Chris and Nick find the true meaning of a harem anime: choosing all the girls instead of one.
All the series mentioned in this column are streaming on Crunchyroll
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Nick, I’m sorry you got wrangled into rap-anime duty against your will last week. However, I can tell you that The Management has authorized me to make it up to you somehow. I know there’s that hot new harem anime you’re a massive fan of airing this season. You know, the one that everyone’s talking about, that specifically takes the polyamory approach to the subject?
That’s right, you and I get to talk all about Girlfriend, Girlfriend
I’ll do ya one better, Chris. Instead of talking about a show with two measly girlfriends in the title, let’s do about 50 at once. That’s how we’ll earn the big anime bucks.
Unfeasible! That has to be way more girlfriends than the human body can handle! The world’s top romantic scientists have attempted to push these limits for decades and only wound up with scores of incapacitated test subjects, all sporting suspiciously similar builds and haircuts.
We must go further! Decades of harem anime have been developed to achieve this, the next step in evolution. If we remain satisfied choosing just a single girl in each show, we’ll never expand our horizons to the stars!
There’s a weird amount of serendipity this season. We’ve got two rapping shows, two racing shows, and now two shows about the good word of polyamory.
Honestly, I feel kind of bad for Girlfriend, Girlfriend
. Not only is its author deep in debt thanks to buying too many fancy wristwatches
, but it has to compete against a show that goes harder than it in every single way. It’s Allen Iverson vs Tyronn Lue, but for cartoons about polygamy.
I don’t want to dump on Girlfriend, Girlfriend
because it seems…fine. It feels like its main value in this discussion is as specific in contrast to 100 GFs
. Harem comedies have a long and storied history within the anime artform, and Girlfriend, Girlfriend
, while mixing things up a little with its gimmick, still seems very stuck in the Old Ways. Two seasons in, and it’s still having the lead dude’s supposed sister-wives compete over him, while 100 GFs
got over that hurdle in just its second episode.
And I know the irony of using this specific scenario as an example to pit the shows against one another.
I think it’s a fair comparison. Where Girlfriend, Girlfriend
flirts with the idea of polyamory, it seems fully convinced that Naoya will inevitably have to choose just one partner to have a “real” relationship. Whether that’s the show’s official statement about poly romance in general or just the reality of this particular group of idiots is up to debate. Still, it ultimately leaves the show in the same place as any other harem romcom, leading up to an eventual “winner” in the game of love.
The horse-race approach is an understandable one, to some degree. Throwing out multiple characters for audiences self-inserting on the nondescript lead to pick as their Best Girl, then watching to see if their bets play out. Granted, it’s often relatively easy to figure out who that winner will be: Probably whichever is foremost on the first volume cover, and probably not the childhood friend.
It’s certainly a formula that’s paid dividends before, but I’ve never really liked how the discussion of these series hinges so heavily on who “wins” in a given series. Just that terminology insists that any ending for a character that doesn’t involve them getting with their crush is a failure. So for all that it’s silly and over-the-top, I respect that Rentaro’s story throws the idea of competition out the window as soon as possible.
It’s also hilarious for the tsundere of all people to encourage someone to speak her mind honestly.
I mean, who could be a greater expert in hiding their true feelings?
That’s one of those head-flipping aspects of 100 GFs that makes it feel so fresh. I’ve seen several harem shows where some of the girls were friends before being sucked into the orbit of some dude’s dick. But the idea of people getting to know each other and becoming closer because they entered into a relationship…well, wow, it sounds super-obvious when I type it out like that, which makes it seem odd that it’s a more uncommon occurrence in this kind of fiction.
That also allows it to tread into another uncommon territory for these sorts of series: Depicting how things go once the relationship(s) get underway! I don’t have any problem with dragged-out courtship antics so long as they’re funny enough (I love Kaguya-sama
, after all). But many romance series I’ve seen, if they do go past the confession and inaugural kiss, tend to treat the point of actually starting dating as the more serious swing for things. Meanwhile, this show makes Rentaro’s romantic management their joke through sheer quantity.
After so many other series where one of the jokes is that the main dude is a tool and/or loser, it’s pretty heartwarming to have the bit instead be, “Rentaro is exactly the kind of guy who would do everything he could to care for 100 girlfriends, damn any human limits”.
Rentaro’s heart is like a diesel engine. It took a while to get it running right, but it can keep on burning forever once it does.
In a genre where the male leads are usually either a milquetoast Nice Guy or a slobbering douchebag with a secret nice side, Rentaro is an absolute maestro of love.
It makes an even better joke that despite being made of rare top-quality Boyfriend Material, they still saw fit to give him that standardized harem lead design. You know the one.
It means that, like 100 Girlfriends’
handling of other archetypes like The Tsundere or The Quiet One, Rentaro still stands out thanks to the show’s specific presentation of him.
Please, Chris, you can’t forget his powerful eyebrows. They’re his true charm point!
Ah, shame on me for forgetting. It’s no matter; I know Rentaro’s girlfriends are already researching ways to increase his charm further.
I wouldn’t put it past them to have Rentaro be the secret 100th girlfriend, and the final moral is to learn to really, really, really love yourself.
See, that’s where my expertise as a Harem Connoisseur comes in handy. I’ve sampled many of these and can help us discern between the trash, the merely trashy, and the purestrain garbage that’s not worth sitting through. Hint: the latter category mainly consists of any harem series that’s also an isekai.
That’s because many of these authors do not understand the true appeal of a harem. Philistines might think it’s all about wish fulfillment, of allowing the viewer to indulge themselves through the vicarious romances of the male lead, but it’s actually in building a stealth ensemble comedy that can work double as an occasional romantic drama. You have to make the girls distinct and memorable and craft a unique connection with the MC so the audience can get attached to them as they fill a new role within the group dynamic. Just tossing a bunch of generic designs and personalities on the wall gives away that you don’t care.
Sometimes, you don’t even get that much. For 11/12ths of its run, Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World
only has one slave girl married to its main Melvin. That means there’s no Harem and barely any Labyrinth in a show called Harem in the Labyrinth
Actually, why am I the one who kept getting assigned to review these shows anyway?
Much like its whole slave gimmick, that show makes its trashy premise work by giving the girls distinct personalities and allowing them to fall for Diablo through their own stories rather than tossing them on the pile. That’s really what separates these series and why many isekai-adjacent ones fall flat: they don’t care much about any individual character, but just the sheer amount.
That numerical element makes me question what makes an anime a “harem” instead of just a romantic comedy with multiple potential partners. Something like We Never Learn
can feel downright pedestrian, with just three main choices plus some bonus DLC routes. At least not being an isekai let it focus more firmly on fundamentals.
I lost any respect for that series when the manga cowardly crafted an individual ending for every love interest. They establish a cut-off point at a specific chapter and tell you to start reading the volume-length ending arc for your preferred candidate.
It’s the exact opposite of that commitment we were praising so hard about 100 GFs
! Maybe it’s for the best the anime stopped after the second season and never got around to trying the multiple-choice approach to a finale. Though at least that technically let the childhood friend character get a rare win.
It is that lack of commitment. Part of what can make picking a “winner” meaningful is that it still offers a chance at closure to the characters’ arcs. With We Never Learn
‘s approach, it keeps each relationship in stasis to resolve it in its timeline, like the opening act of a dating sim, but it lasts 80% of the series. That means many of those love stories are stretched out and weakly resolved.
Meanwhile, if you want a childhood friend to win, let me suggest Nisekoi – False Love, where the secret is that all the girls are secretly childhood friends. Also, one of the girls spends 10+ episodes hating the main character’s guts.
Nick, please, you already sold me on one Shaft-adjacent rom-com before in Sankarea
. My backlog can only take so much. I am begging for a break here.
Too bad, I’ve been stumping for this series for over a decade, and I don’t plan to stop. Seriously though, the Nisekoi manga
commits itself fully to its final couple in a way that’s satisfying not just for them but also for the rest of the cast. It builds entire arcs as final sendoffs for the other girls and gives them closure that’s genuinely touching and occasionally even devastating for the characters.
I will go ahead and add that one to my crowd of 100 harem series to eventually check out. I don’t know that I can be attentive to them all as Rentaro is to his GFs, but I can at least try.
You should probably check out The Quintessential Quintuplets
while you’re at it. It’s not quite as good, but it manages to make for a pretty fun time and develop the characters in unique ways—despite them having the same face.
At least I know those, thanks to D4DJ
Oh, that’s an easy question, Tsubaki. She’s the Best Girl.
Not every series can prove it has the chops to make a focused finish like Nisekoi
, and you do wind up wishing it would stay committed to the genuine group approach that 100 Girlfriends
has embraced. To round back to another isekai example, one of my big fears for regular fave My Next Life As A Villainess
is that they’ll eventually muck up the dynamics of Katarina’s bisexual harem by having her choose a singular winner.
It felt that way by season two, and stuff like only having male love interests available in the spin-off game tells me that somebody is badly missing the point of that whole setup’s appeal. Half the fun of harems is in exploring different forms of love!
It’s frustrating because the show seemed to get it for a while there.
If we want to talk about harem shows that don’t get it, I must bring up Rent-A-Girlfriend
, a show as woefully unable to commit as its main character. Heck, season 3 gives up any pretense and sidelines 75% of the harem for a season-long story about Chizuru.
Ironically, it’s easily the show’s best material, but still. We deserved more Mami.
Say what I will about Rent-A-Girlfriend
, it sold the value of any given harem having a token unapologetically evil member.
I assume 100 Girlfriends
will eventually get there. Like I said, the law of averages.
I mean, at least one girlfriend should probably be in jail, but we’ll get to her eventually.
As you said, it’s all about exploring different love languages, be they potentially illegal or simply searching for someone like they’re a kitten who accidentally got lost outside.
Aw dammit, who spoiled you on the catgirl girlfriend?
I told you, the law of averages. Just as death and taxes are always certain in life, there will always be harems and catgirls in anime.
Fair. However, I hope that 100 Girlfriends
will prove to be enough of a success to spur further evolution in the genre. To any aspiring harem authors out there, I say let yourselves be free from the shackles of monotonous monogamy. Embrace the true power of love, and go crazy out there. What’s the worst that could happen?
Ah, a harem series where the girlfriends all have to Weekend at Bernie’s
with their beau’s corpse around, that would be novel.