Harem in anime: what exactly is going on here?

So, Harem anime, they are immensely common and a fallback for many anime right now as they are a fairly safe bet to bring in an audience. As a genre it is prone to cliché, and boredom, yet there are many anime out there that are great fun to watch and entertaining in the process. Of course it can also be great fun to watch and a good source of romance with anime. Harem in anime tends to be one guy and 3+ girls, although there are a few which feature what I can only call a ‘mega-harem’.

Asobi ni Iku Yo, Princess Lover, Roasrio+Vampire, Nyan Koi, Shuffle, Girls Bravo, Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou, Infinite Stratos, Sekirei, To Love Ru, Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari, etc, quite frankly the list of Harem anime is so long I wont have seen them all, and certainty don’t have the patience to list them all here. But this gives some indication as to the sheer number of anime in this genre. In fact I think most anime seem to have an element of harem in them, since there are usually more female characters than male.

For me Harem anime fall into two fairly easy groups: The good anime which are both entertaining to watch and involve comedy, romance, etc, and the really quite dull, boring and the wrong side of cliché. And I think the reason for this is the genre itself, it is too easy to fall into the trap of there simply being one dull (and often immensely dumb) guy and about 5 or 6 girls or women surrounding him with much fanservice and general insanity. The problem is that it is far too easy for an anime, which may start out with a good plot to fall into this trap.

Now I can often be pretty cynical when viewing anime, and as a genre harem is often an excuse to add copious amounts of fanservice, yet at the same time I cannot help but enjoy many of these shows. Some of them such as Clannad and Shuffle can have pretty serious story elements, others such as To Love Ru, Asobi ni Iku Yo and Isekai no Seikish Monogatari can be pretty slapstick and be one constant set of gags (with fanservice naturally) which are great fun to watch nonetheless. And even if there are many harem anime, which I have found to be dull, such as Dragon Crisis, and parts of Infinite Stratos I don’t necessarily find the genre to be bad, its just unfortunate that it appears to be a fallback for many anime and one that I feel can be overused.

In short the genre itself is essentially fine, and considering how many successful harem shows are around it is clearly an extremely popular and potentially very successful. However it is those shows that already lack something to begin with that are bad harem anime, and just don’t add anything special to it. But lets face it, it is essentially a genre that has been marketed towards the male viewers of anime, we get the characters, the eroge that get turned into their own anime shows, the figures, the dakimakura, etc. Essentially it is less of an anime genre and more of an entire area of Japanese visual culture.

Series such as To Love Ru and Asobi ni Iku Yo have a variety of characters, all with fairly large breasts and skimpy outfits that can be produced as figures, or as bed covers, dakimakura, etc. The sheer number and variety of characters and character traits allows for a large number of other items to be made for every taste. And more importantly allows for mass fanservice to be added with the knowledge that the number of girls in the show would allow for it.

The harem genre is not simply about anime, but is something that encompasses almost everything about what I can only call anime/manga ‘Otaku’ culture (I am sure there is a better way of describing this, unfortunately I cant think of it), or perhaps ‘moe’ culture. The shear number of eroge and dating sims that are turned into anime perfectly demonstrates this genre at work.

Now after all this cynicism you might expect me to hate the genre, but I don’t, there are plenty of harem anime, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. To Love Ru, Asobi ni Iku Yo and Rosario+Vampire are all favourites with great humor and more innuendo than you can shake a rather large stick at. A personal favourite of mine however happens to be Isekai no Seikishi Mongatari, a continuation of the Tenchi Muyo universe which was great fun to watch and had what was possibly the largest harem I have seen in an anime yet, an entire school no less.

So it is easily possible to watch these anime without thinking about the other parts of the whole genre, and of course enjoy the shows, as you should. I just can’t help but feel that there are too many anime that fall back into the harem genre in the hope that all the other merchandise will be made and be successful. And yet after all this I still love to watch many Harem anime, the girls are cute and often immensely funny (hello Asobi ni Iku Yo), and the humour provided by the setting and genre will often satisfy me, I just like to question how and why such a genre is used.

These are obviously just my thoughts and can be freely disregarded I just find it fascinating that a genre can effectively transcend a simple medium like anime and become something which you can use to describe an entire element of visual culture.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

One Response to Harem in anime: what exactly is going on here?

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