It is Valentine’s Day for most of us, February 14th, a day when we celebrate romance and love (and sex) in all it’s myriad forms. From the loving married couple giving each other lovingly prepared gifts, to the cute young lovebirds declaring their affections with homemade cards, to the cute japanese schoolgirl baring her feelings with homemade chocolates. Lately, we also celebrate the other half of that dichotomy, the lonely single sitting on their couch eating chocolates bought with their own money, the friend who gives his single friend a rose so she won’t feel bad about valentines day, the guy desperate for love who decides to do valentine’s blind dates.
So today, we’re going to celebrate writing love! In fact, I have an example for you of REALLY well done romance. Oddly enough, the story it finds itself in, is quite literally, a tragedy. The story? Katanagatari. The couple? Shichika Yasuri and his wielder (this is explained in the series.) Tougame, the self-proclaimed Strategian. First thing I’d like to point out, Shichika is absolutely the youngest of the two, which in and of itself in literature, is rare. I’ll give you a breakdown of the series a little bit before going into the actual relationship.
Katanagatari started as a series of light novels, twelve in total, by Nisio Isin and illustrated by Take. These novels depicted the journey of Shichika Yasuri and his attempts to recover the Deviant Blades. The swordmaster Kiki Shikizaki made 1000 swords in his lifetime, and the shogunate has managed to find 988 of them. HOWEVER, the final twelve are the most dangerous. These Deviant Blades turn their wielders mad, and give them immense strength. Togame has been tasked with this mission.
Shogunate strategist Togame has been ordered to recover them. She first hired a ninja…but the worth of the swords is so great that the entire ninja clan defected the moment they recovered one. Then she hired a swordsman… but he kept the sword for himself after finding it and went rogue.
Her last hope is Shichika Yasuri, the seventh head and last practitioner of Kyotouryuu, the No Sword School. He and his elder sister live on an island cut off from civilization, and as such they need no money. His fighting style doesn’t use a sword, so the famous weapons are useless to him
TvTropes page on Katanagatari
The true story here, however, is how Shichika and Togame fall in love. One of the iconic quotes of the series is Togame’s first orders to Shichika on how he is to conduct himself during the journey. Her exact words I’ll leave for when you to discover, but suffice to say, they’re very sweet, if one thinks about it. Through the course of the series, we see her slowly teach Shichika more about humanity, more about himself, and, without meaning to, more about herself.
Part of what makes this series so well written, however, and this romance specifically, is that while outright STATED that the romance will go down, (“Fall for me!” – Togame) it is also shown in all the small things. There are scenes of Shichika dressing Togame. Scenes of her allowing him to wrap himself in her hair, to learn her scent. Scenes of the two of them holding one another, and depending on one another.
The progression is rational, and slow. Fair warning, however, this anime is a tragedy. So don’t go into this expecting it all to be feel good feelings and love. But then again, when is love like that? And you can see that too, with Shichika growing a little cruel when he thinks Togame has gone to far, and with Togame crying and being cruel herself when Shichika seems interested in another woman. The series makes sure to show the ups and the downs.
Another brilliant thing depicted is how each partner supports the other in times of sadness. Just a warning, there are a few spoilers here, but the series is relatively old, so any look up of it will definitely yield these spoilers anyway. Now that you’ve been fairly warned, I’ll be happy to go into more detail.
Later in the series, we find out that Shichika’s older sister is a little… Well. She’s nuts. She goes and finds one of the deviant blades in order to force Shichika to fight her, and hopefully, kill her. Togame stands by his side (And in fact is way too close to the battle) while he fights the only other person he’s known for his entire life, and at the end, lets him grieve as he needs to.
We see something very similar later on in the series, when in the search of another deviant blade, they meet the Sage. He forces Togame to confront the death of her father, and his last words to her, and it takes a long, long time for that to happen, along with a lot of manual labor in the form of digging. But Shichika is not the one doing the manual labor this time. Togame digs from day until night, and Shichika stays by her side as much as he can, as well as serving as a place where she can rest at the end of a hard day.
I meant literally a place for her to rest, by the way.
These sorts of scenes are necessary to show us the love that has blossomed between them. The trust and the camaraderie between them is more important than any outward romantic display of any kiss or hand-holding. These little moments, they’re more of a love story than fifty shades of grey and twilight put together.
To make it simple, here are a few points to make sure your romance doesn’t fall flat, or worse, turn into a farce.
- Show the small moments. The things that aren’t ROMANCE per se, but are, in fact, companionship.
- Make the romance about the PEOPLE, not the sex.
- Make memories for them. Beautiful memories that we as the reader can share in the intimacy of.
- Try not to push your version of romance on them. Let it grow. Let them be people.
- Above all, make sure that there is story to surround the romance. Even in Romance Novels this is paramount.
Remember, the story in and of itself is about the people, and if these people happen to be in love, show us that! In love, show-don’t-tell is essential. So go out there and tell the best love story you possibly can!