The legendary creator of the will-they-or-won’t-they couples of Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2 discusses her logic.

The manga/anime franchises created by Rumiko Takahashi span several different genres, and almost all of them have a romantic comedy element to them. Among the central couples of Takahashi’s works are Ataru and Lum (Urusei Yatsura), Kyoko and Yusaku (Maison Ikkoku), Ranma and Akane (Ranma 1/2), and Inuyasha and Kagome Inuyasha).

The thing is, though, that at just about any given point in the story at most one of those two people will think they’re part of a “couple,” and quite often neither of them will. Takahashi has earned a reputation as a master of the “will-they-or-won’t-they” narrative, and this is, of course, by design, as it’s been a recurring part of her storytelling style for decades.

In a recent Twitter post, Takahashi explained why her male and female leads may be willing to travel the vastness of space, fight magical monsters, or even grow up and get a real adult job for the sake of the other person, but still can’t manage to spit out the word “I love you.”

“My feeling is that at the moment a manga’s male and female leads say ‘I love you,’ it’s like their story comes to an end. So because of that, it’s important for them to not express that feeling in words.

If they don’t say it, they may sometimes fail to make an emotional connection, or misunderstand each other. They may wonder ‘This person is standing right in front of me, but I don’t know how they feel about me.’ Sometimes, though, right then, the other person will do something that makes them think ‘Maybe they really do like me,’ and that’s such a happy moment.

‘I love you’ isn’t something you can only express in words. I want my readers to be able to pick up, on their own, that two characters love each other. But I build it into my stories that the characters themselves don’t quite realize it. I spend my days thinking of satisfying ways to do that.”

As expected from one of manga’s most successful authors, it’s a thoroughly thought-out creative choice, one that goes beyond jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold clichés or stubborn beliefs that a girl shouldn’t make the first move. Takahashi trusts her audience to be attentive and intuitive enough to figure out that a couple is in love without having to literally spell out “I love you” on the page. You could argue that makes it harder for fans to insert themselves into the characters’ position and fantasize about living their romantic lives, but with Takahashi’s skill at making both her male and female characters charismatic and likable, it’s sort of like watching two of your good friends as they gradually develop a thing for each other.

▼ Awwww, you crazy kids are finally starting to realize you’d be perfect for each other!

That way of handling romance gives her series a unique quality compared to other manga love stories. Instead of heart-pounding, Takahashi’s romances are heartwarming, focusing less on melodramatic excitement and more on the gradual building of a solid foundation of mutual affection.

At this point, veteran fans might be itching to point out that despite Takahashi’s professed storytelling strategy Maison Ikkoku’s protagonist Yusaku does directly say he’s in love with Kyoko very early on in the story, and loudly enough for the whole neighborhood to hear it. However, because it’s still so early in their still-platonic relationship, Kyoko can’t accept such feelings, and Yusaku himself winds up feeling extremely embarrassed for having jumped the gun. The incident isn’t treated as a dramatic confession of love that propels their relationship to the next level, and if anything sets their relationship back a bit because of the awkwardness it creates.

By Takahashi’s own admission part of the reason her characters don’t just come right out and say how they feel is in order to keep the story going, and those kinds of ploys are necessary to an extent when writing fiction. At the same time, the idea that your actions will show that you love someone long before the first time you actually say the words is pretty poignant, and definitely how romance works in the real world.

Source: Twitter/@rumicworld1010 via Hachima Kiko
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he still thinks Ryoga and Ukyo would make a good couple.