In anime, it sometimes feels like every series (especially if it’s set in high school) features an episode about Valentine’s Day – that day when boxes of chocolate and teary-eyed confessions of love run rampant in a blur of fluttering emotions. And so, as couples around the world prepare to celebrate the wonders of love with their romantic partners through candlelit dinners, red roses, and heart-shaped chocolates, what exactly goes on in Japan?
Valentine’s Day is not a holiday native to Japan, having origins as an early Christian saint with accounts tied to the Roman Empire. Instead, it was imported to Japan in the 1930’s, most notably by the Japanese confectionary company, Morozoff Ltd. in 1936 in an advertisement directed at foreigners. In 1953, the same company ran a campaign promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates, and from there, other confectionary companies joined in, popularizing Valentine’s Day by the 1960’s.
Today, Valentine’s Day is a big deal that makes big money for chocolate companies in Japan, with half their annual sales made during this time!
If anime is any indication, Valentine’s Day in Japan is all about chocolate: how much to give, what kind, to whom, what kind of wrapping, is it store bought or made by hand…. And, unlike other parts of the world where fancy dinners, bouquets of red roses, greeting cards, and other gifts are the order of the day, generally on the onus of the man, Valentine’s Day is not the year’s ultimate date night (that’s reserved for Christmas Eve!).
Instead, it is customary for only women to give chocolates to men (a tradition derived from a translation error during the initial campaigns!)… and while that sounds pretty simple (hey, it’s just chocolates!), high school anime romances indicate that it’s a lot more complicated than that!
First off, there are several “classes” that the giving of chocolates can fall under:
Obligation chocolate (giri-choko): since many women can feel obliged or pressured to give chocolates to those who are neither friends nor loved ones, particularly with regards to male co-workers, obligation chocolate is given instead. It’s generally of a lower quality than the other chocolate types. Ultra obligatory chocolates (chou-giri-choko) is given to unpopular co-workers, usually consisting of cheap chocolate.
Favourite chocolate (honmei-choko): presented to a loved one, generally of a higher quality than obligation chocolate. Confess to the person you love with this! Bonus points for handmade chocolates… (Examples: Kimi ni Todoke, Amagami SS, The Wallflower…)
Friend chocolate (tomo-choko): exchanged amongst friends, particularly between girls. (Examples: K-On!! and Yuru Yuri)
And second, as if trying to figure out what “class” of chocolate to give someone wasn’t bad enough, Valentine’s Day happens to be the preferred day for confessions! No wonder everyone in anime is always stressing out over chocolate…
10 Feel-Good Romantic Anime:
Since it’s Valentine’s Day, so how about some anime that will make your heartbeat quicken and bring a smile to your face? Here are 10 of my top feel-good romantic anime, in no particular order… What’s your favourite?
Whisper of the Heart
One of my favourite anime movies of all time, Whisper of the Heart is a sweet and heartwarming story about growing up, finding one’s self, and learning about love. Produced by the infamous Studio Ghibli, directed by Kondo Yoshifumi, and written by Miyazaki Hayao, this movie follows 14-year-old Tsukishima Shizuka, a generally bored and aimless bookworm who one day runs into a cat on a subway, an antique store, and a violin-making boy. Inspiring and wonderfully human, this movie breathes life into the ordinary.
Tastes like…. Classic chocolate chip cookies: balanced and ordinary, but leaves you feeling entirely satisfied and content with a touch of nostalgia…
Kimi ni Todoke
You know that fluttering in the pit of your stomach that happens when you experience something sweet and romantic? (it’s not just me, is it?) Well, this anime throws that feeling at you in spades! There’s a lot of quiet moments and thoughtful pauses in this anime that make your heart quicken right alongside our heroine, Sawako, a girl everyone shies away from due to her resemblance to Sadako from The Ring. Kimi ni Todoke is as much about Sawako’s budding and mutual affection for a certain Kazehaya, a popular boy in her class, as it is about her making friends and having her classmates finally take the time to understand her. The romance is woven throughout the series, as Sawako takes small and earnest steps towards building relationships with others, without ever losing sight of herself.
Tastes like…. Fluffy whipped chocolate mousse: soft, gentle, and meltingly sweet…
When the eccentric and messy but brilliant pianist, Nodame, falls in love at first sight with the disciplined and arrogant conductor, Chiaki, opposites clash in a flurry of classical music and slapstick comedy. While the romance is gradually developed over the course of the entire series, I really feel like it’s just the icing on the cake compared to how much both Nodame and Chiaki develop as individuals through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Unlike a lot of other anime, this is set in college, so it’s entirely refreshing to have a series focus on adult relationships. I highly recommend the manga and live action drama as well!
Tastes like…. Sachertorte (Viennese chocolate cake with apricot jam): rich but playfully sweet…
Vision of Escaflowne
This fantasy mech anime at first seems like a typical “girl gets transported to a strange world” scenario, but quickly develops into a roaring adventure full of fortune telling, sword fighting, and of course, a love story that spans the vast distance between worlds. It’s not totally happy-go-lucky, but the romance is still great. It begins when Hitomi, a quiet high schooler on the track team, gets transported to Gaea, a mysterious world where the Earth hangs in the sky in place of the moon. Along with Van, the king of the peaceful country of Fanelia, they are drawn into a war against the Zaibach Empire. With a rousing and memorable orchestral soundtrack (involving Yoko Kanno, Maaya Sakamoto, and Hajime Mizoguchi), some great mech designs, fast pacing, and a varied cast of characters, Vision of Escaflowne is really an unforgettable story woven with an unforgettable romance.
Tastes like…. chocolate lava cake: rich, dark, and more than meets the eye…
The Place Promised in our Early Days
A beautifully animated film by Shinkai Makoto that is accompanied by an ethereal and nostalgic soundtrack by Tenmon, The Place Promised in our Early Days is one of my favourite Shinkai films (my favourite being Voices of a Distant Star, which is romantic as well, but not quite as feel-good). Set in an alternate universe that is remarkably close to our present, three young friends decide to build a plane and fly to see the massive and mysterious tower that looms upon the horizon. Their summer days are filled with dreams of the future until Sayuri, the lone girl of the trio, begins experiencing a sleeping sickness where she dreams of a strange and lonely world. When she’s taken to Tokyo for further treatment, their plans are left unfulfilled. Years later, the three cross paths again when the two boys discover Sayuri has been in a coma since they parted ways, and they resolve to find a way to revive her…. but how are her strange dreams connected to the mysterious tower?
Tastes like…. a hot fudge sundae: hot and cold and tantalizingly sweet all at the same time…
Uchuu no Stellvia
Spaceships, humanity-destroying catastrophes, and middle school clash in Uchuu no Stellvia to produce not only a great-slice-of-life meets sci-fi space adventure, but also an innocent and lovely romance that plays out throughout the series. Set in the future, mankind faced near extinction after a shockwave from a supernova devastated Earth. 189 years later, the world has come together to rebuild in the face of the second shockwave that will soon be approaching…. The cast of characters is varied and well rounded, experiencing development throughout the series, with our shy and unconfident protagonist, Katase Shima at the forefront.
Tastes like…. chocolate covered strawberries: friendly and inviting in an innocent, gentle way…
The most classic of classical magical girl anime, Sailor Moon has one of the greatest and most memorable romances I have ever seen before… Yes, there is a lot of filler, fluff, and repetitive story lines. Maybe the animation is dated… But, at it’s core is a rather touching and romantic story about two star crossed lovers that transcends time, space, and even fate itself. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, perhaps it’s my excitement for the reboot series that will be airing (fingers crossed!) later this year, or it could be the fact that the source material manga is just that good (I highly recommend reading it since the manga is darker than the anime and contains almost no filler), but regardless, it’s a pretty classic story about magical girls fighting for love, justice, and their dreams of the future…
Tastes like…. hot chocolate with fluffy white marshmallows: the stuff of pure love and simple dreams…
Ouran High School Host Club
Romance is a commodity to be bought at the Ouran High School Host Club, where a group of handsome, ultra rich students bring to life the romantic fantasies of their clientele… Each character embodies a different trope, from the glasses-pushing intellectual and the princely gentleman, to the adorable loli to the forbidden love twins. Then, enter the unflappable commoner, Haruhi, who has managed to enter this elite school for the rich on a scholarship. But, when an expensive vase is accidentally broken, Haruhi is forced to pay it back… by becoming a host and earning back the money! Funny, ridiculous, and touching, Ouran High School Host Club is a great anime that is as much about the mutual love and understanding of two individuals, as it is about the love found between friends and family. Definitely a show that always brings a smile to my face!
Tastes like…. chocolate macarons: elitist sophistication meets airy, stupid sweet…
Sakamichi no Apollon
It’s 1966, and quiet introvert and honour roll student, Nishimi Kaoru, is used to being alone and keeping to himself: his father’s job causes him to change schools and move so often that he has never managed to make any friends. But, when he moves to the small seaside city of Sasebo to live with relatives, a fateful encounter with the school bad-boy, Kawabuchi Sentarou, turns Kaoru’s world upside down. Along with Sentarou’s gentle childhood friend, Ritsuko, the three become quick and unlikely friends, playing through their youthful joys, worries, and love through jazz…. Wonderfully animated and with a great soundtrack by Yoko Kanno, there’s a real sense of nostalgia, innocence, and honesty in the relationships of this anime. Bonus points if you also read the manga!
Tastes like… your favourite chocolate bar from when you were a kid: achingly sweet with the taste of summer love and ultimate friendships…
It’s not a legitimate “list of romantic anime” unless it includes an adaptation of a Key visual novel, right? Admittedly, it’s not all roses, with some elements of tragedy woven throughout, so be prepared to shed some tears…. The story revolves around five girls and their connection to our main male hero, who moves to a small snowy town to live with his aunt and cousin due to family circumstances. Overall, the feeling of this anime is one of hope, love, and moving towards the future, with miracles, memory, and trust playing large roles in this wintry story….
Tastes like…. dark chocolate rum truffles: bittersweet with a rush of warmth…