Now as we draw close to the new season of anime I feel like there is something to be addressed when deciding what we watch and drop. I know I've mentioned this before in one of my other articles but this time, I want to solely focus on one aspect: The harem theme.
It seems whenever anyone reads the tag of harem on a show, it is suddenly plagued with this horrid disease of over the top fan service (unless that's what you want) and little to no entertainment or plot. That response would be acceptable by most if not all, and I wouldn't blame you. I'm not saying we should watch everything we pick up either, but we shouldn't so easily dismiss anime as such.
I think it's best I define harem so we are all still on the same page when I discuss further. Using oxford for our definition "chieflyderogatorya group of women perceived as centring around a particular man" and to a lesser extent "the women occupying a harem; the wives (or concubines) of a polygamous man". For the minimum number required to cross into the harem line will be 3 from the Wikipedia.
With that all out the way, let's dissect some of the problems this sub-genre has. Fan service, and by this I strictly mean the scenes where the main purpose is to excite viewers sexually. It's all too easy to fall for this trap because here you have this scenario where 80% of your main characters are female. When sex universally sells in the industry, it only makes sense that you include these scenes of your characters to try and boost sales, because every anime needs sales to stay alive, or to be at least worth the investment, from a business aspect. This only then leads to less time spent on developing character or plot which results in viewers having less faith in this sub-genre, to the point of prejudice. Yet because this is successful we see an increase in this idea that viewers are only interested in this sort of thing, leading into more production of these types of series because it's "easy money". It's a simple formula too which makes it so accessible, you only need to design 3 or more different female archetype characters and make them fall in love with one generic male character to make sure you cover your bases. I mean of course the writers try some flimsy plot that ties everything together for some end goal, but it's hard when all you're showing are panty shots and cleavage (No pun intended). When sex sells so well, it already affected every other genre regardless, to the point it's almost expected of a series to have some form of recreational episode which involves water leading to… you guessed it, bikinis or sometimes nothing thanks to hot springs. Hell if it's a school anime we expect a cultural festival episode where everyone dresses up as either sexy animals or sexy maids/butlers. Oops went off-topic my bad that could have been quite scary. Due to the lack of development of plot and character it's easy for the quality of the anime to go downhill if all we're animating are tits and ass. With a weak or lack off plot / character for the anime, it causes it to lack subsistence as an anime. When they all follow this route it only then garners the reputation of being a terrible show. Maybe in the end I'm annoyed how much acceptance there is when it comes to this sort of thing, and it could be argued the other way saying it's empowering in certain circumstances, which is great Returning to the point, the Achilles heel of the harem sub-genre is simply the crazy amount of stupid fan service it has, and I still believe we can have fan service done in a tasteful way which we've seen wonder examples of.
With all that negativity out the way let's explore the hidden wonders that lie ahead with this sub-genre. Due to the nature of the genre we are given a wide variety of reasonably developed characters (again no pun intended). With it we can explore these characters and develop the viewer's relationship on screen. When this happens viewers can become maybe attached or at least have the notion to care for these character when the plot progress. Even if we've already established our characters we can then be shown great interaction between each other, and how they play one off another. When you have a big cast you're bound to create some great chemistry if you ever have the chance to interrelate together, and that could easily be some wonderful entertainment. Especially if you've hooked an audience with different characters is almost like fan-fiction gold. Clashes of different beliefs, culture and history which drive alternate motives can be powerful. We don't even need dramatic powerful scenes to make anime good, as we all know, slice of life and comedy are just fine and they can contain up to 4-5 of the same gender as main characters. We could have humorous insights into the lives of these different characters and the shenanigans that could occur in their lives which can easily humour viewers for fun entertainment. I mean I'm not necessary against showing skin, because apparently, for some odd reason it seems we need eye candy on the screen to hold our attention. We live in the 21st century (albeit early in it) and I think everyone has the ability to see past this sort of ridiculousness, we are easily more media savvy and less susceptible than back in the 80's! When you have so many characters, I feel you have so many options to entertain viewers in so many diverse ways. Not to say it hasn't happen of course but the ratio is definitely in favour for the wrong one I feel. This probably applies to every story medium ever, but if we ever looked back at some of those terrible harem anime we've watched (Don't lie to me, we've all made that mistake) Those weak plots could be substantially better if not all the characters were not trying undress (or dress up) for the main character. The comedy could be more heart-warming, sincere or even comical rather than man falls into breast or vagina. The characters can be even more compelling if they weren't falling head over heels on a consistent basis for the main character. I guess that example only applies to normal harems anyway. What is great is that people are finding ways to incorporate great comedy into harems anyway, even with the stupid amount of fan service crammed between each scene. We are getting endearing scenes with them as well being themselves rather than swooning over the male lead.
There are series already out there, that many have seen that are considered harems as well. Some are even considered classics and masterpieces. The others sadly do not share such a fate and instead cast into the pit of disgrace when all they deserve was maybe that extra episode or little faith in the series.
Code Geass – I'm probably pushing my luck here (or cheating). Look at how well Code Geass performed, even if they did do one or two episode dedicated to having a little fun, but we all want that. All the character had a special role to play in this grand tale and it just came together like clockwork. This is what I mean when we can have characters interact one another. When Nina confronts Milly, the reunion between Lelouch and Euphemia and also in the aftermath, C.C and Karen the list go on forever.
Clannad – Yes I know there is a chosen one, but first 20 episodes or so were just about great characters and the story about each and every one of them. This is what happens when writers are willing to develop these wonderful characters and we are given one emotional rollercoaster. Even the OVA were a joy to watch because during the first season we've become attached to all the characters! Showing us an alternate ending with a different character. MY GOD THIS IS THE HOLY LAND. (Yeah I'm a Tomoya fan, especially how heart breaking it is)
Ben-to – Now the premise is so crazy that not even the fan service can take away the pure joy of fighting over half priced food. Even then the characters have fun interaction and whimsical humour on the side, but when the writers and producer put resources behind the crazy fights, it becomes such a great show, with that pumping soundtrack and sheer madness going on. It's one heck of a show.
Noucome – A very recent show just this season or past (depending on when you read this)! I believe mentioned earlier, but just a reminder this is a harem with wonderful comedy. Albeit with some heavy fan service, but as mentioned, that people are working in some great comedy in these fan service filled series.
Noticing this has gone long enough I'll just list 3 more harem series without reasons as well before I finish up because this could be too long.
- Hataraku Maou-Sama
- Maoyuu Maou Yuusha
- Outbreak Company
As you see there is potential and hope for the harem sub-genre. It doesn't always have to be this way, and as shown recently we're getting shows that are quality entertainment without the over sexualisation of genders. I know it's not just an anime problem and we have it in all other media, but slowly we're crawling out this problem. I hope after reading this, you'll take another look at that one series you dismissed out of hand, you never know. Maybe even giving it that one more episode or even just looking past the harem tag.
Or not, pfffft whatevs.