Koi to Yobu Kimochi Warui: The line between romantic and disturbing relationships.

People fall in love in the most mysterious of ways. This statement seems to be especially true for the affluent genius playboy Ryou Amakusa. When he nearly falls off the stairs one rainy morning, a girl named Ichika Arima saves him. As if by fate, Ryou encounters Ichika again later that night; she happens to be the best friend of his little sister, Rio.

Wanting to “thank” her, Ryou attempts to woo Ichika by employing his usual flirtatious tactics only to be immediately shot down, his target creeped out by his behavior. Rather than being discouraged, Ryou instead becomes more enthralled by her, and he begins to do everything he can to steal Ichika’s heart despite receiving disgusted reactions each time. However, as time passes by, will Ichika remain repulsed by Ryou’s creepy yet dedicated advances?

Myanimelist Synopsis

Nomad animation studios released Koi to Yobu or Koimoi April 2021 as a romantic comedy between an adult business man Ryou and a high school girl Ichika. I’ve read plenty of age-gap shoujo romance before. There is a wrong way and a right way to handle these types of stories, just like any other type of relationship.

I first read Koi to Yobu Ni Wa about four or so years ago when there were only 6 or so chapters out. I felt, like the main girl character Ichika, Ryou was creepy but not a bad person. I didn’t think much about the story until I saw a few months ago, by some miracle, there was an anime.

I couldn’t believe anyone would want to animate this story. Not because I hated it or anything. I didn’t think it had much substance or merit. It was a forgettable, strange romance.

What I wondered is what kind of romance Koimoi is trying to be and how audiences should react to it.

Abuse and Lust are NOT Love

Some age-gap romances sugar-coat alarming relationships by making an abuser beautiful and misunderstood. These types of characters exhibit abusive and manipulative tactics to seduce a younger person. Usually, this is painted romantically by writers and directors and, oftentimes, the younger person “changes” or changes for the abuser, abandoning their morals and dreams. It’s Beauty and the Beast‘s toxic, wily twin. 

One example is Naomi Novik‘s novel Uprooted (2015). In my review of the book I surmised,

The central relationship between the ‘dragon’ and heroine Agnieszka is one of the worst examples of toxic attraction I’ve been unfortunate enough to read.

Let me clear, how the Dragon treats Agnieszka is horrendous. He was constantly angry and annoyed at her for no reason. He verbally abuses her from the moment he meets her, calling her an astonishing amount of cruel names. He physically abuses her in his lessons during sudden spurts of anger. He mocks how she looks, calling her ‘horse-faced’ and ‘dirty,’ and makes her change her appearance to conform to his tastes. When Agnieszka defends herself when a prince attempts to rape her, he screams at her, asserting her virtue is not worth the price of an angered prince. 

I could talk about the moments he works her till she is emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted, or the many times she breaks down in tears because of things he’s said or done to her. I could also talk about how terrified she was in the first half of the book because she thought he would rape her. He never apologizes. He barely gets better. Not to mention, he starts a sexual relationship with her near the end of the book when he is almost 130 years older than her. This relationship is acceptable because he looks young and handsome. . .

The real issue is some readers buy that this is a romantic and healthy love story. It’s not. It’s incredibly dangerous. Those who have suffered through abusive situations similar to those illustrated in this book wouldn’t find this story so sensational.

Taken from March Book Madness! Day 2, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (2015) 2/5 (Emphasis added)

There are many other examples I could name like Vladimir Nabokov‘s novel Lolita or director Christophe Gans‘s film La Belle et la Bête (2014). It is easy to “fall in love” with these type of stories because they contain just enough backstory to help you empathize with twisted individuals. In other words, viewers and readers rationalize toxic behavior because the character suffered.

On paper it seems to work out great. In real life, it never does.

Respect and Sacrifice in Age-Gap Romances Make All the Difference

The main difference between corrosive and healthy age-gap romances are the characters’ intentions. In every great romance I’ve read where the main characters had a larger age gap, their relationship was defined by respect and sacrifice.

Take for example Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet by Yamamori, Mika. Akatsuki and Fumi have a twelve-year age gap between them. They live in the same house together for almost two years. There is no parental supervision whatsoever. Usually, this becomes the breeding ground for unhealthy relationships. Yet, Yamamori didn’t take that approach.

Just because they were in love didn’t mean their relationship had to or should have been primarily sexual. Akatsuki tells Fumi several times he would respect her age and wait for her to grow older. Once Fumi’s father comes back, Akatsuki explains to him that he and Fumi have feelings for each other. They wait five or so years and marry. Their relationship was grounded in respect and sacrifice.

The same can be said about Kouchi, Kaede‘s manga Love So Life. Matsunaga and Shiharu had a 9-year age gap. Both fell in love with the other. Though there were many times where he could have given in to his feelings or used her feelings to his advantage, he respected her age and waited till she was in college before they started a relationship. What was truly remarkable about this story was how they not only respected and sacrificed for each other, but they also respected their own feelings.

So What Type of Romance is Koimoi?

Koimoi should feel really romantic, but it doesn’t. It feels incomplete. It wants to be a heart-warming romantic story between a good natured high school girl and and misguided adult, but it comes across as immature and confusing at times. That doesn’t mean it portrays a toxic relationship.

I’ve thought a lot about this story these past few months. I finally figured out why. I was curious to know what type of person Ryou REALLY was, and the depth and scope of his intentions. I wanted to see if his relationship with Ichika would be any different from his previous flings.

I paid attention and waited to see if this story would surprise me.

Ryou-san Acted Like a Middle Schooler with a Crush. Not a Pedophile

The whole time I watched the show, It never occurred to me Ryou had bad intentions. I wondered why, I mean. . . he wanted to take the toothpick Ichika used as souvenir. Then it hit me. He had never actually experienced being in love with someone before. So, he reacted and pushed himself on her through phone calls and gifts to try and figure out why he was feeling the way he was.

Watching Ryou shower Ichika with gifts and attention brought back memories from middle school, when I was young and didn’t understand how to properly convey my feelings. That said, Middle Schoolers are rarely the best examples of how to maintain a good relationship. It’s not okay to force your feelings on someone or ignore them when they tell you they are not interested.

In all his encounters with Ichika after their first initial conversation, he never made sexual overtures at her. Not once. He changed for the better, albeit in a strange and immature way.

Do I think this romance is disturbing? No. Ryou respected Ichika and her decisions. In fact, there even comes a point where he truly starts to understand how she could potentially suffer being in a relationship with him. His feelings were genuine, yet immature. All in all, I think their relationship needed a better foundation. They needed moments to develop trust and know more about each other.

What about Ichika’s Feelings?

Ichika’s feelings mattered. Just because Ryou was in love with her, didn’t mean she should feel obligated to accept him. That’s not how love works. She saw him change and in due course developed feelings for him. She didn’t ask him to get rid of his bad habits. He just did. And his feelings were sincere and evolved throughout their “courtship”.

I believe it was his sincerity that won her over. She could tell he was serious, even though she had little confidence in herself because of her age and looks.

I wasn’t necessarily rooting for her to fall in love with him. Honestly, if she had fallen for her classmate Tamaru instead it would have been fine. But I didn’t mind seeing her finally accept and reflect Ryou feelings. I needed more substantial evidence of her feelings.

I just wonder if she should have fallen in love with Ryou. Even if he was not a bad person, that doesn’t mean she needed, for the sake of a story, to like him back. Again, it’s not bad that she fell for him. It’s just. . . she could have done ANYTHING. The story didn’t give her time to blossom in different ways.

I Still Have SO Many Unanswered Questions

The story had a lot of plot-holes regarding the characters and their motivations.

I had countless other questions:

What happened in Ryou and Ichika’s relationship? Did they get married? How did they get there?

Were Ryou and his father able to resolve their differences? How did they even develop such a harsh relationship? Did Ryou rebel or was his father simply too strict on him?

What happened to Tamaru and Arie? Were they just random love interests to progress the story?

Why did Ichika fall in love with Ryou? What was it about him?

What is the main message this story is trying to convey? etc. . . . etc. . . . . etc. . .

Though it felt like the story had resolved itself, I still had the most questions and misconceptions about Ryou as a character. Ryou had a really strenuous relationship with his father which caused him to detach and not seek meaningful relationships. But there was no time dedicated to this part of his character.

I didn’t feel like he went LOOKING for ways to rebel. He just accepted trouble when it came to him. For example, whenever it showed women fawning all over him he looked completely detached, like he couldn’t care less if they slept with him or not. It was as if he was stuck in the Doldrums, falling in and out of bad relationships because he didn’t have the will to fight it.

However, this was all speculation on my part. The author and the show never talked about this. If they had explored this part of his character, I think it would have given readers and the audience more clarity concerning his character and development.

This Could Be a Revolutionary Story in the Hands of a Better Storyteller

With all its missing pieces, Koimoi feels incomplete. Not only that, but the animation in the show was clunky and lazy.

People are complicated. That is why I kept watching this show. I had a feeling it was different than people said it was. I also wanted to see if the storytellers could evolve this type of romance in ways I’d never seen before. If they did that, the characters and their relationships could BLOSSOM.

But that didn’t happen, unfortunately. I’m still confused and wondering why the original author wrote this story.

In the future, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more English chapters. Perhaps the anime is a watered down version of the manga.

My Score for the Anime:

Animation: 6/10

Story: 7/10

Characters: 6/10

Overall Score: 6.3/10

One thought on “Koi to Yobu Kimochi Warui: The line between romantic and disturbing relationships.

  1. Pingback: Koi to Yobu Kimochi Warui: The line between romantic and disturbing relationships. — So Many Thoughts – From the Perspective of an Old Soul

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