When a manga or anime creator invents a new character, there are several core tropes they can start with. Imagine a bookish girl who never leaves the library. Or a fiery tsundere with red hair. What about the flashy girl the main character had an exciting encounter with earlier in the episode, who also happens to be the new transfer student in his class? Then there’s the childhood friend, a girl the character grew up with, and probably took baths with when they were kids.
Osananajimi: A Friend You’ve Known All Your Life
I’ll never forget when my son Kazuki was playing with Ryo, a boy he’d known since preschool. They were playing with Star Wars figures and having a blast together. Because we’d use the word “friend” for this relationship in English, I referred to Ryo with the word tomodachi. But Mrs. J-List corrected me: “Ryo isn’t really a friend. Kazuki can’t remember a time when Ryo wasn’t with him, which makes them osananajimi. A childhood friend.” It’s a totally different category!
Did you have anyone like this growing up, a childhood friend you’ve known all your life? Because my family moved when I was young, I never had the opportunity to make lifelong friends like this. But my 83-year-old mother-in-law has had many of the same friends since elementary school. They attended each other’s weddings and other important life events…and now they attend each other’s funerals.
How friendships work in Japan is unique. First of all, people usually attend elementary and junior high school near their house, so they naturally develop friendships with the people they go to school with over many years. High school isn’t part of compulsory education in Japan, and students will generally choose a school based on their goals (to go on to university, to learn trade skills so they can start work immediately after school, etc.). Thus, everyone ends up with two groups of friends, which rarely mix because of the way in-groups work (uchi/soto). K-On! is an interesting example, where the four girls all go to the same university so they can remain friends forever. While this makes for a cute story, it’s absolutely unrealistic. No one ever does this in real life.
Whenever I’m watching an anime with a childhood friend romance with Mrs. J-List, she always laughs at the anime trope. “In real life, no one would marry someone from their own neighborhood who they grew up with. They know every embarrassing thing you did, including the time you peed your pants in school. Who would be romantically attracted to a person like that?”
Who Are the Best Childhood Friends in Anime?
All the characters from Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day are childhood friends, having created the “secret base” together. In true anime form, there’s lots of romantic drama between the characters as each tries to work out their feelings after the death of Menma.
In Oreimo, the harem consists of imouto Kirino, childhood friend Manami, crazy yandere Ayase, and best girl Kuroneko. During the fight between Kirino and Manami, Kirino says, “You think you’ve known Kyosuke a long time? I’ve been with him from the day I was born. There’s no way a younger sister could lose to a childhood friend!”
Mitsuki Sohara from Heaven’s Lost Property. She’s the standard osananajimi character designed to round out the pantheon of over-the-top waifus.
Ai Yori Aoshi. The legendary anime from the early 2000s really captivated me as a fan. Kaoru and Aoi are destined to marry from a young age until life gets in the way. When they meet again after many years, can they overcome the obstacles that are keeping them apart? (Make sure to read the manga ending if you haven’t.)
Your Lie in April. No matter how comfortable the girl next door might be, the human brain seems hard-wired to respond to people who are novel and fresh, which is what happened in Your Lie in April. And they live happily ever after…right?
“Surprise” Childhood Friends. One common story element is for the childhood friend to be “stolen” by a plot twist. In Darling in the Franxx, Ichigo is happy with her role as Hiro’s childhood friend, until we learn in a flashback that Zero Two knew him first. In Elfin Lied, we learn Kouta had been childhood friends with Lucy but blocked out the memory of her after some horrific shit went down.
Thanks for reading this blog post about childhood friends in anime. Who are your favorite osananajimi characters? Do you support them when they’re trying to win romantically in an anime? Do you have any lifelong friends like this?
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