not buy it, but you – or I, though I do this on occasion as well – don’t get to tell her how her story ought to be. It’s hers, and we’re just along for the ride.

      1. Reply


        How else am I supposed to offer my critique if I can’t describe my thoughts and feelings on the show? You’re right, it’s not my story. But once it’s out in the public forum, which is the purpose of artwork and writing mind you, any and all criticism is fair game. If Takemiya Yuyuko doesn’t like the criticism, then why did she offer her story to the public in the first place?

        My comments are fair game, as are yours. And my opinion is that it was wrong to give such focus to Koko, a character who received no development, and make the compelling character with serious problems a mere wrench in a love triangle. Maybe Koko is where Yuyuko-san spent her energies on, but I fail to see how it’s natural.

        You yourself seemed to think the same thoughts on Oreimo, if I’m not mistaken. Well, those are my exact thoughts on the progression of the story. To me, Linda was to Kuroneko as Koko was to Kirino. It made sense for Kyousuke to end up with Kuroneko, because Kyousuke loved Kuroneko and vice versa and Kirino needed to learn not to be such a terrible and selfish person. In the end, Kirino’s selfishness wins out anyways and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

        In the same vain, I never once changed my impression of Kokou as a psychotic, selfish, violent, and clingy girl whose only purpose in life was to hover around a boyfriend 24/7. Meanwhile Linda clearly was troubled by her habitual problems of dealing with others, something she could lean on Banri for help, until Banri was nearly killed and left without his memories. The story of Banri’s past that the writer developed, to me, was more compelling and an issue that would have made a more powerful narrative. The main goal of the writer is to come up with the most powerful narrative for their target audience, correct?

        Watching Koko have her way with Banri to satisfy her condition, never changing, and, for lack of a better phrase, NTR’ing him in a sense, wasn’t compelling. That’s my criticism of this show.

        And I don’t believe the direction of the story actually taken is always the natural direction. It was the direction chosen. To me, the natural direction is the one where instead of running away from your entire past of 18-19 years in favor of 2 semesters of college and a girl you’ve known for less than a year, you come to terms with your past and go back to the commitment you had prior with the girl whom you clearly loved and whom clearly loved you.

        Again, that’s my criticism of this show and where it went wrong. Neither you nor Takemiya Yuyuko are obligated to heed it.

        1. Stilts

          Oh yes, I admitted as much that I’ve fallen into this trap plenty of times. I’m not perfect, I’m just trying my best to get there. (Spoiler alert: I’ll never make it, and that’s okay.)

          My point was rather than say “This didn’t work for me because ______”, your criticisms were more egocentric in nature. (That’s not an insult. We all do it.) In fact, they would have been largely the same – this didn’t work for me because I found Linda to be more interesting, etc. – but because you said things like:

          “…I feel the writer missed out on reaching me, the one who indulges in the story he is entertaining me with…”

          …it sounded like you were focusing on what you get out of the story – what you’re “owed” – rather than the experience of it.

          I’m reminded of the Community episode I watched just earlier, where in a D&D game a character says that Abed (the dungeon master) owes them a resolution, and Abed denies them it because it wouldn’t have made sense within the bounds of his world. Takemiya-sensei doesn’t owe us anything, though we get to criticize and stop buying her stuff if we want to.

          By the way, your criticisms were more measured in your most recent reply.

          Honestly, feel free to ignore my point. It’s a thin line, and it’s more clear to me because I stand on both sides – when I throw on the author’s hat, I feel the need to jump to another author’s defense in the expectation (hope!) that I’ll be there one day. All your criticisms are valid – and in fact, I think going a Linda route, or making a Linda route more likely + developing Koko a lot more, would have made for a more interesting story – I just don’t happen to agree that the story, as told, should have led that way. The Koko End was clear as day to me from early on.

          And on OreImo, my complaint was that they pulled the punch on the Kirino End, not that she was the end girl. As with Koko, that was the clear end all the time. They just got a nice case of executive meddling which screwed up doing the story they wanted to do properly. I would have preferred another story – Kuroneko, whyyyy!! – but once again, it’s not my story to tell. I was annoyed because they chickened out from telling the story they were trying to tell all the way. That’s a little different.

        2. J_the_Man

          I’m not talking about anything I’m owed. I’m owed nothing by the author. But what any author tries to do is to give the reader/viewer/indulger a great experience. But in my own subjective opinion (And let’s be honest, all criticisms in the world of media are going to be subjective. Objectivity is only a concept in the media biz for all intents and purposes), I did not think I was given a product that I could enjoy.

          I wasn’t paid to watch the show. The author wasn’t doing me any favors she owed me. I, of my own free will, decided that this author was offering something interesting and I spent time to indulge in her story. And I did not take away a good experience. And I am unapologetically being selfish in my criticism, I understand that. I’m different from you, in that I feel there’s a certain path a writer must take in their stories when they form their stories.

          I don’t like it when they stray from that path and do something different without a proper transition. You seem perfectly fine with whatever the author does.

          The author doesn’t have to care what I say. All I’m saying is, In my opinion, there are things the author can do differently next time to make it a good story in my eyes.

        3. Stilts

          I really don’t get what you mean when you say there’s a “certain path” authors must take. So there’s only one path for a certain story to be good? Certainly there are ways that some stories could be better – there are roads that are stronger than others – and there are definitely times when authors could have done better with the path they chose – execution and all – but I don’t understand there being a “proper path a writer must take”.

          For the record, I’m not fine with whatever an author does. There are times when they could have taken another path and I would have liked it better, or executed better. (And sometimes when they do something repulsive to my morals or philosophy of life, though that’s another matter entirely.) I merely try to judge stories on whether they did what they were setting out to do well, not on whether they were what I wanted them to be.

          (Side note: Once again, I’m not perfect. I raged at SAO for a long time for not being the MMORPG story I wanted it to be, until I realized it was really a traditional fantasy with MMO trappings. Doesn’t make it great, but at least I’m judging it based on what it is now.)

          If someone is trying to write a light-hearted romantic comedy, I don’t judge them for not giving a serious treatment to deep, dark themes. That’s silly. There’s no “proper story”, just the story they set out to tell, and the (arguable, certainly) fact of whether they told it well or not.

          This isn’t science. There is no right answer. There’s just the answer you come up with, and whether it works for enough people for you [the author] to consider it successful. That’s a sort of rightness, but it too is a subjective one.

  2. Reply


    Look for the right one, the one the character in question would pick if they were themselves. After all, they are. That will give you the most natural story, and it will be all the better for it.

    That I completely endorse. Unless the character is based upon the author, the most natural (and thus best) story is to go with the girl/guy who the character would ultimately pick if said character was a RL person. Love is an emotion, not a logical, scientific process.

    In Sakurasou, Sorata always paid more attention to Mashiro compared to Nanami. How long was he friends with Nanami, yet never took, or perhaps never even thought about, the next step? Compared to Mashiro, Nanami seemed in Sorata’s “friend zone” from my perspective. Therefore, I think Sorata x Mashiro is the better, more natural pairing for the story, even though I’d probably pick Nanami if I was choosing who to pair with Sorata.

    As for Golden Time… Sorry, but IMO that show is not a good example of how to write a romantic story. JMO of course.

    Your comment reminds me of recent discussion on RC for the last episode of Strike the Blood where it was speculated (again, pure speculation) that the author is pushing Himeragi to the forefront at the expense of the rest of the “harem”. Himeragi may very well be the “right girl” for Kojou, but by conspicuously highlighting her role as THE heroine/THE “best girl”, some readers/viewers may get the impression of a forced agenda rather than a natural progression of the story.

    It may also create some backlash among fans who find their favorite waifu (i.e. not Himeragi in this example) pushed further and further into the background. Point of this is that a “natural story” is just that – no need to force things in a heavy-handed manner even if (as the speculation goes) one or more side characters turnout to be more popular with fans than your predesignated “best/right” girl for the ML. The “right girl” doesn’t have to always be the most popular one among fans.

    This is not confined to just romantic relationship. It extends to many things…

    Yep, agree completely as well. I would also add that if the characters always make the right decision, they would seem unnatural – less “human”. People make mistakes, and the best characters IMO are those that make a few as well. That’ being said, IMO authors need to actively guard against going too far the other way. Overly stupid characters get annoying fast, especially in cases of plot advancement by stupidity.

    1. Reply


      I can only read about half of your comment because I’m 12 episodes behind on Strike the Blood – a massive marathon is coming up soon – but yeah, Golden Time isn’t the best. Sakurasou and others were better examples, they just weren’t the ones that happened to inspire this post at this time.

      1. Reply


        That’s fine, though I really didn’t give any spoilers per se about StB. Still, probably beneficial to watch the entire series. If/when you get around to it, I’m interested in your thoughts on the matter (specifically if you noticed the same thing), but if you’re too busy with other stuff, I understand.

        As for GT, in retrospect, I probably should have left out that short comment altogether. I deleted the bulk of my original comment for that series before posting, and what’s left isn’t all that relevant.

        I do, however, understand why GT’s end might motivate you to post on this topic since there seemed to be a lot of viewer outrage over Banri’s choice from what I’ve seen.

        Oh, if you don’t mind, a last ditch appeal for you to cover Mahouka on RC. 😀 I’d honestly be surprised if you didn’t like it, especially if you go in with “moderate” expectations. You might even get something out of it from an author’s stand point. Just keep in mind that there is a lot of background info to learn (there are 3 very short videos out already on some of that stuff), and it takes a while for the story to full set up.


        1. Stilts

          I’ll get to StB eventually! I enjoyed it, it’s just like you said, I’ve been busy. It’ll sit on my desktop & annoy me until I get to it, lol.

          And I’ll at least be introing Mahouka on RC. I really don’t like to blog shows on Saturday, much less 2-cour ones – Log Horizon was an exception – but full contact magic is SO in my wheelhouse. I have to at least give it a shot.

  3. Reply


    If I could clarify, there isn’t only one way to write a certain story. The author can come up with any kind of ending and in some sense create whatever way the want to reach that conclusion to their story. But when I say “The natural flow” of the story, I’m talking about the causes and effects of all the little and not so little events occurring inside the story. How are they leading up to your conclusion?

    For example, in Oreimo the author wanted a Kirino ending. But then she made Kyousuke fall in love with Kuroneko. So from there you could go either way. If you wanted a Kirino end, though, you have to get Kuroneko out of the picture. Instead of letting the story naturally flow, the author commits an ass pull by conveniently removing Kuroneko from the equation by having her move away and transferring out of school. Essentially, the author back-tracked out of the dilemma that was created.

    Or Golden Time. You’re shooting for a Koko end. At the end of the halfway point, Banri was really wavering between Koko and Linda. Again, you’re at a crossroads where either path is viable. Both sides received development, though Linda arguably received a whole lot more. But after the auto-accident, Linda is basically pocket vetoed, Banri abruptly stops wavering as if nothing had happened before, Ghost Banri completely disappears from the face of the surface after cursing Banri for neglecting his feelings for Linda, and Koko still doesn’t really receive any development.

    I get the author has an ending in mind in this instance, but they basically through the other side they happened to develop right under the bus rather than trying to come up with an appropriate conclusion for it.

    In those instances, you have an ending in mind, but certain events that take place in the story complicates reaching that conclusion. In both places the righter employed an ass pull or just ignored what they wrote earlier in order to get back to where they wanted to be.

    In essence, they cheated rather than trying to resolve the conflicts.. It just so happens I liked the other possible routes.

    1. Reply


      That makes more sense. It’s not that there’s only a certain path they can take – the options are wide open – it’s that at a certain point only one path makes sense (or one does not make sense). That’s usually fixable, but it takes hard work, and that’s work the writer isn’t always willing to put in.

      Trust me, been there. It’s a lot of work.

      There’s a simple way to refer to this, though – you don’t like it when an author writes themselves into a corner and then doesn’t properly write their way out. I feel you, and agree. Such lazy tactics should be avoided. I aim to avoid them myself.

  4. Reply


    My problem with Koko/Banri is that it a)comes out of nowhere. Love at first sight? He barely knows her and vice versa. His relationship with her is also predicated on a threat: “If you don’t become my girlfriend I’ll never see you again”. He has a long history with Linda and, yet when he recovers his memories, he winds up with Koko. Except for Koko being a beauty there never was any chemistry IMO.

    Why Nanami and Sorata? Because they are equals striving to make something of themselves. As Sorata even acknowledged, he can never catch up to Mashiro. He will always be out of her league. Compare Sakuarsou to Honey and Clover in that regard. The latter ending is more true to the reality of the situation in RL. Having Mashiro moving on would have been a much more satisfying and poignant ending where both she and Sorata learned from their experiences with people outside of their normal surroundings. Doesn’t even have to be a Nanami and Sorata ending, just that the Mashiro/Sorata ending appears forced just as the Koko/Banri end did to me.

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