For the Asian concept of soul mates, see Red String of Fate.Red String is a Webcomic by Gina Biggs. It's set in Japan and does a fairly good job of pulling this off because Biggs (unlike some people) did her research. It concerns the life of Japanese teenager Miharu Ogawa, a slightly kogal-ish teenage girl who comes home one day to find out that she's engaged. Being a spirited girl, she initially rejects the concept of her parents planning her life out for her, and while sitting on a park bench, she finds a sympathetic ear in an utter stranger, senior Kazuo Fujiwara, a serious but pessimistic and weak-willed man who is taken by Miharu's strength and boldness. After they share a day together on a "pretend date," Miharu realizes both that she has fallen in love with him... and that he is her affianced. She chooses to stay with him, but grapples with a very harsh reality about their relationship, as well as her own internal conflict of genuinely loving someone while her principles suggest fighting against being Strangled by the Red String.Along for the ride is a gigantic cast of supporting characters including friends, family, and schoolmates, many of whom have to deal with their own complicated relationships and love-lives. Contrasted against this is the struggle against the traditionalist Japanese culture, in which Miharu struggles to retain her independent spirit while still succeeding in a society that frowns upon change and individuality.It started out as a basic short story to be entered into TokyoPop's Rising Stars Of Manga contest. It didn't make it but instead Biggs posted it online and continued the story. It has since developed far beyond the basic concept, running since 2003 to its conclusion in August 2013. The series was picked up for publishing by Dark Horse Comics, who published the first 3 volumes. Vol. 4 and beyond are being published by Biggs' own Strawberry Comics.Can be found here.See also Demon Aid, the author's subsequent project.Please place character specific tropes on the character page.
This comic provides examples of:
Aborted Arc - Most of the characters not named Miharu, Reika, and Fuuko had their open story arcs cut short to end the comic early. By the author's own admission, she had intended to continue several of these open arcs in side stories similar to Maya's, but they were cut for time.
Subverted with Kazuo - Gina had planned on not ending his story at all in the main comic, despite the fact that he was literally the catalyst of the entire series. She ended up throwing together a quick five-page epilog at the literal last minutes of the series to try and end his storyline.
Abusive Parents - Kenta is very much one of these towards Kazuo. He has shown signs of being emotionally abusive towards his wife.
All There in the Manual: The Maya subplot is resolved in the short story "Maya's Match," though this isn't that important to the progression of the main story. However, Hanae's backstory, which does get some cursory nods in the continuity, is in "Hanae's Story". Both stories are sold as premium downloads through the site's store.
The entire epilogue to the comic, intended to resolve all the dangling plot threads for characters not related to the main love triangle, will only be released in a paid Red String collection after the end of the free comic's run.
Blonde, Brunette, Redhead - Our original trio of female leads (two of them due to dyeing) fit this bill: Miharu the blonde, Fuuko the brunette, and Reika the redhead.
Book Ends: The story opens with Miharu's parents telling her "You're getting married!" and Miharu saying "What?!" The last lines of the comic are a reversal - Miharu saying "I'm getting married!" with her parents saying "What?!"
Break the Haughty - Morita gets broken very harshly. She goes from the top of the school, wanted by all the boys, envied by all of the girls to an outcast that no one will offer any help or friendship to and suffers constant humiliation from her former friends (including physical abuse). All this because she dared to turn her cruelty on someone more popular than she was and it blew up in her face.
Broken Aesop: Red String is supposed to be about love and growing up, though the later chapters of the comic show almost everyone (including our heroine) acting like immature, whiny, Too Dumb to Live morons who seem to have confused infatuation with true love and not progressing that much in their relationships.
Calling the Old Man Out - Kazuo, finally, calls out Kenta in Chapter 44. After his suicide attempt gave him a new perspective on the situation.
Cannot Spit It Out - Reika and Eiji, over and over and over again. Finally lampshaded in Chapter 35 when even Reika's friends express their bafflement over the obvious hookup. Which came in the same chapter.
Characterization Marches On - Rereading early chapters can be a bit jarring, as all the characters have developed significantly and who's considered a protagonist and an antagonist can shift over time.
Character Shilling: Makoto is the frequent recipient of this to an unreal degree. Almost everyone (even people like Karen and Eiji, who should not be as comfortable with him as they are) has nothing but good things to say about him, despite not really doing anything to earn such praise. When Kazuo doesn't jump on the Makoto bandwagon it's portrayed as him being squarely in the wrong, even though he has every right to call Makoto a "creepy jerk."
In Chapter 51, Miharu's parents learn about her relationship with Makoto. Instead of being supportive as they've been shown to be in the past, they suddenly inform her that this would be a problem with their finances and insist she break up with him. It comes out of nowhere as up until this point in the story, there was no indication that they were having financial problems. After passing the ball to her parents, they reveal that they're just worried she'll break Makoto's heart if they break up and make things awkward.
In Chapter 51, Reika breaks up with Eiji out of the blue because of a pregnancy scare, and later claims she assumes he'll resent her should she ever get pregnant. By this point in the story, their relationship and Eiji's dedication to her had already been solidified and the entire storyline where he thought he might have gotten her pregnant, he was nothing but supportive of her.
Compassionate Critic - Kenta really seems to think that belittling Kazuo will make him into the man he wants him to be.
Delinquents - Miharu is called this but she isn't really one. Actual delinquents have been shown and Miharu's original high school apparently has a reputation for attracting them.
Arata treats almost all students this way. He first uses Miharu as a target until he finally gets her kicked out of school, then starts bullying Eiji and Hiroshi hard enough that they finally had to intervene when he was trying to assault the lower classman.
Cosmic Deadline - In the midst of the final chapter, the author announced a firm end-date to the comic. Many story elements, including entire unresolved character arcs, were dropped and relegated to epilogues found elsewhere in favor of a controversial settling of the Official Couple.
Deleted Scene: The full version of Miharu and Kazuo's first time can only be seen in the premium title "Bound." Similarly, "My Sweet Girl" was produced for readers who wanted the full version of Fuuko and Hanae's night of passion. Makoto and Miharu fooling around on a couch similarly got a naughtier spinoff. Post-series, Biggs has also announced releases of a full version of Reika and Eiji's night of passion from Chapter 50, and also two more unannounced scenes featuring other cast members.
Dramatic Necklace Removal - Kazuo breaks his red string to signal the finality of his breakup with Miharu. Later, Miharu does it to symbolize her starting to get over him.
Dude, She's Like in a Coma - Morita moves to kiss Igarashi when she finds him dozing in the teacher's lounge. She realizes what she's doing at the last second and runs off.
In Chapter 50, Reika unilaterally breaks up with Eiji due to her own insecurities over a pregnancy scare combined with her fear of Eiji becoming like her father. After receiving no explanation and a very cold shoulder for a length of time, Eiji speaks with Reika once in the following chapter and all is peachy again.
In Kazuo's epilogue, Kenta of all people, after his wife divorces him and moves out. He feels really sad about it, shows up at their house unannounced when Kazuo is there, and apologizes for hurting them. The resolution is not played out, but Kazuo's reaction is to give his dad another chance and it is heavily implied that both Emi and Kazuo are going to forgive him.
Entitled to Have You: Makoto does this to Miharu in his first appearence. As many readers pointed out, he never stopped either - and people enable him left and right. Then again, since even the author felt he was entitled to Miharu, it's hard to argue with his logic. Kazuo is the only person that ever calls him out directly on this behavior. The story does this, not to highlight that Makoto still acts entitled to Miharu by virtue of never leaving her alone, but to make the reader feel bad for Makoto for being insulted. Not shockingly, this creates a Broken Aesop in which the narrative is 100% endorsing terrible behavior.
Fallen Princess - After Morita tries to bring down Maya but is foiled by Yuuki, she's constantly teased by the very same girls who used to be her witch posse.
False Dichotomy - The end of the comic acts as if Makoto must choose between continuing his relationship with Miharu or breaking it off for the sake of her family. The problem? The comic doesn't actually present any reason why Makoto needs to choose between them, as he can easily have both. Miharu's parents only tell her they're worried she isn't serious about her relationship and she'll break Makoto's heart and chase him away from the restaurant. The obvious resolution is simply Miharu and Makoto telling them they're serious about the relationship. Something Makoto clearly already knows since he decided to propose to Miharu, thus marrying into the family which would immediately soothe any concerns about him leaving her family in the lurch. Instead, he phrases it as Miharu having to choose between him and her family.
Flower Motifs - Used frequently on chapter title pages and color art. Nearly every character has a particular flower associated with them. Standouts include forget-me-nots for Fuuko & Maya, lilies for Miharu, daisies for Reika, daffodils for Karen, and red tulips for Makoto. Red roses, as symbol of love, crop up all over the place.
Four Lines, All Waiting - As the series progresses and characters continue to move away or split up and find new romantic interests, the simultaneous story lines have increased exponentially.
Good Girls Avoid Abortion - This was played completely straight - Aiko is openly promiscuous and irresponsible, so naturally she hits up her boyfriend's family for money for the abortion. Because she's bad, she even laughs off the idea that getting an abortion is serious. In contrast, Reika's mother refused to have one despite Reika's father trying to pressure her into it - to the point that she entered a loveless marriage just to make the pregnancy work. And just to further highlight what a good girl Reika is, she naturally never even considers abortion when she thinks she's pregnant. She just assumes she and Eiji will raise the potential child.
Hair Colors - Averted - everyone has normal hair colors. Abnormal hair colors are clearly stated to be through dying and bleaching. Miharu's own hair color becomes extremely significant to her character development - being forced to have black hair again became a symbol of Miharu's loss of identity and a victory of the establishment against her. Then her freedom for the summer is heralded by bringing back the blond.
Happily Married - Miharu and Karen's parents, Fuuko's parents as well. Until her mother dies.
Hollywood Pudgy - In-Universe Hanae thinks she is, and she is drawn as heavier than most other characters. Fuuko doesn't have a problem with her weight, though, and the only people we actually see calling her fat were being jerks, so all in all it's something of an aversion.
Gina initially drew Hanae as slim, but top heavy during her first appearance. Apparently this was a mistake and later appearances show a much heavier Hanae. This has been retconned into Hanae having a habit of yo-yo weight. When we first met her, she had just finished dropping a lot of weight. Since then, she's been on the uptake again.
Hooked Up Afterwards: Kazuo hooks up with a girl he meets in France that isn't even named on panel, but is clearly his true love now.
Idiot Ball: More and more characters progressively laid hands on this ball towards the conclusion of the comic. Special mentions go out to Reika during her pregnancy scare and Makoto during the final story arc.
During her pregnancy scare, Reika never takes a pregnancy test to determine if there is something to worry about in the first place. No reason is given for this fairly significant oversight that would have saved a lot of grief and drama; it simply never comes up and no one suggests it.
In the final chapter, Makoto and Miharu's secret relationship is strained because neither of them is willing to speak candidly or conduct business. Either a simple, forthright business conversation with her parents or a public commitment to one another would have immediately resolved the conflict without undue grief or drama.
Informed Attribute: Despite many people in the story and even the author herself declaring that Makoto possesses the noble trait of "self-sacrifice", he is never shown actually doing this. He relentlessly pursues Miharu while she is engaged and even when trying to make things with Karen work is clearly still using Karen as a pretense to keep spending time with Miharu. Even the presentation of him quitting his job at the restaurant at the end is not a sacrifice since it just frees him up to date Miharu full time. Plus his parents have already ensured he will have no actual repercussions and in the original script, were even paying for him to travel the world with the girl his quit his job for.
Karen is the first to get one on panel, showing her moving on from her rivalry with Miharu.
Miharu and Reika initially bleached their hair when they started high school to signify a fresh start.
Miharu goes between blonde, black, blonde, and will eventually revert to black again when school starts. Her hair color is a frequent symbol of her current state of mind and where she stands with the establishment.
Hanae rashly cut her waist length hair off at the height of an argument with her mother about her sexuality and personal identity.
The most recent entry in the Hair Cut 500 is Kazuo, who showed up with a buzz cut in chapter 47 after cutting ties with his father.
Indirect Kiss - Reika cutely wonders about indirect kisses when Eiji shares a juice box with her. She then chastises herself for thinking such a childish thing.
Jerk Ass - Kazuo's father Kenta, a rude, abusive asshole who mistreats virtually everyone in his family and whose sole motivation in life seems to be getting richer and more successful by any means necessary, including forcing his son to break up with Miharu so he could marry into a richer family. The fact that he fails at these objectives and still abuses his family only rubs in his general unlikeable nature. He's outright stated that he doesn't care much about Kazuo because he views him as useless.
There's also Arata, who uses his Freudian excuse of having been teased as a young teacher to torment his students. When Miharu refuses to be broken, he gets her expelled. Then there's the creepy way he looks at some of the female students . . .
Just Eat Gilligan: Reika thinks that she is pregnant after having sex with her boyfriend for the first time and with protection. Instead of going out to get a pregnancy test she gets herself, Miharu and Eiji worked up over the prospect without anyone considering that Reika just might not be. It isn't after we spend a whole chapter worrying that we find out that no, she isn't pregnant. Did she take a test? Not even that. We assume she got her period.
Yosue Makoto has a pattern of never, ever getting called out on any of his actions in the story or suffering any kind of repurcussions for them. He stalks Miharu? They become friends. He repeatedly cheats on Karen? She laughs him off as being a "flirty goofball." He quits his job to date Miharu full time? His parents bail him out no questions asked. He confronts and insults Kazuo to the point of throwing his suicide attempt and abusive home in his face? He doesn't even have to apologize and nobody ever finds out. And of course, he gets the girl anyway.
Loads and Loads of Characters - To the point where the vast majority of them suddenly and inexplicably dropped out of the strip in the final two years, several of them with their plot lines unresolved at all.
Love Dodecahedron - Between numerous unrequited emotions and marriage arrangements, there's a lot of still unresolved love issues. Even the title couple has complications that pop up throughout the series, at points leaving them up in the air and the readers guessing.
Love Hurts - Alternately played straight and averted. Love is a pretty neutral force in the comic overall, though pain is a given at some point.
Meaningful Name - Not in all cases, but sometimes the characters names reflect on their personalities. (e.g. Genki who is very cheerful guy, Seiko Hoshikawa (star, star-river) the head of the astronomy club etc.).
No Bisexuals - Subverted. The story appears play this straight when Maya hooks up with Yuuki instead of Fuuko...but completely reverses it when Maya's lingering feelings for Fuuko continued to wreak havoc on her relationship with Yuuki. The short story, "Maya's Match", eventually resolved this plot arc. Maya ends up with her male gym teacher after graduating, but only after seriously dating several men and women during college.
The Not-Love Interest - Ayu has been Makoto's best friend since they were little. She's easily the closest person to him since his beloved grandmother's death. There are absolutely no romantic feelings between them, despite what the fandom who wants him out of the way for Kazuo and Miharu might suggest.
Numerical Theme Naming - The Hayashihara brothers fall into this, not too uncommon in Japan: Ken'ichi (Strict, One), Eiji (Honor, Two), and Saburou's name just means third son.
Not What It Looks Like - Ken'ichi's skanky fiancee Aiko comes on to Eiji to make Ken jealous. Eiji is freaked, but Reika takes it the wrong way when she and Ken'ichi walk in on them. Then she slaps Eiji when he tries to explain. Pretty par for the trope, actually.
Ken'ichi sees it for exactly what it is though. Which is pretty sad that he knows Aiko that well and still puts up with it.
Obnoxious In-Laws - Reika's paternal grandmother treated her mom like utter crap while her parents were married. It's implied that she played a big role in their divorce.
Only Six Faces: This was a problem even early in the comic, but when the art completely went to pot as the comic barreled towards its conclusion, it became a running joke on the forums that everyone was impossible to tell apart because they even had the same hair style.
Orwellian Retcon: The author made multiple quiet changes to the final pages of the story to try and cover up the problems with the plot line. Since they were unannounced, most of her readership didn't even know they were happening, leading to confusion over the actual state of the storyline.
Makoto originally made no mention of how he was going to afford to quit his job and fly all over the world and wine and dine with Miharu. This led to the obvious conclusion that his parents were basically letting him quit a job they'd invested a lot of money and time into and were on top of that paying for him to screw off with the owner's daughter. This was changed to Makoto saying he had "savings".
Makoto's entire marriage proposal at the end of the comic? Him tugging a random ring off his finger and saying "Well?" After the readership pointed out how lazy this was, Gina rewrote it to something longer and at least implying that he wasn't planning on getting married right now.
She also openly announced the redraw of a page at the end where Kazuo forced a kiss on Miharu. The original drawing made it appear akin to a rape attempt, complete with Miharu wiping the kiss from her lips and the author explaining to the readership that this was intended to have consequences for Kazuo. After a solid evening of angry tweets, e-mails, and pleas from genuinely upset rape victims who expressed the forcefulness of the scene had triggered flashbacks, Gina admitted she'd failed as an artist and redrew the page to a tamer scene that showed the kiss was mutual.
Parents as People - Early in the series, the adult cast is well fleshed out and have their own problems, quirks, and character flaws. By the end of the series, however, this largely vanishes - Miharu's parents are treated as merely obstacles to her relationship with Makoto and the final scene of the comic is Miharu mocking them.
Parent Ex Machina: Makoto's parents seem to exist solely to remove any potential obstacles to his one goal in life - dating Miharu. Pushed to its ultimate extreme in the finale when they, off-camera, arrange for Makoto to quit his job, have another chef take his place, buy the restaurant, and pay for him to date Miharu full time and travel restaurants around the world with him. Without him even needing to hold down a day job.
Perfectly Arranged Marriage - Initially played straight...until Kazuo is forced by his father to break up with Miharu. He initially resists, but one punch later and he breaks up with Miharu. They have yet to get back together and suddenly Makoto and Miharu are significantly closer than before.
Red String of Fate - An important symbolic image in the strip - Miharu and Kazuo wear them to symbolize their love for each other, and Kazuo breaking his in front of Miharu made the fanbase want to flay him alive. Multiple covers use red strings to show how two characters are tied together or foreshadow where their relationships will go. Several chapter titles also reference this, e.g. "Hanging By A Thread."
Satellite Love Interest: Yosue Makoto is a controversial character due to lacking a well-defined personality aside from cooking, jewelry making, and obsessively pursuing Miharu to the point of unexpectedly quitting a stable job with good prospects in order to one-up a rival for Miharu's affections.
By the end of the comic, Miharu became this for Makoto. Any personality traits she had had before their hook up vanishes and she turns into a limp noodle that caves to Makoto's wishes, no matter how absurd. In the end, Miharu became the very thing she didn't want to be: a nail that gets hammered down.
Schoolgirl Lesbians - Fuuko felt this way towards Maya, leading to massive drama as Maya tried to work through her own feelings towards Fuuko. Fuuko later moved on to an actual intimate relationship with Hanae when she changed schools.
Sempai Kohai - While Biggs by and large forgoes most Japanese Honorifics she retains this one. The other one used is Reika's nickname for Miharu, Mi-chan.
Ship Sinking - While the author tends to like keeping loose ends loose, there have been some definite direct hits.
Fuuko x Maya - sunk when both girls moved on with other relationships. Oh yeah, and that thing where Maya figured out she's not gay.
Morita x Igarashi - Sunk when it was blatantly revealed to the readers that Igarashi is gay...and in a serious relationship.
Aya x Makoto - Aya sunk this one herself in a recent conversation with Miharu. She says dating Makoto would be like dating her brother, and she's not even sure he realizes she's a girl.
Kazuo x Miharu - Sunk a long time ago, but the hull finally drifted into the abyss in the final chapter when Makoto proposed to Miharu. She accepted.
Reika is a frequent target of rumors and shaming due to lies spread about her supposed promiscuity and later because she attracts the romantic attention of two boys who are popular with the rest of the school. It's later revealed that Sayuri, a girl jealous of her, deliberately kept spreading the rumors to elevate her own popularity...
...this backfires after Sayuri's attempts to ruin the reputation of two more girls are proven false, leading Sayuri to be the target of the same type of bullying she once perpetuated. One strip featured bugs left in her shoe.
Straight Gay - The one shot of Igarashi's home life is the only time the readers ever know he's gay. The rest of the gay cast members fall into this category, in which the only way the readers learn of their sexuality is when it's genuinely relevant.
Strip Buffer - The only reason Gina kept her work from falling prey to Schedule Slip for so long was her open policy of writing at least three weeks of pages in advance. Notably, in the final year of the comic and her sprint to the finish line, this completely vanished and Gina switched to rushing the pages out mere hours before they were scheduled to update, leading to many criticisms of the sudden plunge in what had once been a consistently good art style. By the end, Gina literally never knew how much she'd be able to write, and Kazuo's epilogue was literally an afterthought thrown together at the literal last minute.
Stupid Sacrifice - Non-lethal version. Makoto is put into a position at the end of the comic where we are told he must choose between continuing his relationship with Miharu or keeping his job at her family's restaurant. Now, keep in mind that the choice is already a False Dichotomy, as documented above. Makoto chooses to sacrifice his chance of owning Ogawa-Ya so he can date and marry Miharu. The problem? He proposes marriage after quitting. Miharu accepts. Meaning these people are his future in-laws. He didn't have to quit his job at all, and he's honestly made things worse because now Miharu's family is going to have to take him in as a son-in-law despite knowing that he's completely wasted their time and money on him...AND he has put them into this situation entirely because he wanted to sleep with their daughter.
Their First Time - Constantly teased with Miharu and Kazuo, after numerous distractions prevented them from it. They finally did, spurred on at least partially by Kazuo secretly being upset about his father wanting him to break up with her. He still did, the next day. This storyline later received even more attention from the author with the publication of Bound XOXO, an adult short comic showing the scene in greater detail.
Fuuko and Hanae get theirs in the storyline that led to My Sweet Girl. Similar to Bound, while the storyline implied this happening, My Sweet Girl was published as an adult comic showing the scene in full. Both adult comics now appear in color on Filthy Figments, an adult comics site aimed at women and also managed by Biggs.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech - Miharu finally gives the one all the readers were waiting for to Kenta in the hospital after Kazuo's suicide attempt.
Webcomic Time - The comic started in 2003 with the Miharu and her friends as 10th graders. They've yet to graduate high school. Miharu and her friends have been on "summer break" since mid-2009. Keep in mind that as Japanese students, their summer break is only a month long. At least some of this is due to the author's pregnancy in 2011 which forced the strip down to two page updates for much of the year and a short maternity leave in the summer that stopped updates entirely. This is also compounded by the greater focus on the supporting cast that led to several concurrent storylines taking place in the same window of time and naturally slowed forward progression.