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Harem anime


Harem anime

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A harem comedy is a term for an anime or manga story wherein one male character is surrounded by often living with several female characters. The term is a creation of Western fans, the Japanese simply calling such shows lovecomi (love comedies), although the concept is well known to Japanese fans as well. It describes a situation where a lead male of a 'generic' quality cohabits with many pretty girls, who through the course of a storyline show varying degrees of affection towards him. In many cases, such series are adaptations of dating simulation games, or designed to appeal to a similar audience, especially seinen publications.

The original use of the term arguably began in the U.S. with the success of Tenchi Muyo!, and since then has typically had negative or satirical connotations. The discontent usually stems from several tropes used, such as accusations that male leads are blatant audience surrogates (or self inserts) who would never attract any sort of attention from women. More generally, many fans feel the premise itself is overused and typically fallen back upon when writers run out of ideas or are reluctant to pursue a romantic decision that may upset fans.


Design and criticism

The prototypical harem anime features a number of characters, usually with a minimum of one boy and three or more girls whose personalities are often stock characters popular in mo fandom. The term does not necessarily imply sexual connotations. Most members of the "harem" have some level of emotional attachment to the lead, ranging from romantic interest to casual friend to a sibling figure. Overall many casts are depicted as a family/friend unit and the seriousness of romantic entanglement can vary considerably.

Fandom sometimes complains that most females in harem comedies tend to be -- or at least, have become -- stock characters with little or no originality to their designs. Many harem comedies build tension on humorous misunderstandings, typically with female characters lashing out emotionally for no good reason, causing some fans to complain that this humor is at best repetitive and at worst sexist and violent. Most also have a remarkable lack of male characters besides the lead, which is explained by the author either wishing to control the size of an already large cast, or having no particular desire to design other male characters the (male) fandom will not be interested in. Many shōjo works have equivalents to harems, but shōnen and seinen are perceived as more overtly sexualized than shōjo.

Some fans argue that the various girls create a better chance that for audience members to find a girl appealing to their tastes, and the male character is someone they can directly relate to in a humorous fashion. Also, the lead's interest is often concentrated on one particular girl, thus negating the "harem" accusation" - unless the writers have decided to keep their options open. This may happen if writers wish to assess a female character's popularity with fandom before advancing the plot.

Male characters

Male characters are few and usually invoked only when necessary, but harem series are generally believed to need at least one audience surrogate. The Male Lead is usually at least of high school age. His parents and family are either very tolerant of his situation or not present at all (he has moved out, parents have died, etc.). Typically wishy-washy Everyman characters, occasionally the personality of a "delinquent with a heart of gold" is a alternative option. Thrust into compromising situations, his responses are restrained by varying degrees of "loser" attributes. This can include simple bad luck, extreme shyness and awkwardness with girls in general, or being a complete nerd. Leads may have female friends on occasion, but in a strictly Platonic fashion. They also bear the brunt of any of a series's humor, including the physical.

Other optional males include the Rival, a polar opposite of the lead who is designed for the audience to dislike, or the lead's non-descript friends, who serve as an envious peanut gallery oblivious to his troubles. Another option is a capable, older male who the lead looks up to and wishes to emulate.

Female characters

This list is intended to give common examples found in harem series, but in many stories these traits are mixed or fused.

  • The Lead Girl is a prominent female character implied to have the "best chance" of ending up with the lead male, often by simple virtue of being the first member of the cast the Male Lead meets. A common debate amongst fans is whether the existence of this character negates the concept of a "harem", which is perhaps one reason the resolution in her relationship with the lead is usually delayed extensively. (Love Hina's Naru Narusegawa is a prime example.) She also tends to be a broadly drawn character (but see Magical girlfriend). She may, in contrast, be a member of another stereotype in addition. (Akane Tendo, Ranma ) She may share many of his worries, but is usually much better at disguising insecurities, consequently seeming more confident and capable. Her clumsiness can be a source of embarrassment, resolved with the quick and infamous use of over-the-top slapstick.
  • The Housewife usually has a demure personality and quiet graceful bearing, doting on other characters. They are more frequent in non-harem situations, perhaps because they are usually guarantees in shipping. (e.g., Aoi Sakuraba, Ai Yori Aoshi.)
    • A Princess role is similar but can take a satirical tone, implying a stuck-up, snotty attitude and a scheming nature. They usually do not get along with tomboys. (e.g., Princess Ayeka from Tenchi Muyo!)
  • The Tomboy (bokukko) is often depicted as refreshingly frank and direct compared to the other girls. She is often identified as a roughneck with a love of parties, sports, drinking, and fun in general -- or alternatively, rude, messy, obnoxious, and destructive to peace in the household. Her relationship with the lead male is sometimes a simple friendship with the occasional teasing. Tomboys are usually sexually aggressive, if only playfully, towards the lead or even the other girls. Many speak with an Kansai accent (considered rougher by Tokyo standards), or even with masculine pronouns. (Mitsune "Kitsune" Konno from Love Hina is a good example.)
    • Some less easygoing tomboys are Warriors, who have a strict and well-honed dedication to sword fighting or martial arts, usually to the detriment of their social lives. They are often overly serious for their age, have problems making friends and identifying with their peers, and have such a lack of experience dealing with boys (who sometimes fear them) that they have an extreme aversion to guys in general. (Love Hina 's Motoko Aoyama is another good example.)
  • The Foreigner is a good-natured caricature of a non-Japanese person (usually European or American Caucasian), with some knowledge of Japanese culture to make them easier to write. Ensuing culture shock is often source of humor. Many of these characters are also biracial or bilingual as a result, although the latter is sometimes only referred to rather than depicted. This avoidance is slightly more common in anime, since textual translations in manga are easier than finding a seiyuu who can portray a convincing accent. The Foreigner usually plays a "sisterly" role - fond of the Male Lead, but without any sexual or romantic desire, as opposed to the stronger romantic interest of the Little Sister type. (e.g., Kaolla Su, from Love Hina).
  • The Competitor is a character whom the male might consider more attractive in some ways than the Lead Girl, but who has a serious drawback in her personality. The Lead Girl knew her before the story begins, and had fights with her at that time. The top example is Ran from Urusei Yatsura; also, Peorth from Oh My Goddess!.
  • The Rich Girl is mostly a parody of a wealthy girl, similar to the American "Archie Comics's" Veronica. Her wealth is displayed in ludicrous vehicles, in her large house and its many antiques, and in displays of ritualized obedience by her many servants. Obviously she does not move in with the male, and she is the least likely to end up with the male lead (e.g., Ayaka Yukihiro from Negima: Magister Negi Magi).
  • The Carefree Girl is a character who doesn't feel the anxieties that the others do. She is stereotypically a girl whose life and personality are sunny, and who relaxes in the sun. Very often she is blonde and tanned, though she speaks Japanese fluently. Either she has hidden wealth which plays no part in the story, or is a fool. She is very often quite clumsy, making mistakes which the other characters have to fix. The top example is Mihoshi from Tenchi Muyo, who is both a fool and the daughter of an important personage of the galaxy. Karin Aoi in DNA is trying to set herself up as carefree, but she's the main source of the problems in the story. (Example: Mutsumi Otohime from Love Hina.)
  • The Monosyllabic Girl is a derivative of the mascot animal, such as Mokona from Magic Knight Rayearth, who is capable of saying only one syllable (Puu) in varying intonations to express emotions. Chi from Chobits is the prime example; almost all she says episode after episode is "Chi". Such a character need not literally say only one syllable; Ren from Yumeria says "Mone" a lot. These characters are extremely attentive to the male lead, and aren't really social. Their debility adds mystery, but it dehumanizes them as well.
  • Little Sisters are the youngest female characters, usually seeing the lead character as a big brother (sometimes with frequent use of the title 'oniichan') or a nonthreatening crush object. Interestingly, this character is one of the most variable types. On one extreme, she may be a painfully shy, self-conscious wallflower, while on the other she is upbeat and immensely cheerful. These characters may be controversial because their frequency in doujinshi is sometimes perceived as a deliberate appeal to lolicon (e.g., Fuuka and Fumika from Negima or Tenchi Muyo 's Sasami).
  • The Slightly Older Woman appears in the story because harem shows focus on the teenage male audience, who notice that teenage girls have not yet reached their peak of attractiveness. When set in a high school, there may be a member of the faculty or service personnel who is in her twenties and drop-dead gorgeous. Her part in the story is to gently put down all instances of attentiveness by the teenage boys. An early example of this type is Sakura, from Urusei Yatsura; also, Urd from Oh My Goddess! and Bloodberry from the Saber Marionette series.
  • The Android is, as in the direct translation from the Japanese term, a man-made living creature. She has neither any family history nor expectation of continuing the extended family herself. Since she has not learned to display feminine graces, either, she represents the difference between the sexes without any superficialities, as perceived by adolescent males. It is the void in her personality that is attractive to some of them, who feel they could do anything with her. Some literal Robot women also appear, and can serve as any of the other types. Some merely represent the duties and obligations in society by their programming, while others are designed to learn and evolve. Because of potential misunderstandings, this is another potentially 'serious' archetype that is often the focus of parody.
    • The Mystic is a similar character, with an otherworldly or offbeat personality, with supernatural overtones instead of scientific ones. Both are often uses as vehicles for off-hand self-parody or black humor (e.g., Chachamaru Karakuri from Negima, Kanna from Happy Lesson).
  • A Nanny is a capable, wise adult character (preferably female) who serves as the final authority figure of the group, perhaps a landlord or more distant relative (e.g., grandfather Yosho in Tenchi Muyo or Haruka Urashima in Love Hina). Although these characters may intervene in extreme circumstances, they are usually relaxed and uncritical to the point of near-irresponsibility.
  • The typical Genius is extremely skilled in the sciences, and consequently is often depicted as a cute version of a mad scientist, usually with the associated lack of tact and foresight with her creations. Her abilities allow for more fanciful plot devices. This archetype is often associated with Washuu in Tenchi Muyo.
    • In contrast, the Prodigy or Otaku can be a satirical depiction, since these characters usually display great skill only in a certain hobby or interest while being woefully inept at most others (e.g. Hakase Satome from Negima).

Examples often cited by fans

  • Ai Yori Aoshi is a recent anime going for a dual concept of both magical girlfriend and pseudo-harem anime. While the two leads are clearly in a relationship early in the story, they do live with a cast of other girls from whom they must keep the relationship a secret.
  • Chobits is an anime which has a haremesque relationship between the main character Hideki Motosuwa, his android Chii, Takako Chimizu, and Yumi Omura. This is not the focus of the anime, however, and the latter two are quickly paired off.
  • Dual! has its harem mixed in with a Mecha parody.
  • Elfen Lied is probably the most violent anime that one would put into the harem category. Despite the blood and gore accompanying most episodes, there is plenty of romantic play and jealousy to go around.
  • Galaxy Fraulein Yuna is a variant on the harem anime archetype; the main character is a schoolgirl, and her extensive list of unusual admirers are also girls.
  • Geobreeders somewhat counts as a harem anime where a young boy works with an all-girl squad to rid the world of phantom cats and make a profit out of it.
  • Girls Bravo features scenes in which the male lead is transported to a mysterious planet that has a population of 90% female. When his lady-interest follows him back to Earth, a couple other fems join in the fracas and contribute the aspects of their varying personalities to the main story.
  • Hanaukyo Maid Tai is generally considered to be a blatant, albeit tongue-in-cheek maid-harem anime.
  • Hand Maid May is a similarly blatant maid-harem anime. With servant-androids similar to Chobits, the anime is much more light-hearted. Kazuya Saotome is surrounded by the real life girl-next-door Kasumi Tani, and the Cyberdolls May, Sara, Rena, Kai and Mami.
  • Happy Lesson has few romantic elements at all, and female characters who dote on the lead are (from their viewpoint) mother figures.
  • Ichigo 100% is another recent example of the harem anime archetype. While its classification is sometimes questionable due to the male lead's primary fixation on the (apparent) female lead, his wishy-washiness and his apparent reluctance to make a firm commitment (spurred, it seems, by his attempt to avoid hurting any of the girls), combined with his attraction to all the main female characters, makes this a de facto harem anime.
  • Love Hina is another famous series which, in younger audiences, has supplanted Tenchi Muyo!'s title as the Typical Harem Anime.
  • Maburaho is an interesting example in which three females, all gifted in magic, are after the same boy who can only use magic a limited number of times.
  • Negima: Magister Negi Magi with a cast of more than thirty girls, is still thought as a harem anime, although the male lead is only nine years old.
  • Ranma takes the simple harem idea and makes it far more complex. Since the lead male character is also female, his/her main harem members consist of four females and one male, with many other potential candidates of both genders appearing episodically. In addition, the lead female, who is also a member of the first harem, has a harem of her own consisting of at least three males, one of whom is also a member of the first harem. Two of the other females in the first harem also have their own small harems. When you include rivals, the situation becomes even more convoluted.
  • Shuffle! - both the game and the series contains all the elements of a typical harem, with a unique group of characters to hold viewers' interest. Originally a hentai game, the anime stands on its own with one male surrounded by 5 females characters.
  • Tenchi Muyo!, especially the later television series, contains most of the common elements. Although certainly not the first, is considered by many American fans to be the prototypical (or at least most famous) harem anime.
  • Urusei Yatsura is a definitive harem manga and television series, although the appearance of the female characters is episodic.
  • Vandread is an example of the genre, but not in its purest form. While there are three male characters living among hundreds of girls, this anime focuses more on sci-fi themes. It does provide a nice twist to the harem concept by depicting females in a more dominant role.

Gender variants

Series like Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club and Fushigi Yūgi could easily be considered female-oriented harem animes, each having a fairly ordinary female lead surrounded by a number of handsome, talented men who are devoted to her. There are also examples in obscure BL titles.

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