Where else can you find a genre that shamelessly flaunts underage girls as an object of desire, where every girl fulfills some sort of perverse fantasy, where the only human with a pair is the nondescript main character? To some, the Harem genre has become the general definition for anime itself – and for good reason – by the sheer number of shows produced, the Harem has gradually worked its way up. One can’t help but think that anime has evolved (or degraded) into a visual showcase for cute animated girls.
Hey, whatever brings in the yen, right?
It’s no surprise, then, that the grateful otaku is graced with ever more Harem paraphernalia every anime season. What does surprise me, however, is the genre’s staying power – it’s been going on strong for years now, on the same basic formula of cute girls and sappy romances. How do the writers of Harem stories keep the genre fresh and inviting? What exactly goes in this formula? Let’s take a closer look.
Well, no…let’s not. You won’t see any more by looking closer – except maybe a cameltoe or two. There usually isn’t much of a plot to speak of, and character development is restricted to how much more the girls fall for the guy. The freshness, then, relies entirely on the only thing that matters in a harem – the girls.
The truly amazing thing is that out of the hundreds of harem girls created over the years, they have, for the most part, been rather distinguishable from each other, through clever manipulations of hair, eye color, personality, talents, hobbies, and uhm, chin sizes, resulting in keeping audiences interested enough to buy figures, body pillows, towels, and other various fan goods. The fact that the Saimoe contest can take place is testament to just how individual and unique each one of these girls are.
We know by now that these character creators have a sort of “moe pool” in which they fish out desirable traits, and throw them together to make a new character. Among these include the ever popular ones such as the “catgirl,” the “childhood friend,” the “imouto,” the “tsunderekko,” and the “psycho-eyed split personality girl.” Different combinations of these traits result in completely different characters – for example, a “vampire catgirl tsunderekko imouto” or a “big-chested airhead loli time-traveler cosplayer” (I don’t even need to tell you the names – you already know!)
While the characteristics found in the pool are numerous, the sheer number of girls generated will eventually exhaust all possible combinations. There’s two main ways to prevent that – the first one involves taking the complete opposite. Good cook? Let’s make her a pyromaniac and call her “Master Carbon.” Catgirl? How about a doggirl with an over-sensitive tail! Genki girl? Let’s make her have some kind of incurable magical disease so the guy has to take care of her!
But alas, opposites have been used up as well, leaving one other option: to introduce a completely new fetish. The new fetish of the season can also be considered an “opposite,” but on a much greater scale. One that takes to the very heart of the Harem genre – let’s make the girl a guy.
And what a resounding success. I’m not just talking about Mizuho, but also that awesomely energetic cross-dresser Jun from Happiness. Although the two are very different characters, both share the same “ho’moe’sexual” appeal that is still confusing audiences everywhere.
Love or hate? The appeal of Mizuho, and especially Jun, is in the very fact that the viewers start out believing that s/he is a girl. We’re lured in…enticed…and fall face-first into the trap. So how are we supposed to react to this confusion? The same thing happened with the first episode of Ouran (albeit the other way around), and that turned out fine! Screw it, I say…others have also echoed this sentiment. As harem animes are meant to be lighthearted fun taken at face value, why should the characters be any different? This face tells me it’s alright!
Some of you may remember, however, that Mizuho and Jun aren’t the first s(he) characters to grace the anime world. Ranma was able to transform into an actual girl with some cold water (well, most guys do shrivel up in the cold but not to THAT degree…), Hibiki dressed up as a woman to become a teacher in I My Me ! Strawberry Egg, Megu was turned into a girl by a mischievous book-demon in Tenshi na Konamaiki, and Hazumu was dephallusized by apologetic aliens in Kashimashi. Those girls were great in their own right, but one intrinsic difference exists: previous audiences saw these characters in their “male form,” whereas Mizuho and Jun are only presented in full female regalia at all times. The only thing revealing their true gender is, well…we’re told. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that anime fans don’t give a damn what others say.
So who are you going to believe, some random anime character or your own eyes?
I know my answer. For now, at least, until we start seeing “big-chested loli catgirl…trap”
KANON WATCH: First uguu, then auu, now nyuu! Yu1’s seamless juggling of all those girls is masterful. Kanon is doing a good job of separating itself from Haruhi and developing its own identity and niche. Can they keep this up for 26 episodes? Let’s hope so…!