Zen and the art of harem maintenance

Shin jigoku nan desu-ka?

very hato ish

“Pity boy, can’t you show me nothing but surrender?”

I keep going back to Genshiken’s chapter 111. A few things, besides Madarame starting to act like the lead in a BL tale, suggest themselves. First; when Kio Shimoku originally brought fujoshi fandom into the Genshiken, he was way over his head. Hato was a useful smoke screen lest any IRL rotten girl readers detect in-authenticity in the fannish exchanges of a pure %100 female fujoshi enthused Genshiken. By now he has had plenty of time to do his homework. Look at Hato-kun just lying there pinned on the bed and consider all the small purposefully BL-ish details; the arms, the hand ,the turning of the flushed face… This stuff feels cranked – if not to 11, then at least 10.3

And here is out- of- my- depth- ness part one. I don’t read BL or yaoi. It doesn’t work for me and I have enough residual phobe-bosity that almost all the bits I see in passing either irritate me, put me off or leave me feeling very uncomfortable. It is just me. (and if you want to split hairs, if I am going for nondiscrimination points, shouldn’t I be trying to get used to something other than straight girls’ m:m fantasies?) I also find too many m-f manga romances unconvincing. Everything is going along smoothly and then things get clumsy and sad. Society tells someone to act too forceful or someone else to just lie back and think of their duty to the country, or to some stupid idea of how they are “supposed” to act. it all gets sad really fast. I have a similar trouble with fetishes and paraphilias; they seem to become more important than the warm fuzzies. (One of the odd things about mass culture is how repressive cultural and religious traditions surrounding intimacy and outre fetishes seem to have jumbled together in disappointing ways.) What I do find interesting usually has a strong female character who is just as interested in buddy boy as he is interested in her (…and he mustn’t be a complete clot). No wonder I am a sucker for respectable “Story A” Shinso/ V2 yuri stories.

Kio Shimoku is a pro. If he had any discomfort reading BL, he has set it aside. It sure looks like he has done his research. I suspect that he leans heavily towards dojins or pro works that started out as dojins and that he has also done a light sampling of representative works in the josou genre. And that he is looking for the mushy stuff rather than the over-the-top hardcore stuff. “Think pieces”, BL versions of the complex emotional tales he used to spin.

After years of building up the Hato continuum, and then dragging a hesitant Madarame towards the edge of a m:m romantic cliff, the rotten girl audience is finally getting some fanservice. While a rough translated script was available some weeks ago, the grey English version of chapter 111 has just popped up, at about the same time as chapter 112 has been published. I searched for the “Hato Ultra-Uke!” line that I saw in the rough script, but it was the fan’s comment, not a translation of a ghost caption on a dialogue-free page. Still it seems to fit.

In case you are impatient, here’s the executive summary for chapter 112: Kio Shimoku goes overboard with lovingly detailed background sketches of historic Niko, while Risa gets folks to pair off to tromp around historic sites. Thanks to Ogiue Maniax for pointing out the importance of the way she paired them off. Madarame is hanging back letting Kuchiki have his day. No embarrassed morning-after glances are being exchanged. Hato-as-chan gets paired off with Keiko. We will have to wait for chapter 113 to see if she tears a strip off of him.

Meanwhile back in chapter 111, I must continue my longstanding Kübler-Ross “fear of a HatoMadaHato hookup” routine. Nope, not buying it at all, still, yet, Nope… Big, big river in Egypt. “Why can’t two guys just be friends, asks Helmut?” It’s just me.

I could go on about “the doctrine of authenticity” and add more about how the two haven’t really talked that much, can’t even do male friendship, Mada’s shyness around women and the pain of the extinguished torch he carried for so long, Hato’s incredible nested layers of liminality and avoidance; “so far back in the closet that he’s half way to Narnia” (as one fan put it) yadda yadda yadda, but of course that would be no impediment for a conventional f:m pairing, so I lose. How atavistic of me. Back to the re-education sessions.

Ideally, at least for some of the invested fan-verse, Madarame should toss Hato-kun over his shoulder and only let him down only long enough to pick up a night bag stuffed with Hato’s chan gear, while announcing to the rest of the Genshiken that his heart (…now and forever, even after the flames take…etc) belongs to all aspects of Hato-ness and that at least a week of privacy will be needed before the happy couple-plus surface for air. Snacks and tubs of magic yaoi lotion can be left by the door. Think of it as a partial harem ending: As Hato is written as being notoriously unwilling to decide on any matters of sexuality or gender, Mada gets twink-Hato, otokonoko-Hato and transwoman Hato as a package deal.

And while we are at it, Madarame is also revealed to be the next Demon-King.

spotted-flower-go extinct

Madarame doesn’t seem to be treating Hato-dysphoria and the possibility of m:m romance as much of a problem, at least in comparison to the shock to himself of actually taking some initiative. With words paired to pictures, heart-breaker circle-king Madarame recedes into further realms of impracticability, (along with Dai-maou-rame) but he was still agitated enough (and drunk enough) to act. Being dumped again seems to be the hinge on which the whole scene turns. Madarame seems free of any kind of “eyuchhh, gross!” ‘phobe reactions. His rolling around embarrassment scene affords Hato, as kun, equal footing with any of the females in the harem, or otherwise.

Madarame felt no qualms about nearly stealing a kiss from Hato-as-kun, and the “you’re the only one I could be forceful with” line, while egregious fujoshi service (shame on you Shimoku-sensei!), does make a point. Madarame isn’t looking at this as a problem of the love that dare not make a too much of a fuss in public yet – the hurt of another dumped-again routine has completely preoccupied him. Those chocolates meant something, on whatever level, conscious, unconscious or suppressed and those feelings are being pushed aside before they can even be talked over. Valentines day choco is powerful magic!

The whole fantasy is fantasy thing is just one more excuse for playing him like a penny whistle and then leaving him stuck back in his room with one more bad case of “what happened?”

Having heard Keiko’s surprisingly bitter, out of the blue appraisal of Hato, Madarame at least has a small sense of permission to act upon his feelings of being a tad ill-used. “What about my feelings?” is a pretty big step for Madarame the doormat. He would never get up the guts to do that to Sue, Keiko and Angela, so it is also only a teeny tiny step. At least Hato’s “chose someone else” has relieved Madarame of any responsibility to show concern he would feel for extremely liminal-read-as-confused Hato chan-or-kun one-sidedly crushing on him. Being a harem lead entails or at least strongly encourages certain behavior requirements, and to Mada’s ill-fortune he seems already to be predisposed to many of them.

I don’t think this is happening (yet):

“In The Seven Basic Plots Christopher Booker uses this concept as his definition of the Comedy genre, only the point is that the Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends isn’t a shoehorn but the soul of the plot:
Start with at least 3 ideal relationships;
Each relationship is stymied because the people involved are:
1. Fixated on the wrong partners and oblivious to the good ones,
2. Failing to communicate, and/or
3. Suppressing their desires due to other factors (e.g., taboos, class distinctions, family pressures, etc.).
The Villain (or sometimes the Hero) is the source of the biggest road block, so
Make him repent (dramatically), and then…
Everyone can cheerfully enter into the relationship they were meant to be in all along.
The Villain (or Hero) acts as a Fisher King, casting a darkness and confusion across all the relationships until his Heel-Face Turn, which frees up the main couple to get together and that, in turn, frees up everyone else.”
–The Seven Basic Plots – TV Tropes

If the Genshiken was a certain spy-novel genre send-up by a sci-fi writer I have been making too much noise about of late, one could even say that Madarame is under a harem-lead geas (cf The Jennifer Morgue). Another way to look at it, and one that is telegraphed repeatedly is how the Genshiken characters go all “meta” with their trope knowledge and look for suggested behaviors, – do this next to follow these tropes – as a way of avoiding/ ironically (go on, lie to yourself some more and call it objectively) distancing their actions in difficult situations. “Fantasy is fantasy” and the dangers of this as a strategy of accommodation with the real world has been the background tune of the Genshiken since it first started. Don’t get me going on it (again) being a rejoinder to Dr Tamaki’s year 2000 book.

You could be too meta by half

And Madarame’s Harem geas is particular, in that he plots out as a subtype of a very conventional, as opposed to fantastic guy harem lead. Mada has no super powers, and neither do the harem members (Hato-dojin-ka-in-panchu comes close, but no cookie yet). He is neither abnormally rich or mired in cartoon poverty (which would then conveniently have him “working off a debt”). After he graduated, he went immediately from nerd archetype to prematurely worn-down low-level salaryman archetype. He is just the classic unlucky in love, socially clumsy around girls, every-guy, or every-otaku.

The only thing that the everydudue can do in such a harem is to try to maintain the wa and to step up and try to protect a harem member in harm’s way. And perhaps steal a kiss if he gets a lucky perv moment.

So, as long as you are willing to put yourself on the line for the girls (1), even the nebbish guy can be a hero suited to his means when the chips are down. After all, the harem genre wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular if the leads could only be all-powerful perfect heroes, neh?

And besides, males are all ultimately disposable drones, neh?

Out of my depth part 2:

This begs a further question: given the popularity of the harem genre, it is surprising that a typology/shorthand for male harem lead types does not exist. Male POV privilege? The girl charas come in well-sorted typologies, the rotten girls have typologies for their semes and ukes, even the plotlines have categorizations, why no harem lead breakdown? Am I missing something? TV Tropes isn’t being too helpful here.

How 2 Harem ichiban_ushiro_no_daimaou_Web

“It normally takes place in a High School setting, with one male lead, and at least three, often a lot more, girls who are romantically interested in him, or at the very least are bound by circumstances to live with him. Gender Inverted Examples also exist. Usually, each girl personifies a single classic characterization archetype. The protagonist either takes it as an Unwanted Harem, or reacts as a Harem Seeker, or Oblivious to Love. Works where a Harem Genre set-up is put in front of other relationship dynamics, and the plot is written with the intention to keep the “race” for the male protagonist’s heart as tied as possible, are known as the Balanced Harem subgenre.

In recent shows, the Harem genre has become somewhat divided into two “routes”. The first, the legitimate “Harem Route”, has the girls choose to share the lead character, equally or otherwise, rather than risk losing him and their friends completely. The other, more realistic route is called “Shuraba”, sometimes translated as “Bloodbath”; here, there can be only one, and all contenders are willing to destroy their enemy to achieve their own happiness.
In other cases, when a work uses this genre together with a more traditional Romantic Comedy Official Couple relationship, that is called the Supporting Harem subgenre.

Many of these works are also shared with the Ecchi genre, as it is harder to find a Harem story that isn’t filled with gratuitous Fanservice than one that is.”

A further point of the harem genre is how completely separate, 180 degrees inverted and sanitized the trope-verse remains from horrible meatspace “harems”. ISIS and barbaric sexual slavery (which they use as an effective recruiting tool for the lumpen-proletariat children of Europe and the middle-east), Amurrican right-wing “quiverfull” cults of female subservience and abuse. Pols, tycoons and celeb guys wanting an “open marriage” after they develop late-onset magic cock syndrome (wow! worked once – must be magic!). The manga and anime harem-verse is for the most part, surprisingly well-behaved. It might be a stretch to suggest that the women in the harem have a some agency, but the story is seldom all about the perfect guy hero accumulating smitten babes.

Here is a real good short and sweet history lesson the modern origins of the genre in CJVC:

History

The lineage of harem is more difficult to trace than one would think. The comfortable, cookie-cutter tropes known today evolved slowly from broader ideas that began to take shape in romantic comedies.

RumikoTakahashiThe thematic elements of harem, though not yet defined, began with the work of Takahashi Rumiko (高橋 留美子). Her 1978 publication of the sci-fi romantic comedy Urusei Yatsura, published in Shonen Sunday, served as a framework for future series.

Urusei Yatsura (1981)

Ataru Moroboshi, the unluckiest young man alive, is selected to defend earth from an alien invasion. This brings serious complications to his love-life.

32 years after its original broadcast, Urusei Yatsura, aka “Those obnoxious Aliens”, became a catalyst for the creation of future harem anime. It is significant in being the earliest series to feature more than two love interests for the central character. Also, unlike modern harem heroes who can’t appreciate their good luck, Ataru Moroboshi ranks as the most perverted teenager on planet earth. The only reason he can’t pick a girl is because he wants all of them. Then, in an un-harem-like fashion, he gets turned down a LOT. Humorous physical abuse abounds. Also worth noting, Urusei Yatsura had a “Beach Episode,” a result of the characters winning tickets via a supermarket lottery prize. Yep, it goes back this far.
– Read the rest at: http://annesanimeblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/better-know-a-genre-part-3-harem-anime/   

Another short history: http://www.the-games-blog.com/history-of-the-genre-harem/

An early, somewhat theory-esque analysis of the genre: All in the anime harem family at:
http://eugenewoodbury.blogspot.ca/2005/12/all-in-anime-harem-family.html

See also Astro Nerd Boy’s quick list of classic Harem franchises: http://anime.astronerdboy.com/2011/05/why-harem-genre.html

What models of harem leading man manly ness are out there? How does the guy navigate his sudden good fortune? What is the take-away from the good ending?

I was thinking about this lately, because the harem genre is surprisingly flexible and durable. A search on a certain aggregator site with High school and Harem checked off yields 249 manga that were interesting enough for groups of nameless folks to scan, translate, clean, shoop and typeset for the rest of us leeching cheapskates. A similar search on an anime site yields about 65 properties, with numerous second or more seasons and OVAs doubling the count.

One of the genre’s big attraction is that a nominally second or third rung guy, even a “failed male” can be the focus for the female grouping, if not female attention. Often the romance is pretty well pre-set or not even that important; you do not really need a fierce competition between the girls. It is as if the guy is an excuse for them to socialize and the harem provides a similar excuse for the guy to have some women friends (who may be his only friends). Hato; you didn’t have to crossdress – you just needed to have all the Genshiken girls “aware” of you. Nope didn’t work, and it didn’t work for Kuchiki, but it adds a bit to what he was referencing.

That the typical male harem lead can be a completely forgettable regular/ everyman guy has been suggested as a hold-over from the harem game where you could enter your own name onto a blank-slate character. A self-insert, often a bit withdrawn, a bit socially clumsy and wounded, wanting to have a boring, normal life, but ready with the minimum of prodding, to help out – even at the cost of getting in way over your head.

ijitsu confes web

“Everymen types usually aren’t so literal about the whole self-insert thing. It’s usually more about being able to relate to and identify with their situation and general reactions/decisions.

The ones from porn games, which are the types that harem leads grew out of, were more literally characters you were supposed to live vicariously through in the games. They’re “blank” and might even allow you to input your own name so that they can be the player’s avatar. This doesn’t transition well to anime and manga, so the archetype evolved to be one where the lead is both bland (personality and design-wise) and incapable of making any sort of decision. That way the story can happen -to- him and focus on harem antics.

Harem series are moving away from this in general, though. Most of the big, popular ones have a defined lead with a unique look/personality these days”
– some Forum

Meet interesting new people, interact with them, hope they crush on you.

But getting more than, as one blogger put it:”Boobies!” out of the harem genre gets confusing fast. An above-linked essay suggests that ultimately the harem genre provides a  fantasy “replacement family” setting for the male character to fantasy-regress in. Good to be fawned over like a kid. Female centered harems, so-called reverse harems seem to provide honorary membership in a male homosocial – one series with a fujoshi lead even features a definitely female-interested oujo-sama bifauxnen as an additional “honorary male”, which is a step up from the overdone predatory “Maria-sama watches over our girl cult” clique in Ouran Host club. The male social is almost the secondary lead character, as the female social is in conventional harem tales.

But the genre lays down far too much smoke and blows off too much chaff to easily get a handle on. A guy is surrounded by pretty femaloids who want him. It’s Good to be King. Time for a beach or onsen chapter. Supposedly; out of proximity, boredom, competition or lack of imagination and/or alternative options, each of the harem members decide that they want buddy boy. Is there more to this? As in much of CJVC, the women get to carry the social-emotional bucket; they do the relationship-py dogwork. Buddy boy simply hangs around, acts un-committal and waits for Lucky Perv moments and free food. Sometimes he has to do “a date” with one or another of the members.  In more action-oriented versions, he may have to defend one or more of the members from some threat. He doesn’t need to be a perfect hero, but he has to try and be seen trying. The threat can be other rogue males looking to clumsily usurp his position, generic dangers or some hidden flaw within a member herself. In any case, a division of labor is presented as conforming to a greater, natural “order”.

The exception being that the natural order of man proposing, woman shooting him down hard down is done away with. There are of course exceptions to this, as when the “I’m magic” effect compels buddy boy to want all the harem members, rather than make or allow a final choice to be made for him. The fearful pressure of rejection has been lifted and replaced with a warm fuzzy blanket of female attention. Kio Shimoku was being brilliant when he decided to play this note. Sue doesn’t turn Mada down, she just gets flustered and even more cute and vulnerable. Hato’s “rejection” for all we mortal guys know could be a well-worn BL trope to bait a seme into hotter pursuit. I wish I could get some useful advice on this from the rotten readership. Even if the fear of rejection is removed, the male lead gets a new fear to replace it. Fear of making a choice and leaving the happy world of plentiful slack for the adult “desert of the real”. Haiyore! Nyarko-san‘s lead boy has a mom and a dad, but we never, never get to see pops. He has to sleep under his desk at work to catch up after he dared take a vacation with his wife. He never gets home. This is a good ending?

Of course our hero could always just go back to his room and be a NEET. Harem lead role getting to be too stressful? Stop bathing. Problem solved.

Since the “girls” carry the emotional and social load of the harem, they soon end up setting the rules of engagement. Buddy boy had better behave himself unless specifically invited to do otherwise. And if he is invited, his poor brain-box has to attempt to process what the effect on the other members will be. Did he make the right choice? Will he slip up, collapse the whole shaky edifice and be forever branded an enemy of all womankind? He might even end up with his head in an overnight bag! Nice Boat! No wonder the Harem story as romantic comedy is full of titillation and more titillation, but seldom any bonking. Female mangakas seem to be better at pushing this to extremes. Girl Saurus, especial the DX reboot quickly escalated to levels that would make Ken Akamatsu blush. It remains my all-time favorite.

Since the currency of a good romantic comedy harem story is dating fail, the readership can vicariously learn all manner of different ways to screw up and dig oneself into a hole in the presence of a woman. And the girls get to screw up nicely too. This is probably a lot more humane than hanging out on PUA forums. I note that a Western comedian has just released a book written in collaboration with a sociologist that is full of folksy dating advice for modern hipsters, but also plenty of examples of dating fail. [http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2015/06/modern_romance_by_aziz_ansari_reviewed.html] It should be immediately translated into Japanese, so that mangakas can glean a whole bunch of new chestnuts to adapt into their stories. Even p0rnish harem ero games can trace their lineage to ‘dating sim” games that were supposedly originally developed to help overly shy guys figure out the basics of going on a date. That they evolved into pure 2D fantasy play could get a few folks a PhD, if anyone ever cares to dig through some 30-year-old Japanese console and pc games. I wonder what influence ‘Leisure suit Larry” had, if any?.

As the harem genre is a fully developed one, it is harder for a mangaka and or a studio to just toss a bunch of nubiles at some guy while cranking the panty shots, boobie jiggles and onsen episodes up to 11. If you want to do a harem show in 2015, you need to do something fresh.

The Genshiken may be in the forefront in that it already is a fully developed slice-of-life ensemble tale that is using an alumni character as the lead in a harem composed of current main and peripheral characters in a story arc. The conventional harem story can look like an ensemble story at times, but the focus on buddy boy and the absence of non-harem characters cripples it. Adding “those two guys” is never enough. Having a few folks who are not part of the harem, who are already in relationships, or outside consideration adds depth, as well as providing a convenient chorus. Advice and meddling can come from beta couples and the peanut gallery. If needed, a second, overlapping harem can be cooked up.  Hato needs some Sadie Hawkins adventures too, so my bet is that it will soon be his turn in the cross-hairs. The poor fool thinks that a dress will let him escape his fate.

Hijinx Ensue!

No idea whatsoever...

Maybe I just needed an excuse for reading a whole bunch of harem manga. I have of late harem manga’d out. Open multiple tabs in the browser, skip between them and watch the whole mess melt unto itself. Occasionally something awful, or something really odd pops up. Hooray for Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture!

What follows is my attempt at a preliminary schema of harem leads. Much more work is required, so feel free to drop a line, suggest examples, categories and better Japanese category names for such. No way Japanese- illiterate me can come up with something like “Yandere”.

Ex-delinquent or mistaken for such.
Haganai/Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai – mistaken for a delinquent
Fujimura-kun no meitsu (ex-delinquent)
Enma no hanayome to kimetsukerareta fukou na ore no jinsei keikaku (ex delinquent)
Yamada-kun and the seven witches (slacker/ delinquent)
Nisekoi’s Raku Ichijo – Yakuza heir

Ex-weirdo/ sordid but non-violent past
Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai!’s Yuuta Togashi
Genshiken’s Madarame

So fixated on 2D he can’t clue in
Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata

Hidden Super-power guy
Araragi from Monogatari (see also footnote 1)
Aria The Scarlet Fanservice Loli’s forgettable horny hero
The World God Only Knows
Noucome
Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou.
Trinity Seven: 7-nin no Masho Tsukai
A Certain Magical Index/ Scientific Railgun’s Kamijou Touma
Tsukihime/ Melty Blood’s Shinji
Ratman’s Shuto Katsuragi

Grumpy loner guy
Hachiman from Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru

Normal clueless guy (TV Tropes’ Unlucky Everydude)
Kuromine Asahi from Jitsu wa Watashi wa
Mysterious Girlfriend X
Gate – Jietai Kare no Chi nite, Kaku Tatakeri

Everydude’s mostly faithful quest
Keitarō in Love Hina

Reluctant Normal clueless guy – Very Unlucky Everydude
Rosario + Vampire
Haiyore! Nyarko-san/ Nyaruko: Crawling with Love.(2)
Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-ohki
Girls Saurus’ Shingo

Normal clueless guy bloodbath
Many games’ bad ending route, School Days/ Sukūru Deizu’s. Nice boat! meme
only gets an honorary mention because it is a simple triangle-tale rather than a harem.
Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni

Normal pervy dude – (At least he’s still interested in 3D!)
I Dont like you big brother/Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki ja Nai n da kara ne
High_School_DxD
Bludgeoning_Angel_Dokuro-Chan’s Sakura Kusakabe
Boys, be ambitious! (but don’t be a complete asshat!)
Ben-To
Sora no Otoshimono/ Misplaced by Heaven

Complete Loser until noticed by girl #1
Also Madarame in Genshiken
Keiichi Morisato of Ah!My Goddess
Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei

Thinks he is a harem lead, but he is a mascot for a female social.
Student Council’s Discretion/ Seitokai no Ichizon

Puppet Boy/ Bullied by Girls
Minamoto-kun Monogatari
Koimoku’s Inamine
Himegoto (etc)’s Hime Arikawa – current prime exemplar of the jiggly panchu josou trope.
Mei no Naisho c.a 2007 magical panchu boy x girl school otokonoko fanservice.
Witch Craft Works
Seitokai Yakuindomo’s long suffering tease bait guy.

Don’t do it sensei!
Any number of teacher crush plots

Girl #1 is stuck to his right hand
Midori no Hibi (Huh? WTF?)

Examples needed: Marty Stu, the perfect harem lead
None exists, because he gets violently hacked to death the second he appears.
No magical girl revives him, he stays dead, all order sweets to celebrate.
Negi comes dangerously close at times though…

I guess one could set the wayback machine and include The Tale of Genji – Hey wait! One of the first known works of Japanese narrative fiction is a harem tale! I guess that explains something…

Examples needed: A tall harem lead
I read a complaint in some blog, there have to be one or two, don’t they?

Female harem leads…

Every-girl’s harem of bishie guys
Pick one, any one. Some other reviewers’ suggestions and musings:
http://okamizchan.blogspot.ca/2014/06/the-reverse-harem-genre.html

Deadpan snarker girl’s harem of bishie guys
Ouran Host Club

Fujoshi harem of bishie guys, pursue each other, please!
Watashi ga Motete Dousunda (3)

Normal/ naive girl’s harem of bishie guys bloodbath
A staple of Otome games, but I am out of my depth.
Hatoful Boyfriend has this; avoid the school infirmary !!!!

Polymorphously playful secondary female lead – Buddy boy hasn’t figured it out yet, but she has a solution to the entire problem.
Genshiken’s Angela
Haiyore! Nyarko-san/ Nyaruko’s Cthuko-chan

Fanservice “lesbian” will give up all her girlfriends for OTP
Shoujo Sect

Magical “lesbian” sex-bot commune (because that’s what we do, teee-hee!)
Pick any of ’em (4)

Mary Sue the perfect girl who attracts worship, mostly from other women
Manga no Tsukurikata’s insufferable young mangaka

She is beyond good and evil, but is completely good anyway and likes girls, lots of girls.
Iono the Fanatics with her tens of thousands of ladies-in-waiting. Exception to the no monogamy, no true yuri rule, as she is sponsoring and defending a magic sapphic realm.(5)

Rotten girl all male variants:
Go find your own.

…And so it goes

On the other hand, this schema could be ditched in favor of one that ranks by nature and degree of interest by the members in the lead or vice-versa. After all, a harem usually starts with the classic new girl vs the never-considered-her-that-way childhood friend, then piles a few more folks on. The androgynous boy who radiates girl-aura also seems to pop up too many times, but this runs the danger of making just one more schema about harem members, rather than buddy boy.

In the days of my youth, I was shown what it means to be a man.

There is an IRL reason for why an investigation of harem leads, specifically male harem leads (I tossed in the female leads for the heck of it) is such an interesting bit of pop social psychology and it gets grim really fast.

What the classic harem lead of a thousand faces is not and never ever has been is the silent, stoic, real man talks with his fists, takes-it-all-on-his-shoulders type of manly man hero. Otoko wa tsurai yo. The kind of guy who is admired in both his Japanese and Western variants, and who in real life is far too likely to suck it all in until he suddenly goes POP and kills himself, and/or others.

Betcha ya didn’t know that the suicide rates for guys in the UK are fast approaching Japanese levels, and that plenty of survivors confess that they tried and tried and tried to live up to this kind of manliness and it almost killed them. That’s what I get for putting The Guardian on my Facebook feed – how disturbing.

The economy sucks all over the place but how the economy, changing societal gender roles, dastardly right-wing corporatist gummints and the rest of the bad-news-du-jour actually plays out on the macro level of bloke after bloke after bloke violently snuffing it is scary and tragic. Male hysteria can be fatal. Suicide is the leading cause of male death in the UK for ages 20-50 I thought the food would have got them first (Stop it, not funny..) Dudes, go easy on yourself!

See:

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/15/suicide-silence-depressed-men

http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2015/feb/19/rise-in-middle-aged-men-committing-suicide-all-the-uk-data

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_351100.pdf

Could slacker everydude”harem lead characters offer a model of guy-ness that can serve as a prophylactic against such despair? Otaku guys are supposed to be pretty marginalised in society, are often used as the exemplar of failed male-ness in Japan. You would think Japan could barely run any commuter trains for the danger of otaku deciding that otaku-ish life sucked so much that oblivion was preferable and yet…

Dr. Tamaki did say otakudom was a very successful adaptation to the stresses of modern life.

Better to bend than to snap. It’s not really your story anyway, let the girls figure it all out. Shut up and smile. Learn to get along in a group. You can’t do everything yourself. Learn to ask for help, that’s what friends are for. Speak up. Even a blind pig with a head-cold can find a truffle every so often – as long as you get out of your room and interact with folks. And if you do find someone interested in you, take your lessons from all those harem grinders, and behave in a properly monogamous, good ending way.

I wonder how the stats play out in Japan.

.

(1) Araragi Koyomi; thrower of self onto too many grenades. He really is a serial suicide risk, except that as a vampire he originally considered himself already dead. By the time we meet him in the first anime, he is still harboring a huge load of guilt about the ruined vampire that he will still protect and feed for the rest of his life. I was going to go on and on and on about his character in this essay, but then I fell down a hole at the Monogatari Wiki, and a further hole at a certain light-novel fan translation site and read his yet-to-be-animated origin and ending stories. As the anime Monogatari-verse is still incomplete, it is a major spoiler risk to do any heavy analysis on him, as the source light novels add much to his character and that of the one who was Heart-under-blade.

It is good that he finally calms down. It is good that the young women he helped have taken up the task of helping others and helping him, as he is literally his own worst enemy. One thing remains fairly constant; saving young women from deadly supernatural afflictions seems to be a great way of getting noticed by them. However if your main super-power is getting beaten and mangled to a pulp, regenerating and then doing it all over again, it might be a good idea to develop a few less painful approaches to problem solving. Especially if your for-real girlfriend is getting super-annoyed at you for taking stupid risks. The latest of the series to be animated, Tsukimonogatari rubs this bittersweet lesson home: disenchantment strikes with the realisation that he cannot save everybody all the time just by serial kamikaze-dom, even if that strategy was what got him into this mess in the first place.

I have been reading a lot of Monogatari reviews and analysis from years ago, when the anime(s) originally aired and many are amazing in their insights, but few consider the effect that pairing studio SHAFT with an immensely popular and long-running light novel series produces. What was the strategy behind the adaptation order? What are the effects of the jumbled timeline in the presentation of the tale by the anime? (I would lean towards arguing that it made a narrative space that allowed the series “breathe” and expand in a magnificent example of synergy, but it also toned down Araragi’s self-destructiveness considerably) Can we consume all of our SAHFT fanservice and still have it (as fulfilling a higher purpose -ironic contrast and/or symbol of an all-too-human teen male normality that Araragi feels is slipping away from him) too? Why Senjougahara has to be the most “normal” woman in the harem and why her fierce proprietal and very adult love for Araragi is in the end all that can save him and how the anime adaptation brilliantly, deftly, economically shows this time and again.

But I digress…

(2) What was I thinking trying to out-weird Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture with last post’s Kaminaga Kult? The Lovecraft mythos turned into a junior high school harem series? Why not. Lead girl is Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos (“Chaos serves love! Squeeee!“) It looks like it is a deft updating of one of the first Harem animes ever (Obnoxious Aliens) I can’t believe I’m watching this,, How low have I sunk, wait – it’s actually quite funny, he writes as his critical faculties have been turned to tasty vanilla pudding oozing out of his ears. Gaaaaaaahhhhh! 

Also possibly female lead section; Girl #2 has ideas that she is the lead, not buddy boy. “I bear Nyarko’s child, the boy bears mine!” Hastur the ganymede figures that he could bear buddy boy’s child too. Haiyore!‘s aliens are all perverse outworld otaku and fujoshi in search of romantic happy endings. The rest of the Universe spends most of its entertainment budget on bootleg CJVC goods (very funny). Same sex attraction comes off as pure burlesque fodder, but then so does heterosexual attraction. At some point almost every sentience on the planet seems to be fixated on buddy boy. I was waiting for the vacuum cleaner to get a crush on him (“Cy-clone!!!”) Does any of this matter when most of the charas could be mind-destroying horrors from beyond the colors of space?

(3)Wonder how much of this thing gets ripped off by Yuri Danshi? Wait a sec, it looks like it returns the gift as well; nice Bifauxnen ‘got there…

(4) For example, a recent stumble-upon: Mai no Heya, classic light hentai fanservice “yuri” pron. Not much plot. Color pages in Penthouse cartoon airbrushed style. Girls living together in lingerie. F:f fooling around while waiting for the “right guy”. Gratuitous bondage play. One instance of non-consensual m:f sex (anal rape) when bondage play goes too far. Not funny. Ends with an underage otokonoko who marries the pervy sexpot of the girl power apartment and fathers her child, with the rest of the members continuing to hang around. W T F ???

(5) Re: Iono: “That’s an order of magnitude more than Solomon. It’s strongly implied her country has been reduced to [penury] mainly due to the cost of supporting so many free-loading lesbian love-slaves […] The kicker? She has a place in her heart for each one of them.” – per TV Tropes.

Iono is a pure Takarazuka Girl Prince. Fantasy aristos are different from us, so we admire them as we cut them slack. On the other hand, no readers, male or female would put up with the guy version of this. Besides, even Iono makes an idiot of herself occasionally as she importunes office ladies on the streets of Tokyo. It is all rather pleasant and well-behaved; instead of lingerie, the mangaka really likes drawing full, elaborate outfits on the cute girls and women. Crap, I like the outfits.. Who would have known that an overdone neo-baroque chapeau could affect me so. Damn! Iono is Sooooo impressive in formal dress mode! I am sure a certain space pirate gang learned something from her wardrobe department. But that ridiculous hat,.. Dat Hat on her… Excuse me for a moment, I feel a bit embarrassed. I guess if it’s not baroque, don’t fixate on it..

A TANGENT: Rebellion and Despair, Children and Adolescents in Recent Japanese Films by Jose Montaño https://www.academia.edu/12130480/Rebellion_and_Despair._Children_and_Adolescents_in_Recent_Japanese_Films

A FURTHER TANGENT: Play It Out Before You Live It Out: Are ethical video games the future of on-the-job training? By Rachel E. Gross (Naw, just one more thing to be Ecchi-fied for otaku! On-the-job harems! 2 Fantasies in one! Employment AND female attention!)
See: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2015/05/will_interactive_video_simulations_ptsd_sexual_harassment_hiv_on_the_job.html

COMPLETELY GOOD, BUT OFF TOPIC: Something from Mechademia that we proles can read for free: James Welker’s review of The Heart of Thomas [Tōma no shinzō]. By Hagio Moto. as translated by Matt Thorn. 5/20/2015, Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2012. Note the historical details, Very well done!
http://mechademia.org/reviews/james-welker-review-of-the-heart-of-thomas-toma-no-shinzo-by-hagio-moto-trans-matt-thorn-5202015/ .

FOR SCIENCE!
The International Anime Research Project is looking for people to fill out its 2015 survey.
I have sworn a blood oath not to reveal what it is about, (Ok, no dramatics, it’s well done and looks legit…) Their site here: https://sites.google.com/site/animeresearch/
Survey link here – if it doesn’t work, go to their site, in case the links magically wiggle for some super-duper web 2.0 reason:

https://texasamcommerceed.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_ai3dYy4ZLlKZCBL

Results of the previous year’s survey are here: https://sites.google.com/site/animeresearch/iarp-2014-3-fandom-survey-results

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One thought on “Zen and the art of harem maintenance

  1. Marty Stu harem lead is Kirito from SAO.
    Otherwise, it should be noted how much the Marty Stu harem lead is more of a presence within fanfiction, even western media fanfiction. Naruto, Harry Potter, Xander “normal dude” Harris from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and probably all of the other big name shounens, too. Said stories are generally revenge fantasies, (often hitting up Monte Cristo unintentionally) having their harem lead of choice take about a million levels in badass from their canon counterparts, before taking their rightful place in the hearts of the female cast. Many previously useless harem leads are also pumped up to appropriate levels of manliness (at least, worthy of the poon-tang!) in fanfiction, such as Shirou from Fate Stay Night.
    Such fanfics appear to be (surprise!) one of the few categories where authors are more likely to be dudes. Proper female authors would stick them into BL smuts. You might get some love all-male love triangle angst, but that’s more likely to resolve in polyamory than harem.

    Also relevant:
    https://lowermidtable.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/pointless-debate-26-most-pointless-harem-lead/
    http://kevo.dasaku.net/?p=3345

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