harem antics

Harem to anime is like experience points in modern games. Sure, it’s there, but you’re not exactly sure why it’s there sometimes. Did I really gain 50xp for placing down a command center?

Watching Maoyuu got me thinking about archaic the show seems… no, I’m not talking about the old timey setting where potatoes and compasses are considered modern marvels, but how painful the whole Hero/Demon King/Knight romance is. Watching the three of them (and also Merchant, Dragon King Daughter, and others), it’s like watching Tenchi Freaking Muyo with Demon Queen kinda like Ryoko and Knight kinda like Ayeka. (Would this make Little Sister Meido Sasami? I hope so.) The fact Hero is so afraid of touching anyone and how desperate the women are for his lovin’, it just seems so late 90s. Modern day harem antics have already evolved past this point– Oreimo, Monogatari, Kotoura-san, etc. show that, yes, we don’t need a man who is afraid of women to have a successful harem setup.

Tenchi Muyo Grade

Exactly as described above: harem setup only perpetuated because the main lead cannot make up his mind. He is either (a) afraid of pissing off the non-chosen girls (b) trying for a real harem end (c) gay (d) women = cooties (e) Tenchi Muyo. There are no other options. This harem setup was extremely popular in the 90s and early 00s with Mamotte Shugogetten, Evangelion, Ai Yori Aoshi, Steel Angel Kurumi, Sister Princess, Futakoi, and Nadesico (remember when Akito blew off Yurika just so he could marathon anime? Yeah…). Aa! Megami-sama started out this way but ended up going another direction in the 00s. There’s still dusting of Tenchi Muyo in more modern series like To Love Ru, Shana, Hayate, Onii-chan dakedo Ai sae Areba Kankeinai yo ne!, and Maoyuu.

Love Hina Grade

Like babies and puppies, the harem genre grows up. Just a little. Replacing a women-fearing loser male lead is the lecherous, perverted male lead as we arrive in the early 00s. Technically, we could call this the Ranma ½ Grade, but Love Hina is a bit cleaner example. There’s no genderbending, there’s no martial arts: Love Hina is all about Keitaro’s quest to be the world’s most misunderstood pervert. Another innovation: the harem becomes the story. Previously, harem was kinda tacked on, like the point of Tenchi Muyo wasn’t Tenchi finding a bride– it’s Tenchi saving the world. Love Hina? It’s all about Keitaro’s quixotic quest to find his promised girl. Aww. Ramune, Zero no Tsukaima, Amagami, Kimi Kiss, Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru!, Sora no Otoshimono, Clannad, and Sword Art Online all fit this grade of harem antics.

Midori no Hibi Grade

When I think of the instant girlfriend genre, I think of Aa! Megami-sama where within the first chapter, K1 wishes for a girlfriend, and, viola! But that’s not the essence of this grade. This grade of harem antics is about an instant girlfriend, but then the couple revolves issues and conflict around them with their relationship as the strength. Then when I look at it that way, it has to be Midori no Hibi where Seiji and Midori overcome various issues and become closer as a result– that’s the hallmark: two people tossed into a relationship and then use it for strength. It also has just the right amount of ridiculousness to generate the instant girlfriend effect (Midori, well, being Seiji’s right hand). This grade has become a popular plot device as one could argue Maoyuu fits here someday (but that’s only if someone conquers poor Hero), Spice and Wolf, and Kotoura-san, Onegai Alien, Accel World (laugh), and Monogatari.

Toradora Grade

Conflict! The plot is driven by the conflict of the harem leads. There maybe harem options, but we all know who the end girl is going to be… don’t even think you’re fooling us for a second, Oreimo. Yes, it’s generally a mis-matched couple. Yes, it’s a very popular grade today. Yes, it may even result in a nice boat outcome. Other examples: Oreimo, OreShura, , Steins;Gate, Chu2, and Haruhi. (Yes, Haruhi came before Toradora, but Toradora is a more pure example of this grade as it is entirely about Taiga and Ryuji’s trials to come to terms with each other.)

Shows can have bits and parts of the various grades, but they generally fall heavily into one of the following tropes. It’s also not rare for a show to progress through various grades as it ages as Aa! Megami-sama is a great example in that it started out very Tenchi-like and then entered a long Midori period before finally settling in as a slice of life series that only has memories of being a harem series. Other series can randomly stumble into harem territory like the infamous Code Geass which had pieces of all of the above until we realized it’s truly a Toradora-type coupling between Suzaku and Lulu.

But I feel sometimes harem antics get shoehorned into shows that may not necessarily need it. For some shows, the harem antics come off as unnecessary as experience points in an RTS or a MOBA game. Like you can definitely feel the harem underbelly in Robotics;Notes, but does it really need it? And Oharuhi-sama forbid that Tamako Market is actually a harem anime for Dera…

8 Responses to “harem antics”

  1. I still believe in a true harem show. Like Isekai, where the male lead is the most eligible bachelor of the planet and the most high class women decided he is the only one who is worth their time. And that since there is only one of him, they didn’t mind sharing.

    In Isekai’s case, the women didn’t need a man in their lives. They joined the harem because the guy was worth the trouble. This is when the male lead is no longer a self insert, but an aspiration. The idea being that be a hard working and successful person who is also kind and gentle can get you women. Not just being a “nice guy” and had nothing else.

  2. The male lead in Hagure Yuusha no Estetica is possibly my favorite harem lead thus far.
    He likes to troll the ladies, but is not beaten to a pulp for once. Not because the ladies didn’t try, but because he’s simply too good and dodges all their attacks, like a boss.

    Alpha-males having harems is so logical and natural, yet harem anime more often than not insists on having the exact opposite of an alpha-male as the lead. This may or may not reflect the modern Japanese zeitgeist on masculinity.

  3. Like you can definitely feel the harem underbelly in Robotics;Notes, but does it really need it?

    I’d say the same thing about Steins;Gate. I’m not sure whether to call that ironic or unfortunate, given both of their VN roots.
    Also after 20ish years, a new haremette and signs of Shinji having grown a pair, I’m wondering which category Rebuild of Evangelion will fall into once it’s finished.

  4. With all the JRPG-nostalgia in Maoyuu, I’m half convinced the haremlike situation is an artefact of optional relationship sidequests…

    After the last episode, I think it’s also clear that while the Hero is spineless in taking a relationship forward, he’s also relatively set in his monogamous pursuit. Woman Knight is doomed.

    I just love how the series uses the names of character classes as proper names, like someone just clicked “Default” in the name selection screen.

  5. You need to rewatch Tenchi Muyou it seems, Tenchi’s last name was Masaki.
    Also I never really felt that Keitarou deliberately tried to be a pervert, the universe just conspired to get him into all those unfortunately fortunate situations.

  6. When talking about harem a show that may be worth mentioning is Mashiroiro Symphony. That series seemed to choose the default heroine right from the start, even the opening sequence and initial arc seemed to point to her and yet we were fooled. That said, in the end it most likely was just a technique to sell visual novels.

  7. I like how Boku wa tomodachi ga Sakunai came with a new twist on the trope in episode 10. Rika basically puts Kodaka on the spot saying that he isn’t the stereotype harem lead we all know and hate…but is actually faking the whole thing because he doesn’t want anything to change. I don’t remember a Harem show ever actually going that route before.

  8. .
    What? No mention of the Shuffle anime (the VNs maintained the status quo, and then some), where the whole harem dynamic gets shaken up, then resolved halfway through the series?
    Calling Keitaro Urashima a pervert is like calling Tenshi Masaki a playboy. They just don’t work that way.
    > I don’t remember a Harem show ever actually going that route before.
    …Isn’t that exactly Tenchi’s whole motivation on why he’s stringing along all those girls who end up living in his household? Tenchi in Tokyo (admittingly a crappy installment of the franchise, but which was a deconstruction of the whole Tenchi franchise) even called him out on it–he ran away from home because he didn’t want to be forced to choose between the girls.

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