It happens in most series where characters are finding eternal love left and right. Amidst the aftermath of broken ships and hearts, there usually are two or more individuals who aren’t romantically involved with anyone. From here, the author and / or studio has to decide something.
Should the runner-ups in romance get together?
(Spoilers in this post)
As an example, say Alice is pining after Beth while Claudia is trying her best to get Della to notice her. In the end, however, Beth and Della end up together. Should Alice and Claudia start dating each other?
Some series embrace this sort of development whole-heartedly. The manga adaption of Special A would be one such case – after Tadashi and Akira end up falling for each other (and before oblivious Hikari actually realizes Kei likes her), the rest of the Special A students start pursuing romance.
The end result has every relevant character ending up with someone else, which is all very well and fluffy. To me, however, it has unfortunate implications that everyone should be paired up no matter what. What if someone is happy being alone? What if someone just never finds that special someone? While Special A has a special (I swear I’m not doing this on purpose) spot in my heart when it comes to shoujo manga, it’s a bit too idealistic for my tastes.
Be that as it may, I have to give Special A credit for at least giving some shiptease scenes before the finale. It would have been awkward to suddenly see these couples emerge from the woodwork with no hints or shiptease prior to the last chapter/scene/episode, but the series in question avoided that both carefully and beautifully with plenty of subtext. Meanwhile, the same can’t be said about Kaichou wa Maid-sama. Somehow the maids and the three idiots ended up together? That came out of nowhere since the series neglected the side characters (especially during the last arc) to focus on Misaki and Usui.
That leads me to my next point. I personally feel like the author should not feel compelled to force the single characters to couple up. After all, some of the most popular ships are actually not official! For example, Yuzu and Kaede in Sakura Trick could be considered the fan-preferred couple despite being shown as only close childhood friends and nothing more. That doesn’t stop the fans from writing fanfics and drawing fanart, though. EDIT: Kaede ends up confessing to Yuzu so there’s that. But it doesn’t change the fact that they were the most popular couple even when they were just friends.
The same could be said for Nena and Ano in Kindred Spirits on the Roof. Both girls are supportive of yuri relationships and are close friends. In the end, however, Nena considers relationships to be too tiring and bothersome while Ano gets too flustered over receiving attention (and finds real-life romance to be so much more overwhelming compared to the stories, manga, anime, and games she indulges in).
It comes to a matter of pacing, in my opinion. If the author / studio / team can’t properly give a (side) ship the on-screen time before the finale, I think it’s best to leave the ship ambiguous. That way the relationship won’t seem forced or random.
An example of this can be found in Nurse Love Addiction. If Asuka (aka the main character) ends up with Sakuya, it’s noted that your (unrelated by blood) sister, Nao, has recently started talking a lot about Itsuki, Sakuya’s ex-girlfriend. Granted, Asuka admits it’s mostly bad stuff, but it’s just enough shiptease to get fans hopeful for them to end up together.
Meanwhile, something similiar happens should Asuka pursue the Itsuki route, leaving both Nao and Sakuya, Itsuki’s ex-girlfriend, single. The following exchange takes place in the hallway as they overhear Itsuki having fun groping Asuka in a private room.
There was no time to give the Nao x Sakuya ship subtext during Itsuki’s actual route, but I do appreciate how it was handled here during the afterwords. It gives the fans something to work with and it seems rather plausible. The two girls can go hang out together and maybe they’ll bond over their mutual loneliness as close friends. Maybe they’ll fall in love with each other. Open-ended endings aren’t the end of the world to me. They mark the beginning of possibilities!
I guess I just wanted readers to consider how some “losers in love” just end up together for little discernible reason. Love doesn’t have to be so neat and clear-cut. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t happen and a character is just left to be all alone. That’s fine, too.
At any rate, I hope this post made sense. Thank you for reading.