Taking The Harm Out Of Harems – 10 Complaints And Rebuttals About Harem Anime

1. “All Harem Anime Are Sexist!”

It’s probably the most frequently levelled criticism against the genre and it’s easy to see why, a bevy of beautiful girls throwing themselves at a single guy! “What woman would act like that? That’s completely unrealistic! And insulting too! What self respecting woman would put themself in that kind of situation?!” But with the exception of some specific examples these girls are all willingly in this situation, they are individuals with the autonomy to choose their lifestyle and what they’ve chosen is to compete for the attention of a man they desire—regardless of whether others have too laid claim to said man. Are there harem anime that are sexist? Yes, for sure. But that’s the fault of specific creators who put sexist dialogue or situations in their series’. Harem Anime should be treated on a show-by-show basis as there’s multitude of show’s out there that run the gamut from offensively sexist to vaguely feminist. The genre as a whole however is not by default sexist.

Grisaia no Rakuen (The Eden of Grisaia)

2. “Harem Anime are unrealistic, superficial male fantasies!”

Well done for realizing that fictional anime and manga is meant to be escapist fantasy! The kind of wish-fulfilment fantasy is present in nearly every genre of anime so why are harem anime being singled out as especially offensive to certain sensibilities? I have a theory: Western pop culture idolizes heroes, superheroes specifically being deeply ingrained in our cultures as being the fictional ideal—modern day gods living amongst us. Polyamory however is not only frowned upon but downright illegal in many places in the West and so portrayals of these kind of relationships are are seen as a problematic kink at best or destabilizing to the natural order at worst. Do I think this should change? No, monogamy works for me as it does most people, but there’s no way we should treat Harem Anime any differently from any other fictional fantasy.

Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou (Monster Musume: Everyday Life With Monster Girls)

3. “Harem Anime give impressionable viewers unrealistic expectations about relationships and the opposite sex!”

Ah, I see your letting anime doing the parenting now? Certainly the media we consume does a great deal at informing our world view, especially if it’s all you watch. But I’d argue the way most harem protagonists treat the women in their lives reinforces ideas of being kind, being patient and listening to the concerns of your significant others. Once again the onus is on the individual creator as to whether their harem protagonist treats women with respect but in my experience most male harem protagonists only have the best interest of all the girls around them in mind. As for whether the actions and shenanigans reinforce imitable behaviour that can lead to women in real life being the victim of sexual assaults—well, let’s not bring up the tired “violent video games cause real life violence” debate again shall we? We’re all smarter than that, right?

Shinmai Maou no Testament (The Testament Of Sister New Devil)

4. “People who like Harem Anime are perverts!”

Correct!

5. “Harems don’t make logical sense, someone’s going to end up hurt—it’s an unrealistic way to build relationships!”

Because nobody ever gets hurt in monogamous relationships, right? /sarcasm. In all but the cheapest and poorly written of harem anime, the concept of ‘who’s best’ and ‘who’s sidelined’ is a common source of drama and dilemma not just for the girls themselves but the protagonist too. Navigating the minefield of emotions of not just one but multiple women means a smart harem anime can mine a lot of worthwhile plot and character development. People learn who they are and what they really want when under these trying and unusual situations and that in of itself is very interesting to behold.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (Haganai: I don’t have many friends)

6. “Harem anime fetishises having multiple partners and encourages infidelity!”

You’re right… damn it, you’re absolutely right, I have three anime body pillows and it’s not enough, I just want more and more and Harem Anime is all to blame!

7. “You can’t be a feminist and like Harem Anime!”

I used to be a feminist, til I took a harem in the knee. Do I support equal rights for men and women–literally the definition of feminism? Yes I do–we’re all human beings deserving of the same treatment. Am I incensed by depictions of inequality in the sexes, mistreatment of women under patriarchal societal norms and negative gender bias? Also yes, there’s no need for reinforcing harmful behaviour in entertainment. But do I like watching scantily clad girls fawning over a guy, endless panty shots, boob gropes–accidental or otherwise–and all manner of other Harem related shenanigans? You bet I do! So where does this leave me? Am I still a feminist? Can I still have my cake and grope it too? Sadly, this is one question I don’t have an answer for. People are complicated…

Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi (A Bridge to the Starry Skies)

8. “I don’t like Harem Anime!”

And that’s okay, because there’s plenty of things I don’t like either. Having a genre bias is fine, it’s perfectly normal in-fact, not everything in this world can be viewed objectively. But what’s not fine is…

9. “All Harem Anime is the same, it’s all trash!”

You must have been busy then, ‘hate-watching’ every episode of every Harem Anime that’s ever been produced! The amount of times I’ve watched what I thought was going to be a standard Harem Anime only for it to find someway to subvert expectations is surprisingly high. Whether it be in the form of nuanced characterisation and devastating personal backstories (The Grisaia series), or the protagonist having a surprisingly delicate and personal way of letting down each of the characters in the harem to finally settle on one (A Bridge To The Starry Skies), or even an unexpected choice of final partner (The Hill Dyed Rose Madder). Be it strained and varied interpersonal relationships between the girls in the harem (Haganai series), complex plotting and narrative (Monogatari series) or a harem with an emphasis on taking care of everyone’s varied physical and emotional needs (Monster Musume). There are harems that explore the idea and viability of the concept itself while assessing what it means to even be in a harem (To Love-Ru Darkness series), harems about saving the world with the power of friendship (Konosuba, Yusibu!) or even saving the world with the power of orgasms (The Testament of Sister New Devil, Hybrid x Heart)! I can’t even claim to be an expert on Harem Anime, I’ve only seen a small percentage of what’s out there but what I have seen has been varied, complicated, exciting, enriching and most of all… unique.

Yuragi-sou no Yuuna-san (Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs)

 

10. “It doesn’t matter how “unique”, or “interesting”, or “good” you say it is, I’m not going to change my opinion on Harem Anime. I just don’t see the appeal!”

You don’t have to see the appeal in something to appreciate the fact that its existence brings joy to others. If it’s legal and it doesn’t hurt anyone, then what’s the harm in me having my little “unrealistic, superficial male fantasies”? Just remember, if you’re someone who finds themselves so angered by something merely ~existing~ that you have to tarnish an entire genre to make yourself feel better, maybe you’d be better off talking about something you do love and fill the world with positivity instead, that’s at least what I’ve tried to do here.

To Love-Ru Season 2 (Motto To Love-Ru)

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33 comments

  1. I was once in a writing class where we were criticize each other’s short stories. This one guy told me he couldn’t give me any critique because it was SciFi and he hates SciFi… Other people in the class gave him a bashing which was nice, but it taught me that some people have already made up their mind and will not accept anything that counters their opinion.

    That’s fine! You don’t like something, don’t watch it. I don’t care for reality TV or daytime soaps, so I don’t watch them. I also don’t attack people that do like them. That really isn’t that hard.

    I wonder what the harem bashers think of reverse-harem or LGBT harem? Once again it all boils down to some people don’t want anyone else to have any fun! They must be very miserable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All very good points indeed! There’s plenty of anime genres I don’t like, sometimes I’ll watch one, just to see if my opinions changed, if it hasn’t then I’ll just move on. Sure I’ve been guilty of getting riled up over things I haven’t liked in the past but I’m learning to be more accepting of other peoples opinions. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I have to cut down the opinions of people who do like it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Harem anime can definitely get a bad wrap. It’s not my favourite genre, but there have been many occasions where I watch an anime, enjoy it, and then realize later “oh, that was a harem anime” (like Lord Marksman and Vanadis). Harem anime is fun to watch here and there because it’s something I don’t have to take seriously and can just enjoy the content.

    I sort of view harem anime in a similar light to slice of life – anime that I watch to relax and not have worry about action / thrills / etc.

    Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I tend to like harem anime more when it’s ridiculous. Make it fun. But just like anything, there are good harem series and awful ones. But of course it’s a genre you probably won’t turn to for a serious psychological genre, and if that’s someone’s preference, enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel like there’s a drought of good full-on harem shows nowadays. I know there are still some harem anime every season, but they’re not popular. And also more and more anime studios that specialize in harem and moe are closing because of that. Hopefully, a new ridiculous and comedic harem show comes someday.

    The genre needs revitalizing and articles that make harem look good is surely helping. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very easy going when it comes to harem anime even the most mediocre of harem anime I’ll find something to like or get attached to. And as much as I’d love for more money to be put into harem shows I’m happy if we get at least one decent quality production per season like with Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs last season.

      Like

  5. A lovely post. While there are many tropes in harem anime that I don’t particularly like, I’ve watched enough anime with harem tendencies, or that are just harem, that I’ve enjoyed to know that I can’t write off the whole genre. Will I ever be particularly fond of a girl having her boob accidentally grabbed? Probably not, but that’s fine. There’s plenty of other shows to watch and even shows that go there still sometimes tell fairly compelling stories.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it’s because I like trash horror movies (always have) and I got very used to people tearing them apart and dismissing them without really considering their individual merits. Or people even telling me that I must be sick for enjoying horror and slasher movies. Either way, I kind of learned that attacking an entire genre or judging someone for liking something, just because you didn’t, is pretty unfair. I generally try and remember that even when I really dislike something.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. orsonwellesclapping.gif

    Strong arguments, great job.

    I think the point about escapist fantasy is a key one that people really underestimate the importance of. A good escapist fantasy allows you to explore things you might be curious about without the potential of actually hurting anyone (or yourself) in reality, and that’s really important. Everyone has fantasies; everyone has desires that they might be curious about exploring, and sometimes keeping those bottled up can be harmful — but at the same time bringing those fantasies into the real world can also be harmful! Harem fiction is a means through which people can safely explore one of those common fantasies.

    It can also bring you a sense of understanding and appreciation for lifestyles other than your own. The game Evenicle, which I covered recently, is a good example; prior to playing that, I’d never really considered the intricacies of how a mutually consensual polygamous relationship might work, but I came away from it with an appreciation and understanding of how people might live like that. I know it’s still not something for me, but I came away from the experience feeling a little more fulfilled, and with a greater understanding for the one person I do know on social media who is in a polygamous relationship.

    If only more people would just set aside the things they don’t like rather than trying to tear them down, everyone would be a lot happier. Not every piece of media needs to be for everyone; in fact, the world is a much more interesting place when our creative works have a particular, specific audience in mind rather than attempting to spread themselves too thin catering to everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good stuff! A good handful of my favorite anime are harem, but some people are super predisposed to hating them based on the label alone. It sucks to think that anyone is missing out on Monogatari because they go in thinking it’s sexist or escapist…
    It’s one of the best thought out stories I’ve ever seen, even outside of anime!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think one problem with calling “harem” a genre is the same thing as using any other term as a genre. People treat it as a characteristic defining a show (usually for any shows they don’t like), rather than more of an attribute, a part of the show setting. And sure, there are some shows where it is a strong attribute, but it’s usually not the whole thing. The show needs to also have other things like comedy, romance, mystery, or action. Despite how it may look in some shows, “harem” doesn’t drive a plot. It just describes that there are multiple people interested in the protagonist. What they do to be interested in the protagonist or to catch reciprocal interest is more what the plot is about.

    I agree with you that whether something is sexist or exploitative should be determined on a case-by-case basis. I mean, is it “sexist” if a show that people call a harem is like Bunny Girl Senpai or Rakudai Kishi (Chivalry of a Failed Knight) where there’s a committed couple and then a bunch of people with a crush on the guy? Or even High School DxD where everyone involved knows there’s a main couple (except the main couple), and they’re jockeying for position? If everyone is exercising free will, then is that a problem? I’m sure some people will say yes, but they’d have to actually make an argument for it that other people would accept.

    I’d prefer to still push for less sexism and exploitation in shows, even harem shows, but that’s a different argument.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, calling “harem” a genre has always felt a bit stupid, since its (generally) not the defining feature of the show and ends up putting series’ with a lot of real, genuine strengths into confining boxes with limiting labels. Oh well, its those people’s loss I suppose!

      Like

  9. FUCK I did this weird snort thing when I got to #4.

    Anyways, I agree with most of your points. I actually wanted to write something about the double standards people have with anime & fanservice stuff in general, but not specifically about harems. My whole thing is that, yeah, I can TOTALLY understand people being uncomfortable with some of the concepts in certain fanservice-y harems. I’m a lover of problematic, sexy trash, but there are things where I have to be like, “nah, this is a little too statutory rape-y for me.” But then again, I can’t really say anything like, “oh, everyone who can enjoy X series that was too much for me must be garbage,” either. It’s just snobby, and I feel like people who generalize with that too much forget that they, too, almost definitely have enjoyed a series with questionable anime titties, too. But people like to pretend that the exceptions they make are morally superior to others, I guess.

    I’m kind of getting away from my main point here, I guess. I have mixed feelings because it’s like, I think people are 100% justified to critically analyze a thing and say, “I don’t like this and I think it has gross implications,” but it has to be, y’know…critical, not just “blaaaaaaaaaaaaah harems r bad.” Especially since you can do fanservice/sexualize women in a tasteful way!! Like Fujiko Mine!! I’m getting side-tracked again!! Shit!!! This is a long comment, what I actually came here to say is: do you think there’s a double standard when people talk about reverse harems/yuri harems/BL harems/etc?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m always happy when someone leaves a long comment! It means I’ve managed to stir a discussion which is always good! I’m happy for their to be a debate around what people deem to be problematic media, its just when the debates get out of hand the side opposing decides that a thing shouldn’t exist at all is when my ~anti-censorship~ alarm begins to ping!

      As for your question, I think there’s always going to be double standards from ‘loud, opinionated males on the internet’ about things that don’t directly appeal to them/have a character in the show who they can see as their analogue. I wish there were more reverse harems/yuri harems/BL harems so everyone could have their chosen fantasies represented in anime!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Speaking of anti censorship alarms, have you watched Shimoneta?? It would probably be something your into, and it’s underlying theme is mocking censorship. It’s not a harem, but I think it would fit into what you were saying a lot!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “I wish there were more reverse harems” I do also, but they really need to step up their game a lot more than the ‘normal’ harems. Some of the most “problematic” shows I’ve seen have been reverse harem shows. I don’t know if it’s usually the source that’s the problem (otome games are usually waaaaaaay more sketchy: rapes, imprisonment, stockholm syndrome, gaslighting, super creepy guys who take advantage of situations they shouldn’t), but most of the reverse harems I’ve managed to watch have usually been just really terrible shows (Brothers Conflict, Arcana Famiglia, Kiniro no Corda: Blue Sky). Heck, one of the best ones, Kamigami no Asobi, has a horrible premise: Girl gets kidnapped by Zeus to teach the other immature gods about dealing with humans and love in a potemkin village school. Or Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi from this year, where (again) a girl is kidnapped to be the wife of an oni. And that’s without getting into the REALLY horrible ones, like Diabolik Lovers or Amnesia.

        Maybe the best reverse harem show I’ve seen is “Kiss Him! Not Me!” where a bunch of guys are all trying to woo a total fujoshi who would rather they go out with each other. But even that one is premised on fat shaming…

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for writing this. I’ve always been an advocate of the potential of the harem/ecchi genre. I’m glad to see there are others who share the same view. There are clunkers for sure, but there is also so much greatness in it when its done right.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I started watching If Her Flag Breaks as a filler during its viewing season, and fell for it head-over-heels! Harem remains one of my least favorite genres, but I’ve found quite a few such shows that I really enjoy. . .

    Liked by 1 person

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