How romance with young characters can work

just recently, I reviewed the bland film, Whisper of the Heart. My biggest issue with it was the overblown, zero chemistry, romance between Shizuku and Seiji. That whole thing got me thinking, what exactly makes a romance with younger characters work? For comparison purposes, let’s compare their weak romance to the really strong romance between Nanoha and Fate, specifically in the first two series when they’re still pre-pubescent.

After giving it some thought, I’ve come up with three significant factors that make Nanoha and Fate’s relationship work that aren’t present in Shizuku and Seij’s. The first of those is that they have obstacles to overcome together. In Whisper of the Heart, the two both have their own obstacles. Shizuku has to find her calling and immerse herself in it while Seiji has to deal with his parent’s objections to his learning how to make violins. The two go off on their own ways. As such, there’s no opportunity for them to develop their bonds.

In the first Nanoha series, Nanoha struggles to save Fate from her abusive mother, eventually culminating in the two of them working together to stop her plans. In the second, the two work together to stop the book of darkness. In sharing a conflict and aiding one another, we get to see their relationship strengthen and develop.

The second major factor is that the early Nanoha series don’t focus on their relationship as a “serious” romance. Rather, they put the emphasis on it as an innocent, blossoming love. There’s no talk of marriage nor does the series act like this is totally a grown up and adult relationship between two kids who just met. You can tell that Nanoha and Fate are attracted to each other and that they have a lot of chemistry, but you can also tell that their feelings are a bit naive and they don’t know what to do with them yet. Which gives them a much stronger and more believable relationship. You can buy that the two of them might eventually come together as a couple, adopt a child and have a lasting relationship. Once they’re older and they’re ready.

In contrast, Whisper of the Heart tries to persuade us that this is already a serious relationship and, ironically, that makes it seem more trivial since you just shake your head and think “whatever, Kids. You just met and you’ve barely started puberty. I’m sure that you completely understand what a serious romantic relationship is.”

The third major aspect that works in Nanoha and Fate’s favour is that they develop as friends first. Sure, even when they’re becoming friends you can tell that they’re completely smitten, but the fact that they start as friends and build from there seems natural and it lets the first two series focus on building their relationship without stressing the romantic chemistry but, rather, illustrate their strong relationship as a friendship with strong potential for more. We get an arc for the two of them that goes from first crush and fast friends to close friends with a strong attraction to, when they’re actually adults, a couple with an adopted daughter.

Obviously, Whisper of the Heart doesn’t have multiple series to do that much. So, let’s look at the arc we do get for Shizuku and Seiji. They meet, she thinks he’s a jerk and then… couple. Somehow. The point here is, we never really get to see them as friends, which only reinforces the idea that they’re a pair of dumb kids who will be broken up in a couple months at most.

So, there you have it. Three things that can make a young romance actually work. If you have anything to add, feel that I was too harsh on Whisper of the Heart or just have something to say feel free to post a comment.

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