Umi no Misaki: the anti-harem
Umi no Misaki is surprisingly good. While, of course, it doesn’t rank as well when compared to universally-acclaimed series, it’s among the top three in all the harem series I’ve read. It’s also just a really good manga. There are many reasons as to why, but I think the foremost is that it turned the usual cliches of harem series on its head while delivering a wonderful story, to boot. The harem, ultimately, is a necessary choice within the manga’s universe.
First, Goto Nagi as a harem protagonist is someone who has balls. He’s a guy that I think most men should aspire to be: while sexual intercourse is never far off in his mind, he consistently tries to understand and appreciate the women he’s with – and he plays no games with them. In fact, he’s a mensch for holding himself back from the women who surround him. A common trope in harem series is a protagonist who is chased by the women for no reason other than inscrutable attraction, and this protagonist is often spineless until the very end. We’ve seen this type from Love Hina to the recently-ended Nisekoi.
Nagi isn’t such a character. The women grow to like him because he is a genuine and kind person. As the manga progresses, the women do just as much initiating as he does once each of them are comfortable in their relationships among themselves. And ALL of them follow through.
Second, it’s a manga that’s not merely a game of ‘who will he pick?’ As the manga progresses, the central conflict alluded to, even in the earliest chapters, is really the clash between love and duty. The maidens understandably all fall in love with Nagi, but their raison d’etre, or their deontology, is primarily to the island that has borne them and provided them with such responsibilities. At the end of the manga, this is what ALL the maidens, as well as Nagi, are striving to overcome. When a manga series reminds me of Immanuel Kant, I know that that manga series is good.
Finally, the series appropriates and transforms the harem ending into a necessity. While most of us expected Shizuku (the first girl he saw) and the one Nagi has the most ‘experience’ with end up together, it is subverted by the deep responsibility each girl feels towards her role as Cape Maiden. When what happens behind the Dragon Ritual is revealed to Nagi, he decides in such a way that only true heroes can – outside of the box, and fucking destiny along with it. Chapter 116 reveals the depth of thought Shizuku gave into her decision, and is the climactic point that leads the reader to the ending.
Frankly, while I would have liked a timeskip, I was glad the author didn’t cop out and ended the story on a positive note in the present time. Each one of the maidens were drastically changed by Nagi, but the ending shows one that they could go through it together. (The fact that Nagi has great endurance was a great Chekhov’s gun for the manga’s end.)
I highly recommend it.
P.S. I prefer Soyogi because she has similar characteristics in women I like, but I’m totally fine with how the series ended.