If there is one thing which I think anime fans can both enjoy and agree is beyond overused, it’s harems.
Seriously, what is it with us?
On the one hand, there’s some automatic enjoyment of the drama and the competition. Perhaps it’s because so much of our time, and effort, and lives revolves around trying to find, attract, and win the heart of the best members of the opposite sex, we just can’t help but stare in fascination at those who apparently manage to not only do all of that, but do it multiple times, simultaneously.
On the other hand… good grief! If any single trope has over saturated the market, it’s harems! Everywhere you look, there’s another story featuring a guy or girl who is surrounded by idealized members of the opposite sex, all set on getting with the main protagonist. And it knows few, if any, of the usual genre boundaries. There are fantasies, comedies, dramas, adventures, slice of life, science fiction stories, high school stories, and on and on. And to think, they actually were a rarity, once upon a time!
(I would not actually mind if they became a rarity again)
So, the challenge of picking five harem anime had less to do with the quantity than it did with the quality. Some harems are more interesting than others, and some are… ah, far more blatant, we shall say.
Just to be clear, we are defining harem, or reverse-harem, anime as those which have a central protagonist with at least three love interests, or potential love interests, of the opposite gender constantly in close proximity and very much interested in them.
Now, in no particular order, as per usual, I present my picks for five harem anime!
1) Tenchi Muyo
There’s a bit of arguing that has to go into this pick, as, technically, most of the anime features more of a love triangle at work than a full-blown harem. Nevertheless, Tenchi is surrounded by beautiful women, and more than two take an interest in him. Ryoko and Ayeka may easily be the leads, but Mihoshi certain has a crush on him, too, and there’s a certain connection between him and Khione, and even Washu expresses some interest, and there’s even more than just them.
I pick Tenchi Muyo partially because it was one of the first anime I ever saw to even approach the harem trope, and because I imagine it, and others like El-Hazard, influenced the audience and the market enough to make way for the multitude of harem-themed anime which have followed. Then, of course, there’s just how much fun Tenchi’s little harem is! 🙂
2) Ouran High School Host Club
This show is also an example of a more low-key harem, really. Where Haruhi is certainly surrounded by attractive boys, several of whom are interested in her, the story does not fall into the trap of having them all rabidly pursue her. That’s something that a number of harems get wrong: they overdo the harem’s obsession with the object of their affection. This reverse-harem, however, barely pursues Haruhi at all. Thus, when it ends without resolving the harem situation, it’s not nearly so disappointing.
More simply, this show uses the harem trope without making everything about the harem. The story is about the characters breaking with conformity, being their true selves, and having ridiculous fun times together. The reverse-harem is something of a side-note, almost entirely irrelevant in all practical terms, but still understandable. As the boys get to know Haruhi better, it’s only natural for some of them really like her that way. 🙂
While the setup for the harem is completely fantastical, there’s something realistic about the structure of the harem itself, namely, the ongoing competition within it.
It’s a natural thing for the members of a harem to compete with each other, either in trying to gain or not gain the eye of the harem’s center. As in any other arena, there is always the question of who is Number One. As large or small as harems may be, there are usually one or two particular leads, the strongest candidates, so to speak. Whether or not that is the case, there do tend to be favorites among the fans. So, when you have a harem, you often have to decide who is at the top of it.
Erica stands as the queen bee of this particular harem. She holds sway over two of the other girls, and she’s the one who began the harem in the first place. She was the first to declare herself for the boy, and she was the one to really bring in the next two girls, asserting her dominion over them in the process. But the fourth girl, and other arguable additions, don’t hold to that. They do what they do, whether or not she likes it. So she is the leader, but not really, and so other girls have a chance to shine.
4) To Love-Ru
Though this anime features one of the larger harems, and tremendous amounts of fan service, none of the girls fall into the simple “types” which so dominate other harems. Even more, each one is a fully fleshed-out and developed character in her own right, and they all have their own relationship with Rito. It may completely mystify the audience, exactly why they’re all so fascinated with him, but, then again, almost every other boy his age is a pervert, so I suppose options are limited. Any port in a storm, as they say, but I digress.
Another aspect which separates this from most harems is how some of the characters actively work to make the harem, as a whole, a long-term thing. Most harem anime end with little to no resolution of the harem situation, and a few others end with the ending of the harem. There are a few which look to make the harem a more permanent thing, something which the characters actively choose to have and remain a part of for the rest of their lives, but there aren’t that many I can recall. Even more, the long-term feasibility of this harem relies on the girls themselves (and the guy) as characters, rather than as a bunch of girls who just want the same boy.
All things considered, this one could actually work out.
5) Monster Musume: Everyday Life With Monster Girls
…oh, what the heck, it’s my favorite example of just how crazy this harem thing has gotten! I mean, how much more insane can you get than this? (rhetorical question, I really don’t want to actually know) 😉
The main harem has a snake-girl, a bird-girl, a horse-girl, a fish-girl, a spider-girl, a slime-girl, and a reaper-girl, not to mention the adjacent harem that has a dead-girl, a cyclops-girl, an ogre-girl, a shadow-girl, and a normal woman, in addition to the guest stars of a dragon-girl, a devil-girl, a tree-girl, and a dog-girl, in addition to a number of others in the manga. Basically, they take as many monsters as they can, covering as many bases as they can, and turn all of them (with the exception of the pig-like orcs) into girls. In retrospect, I am actually kind of surprised that they haven’t had a cat-girl anywhere in the story as of yet, or at least none that I can readily recall.
Point being: when you’ve reached the point at which you have taken all the monsters that used to scare kids into bed at night and turned them all into sexy girls, and all in a harem, then you have officially crossed the threshold of crazy.
And that’s just the underlying principle of the thing! The girls are crazy too! Be they insanely obsessive and jealous, or overly devoted, or ditzy beyond belief, or any other of the multitude of flavors of crazy on display here, bottom line: they’re crazy! It truly is a marvel (not entirely unintentional) that the unfortunate protagonist is not dead yet, or, rather, that he hasn’t stayed that way for very long.
So, we have an early harem, a reverse-harem, a competitive harem, a “best” harem, and an absolutely crazy harem. And that’s my five picks! 🙂
How about you, those of you who know harem anime? Which ones would you pick?