Harems are great. Who can complain about being surrounded by every possible flavor of cute anime girl stereotype? Over the last twenty years, harem anime has started a transformation from generally just being a representation of “every teenage boy’s fantasy” to becoming a genre with quality storylines, well-rounded female characters, and even male leads who learn lessons and develop into better versions of themselves. Today, we’d like to discuss this trend in harem anime, why we think it’s here, and why we think it should stay!
A Teenage Boy’s Dream Come True
Most MCs in harem anime are far from the brightest crayon in the box. They tend to be average in intellect and looks, and others are either antisocial and/or just horny d-bags waiting for the next nip-slip. In traditional harems, the MC usually can’t believe they are so lucky and are constantly gifted with accidental panty shots and/or boob grabs, and then there are the ones who end up surrounded by beautiful girls who are prone to drama, bad decisions and/or violence, though… the daily fanservice and ecchi accidents make it worth it!
That’s what we’ve gotten used to expecting from typical harem anime. Tons of cute girls for every taste and one undeserving bland/dumb/horny teenage boy who gets to spend his days accidentally groping his well-endowed friends—while viewers live vicariously through them. Many times, the MC tends to be a placeholder for the viewer, which leads to his blandness—reverse harems do this too, unfortunately—and more often than not, he never grows or develops much, if at all, as a person.
The New Harem MC: From Lucky Bastard to Great Catch
Well, this has all slowly been changing over the last 20 years. We now have harem male leads with well-rounded identities and kind personalities instead of just being hormone-driven idiots—classics like Clannad and Kanon or newer anime like BokuBen and OreSuki are good examples. Yes, Joro in OreSuki starts off as a typical horny teenage harem lead, but the series even points out this purposeful technique of luring the audience in by offering the typical panty shots and ecchi in the first episodes. While Joro starts off as a typical Harem MC, he is the character with the most development and growth and he actually becomes someone the girls might want to date!
20 years ago, when Love Hina came out, it was all about hot girls having a punching bag who could also serve as a receptacle of over-the-top PDA. Is he dumb? Is he a jerk? Does he actually care? Who cares!? He’s getting smothered in boobies and punched through a wall in the same episode! “Yes, Ms. Hina. May I have some more?”. But eventually, after enough times being blown away, love takes over and the main characters end up together.
After that, we had more serious harems like Clannad in which a seemingly typical jaded boy befriends a group of girls and helps them with their issues and thus grows into a mature, caring, well-rounded man who eventually even marries The One—Heartwrenching love-filled moments ensue. Bokuben follows in these footsteps just a little. While much more of a comedy than Clannad could ever be—things actually get pretty depressing at some points—Nariyuki is not a creep, nor is he trying to sneak a peek at the girls he tutors, nor is he jaded. In fact, he just wants to help these girls succeed in their goals once he gets to know them, even to the point that he forgets he’s also supposed to be figuring his life out. He is definitely a boy to bring home to mom.
Back to ORESUKI… Joro does have a few epiphanies brought about mostly by the hard blows at his ego and he evolves quite a bit throughout the series, giving up on his lustful feelings toward the girls and realizing he actually cares regardless of whether they are interested in him or not and does his best to help them win Sun-chan’s heart… or whatever they may want/need at that point. However, Joro is still kind of a selfish jerk even toward the end which balances him out a bit and makes him even more believable as a real person. Joro doesn’t do a full 180 (baby steps), but he’s also not a 100% scumbag throughout, you can tell he’s a good guy deep inside. The series also has room to continue so here’s hoping he does actually learn his lesson, count his blessings and stay with the adorably co-dependent Pansy!
Where’s the Ecchi?
Well, we did say “harems” and not “ecchi harems” so they don’t all fall into the same category, and after Love Hina—which was equal parts ecchi, comedy, romance, and harem—things seem to have split between drama-heavy harems or ecchi-comedy harems. Series like To Love Ru and High School DxD are great examples of harems that only exist to feed the male gaze and nobody cares how much more woke the MC is as long as we see some bouncing boobies and faces smothered by all kinds of jiggly body parts. Oh and accidental groping, don’t forget that!
Then we have the series that went for a balance of fanservice but with a more female-inclusive feel to them which meant a male lead who is able to look past the fact that he’s a teenager surrounded by gorgeous girls. Kodaka—from Haganai: I don't have many friends—for example, is constantly surrounded by all this fanservice but seems not to care so much about it, he’s not looking to grope or bang every girl in his harem! Good boy! But... then the show just insists upon its ecchi genre and it’s a bit of overkill making it a typical ecchi harem with a slightly above-average MC.
The world is changing and in a post-#metoo world, people are more conscious of the dynamics between men and women, what’s acceptable, and what isn’t. Anime creators, like most artists, have found a way to reflect these changes in society in their medium, both by avoiding character interactions that are not as acceptable in our current climate but also being representative of the population at large. Not every boy wants to go around groping every single girl, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some kids just want to have friends and be better people. Imagine that!
What do you think? Will this “woke harem MC” trend continue? Will we see more comedy harems that aren’t ecchi-centric? What are your thoughts on this? Please share your comments below!