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Love in the time of anime harems

I’m going to be 30 years old in a few years. I can no longer call myself young, except with the words ‘at heart.’

I still like anime.

Back when I was half my age, anime was the way I coped with the stresses of high school. I made a few friends by shamelessly bringing series to class, and sharing it with friends. Outside of my studies and anime, however, I was a horrible person. I thought I was really intelligent, and thus had the right to be an asshole to everyone else.

As I grew older, however, my tastes changed, but it was in college when I finally discovered the type of series that I really liked. I enjoyed mecha series, and I occasionally enjoyed shounens, but what I really liked were josei romances.

GAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!

megumi

When I was seventeen, I didn’t really care about women. Coming from a family that’s situated in the lower-middle class, I had to work to maintain my scholarship. Then I discovered Honey and Clover. Even though I watched it ten years ago, I’ll still gush about the series as fervently because it taught me the complexities of being in relationships with people without actually being in one.

I admired Takemoto, who was upright despite all the pitfalls life had in store for him, and tried to be as much as a gentleman as he was (although I failed, because Takemoto is that awesome). But Honey and Clover was the gateway series for me because it paved the way to building up my empathy towards others.

I still have a small amount when compared to most people, but having that seed was a start in order to become a better person. I thought that my fondness for mature romance would end with H&C.

I was wrong. In 2010, Tatami Galaxy was shown, and it remains to be the best series that I have ever seen. Why? Because Watashi was me. I was an asshole to men and an asshole to women, but I never accepted that I was the root cause of the bullshit that happened to my life. I never had the passion for medicine because I didn’t really want to be a medical doctor. Having seen that series, however, made me realize that I have to own up to my past and live in the present in order for me to progress in my life. I’m still far from what I want to be, but at least nowadays I’m earning and helping in the family finances.

I stayed away from anime in the years immediately succeeding that because I had to be licensed as a medical doctor. Two series that I watched this year has inspired me to write a reflection of my life and anime, however. The first was Oregairu, which had reminded me again to be true to myself. (There was also a lot of self-insertion in Hachiman: I was aloof, I didn’t care about society, but I wanted and want sincerity in the few people I consider as friends.)

I think Yukino will probably end up with Hachiman. Because I realized that it’s not just about the female protagonist. There must be cohesion between the two.

It actually surprised me how far in terms of maturity romance/harem anime have arrived. Back when I was younger, there was Love Hina, Chobits, and DearS. They were great anime series for wish-fulfillment. Outside of Chobits, however, they merely pandered to their viewers (who were usually social outcasts and reveled in the idea of being surrounded by attractive women).

Anime has clearly evolved, because even the oft-maligned harem genre has manifested impressive signs of maturity. I’ve already mentioned Oregairu, but I wrote this post because of Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata.

This series actually features a hardcore otaku as the protagonist. He is unabashed and unashamed of his hobbies, leading people to recognize him as the three pillars of their school. (He reminded me of my high school self.)

In subversion to the common tropes in harem series where the girl he ends up with is the girl who has been his enduring childhood friend or the girl with the BIG everything, his heart is with a quiet and unassuming lady who is always there for him.

I admire this direction of harem series, because I believe love is not a competition between the biggest chests. It does not award the sluttiest woman, and clearly some friendships just stay as friendships. Love is cohesion. It is being attuned to the other person’s needs and wants, and them responding to your needs and wants as well, persistently, consistently, and for the rest of both of your lives as well. Both people have to work hard for it to work. Being physically attractive definitely helps, but it is not the be-all or end-all of love. So when I see Utaha or Eriri being shot down occasionally (more of this happens in the LNs), I feel contented because even a harem series has more accurately approximated love in the anime medium. Love is not a one-night stand. It is a constant grind, and from what I can see, only Megumi really put in the work. I’m happy that Tomoya’s slowly seeing that.

And I’m happy that,just like harem anime, I’ve also grown a little bit more mature to see what these protagonists see, too.