harem genre primer (featuring mahoraba)

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Welcome to Narutakisou

Spoiler warning: I was preparing a long post extolling Mahoraba, and I had been working on a post about harem anime for a while… so I decided to combine the two. If you haven’t seen the series, I’ll drop a few minor spoilers but spoilers nonetheless… so click on page 2 for the start of the post.


Welcome to Narutakisou

There’s really no equivalent to the harem genre in anime to something one might see on American TV. I guess the closest would be an anti-The Bachelor where the guy is trying to increase the number of women instead of voting one off week by week. Also, whereas sex is viewed as a “Hello!” in The Bachelor, just shaking hands is generally a romantic victory in the harem genre. The basic premise, which does not vary much from show to show, is that some loser, doormat of a guy, by some stroke of luck, ends up living with hot chix0rs. Most of the time, the genre is light-hearted and comedic rather than a soap opera. Despite the genre’s forumlatic nature, there’s definitely some entertainment to be found. Hopefully this primer will be of some use and entertainment for both newbies to the genre and more seasoned veterans alike.

A Brief Word on Subgenres (a.k.a. Fanservice Levels)

While the general harem genre is all comedic, happy, and non-dark, they do distinguish themselves with the level of fanservice. There’s the extreme of nakkid-except-for-a-bonnet triplets of Hanaukyo to the more conservative “OMFG did Belldandy just flash a shoulder?” I would sub-catergorize harem shows based on a movie rating. As in “PG” for Megami-sama and Mahoraba to the “R” that is Hanaukyo and the newest Girls Bravo (though bordering closely to “MA”). There’s also another subgenre where its a girl with a harem of guys, and the happily ever after involves the guy discovering he likes other guys, but I’m not going to get into that here. Like ever. While panties and breasts and sidedish-chans carry some shows, they can add only so much before becoming a distraction to the meat of the genre. That is “The Hero,” “The Heroine,” “The Gimmick,” and most importantly, “The Harem.”

On to “The Hero”…

The Hero (a.k.a. Doormat Whom We Aspire To Be)

Young Shiratori and Kozue

Generally, the main hero is male. He generally is down on his down on his luck, but somehow ends up in a situation that allows him to meet the heroine. Generally unkept hair and in college. Generally very short. There’s no tall guys in this genre. His best trait is that he’s quite submissive, which somehow wins over all the girls… eventually. He’s usually also very cool and collected, but only when backed into a corner. The hero will have a pinch of pervertedness though it seems to be around three standard deviations less than real life males. In Mahoraba, the hero is Shiratori, an aspiring children’s book writer. He’s not very different from anyone else, but he isn’t bombastic and definitely takes punches better than giving them out, and he started the series in a pinch. His home is very far from his vocational school, and the travel just kills him. Luckily, his mom knows someone in Tokyo who can hook him up with a nice apartment. And the landlady of the apartment? Why, it’s the heroine!

On to “The Heroine”…

The Heroine (a.k.a. Childhood Friend Who Became A Goddess)

Kozue~~ cute~~

There’s a lot in common with most heroines. The obvious is every guy’s fantasy: good wife material. Can cook. Enjoys cleaning. Doesn’t have two horns on her head and won’t decapitate you for flirting with other girls. Generally very cute and employs skirts about three standard deviations more often than real life females. They also have a clueless side, which makes it possible for the hero to “sneak out” with other harem members. Also, the heroine is almost always either the same age or two years younger than the hero. But that’s not their defining feature. The defining feature is that the heroine has met the hero in her past, and one usually will remember better than the other. The heroine for Mahoraba is Kozue who is Shiratori’s second cousin and remembers him because… well… that’s a big spoiler. :P She goes to an all girls school with her friend Tamami and manages the family apartment complex, Narutakisou, in her free time. Kozue also has two minor personality quarks, in that she likes dried plums. In fact, she’s the Zagat’s equivalent for dried plum tasting. She also has a weird sense of “cute”… but these are minor quarks. Like all heroines, Kozue has that very sunny side when she smiles and instantly makes people like her, but she also has the clueless side like when she walked around town with Shiratori… the English equivalent would be:

“Is that your boyfriend?”

“Yes, he’s a boy-friend.”

However, Kozue has many sides… like a dice. Hence the gimmick!

The Gimmick (a.k.a. Why This Harem Is Different Than That Harem)

No, this ain’t Futakoi

The gimmick is mostly used as a hook. They have them in American sitcoms as well… like for Different Strokes it would be “old white dude adopts two inner city black youths. Hilarity ensues.” Same with harem anime. So the hero has found the almost perfect heroine, and why would I want to watch happily ever after? Fairy tales end at happily ever after… the stuff before happily ever after is what’s interesting. The gimmick is one of the devices used to complicate the wooing of the heroine by the hero.

As stated earlier, Kozue has many sides. She has multiple personality disorder, but not like the serious, mind-destroying kind in Paranoia Agent. If she experiences different types of physical or mental stress, she can become one of four other personalities. These personalities make it difficult for Shiratori to get close to the main Kozue personality, and the disorder coupled with the standard roadblocks ensure that hilarity ensues. The roadblocks? It can’t be a harem with one girl (even if she has four other personalities)… other chixors!

On to “The Harem”…

The Harem (a.k.a. A Little Something for Everyone)

The problem is that it is hard to generate stories for just two people, and since guys have different tastes in women, it makes sense to include a wider cast. Not all guys, gasp, like the Belldandy. That’s why there’s also the Urd and the Skuld models. Of course, the added cast is almost all female, and they have their own stereotypical tendancies. It can be something simple like speaking in an Osaka dielect or some complex like running away from taking over her family’s dojo. Here’s a guide to some more common ones:

  • Tomboy. She’s not feminine, but does have a feminine side that she shows to the main character. When Kozue gets surprised, she changes in to Saki, who enjoys fighting games, picking on little kids, and screaming. She is identified with heavily accepted speech and a ponytail. But, eventually, her shields will fall and starts getting charmed by the doorma– err hero and turns into yet another harem member. Resistance is futile. A classic example would be Motoko from Love Hina, whom Keitaro bent so hard she’s writing romance novels by the end. Interestingly enough, Motoko is afraid of turtles while Saki is afraid of butterflies.
    Angry Saki!
  • Jailbait. Technically all the girls are jailbait since it is rare for harem shows to feature older women. In fact, 25 is considered grandma-like in this genre. Jailbait refers to someone younger, usually acting more mature for her age, and calls the hero, “onii-san.” Jailbait for Mahoraba would be the elementary school-aged Asami… who is always happy and positive to compensate for her gloomy mother. They are a poor family who makes ends meet by shopping for big sales and doing side jobs… and using cardboard boxes for furniture. While Asami isn’t very interesting herself, paired with her mom, they make a formidable comedic duo. Another jailbait example would be Chika from Ai Yori Aoshi.
  • Slighly Less Illegal Jailbait. There’s also the character who physically may not be jailbait but mentally is younger than the jailbait… if that’s makes sense. Kozue’s next persona emerges when she gets embarrashed. Kozue’s third personality is the six-year-old Nanako who enjoys, uh, gets into interesting situations with Shiratori using Kozue’s grown-up body and hilarity ensues. Nanako is distinuished with her antennae and “the shine.” Another example would be Chii from Chobits, who, similiar to Nanako, enjoys wearing underwear on their heads.
    Nanako wants a story!
  • Checkie! Moving on… there’s usually a harem member who has a hobby that’s featured. In fact, if she had a blog, she would be blogging about that hobby. Tamami fits the role here with her camera… though I’m not sure if her hobby is taking pictures or blackmailing people with the pictures. It’s not fair to place Tamami solely here as her major role is that she’s Kozue’s childhood friend/protecter/wannabe lover (?) which leads to the Yuri archetype. The original– the omega– from which all Checkie! were wrought is Yotsuba from Sister Princess.
  • Yuri. If the heroine is so perfect, it would be natural for her to have admirers from both genders. If anything, the Yuri template makes great fodder for the doujinshi writers as in “Tamami and Kozue enter a bath. **censored** ensues.” Tanami is blessed with high IQ and physical abilities since she was little and never fit in, but Kozue always accepted her, which explains Tamami’s affections for Kozue. Tamami then is conflicted by whether or not to get into Shiratori’s way since she wants to be with Kozue but Kozue is happiest with Shiratori… so she ends up tormenting him with “tests” and hilarity ensues. A prime Yuri-riffic example would be Anna from He Is My Master, but Tamami is definitely more like an evil version of Card Captor Sakura’s Tomoyo than Anna.
  • “Onii-chama”. There’s usually a subgenre that involves a relative, usually a younger sister. They actually show a chart showing why it isn’t wrong for Shiratori and Kozue to get together in Mahoraba. But in other shows, it makes me wonder… like, oh, Sister Princess.
  • Cosplay Maniac. Likes to dress up people, especially guys in women’s clothing. Excellent excuse for the manga-ka and production company to appeal to the more, uh, unique fetishes. Kozue’s cosplay side comes out as Chiyuri who enjoys tormenting everyone by dressing them up. Chiyuri is identified, besides the cosplaying carnage she leaves behind, by her glasses, which satisfy yet another subcharacter genre fetish, the “megane.” She has one weakness in guys, but fortunately for Shiratori, he looks feminine enough that Chiyuri likes dressing him up. An example who isn’t afraid of men and has a Mahoro outfit stashed somewhere would be Ikuyo from Hanaukyo.
  • Miss Shy. Doesn’t like other people. Doesn’t speak too coherently. May have some secret (or not-so-secret) magical ability. Easily misunderstood… and it is the hero’s job to crack open this shell of shyness. Kozue’s fifth personality is the ever shy Natsume. Maybe. Natsume seems to appear when she gets sad in the anime, but when she appears in the manga when things get too romantic. Maybe. (Note: romantic as in tripping and falling… which is very romantic for the harem genre.) She likes reading in dark corners by herself, but once in a while she emerges to perform magic. She redoes Kozue’s single ponytail into a double ponytail. Maybe. She doesn’t talk to anyone else, but eventually Shiratori manages to win her over and gets her to tell him her name. Maybe. One interesting thing is the method he uses in the anime is different than in the manga, so if you are a Mahoraba fan, great excuse to check both out. Alternate example would be Yakumo from School Rumble… notice how Harima manages to win over the girls everyone else wants (Yakumo, Eri) and manages to not get the girl no one else wants? (Another post for another time. Maybe.)
    Pick a card! Maybe.
  • Beer Please! Usually there’s an older women (remember, older as in 25-ish for this genre) who enjoys drinking beer at all times of the day. Usually this troubles the hero, and in Shiratori’s case, Momono enjoys drinking and partying in his room. It’s hard being cute harem material just drinking beer, so Momono does have a cuter side that she actively hides since she has a long distance relationship with someone overseas. Momono also acts like the ringleader to make things interesting for the harem, like what Kitsune did in Love Hina. Momono enjoys tormenting Shiratori with Tamami, and the two of them get along as well as Skuld and Urd. Momono reminds me a lot of Misato from Evangelion.
  • Wiccan. Stereotypical Goth girl. I can’t recall her name, but she’s the President of the Occult Research Club of which Tamami (and eventually Kozue) is a member of. She speaks slowly and enjoys being insulted and hurt. She’s Tamami’s weakness. Asami seems to get along with her, though. For more witchy brooding, please consult Kotone from To Heart, who also doubles as the rich girl.

One Response to “harem genre primer (featuring mahoraba)”

  1. I don’t think that other girls count towards the harem if the hero is not interested in them and they are not interested in him, but including Kozue’s alts into the harem is a keen observation.

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