Guest Post by Brian Matthews
I think romance is a very underrated form of storytelling. At its core, a well-written romance hinges on highly developed character interaction, one of the most fundamental aspects of storytelling. Most people(or at least more than I would like) pass it off as a pretty cheap uninteresting art that people do get demographics riled up and cause them to spend more on the merchandise(… or for smut depending on what the genre is). Not an entirely untrue assessment but a very short-sighted one. Part of my hope is to get people to take this art more seriously.
Now to be clear I draw a distinction between shipping and romance: shipping is based on appearances and/or potential dynamics that could happen in a story, while a romance is the active story behind an established (or establishing) romantic relationship.
Also, keep in mind that this is my personal list and while I will do my best to explain my logic you don’t have to agree with me or my opinion. All I ask is that my own opinion be respected.
Finally, as this is my list I will be taking as many liberties as I feel are necessary to convey my opinion.
#10 Blake and Yang (The Bumblebee)
I’ll preface this first one with something that will sound weird: I am not actually a ‘Bumblebee’ shipper. While I enjoyed the dynamic between the two characters in the initial phase of RWBY I didn’t really see much storytelling potential for their relationship(at least nothing that couldn’t already be done with a friendship). On top of that I just thought other options had more story potential.
Now why would I say such a controversial thing despite having this pair be on my list. Well, my opinion changed. While the Adam plotline in Vol. 6 had a lot of people divided, to me it gave me an element that I thought was lacking previously: a reason. And while I had mixed feelings about the affair as a whole it did give me a reason to care about Blake and Yang’s shared story and any potential relationship that might happen. And with the seeds planted, their chemistry in Vol. 7 sealed the deal for me and now I am flying the flag 100%. They still have room to grow in my opinion but I think CRWBY will have something good prepared.
#9 Shikamaru and Temari (The King and Queen)
This one is a fun one for me. While their chemistry is certainly a highlight, the thing I really like about them is the strong sense of theme they have. If you look at it in chess terms Shikamaru is the king (the most strategically important piece) and Temari is the queen (the most tactically important piece). Tactics are about the efficiency of each individual move and what can be done in each specific moment. Strategy on the other hand is about the overall picture and what can be done to win the long term. Both their fighting styles and personalities reflect this and as a consequence they make a rather effective pair. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list is that the relationship itself didn’t get a whole lot of focus in its respective show.
#8 (Paragon)Shepard and Garrus (The Paragon and The Renegade)
Remember those liberties I was talking about.
I think that the Mass Effect romances are generally well written so I need at least one on my list. Liara is an honorable mention and a few of the others aren’t too far behind, but if I had to choose one this would be the pair. They compliment each other in a good cop bad cop sort of a way. Garrus is the hot head Shepherd is the one who keeps him grounded. Combine their dynamic with the quality VA work and the rather touching moments throughout the latter Mass Effect titles, you get something pretty satisfying.
#7 Katara and Aang (Forever Girl, yes I totally just said that with a straight face)
This is one where the more I thought about it the more it grew on me. I always liked the way Aang’s feelings for Katara reflected his own personal growth starting with a schoolboy crush evolving into a physical attraction, an emotional attraction and finally their actual relationship.
That being said I wasn’t really all that invested in it until I started watching Avatar reactions. After that I started noticing more details and appreciating it. Unfortunately it felt a bit stunted to me by not getting a more extensive ending. Though this has more to do with the timing rather than any actual problem I have with the writing. End of the day a good watch.
#6 Ed and Winry (Hands meant to give life)
A lot of the basic romance elements are present in this one but I will draw attention to the two standout scenes that really make this a favorite.
First, the emotional climax. An emotional climax is the moment where the romantic feelings begin in either one or both of the involved parties. And I am not simply referring to a simple physical attraction, I am talking about the feelings of genuine love. There are a number of ways to do it but I have found the most effective way is through a moment of vulnerability.
Case and point: Winry’s first confrontation with Scar. Now I could talk at length about that specific scene for a while but for the sake of time I will keep it topic specific. After the actual confrontation with Winry was breaking down with some hard emotions after her inability to hurt Scar. So to calm her down Edward tells her that her hands aren’t meant for taking life they were meant to give life. A moment of honest feelings to give their relationship a compelling bond.
Second, the romantic climax. The romantic climax is the moment in the story when the romance is finalised by a mutual exchange of feelings. This is normally the moment in the story for the fated ‘true loves kiss’ and whatnot, though for me the kiss should always be secondary to the emotions they represent. One opinion that I hold very highly when it comes to romances is that if a kiss is absolutely necessary for the story to work then you’re probably doing it wrong.
Case and point: Edward’s proposal. Edward (the nerd god that he is) confesses his love through equivalent exchange leading to one of the most wholesome moments in the entire series. No kiss, just words. The only thing that could possibly make this more wholesome is the fact that allegedly the author didn’t do it because she couldn’t draw kissing. I rest my case.
#5 Zelda and Link [BOTW](Silent Princess)
Technically this was never (to my knowledge) outright stated so this could be assumption. But it’s also my list so I get to make the rules.
This one is simple but sweet. Actions speak louder than words(as link can attest) because this one is composed mostly of a handful of short scenes. In these scenes they convey so much through use of imagery, phrasing and body language.
Not much more to say about this one. I just find it enjoyable to watch play out.
#4 Rayla and Callem (Because she’s Rayla)
This is one I wasn’t expecting and was happy to watch play out. When Rayla almost confessed her feelings at the end of season 2 I felt a bit taken aback and looked back into the previous episodes. Looking back I started noticing subtle moments throughout the second season that made me contextualize it a bit more. From the emotion of her consoling Callum to subtle hints of concern and relief in her body language to her speech about how healthy relationships require the full truth I began noticing a lot that I didn’t the first time around.
The same happened with Callum in Season 3 but to a lesser extent because I was expecting it. The moment they kissed it recontextualised a lot of stuff leading up to it: Callum’s drawings of Rayla, his conversation with her after the lightning strike, and his emotional support of her. I just love how well constructed it is on a storytelling level.
I give so much credit to the animators/voice actors for bringing their emotions to life and the writers for giving kids a good relationship to aspire to. They don’t get nearly enough credit for what they pull off in this series.
#3 Minato and Kushina (The 4th Hokage)
Wholesome is the only word I have to describe this relationship. Wholesome romance. Wholesome marriage. Wholesome parents. Not much more to say than that.
I will say one thing I liked: their relationship is a sort of reversal of traditional gender stereotypes with Kushina as the tom boy and Minato as the… well Hinata. I don’t generally care one way or the other about gender stereotypes in general but I think it can be really fun to subvert if you know how to do it properly(for instance Death from the comic Sandman).
Aside from that I just feel it is a really good pairing that represents the ideal of relationships and parenting. They bring out the best in each other and bring out the best in their son.
Anyway, just a really wholesome romance all around, ending with one of the saddest most bitter sweet love stories I have ever heard in my entire life. There honestly isn’t much I can say that their story itself hasn’t already said.
#2 Inuyasha and Kagome (Toward Tomorrow)
Seeing how this show was about their romance this pairing may have had an unfair advantage. On a basic level it has all the necessary components present: symmetrical character foils, grounded arguments, wholesome moments, heartfelt banter, well timed slapstick, and long building character development. To fully explain the intricacy of this relationship would necessitate me talking about the entire show front to back and I don’t have time for that. So instead I will talk about the element that, in my opinion, elevates it all the way up to my second place: The Ending.
Another one of my personal opinions on romance is that saving the relationship for the very end of the story is like getting a cake and only licking the icing off of it (tasty but lacking in substance). However, one belief that I hold in higher regard than this is that while a good ending brings closure to the story but a great ending does something that can only be done in that moment. Inuyasha’s ending (and by extension its romance)works because it can only happen when the two of them are ready to get together. The two of them cannot get together at the beginning because they are not emotionally ready for it. Kagome is a pile of insecurities who doesn’t have any sense of her purpose in life and Inuyasha leagues worse than her when it comes to personal problems. It was only after the lessons of their journey, the trials of Naraku, and the three years of self reflection that were finally able to fully come into their own as fully developed people. Only then could their stories end. And only then could their romance reach its well earned climax.
I can only think of one other romance that could possibly outrank my feelings for this one.
#1 Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade Skywalker (Jade’s Fire)
Most of what I have previously said goes into this one. They are perfect foils for one another, one empathic the other cerebral. They took their sweet time to build their relationship from the ground up. Their dynamic is based on an everbuilding trust and understanding. They started out as arch enemies which naturally means shipping fuel. An unintentionally clever reversal of gender stereotypes. Fueled by healthy discussion and lighthearted banter. Not to mention they make one of the strongest power couples ever conceived.
However, if I had to choose one factor to represent this pairing it would be the extra dimension added by their force abilities. In the Star Wars universe, the force allows certain individuals to develop empathic and telepathic bonds which unbelievably heighten the storytelling experience. Timothy Zahn in particular does a masterful job of portraying this in his respective novels and really brings their relationship alive in a way that is rarely done. The emotions of their bond become a near tangible thing and I have yet to see replicated as effectively in any form of media I have come across. In my opinion a true masterpiece and worthy of being my favorite romance in fiction.