What’s really going on in a Harem?

So as I’ve been watching Monster Girls this season, I’ve come to the realization that this is the first Harem show that I have watched in a long time. For those of you who don’t know, Harem is a sub-genre in mostly Anime where the story revolves around a group of girls all vying for one boys affection. Now I know that there are shows that have Harem elements and aren’t quite fully Harem shows. So for the sake of this article keep in mind that I am referring to Harem specific show. Also keep in mind that while not everything I talk about is in every Harem, it shows up in the majority. So now with that disclaimer, let’s get a little context on me and Harems. To let you sort of get where I’m coming from.

My formative years and Harems

My formative anime years occurred during my early teens, so about 2004-2008. During this time just anything that was anime would do. I didn’t really have a source to look up what anime was good or not. And I was just so enthralled by the concept of anime I thought anything with the label was amazing. So as I look back on those years I see that most of the anime I watched back then was Harem shows. And for me going through puberty it was the best thing ever. The screen was always being flooded with cute girls who all were DTF. And a good amount of their screen time consisted of them being naked of half-naked. And if not that they were getting caught in some sort of suggestive position. And to top it off, every now and then you would get to see a nipple. Nipples in anime, that was like mixing chocolate and peanut butter to me. But once I let my hormones slow down some and the allure of anything anime wore off I started to get bored with harems. As a teen I thought it had something to do with my tastes getting more mature or something. And while some of that is true, I didn’t really know why else for a long time. But now revisiting a Harem show in Monster Girls, I think I’ve finally grasped why the genre just doesn’t do it for me anymore, and here’s some reasons why.

Scenarios so easy, an infant could write them

One of the few luxuries from seeing so many Harem anime is that I was able to pick up patterns that spread across the whole sub-genre. Among these patterns is the concept that the male character is almost always a MacGuffin. The only reason he is there is to get these girls who probably wouldn’t be hanging out together, and to get them all together. In doing this you are able to get characters who most likely have conflicting personalities together and naturally hijinks will ensue. And since you have the MacGuffin of the male lead there doesn’t have to be another reason for them to be together. Having girls all be in love with the same guy usually will naturally take care of the plot, story, setting, and sequence of events. At that point it just becomes a matter of showing the viewer what they want to see. Which is genius in a way. Why would you want to sit through characters getting to know each other and them forming relationships naturally? That would take too long. Instead if they all are interested in the same guy they will be forced to hang out, and the only explanation needed is the Harem factor. And isn’t that all the we want from a Harem? to see girls hanging out and being sexy.

The girls are actually the main characters

The term “milk-toast” is often used to describe a male character who is bland and basic. People equate this kind of character to being a blank slate that the viewer can project themselves on. But recently I have come to the conclusion that the reason the male leads are so “milk-toast” is so they don’t take the attention away from the girls. I mean it would be a distraction if the male character was interesting. If they chose to develop the main male they would take away screen time from all the girls who are vying for his affection. Also if the main character were developed it would mostly be unimportant to the story. Because ultimately the story is about the Harem, all other plot lines are irrelevant and just there to fill up air time. As soon as the show starts becoming about something other than these super hot girls that the viewer wants to bang, it stops doing its job. This makes the scenarios that can happen rather repetitive and predictable.

Repeating things over and over

Most Harem shows fall into a formula of a set number of tropes. These tropes are there for two reason. The first is to get the girls into positions where they are being sexy and/or nude. While the other is to stop the story from progressing at all. Lets start off with the first. Girls who are clumsy and girls who are sexual deviants will almost always exist. These traits almost count as a twofer because usually when they aren’t bumping or rubbing on the main character, they are doing that to another female character. For example, a clumsy girl can fall on the smart girl and they both end up in a position with their asses up in the air. Another repeating formula is that almost every girl the male character meets will fall for him. This allows the show to seem fresh since it will add new girl characters and personalities into the fray. And like I said before, this doesn’t need any development since the only reason they need is because they are in love with the male character.

Now for the second kind of trope. Everyone will either live in the same house or very very close to each other. And if neither of these are the case, it will be almost impossible to find the male alone with a girl for long. The thing I’m getting at is there must be more than one girl in the situation all the time, even if at first it seems like the boy and a certain girl are alone. And that is for one reason, to cock block the main male character. If things are getting hot and heavy between one set of characters than that could lead to favoritism. To stop this another girl almost always pops in to stop the sexual tension, usually in a comedic fashion. All this is to ensure that the status quo is kept and that the Harem will continue. This is also the reason the main character is always so indecisive about his feelings. Sure maybe sometimes he will start to prefer on girl over another, but he will always return to the status quo. Because that’s just the way it has to be. Normally the only time this changes is the finale of a show where the status quo doesn’t need to be kept anymore. Of course 90% of those situations are still left sort of ambiguous.

So again, my feeling towards harem shows

Have you ever eaten so much of one food that it just becomes bland. Whether it be macaroni, or ramen noodles, it usually is a pretty plain food. I mean I don’t think anyone is getting bored with steak or bacon no matter how much they eat. I know I could eat bacon for every meal and still not get bored with it. But the reason that things like ramen and macaroni become bland is because they were always bland in the first place. It’s just that due to the sheer repetition of eating something your brain becomes aware of this and you stop enjoying it. That’s why you never really get bored with things that have a lot of flavor no matter how much you eat. And Harems are sort of the same way for me. They are bland by nature, comparable to junk food. There is little flavor and almost never any substance. And if I compare it to a show that has flavor and substance, I start to think, why would I ever want to go back to a Harem? The only real way I can justify watching a Harem now is by it having monster girls as the catch. But even if they came out with another Harem show with monster girls in it, I probably would have to say no. And until they stop coming out with good quality shows, I probably won’t be watching many Harems.

Logan Peterson
Logan Peterson
My names Logan and I love writing about Anime. Other art is guchi too. When I'm not writing gonzo reviews I'm writing books. *If interested look up The Dream Sequence on Amazon.* I usually write more editorial stuff than just plain reviews. I like my writing to be more big picture. I feel consumer reviews are a thing of the past and more personal reviews are the most valuable nowadays.