Better Know a Genre Part 3: Harem Anime
In recent decades, harem is a genre that has inundated the Japanese animation industry. Despite its popularity, there are some anime fans who find harem to be formulaic, shallow, and occasionally sexist.
With an awareness of these pitfalls, I have to say I still enjoy harem because of its light, comedic nature. While it may seem that harem anime is bent on conquering the ignorant masses through ecchi, there are some really good titles out there that I’m happy to have discovered.
Harem in its most general sense can be defined as a plot in which the main character is surrounded by three or more people who are romantically interested in him/her. Love Triangle? More like a convoluted love circle.
The main character of a harem series will usually have an average appearance to allow the audience to identify with him/her. It is rare for the protagonist to be the strongest or best-looking of their peers; they may even start out as an outcast.
A common character flaw with male leads is that they can be too naïve or spineless. That aside, there is usually a unique circumstance surrounding the main character that causes his/her love interests to go crazy. Reasons can range from a childhood promise to the supernatural—or as a result of the protagonist gaining special powers.
There are many character-types in a harem that stay constant from one series to another. Here are some that are common:
The Childhood Friend – She has known the main character since they could walk. May realize her feelings, but doesn’t want to risk her & the main’s friendship.
The Diva - Loud, self-entitled, sometimes a ditz. She may express violence toward others when she doesn’t get what she wants.
The Loli – She’s at an actual or perceived age of youthfulness, and won’t let A-cup woes stop her–some guys are into that.
The Wallflower - Quiet, shy, may prefer a hobby over people. She fears confessing her feelings, and may express her love to the main character through alternate means (e.g. tutoring, making bento).
The lineage of harem is more difficult to trace than one would think. The comfortable, cookie-cutter tropes known today evolved slowly from broader ideas that began to take shape in romantic comedies.
The thematic elements of harem, though not yet defined, began with the work of Takahashi Rumiko (高橋 留美子). Her 1978 publication of the sci-fi romantic comedy Urusei Yatsura, published in Shonen Sunday, served as a framework for future series.
Urusei Yatsura (1981)
Ataru Moroboshi, the unluckiest young man alive, is selected to defend earth from an alien invasion. This brings serious complications to his love-life.
32 years after its original broadcast, Urusei Yatsura, aka “Those obnoxious Aliens”, became a catalyst for the creation of future harem anime. It is significant in being the earliest series to feature more than two love interests for the central character. Also, unlike modern harem heroes who can’t appreciate their good luck, Ataru Moroboshi ranks as the most perverted teenager on planet earth. The only reason he can’t pick a girl is because he wants all of them. Then, in an un-harem-like fashion, he gets turned down a LOT. Humorous physical abuse abounds. Also worth noting, Urusei Yatsura had a “Beach Episode,” a result of the characters winning tickets via a supermarket lottery prize. Yep, it goes back this far.
Kimagure Orange Road (1987)
Kyosuke Kasuga has ESPer powers. However, this has no bearing aside from being a comedic device. Kyosuke’s real struggle is his extremely indecisive nature, which spans a 48-episode long love triangle.
Kimagure Orange Road isn’t a harem, but classifies as a direct predecessor to modern harem anime. Kyosuke Kasuga is a typical harem lead. It isn’t hard to imagine myself in the place of this bland noodle. As far as other characters, it is likely that Madoka Ayukawa was the first modern tsundere character. Despite being original during its time, I honestly don’t think it is possible for me to stomach this series again as the stock gags have been over-recycled. In the depths of my nostalgia, it is a cute, dramatic story of first love.
Ranma ½ (1989)
As the result of a curse, any contact with cold water causes Ranma Saotome to turn into a girl. This attracts the romantic interest of both genders.
Much like Ataru of Urusei Yatsura, not all the girls in the show want to get with Ranma. However, relationship issues repeated in future harem titles are present. For example: Ranma is engaged to Akane, but both of them are too thick-headed to admit that they like one other. Also, if being a boy in his teens weren’t complicated enough, Ranma’s gender swapping attracts suitors of both sexes. Almost every episode introduces a new prospective partner. However, only two or three are serious competitors.
Tenchi Muyo! (1992)
Tenchi Masaki is an ordinary teenager whose quiet life in the mountains is disturbed by the arrival of a group of alien girls.
Tenchi Muyo! is the first series that could be classified as a true harem. After Tenchi saves their lives, the women of this series become smitten with him, and actively fight amongst themselves. Unlike some of the previous mentions, Tenchi doesn’t run away from his prospective girlfriends. In fact, all eight space princesses move in with him! Of course, the good-natured Tenchi is too dense to notice they’re after his manhood.
As Harem evolved, it garnered a mysterious brand of universal appeal. So much so, that it was able to balloon into the large amount of animated series, manga, and video games seen today. Here are a few:
note* Only traditional harem was mentioned due to the expansiveness of this topic. Reverse harems (a female lead), yaoi/yuri harems, and the various plot devices present within different sub-genres of harem were not included.
Want to give a nod to your favorite harem series?
Your contributions are welcome below.
Posted on January 23, 2013, in Anime and tagged anime childhood friend, anime diva, anime loli, anime personality, Ataru Moroboshi, ハーレムもの, classic anime, first beach episode, first tsundere, good harem, harem, harem protaganist, japanese animation, Kimagure Orange Road, Kyosuke Kasuga, Love Hina, Lum alien, Ranma 1/2, sekirei, Shuffle!, Takahashi Rumiko, Tenchi Masaki, Tenchi Muyo, the first harem, Those obnoxious Aliens, Urusei Yatsura. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.