Childhood friends are a classic trope in most anime, especially romance series, and it’s not hard to see why. Childhood friends often bring years of history with the main character, which leads to some often funny dynamics that can’t be achieved with characters who haven’t known the main character that long.
Childhood friends are often patient and loyal, and they know the main character better than anyone else. So why do they almost never win the main character’s heart?
What makes childhood friend Trope so popular?
Childhood friends often appear in almost all anime genres, but they are mostly used in harem and reverse harem. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find such an anime that doesn’t include at least one love interest who has known the main character since childhood. But what really seems to make them such a popular recurring trope may be the very idea of a close friend dutifully maintaining romantic feelings for years. This brings with it a sense of loyalty that often sounds too good to be true.
Sometimes they fit too well into the platonic zone after several years of friendship, which often leads to the main character never seeing them as anything more than just a friend. Sometimes they are a constant in the protagonist’s life, someone safe and predictable – and often not the type of person the protagonist wants to pursue a romantic relationship with. That, or the childhood friend simply waits too long to confess, and miss their chance entirely.
Regardless, their inability to confess their feelings earlier is what leads the protagonist to find someone else to be with. Despite these types of characters’ consistent losses, audiences can’t help but want to root for them, often to the point that many prefer to see them get together with the main character instead of the canon love interest.
Why do childhood friends keep losing?
The biggest question that follows the childhood friend is why their romantic feelings so often go unrequited, or unnoticed. There are a few reasons for this, one of the most common being that they appear too late in the game to have a real fighting chance. IN Maid-sama!, Misaki’s childhood friend, Hinata, doesn’t appear until the latter half of the show, and by then she’s missed an entire season of progress with Usui. Despite Hinata’s bold confession to Misaki, due to being apart for so long, any chemistry they may have had in the past has more or less disappeared in the present day, ultimately leading them to maintain a platonic friendship instead .
A similar problem arises for the Junta i Romantic killerAlthough not introduced as late as Hinata, he joins the cast later than the main character Anzu’s other love interest, Tsukasa. It doesn’t help that Anzu is initially under the impression that Junta’s romantic feelings for her are being manipulated by a strange otherworldly creature named Riri, causing her to feel more guilt towards him instead of any real romantic feelings. It is later revealed that Junta is really Anzu’s childhood friend, but much like Hinata from Maid-sama!he moved away for a time and is only able to reunite with Anzu later in life.
It’s also heavily implied that if it wasn’t for Riri’s interference, the pair would never have reunited in the first place, and that’s not getting into Anzu’s impressive stubbornness against falling in love. While the season ultimately ends without her making it official with anyone, the show definitely favors Tsukasa as an endgame love interest over Junta. The show itself also pokes fun at the “Unlucky Childhood Friend” trope, as one of Junta’s old classmates comments that the childhood friend almost never wins in shojo manga.
The opposite problem appears in Your lie in April, as Tsubaki is shown to have been constantly by Kousei’s side from childhood to the present. Yet it’s still Kaori, a girl who comes from seemingly nowhere, who ends up getting Kousei’s attention. Unlike Misaki and Anzu, Kousei never notices Tsubaki’s feelings for him, and this may be because she continues to insist that she sees him as a brother rather than a potential love interest. This in turn has led to Kousei only ever seeing her in a platonic light rather than a romantic light. In fact, Tsubaki herself initially seems to convince herself that she sees Kousei as a sibling, which eventually leads to her realizing and accepting her feelings for him at a later point – just late enough for Kaori to arrive into the picture.
Characters who have known the main character from childhood can often offer new insights into the backstory that both the audience and other characters would otherwise not be privy to. Their long histories also make it easier for them to blend into each other’s circle of friends, especially in harem and reverse harem situations. This is one of the reasons why the trope often appears in dating sims as well, with most games featuring at least one obligatory childhood friend love interest.
IN Doki Doki Literature Club, it is the protagonist’s childhood friend, Sayori, who introduces him to the members of the literature club. As is the case with most dating sims, all the members are cute girls who end up accepting the lone male member thanks to Sayori vouching for him. IN Hateful girlfriend, the human protagonist is childhood friends with a rock pigeon named Ryouta. Thanks to their close relationship, the protagonist is able to navigate through a school life filled with attractive birds, thanks in part to Ryouta’s help.
Both of these characters also end up playing key roles in pivotal moments of the game’s story, and coincidentally or not, it’s these moments that also cause a major tonal shift in the games. This is because of all the characters, they have known the main character the longest, giving them a bit more narrative weight compared to the other love interests whenever something big happens to them. It also makes it all the more bittersweet if the player tries to pursue a romance with them.
The childhood friend trope is one that will likely always stick, especially if romance is in the air. It’s a mainstay and a must for any good romance, whether it’s center stage or in the background.