ANIME REVIEW: Oresuki (Are You the Only One Who Loves Me?!)

Joro’s having girl problems, and I feel bad for him, son! He’s got 99 problems, and that bench is one.

… Okay, now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk about Are You the Only One Who Loves Me?, or Oresuki for short. I’m excited to review this anime, but it so resists easy summary that it’s hard to know where to begin. Is this thing a harem comedy anime? A biting satire on the harem genre? A cock-eyed retelling of the Wife of Bath’s Tale (from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) with a distinctly anime flavor? An experiment in storytelling that veers wildly between train wreck and absolute masterpiece? Try all of the above! Before we delve into the details, though, let’s return to Joro’s tale of woe.

Oresuki introduces us to Amatsuyu Kisaragi, better known by his nickname of “Joro” (meaning “watering can”), a soft-spoken high school boy who seems to have it all. He has a best buddy in the friendly and charming school baseball star, Taiyo “Sun-Chan” Oga; a cute and bubbly childhood friend in Aoi “Himawari” Hinata (meaning “sunflower”); and a stunning senpai in the lovely and intelligent student council president, Sakura “Cosmos” Akino. Joro is thrilled when Cosmos and Himawari separately ask him out for dates one weekend, but that Saturday under a brilliant golden sunset, Cosmos sits down with Joro on an ornate white bench and confesses to him that she loves… Sun-Chan. And that she wants Joro’s help in hooking him. This obviously isn’t the outcome Joro expected or wished for, but he goes into Sunday’s date with Himawari only slightly deflated until she also sits him down on an ornate white bench and confesses to him that she loves… you guessed it… Sun-Chan.

Joro keeps his composure until he gets home, but in the privacy of his room, he explodes into a volley of curses and pissed-off outrage that shows us a completely different person—more calculating, conniving, and cynical—beneath Joro’s mild-mannered exterior. To put it mildly, he’s none too happy at discovering he’s actually the background “buddy” character of his own story rather than a bona fide rom-com protagonist.

However, with the grumbling thought that at least one of the girls had to “lose” and he might be able to date the loser, he decides to honor his promises to help Himawari and Cosmos get closer to his best friend. After an intensely frustrating day assisting them, he finds himself in the school library getting scolded by a bespectacled girl with a sharp tongue and a difficult-to-read face—Sumireko “Pansy” Sanshokuin. Suddenly, Pansy drops three bombs on him. First, she knows about his unpleasant predicament with his female classmates, because she’s been stalking him. Second, she’s aware of his “true” self, and she prefers that version of him. To deliver the coup de grace, she leads him over to an ornate white park bench that has somehow materialized in the library, much to Joro’s horror. He mentally cheers on Sun-chan for all he’s worth, but to no avail – this confession of love from a girl of questionable tastes and character is for him. He then utters the mental cry that gives the story its title: “Are you the only one who loves me?!”

Part of me wants to keep recounting the story, but it would do a disservice to you as a viewer by robbing you of quite a roller-coaster of discovery. What I found fascinating about this story is that no one in this series—not Joro, not anybody—is who or what they initially appear to be on the surface. Every major character has levels of complexity that go deep, and sometimes the noble and the appallingly selfish aspects intermix with one another. Along those lines, I also thought it notable how willing each character is to play hardball where their own happiness is concerned. This presents a completely different scenario than, say, ToraDora, where the cast almost causes a romantic tragedy by trying too hard to avoid hurting one another. Oresuki takes an opposite tack, where everyone is testing the limits of how hard they can stomp on one another without breaking something precious.

The interest created by these elements is greatly helped along by some outstanding production values that bring the story vividly to life. Oresuki was the final project of the animation studio Connect, a subsidiary of Anime Obscura favorite Silver Link that recently got absorbed back into its parent company. It was a hell of a swan song, with appealing character designs, beautiful backgrounds, some creative artistic moments, and background music that enhanced the scenes.

Speaking of music, the jazz-pop opening tune (“Papapa” by Shuka Saito) is an absolute earworm and one of my favorite anime openings of recent years. The ending (“Hanakotoba” by the voice actresses of of Pansy, Himawari, and Cosmos) may not stick in your head quite as long, but it’s a lovely, emotional tune that beautifully bookends each episode.

Another highlight of Oresuki that deserves special mention is that our boy, Joro, is one of the funniest damn protagonists to ever headline an anime. A significant portion of the cast taps on the fourth wall from time to time, but because we’re in Joro’s head the most, we see that he frequently takes a sledgehammer to it. This could become irritating if the show became too enamored with its own meta-humor, but thankfully Joro acknowledges it and moves on in a way that surprises us and makes us laugh because of its brevity—he’s far too busy (and beleaguered) to waste time feeling self-satisfied about his meta knowledge. (“Damn… it’s that bitch from episode four again!”) Moreover, Joro is such an asshole… but such a relatable asshole with surprisingly shiny silver linings… that the viewer can’t help but cheer on this bitter “background character” as he wages all-out war on common rom-com tropes.

Finally, perhaps the most pleasant surprise to be found in Oresuki is the strong mystery element that underpinned every single one of this anime’s various arcs. If this anime has a moral, it is that people are often not who they appear to be on the outside, but that teasing out and discovering this hidden person can be a fascinating and worthwhile process of discovery. The viewer tags along on that path with Joro as he sleuths around and digs through the motives (either hidden and real or public and false) responsible for the crazy messes he keeps getting dragged into. The stakes are sometimes minor, sometimes nail-bitingly high… but always, always entertaining. It adds a delightful bit of story spice to what could otherwise be a pretty silly affair.

With all of that said, any bold creative experiment carries a high risk of failure, and Oresuki is not a show without its problems. I almost quit watching it twice.

The first time I nearly gave up on the series was after the first story arc. Every single character came out of that looking so bad that I was despairing of finding anyone likeable enough to keep me coming back. All I’ll say there is that if you start feeling the same thing, watch one more episode. Beginning with the next arc, everyone redeems themselves to a surprising degree. I also felt like the series “slumped” a bit in the middle—not enough to recreate the negative feelings engendered by the first arc, but enough to hurt momentum.

Oresuki had two big flaws, though. I’m going to make some people really mad with this first one, but it’s my honest opinion: Pansy is easily one of the least interesting characters in this series, and promoting her to a lead role nearly kills it at points. The concept of Pansy sounds great on paper. Like the old witch who becomes a lovely and faithful wife only when trusted from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale, the calculating Pansy may not be the sweetheart Joro wants, but she often proves to be the one he needs. Also similar to that witch, Pansy reveals herself to be breathtakingly beautiful (and curvy!) once she drops her conservative and plain dress and hair, and she does so only after Joro willingly puts his full trust in her and his fate in her hands. That much of her character concept was really creative and cool.

Where the concept starts to break down, however, is that Connect was terrible at creating an ugly duckling character. She looks from the start like what she is: a stunning babe attempting to Clark Kent her way into anonymity and doing a bad job at it. This makes Joro’s dismay at her confession and his impatience with her throughout the series a bit hard to swallow. Furthermore, she’s too perfect. Virtually nothing is there to connect the viewer with Pansy on a human level. On top of having the body of a voluptuous goddess, nothing ever rattles her, and she displays almost inhuman levels of calm and self-possession. If she has a sense of humor at all, it’s so bone-dry as to be virtually imperceptible. In theory, her “stalker” persona could convey some moe awkwardness or at least amusing cringe, but it’s never paired with any social consequences or nervousness on her part that might make it funny or endearing.

Pansy can show deadpan irritation, she can be a happy and flirty “ara-ara” seductress, and she can evince slight physical discomfort when something makes her sad or worried. That is the absolute limit of her emotional range according to what we see on screen for most of the series. A few of the later episodes finally, mercifully humanize her somewhat by having her display other physical reactions to stress—clutching her wrist tightly behind her back, pressing her lips tightly together—but this sort of thing should have been done much earlier and more often, and even those behaviors aren’t particularly memorable or charming.

The other girls in the series are all considerably more flawed, but they are also orders-of-magnitude more interesting as people. Compared to Himawari’s cute mixture of being ditzy but really perceptive, or Cosmos’s adorable verbal awkwardness whenever she gets flustered, Pansy’s bland perfection came across as sadly… boring, at least for this viewer. Minor flaws and insecurities make us human, lovable, and interesting, and she needed more of them. It’s not a series-ruining problem, and I liked and appreciated Pansy much better after the final arc after we finally got a few glimpses behind her alternating stony-faced facades, but I firmly believe she could have been a much better main heroine by being a more imperfect one.

Oresuki’s second major flaw takes less space to explain, which is that it breaks Rule #1 of Anime Obscura’s “8 Rules For Making a Perfect Harem Anime” by including far too many romanceable options for such a short series. (Specifically, six to nine girls for 12 episodes and an OVA, depending on how you count it.) This is less of a problem than it could have been thanks to how vibrant even this anime’s minor characters are, but it still robbed time that could have been better-utilized giving us a more expansive look at the inner lives and personalities of the main cast.

Despite being one of the series’ cutest characters, Sasanqua has no plot-related reason to be there at all, and Tsubaki could have been written out of the story entirely if you just said Himawari or Cosmos was the one whose family ran a restaurant. I’m not saying these characters absolutely should have been removed, because I enjoyed them. The series didn’t have sufficient space to do them full justice, though, and that’s a bit of a shame. As with my complaints about Pansy, it wasn’t a total deal-killer, but it certainly wasn’t a strength. If Oresuki returns for a second season and it doesn’t continue to throw more characters at us at such a fast rate, this may become less of a problem moving forward.

I don’t want to close this review on a negative note, though, because I loved this series despite the minor frustrations I’ve mentioned. Thankfully, the OVA finale provides me with a great opportunity to pivot back to talking about what makes it so fun to watch. While getting there felt like a long and bumpy road for a series so short, Oresuki actually has one of the most heartwarming and satisfying endings of any anime I have ever watched, bar none. The final arc not only introduces a charming, formidable antagonist, but it raises the emotional stakes to levels not even seen in the opening story arc. The actual TV series ended on a cliffhanger in December 2019, with the finale of the story not appearing until 9 months later in September 2020.

The movie-length OVA circles back years before the series began in places in order to explore the backgrounds of our cast and to explain the friendships, rivalries, misunderstandings, and insecurities that have been driving this crew of misfits forward all along, for good and for bad. On top of that, we get to see Joro combine his loveable-best and loveable-worst traits to try to salvage a nightmare loss scenario of his own making. The OVA and the series itself close with two quiet scenes that put the spotlight on two key relationships that evolved throughout Oresuki, and in the process these scenes completely reframe the anime’s full title. Those scenes were very sweet, they were unexpected… and they were honestly beautiful. More than anything else, they were proof-positive that this quirky, experimental harem anime transcended the boundaries of satire and its own subgenre to become something truly special in its own right. The finale also brings the series to a decent stopping point that would certainly allow for a second season, but wraps things up neatly enough that it feels “complete” even if that never happens.

Oresuki isn’t the first anime to deconstruct the harem subgenre. Perhaps most notably, School Days steered its story into a train wreck of an ending on purpose just to prove it could. Oresuki aims for a result that requires a bit more finesse, though. It picks up the harem subgenre’s tropes, examines them with care, catalogs them, and struts around wearing them as a silly hat. Then, against all odds and logic, it constructs a Ferrari out of them and roars off into the sunset. I won’t pretend it’s perfect, but I strongly encourage anyone who loves a good love story… or a bad love story… or a good bad-love story… to give it a try. Oresuki is truly outstanding. It doesn’t get nearly enough respect yet, and I refuse to be the only one who loves it.

If you want to watch Oresuki, you can stream it on almost any of the major anime streaming sites. Crunchyroll, VRV, HiDive, and Funimation all carry it on their channels. Unfortunately, the series has yet to receive any sort of physical release on Blu Ray or DVD in North America… and equally unfortunately, it’s licensed by Aniplex of America. That means that if we do get any sort of physical release, it is likely to be painfully expensive unless they happen to sub-license it to Sentai Filmworks or Funimation. (Aniplex has increasingly tended to release their own titles in recent years, so I don’t think that scenario is likely.) To be honest, though, I’d even be willing to pay the “Aniplex premium” to have Oresuki as part of my physical anime collection. It was thoroughly charming, short enough to conveniently revisit, and a true creative success.

And at this point, there’s really only one thing left that needs to be said. Cosmos is best girl.

8 Rules For Making a Perfect Harem Anime

So, you’re an average Joe or Jane living an average life, when suddenly a mob of breathtakingly-attractive members of the opposite sex (or the same sex; I ain’t judgin’) appear out of nowhere and start fighting over you. It sounds like a dream, but since they’re all a bit unhinged, violent toward one another, and don’t give a damn about property damage, your potential orgy becomes a crazy romantic comedy instead. If this has ever happened to you, you should visit an insurance agent forthwith, but you are probably also the protagonist of an anime harem romantic comedy. (How are you reading my blog?!)

The harem romantic comedy subgenre (“harem” for short) has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the years, and I would say it hit its high water mark in both volume and quality in the 1990s through very early 2000s. It has never completely gone away, though, and probably never will, because the general setup has proven time and again to be such a rich vein for sweet, sexy, and hilarious moments. With that said, not all entries in this subgenre are created equal.

As something of an aficionado who has watched my fair share of these shows over the years, I believe I can identify certain rules, or perhaps principles, that work together as a formula to make an excellent harem anime. A harem anime might be able to get away with violating one or two of these rules and still be okay, but adhering to most of them is a prerequisite to being outstanding. Violating most of them is a near-guarantee that it’s going to be bad.

For the purposes of these rules, the character everyone is going ga-ga over is the “protagonist,” the assembled crew of those vying for him or her are the “harem,” and the individual members of that harem are romantic “options.” So, let’s get into it.


For the first 4 episodes, Invaders of the Rokujyōma takes on a relatively  slice-of-life/comedy bent as Kōtarō des… | Rwby anime, Digimon tattoo,  Sailor moon super s
Invaders of the Rokujouma

1. The 3/1 Ratio: The anime should have at least 3 episodes of runtime per romantic option.

Of all of the rules on this list, none is more commonly broken, and none is more commonly fatal from a quality standpoint. In a nutshell, some harem anime try to pack far, far too many romantic options into just a few episodes. The resulting problem is that none of them receives much attention, none of them gets much character development, and none of them makes much of an impression once the anime is over. Since anime creators rarely get to dictate the number of episodes their series will get, the better option is usually to intentionally limit the size of the harem.

By definition, “two is a romantic comedy, three’s a harem,” but the best-crafted shows in this genre keep their crew of girls or guys relatively small. That allows the viewer, along with the protagonist, to really get to know them, appreciate their quirks, and fall in love with them on a deeper, less superficial level. It also allows the romantic options to interact with one another as well as the protagonist across multiple episodes, reinforcing what we know about each character and why we should care about them. Harem anime that fail to follow this rule feel like a recording of a frenetic speed-dating session where we have trouble even remembering characters’ names, much less their personalities.

I will note that my “3/1 Ratio” is not exact math, and it is flexible in several ways. For one thing, it doesn’t mean that each option must receive precisely equal spotlight time in terms of their episode count, since some story arcs may necessarily take longer than others. It also doesn’t mandate exactly three episodes worth of individualized attention. In fact, this 3/1 ratio takes into account that you’ll normally have at least one “intro” episode where we meet everyone and one “conclusion” episode that wraps everything up, and those will almost always be equal-opportunity.

A great example of an anime that follows the ratio but also shows how it can be flexible is Invaders of the Rokujouma. It’s a 12 episode harem anime that also happens to coincide with the “exotic girlfriend” anime subgenre. With 7 recurring female characters, it seems to be radically exceeding the ratio at first, but one girl is a side character who is not at all romantically involved with the protagonist (moving us to 6), one is just a wingman for her friend (moving us to 5), and another functions as a sort of aspirational dream girl who receives a small amount of attention across all episodes rather than a dedicated storyline of her own (through this unusual loophole, moving us to 4). 4 options X 3 episodes “per” = 12 episodes, putting this anime in exactly the right sweet spot to comply with the ratio. It also includes one header, one trailer, and gives each girl in the harem exactly two consecutive episodes of spotlight time. By following the 3/1 ratio, we get to know all of them well enough to see why we should care about any of them.

Anime that did this right: Invaders of the Rokujouma; Fruits Basket; Majikoi; Ah My Goddess!

Anime that messed this up: If Her Flag Breaks (Gaworare); Are You the Only One Who Loves Me? (Oresuki); Maken Ki; Tenchi War on Geminar; Brothers Conflict

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2. Six or Seven is Plenty.

This functions as a sort of corollary to the previous rule when applied to longer series, because while the math certainly holds true on a shorter anime, it doesn’t mean that a 52-episode series should ever have 17 or 18 love interests to keep track of. Even in cases where you have a very long series with multiple seasons, it is almost never a good idea to create a harem of more than six or seven romantic options. Honestly, you probably get the best mileage out of four or five.

There might be a few isolated cases where this rule is bendable, usually in cases where the ridiculously vast size of the harem is the entire point of the series. (Hanaukyo Maid Team might be a good example of this principle.) In general, though, if you want your viewer to remember and care about your crew of romantic options, the smart approach is to focus on a manageable-sized cast.

Anime that did this right: Tenchi Muyo (original OVA, Tenchi Universe, and Tenchi in Tokyo); Ranma ½; Hakuoki; To Love Ru

Anime that messed this up: Negima; Sister Princess; Date A Live (by later seasons)

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Boys Over Flowers

3. The Protagonist Should Be Lovable And Interesting, Too.

Other than the pervasive ecchi content, the other most common complaint about harem anime from people who don’t like the genre is annoyed mystification over the following question: “Why would anyone be fighting over this loser?” And all too often, they have a point.

Because there’s a sort of “wish fulfillment fantasy” element to harem anime (i.e. “Wouldn’t you like cuties fighting over you?”), some anime creators try to make the main character a potential stand-in for the viewer. Unfortunately, they often decide to accomplish this by making the protagonist as bland, boring, and uninteresting as possible. You know the type if you’ve watched many anime in this subgenre. When it’s a male protagonist, he has messy brown hair, always wears a plain white shirt, is never physically imposing, has no distinguishing features, is whiny and spineless, and his idea of “defending” a love interest is jumping in front of them with his arms outstretched as a disposable human shield. Female leads in “reverse harems” are slightly less cookie-cutter, but the default in such cases seems to be a clumsy, quietly-pretty (but not impossibly-pretty), slightly oblivious girly-girl with long hair who frets too much.

It is possible to have an “okay” harem anime with a bad or boring lead, since the harem can still be interesting enough to carry the show. But… why do that? A much better method is to make the main character not only likable, but unique and interesting. Offer the viewer compelling reasons why the harem characters love this guy or girl so much that they’d fight over them. That’s the only way you’ll get any genuinely heartwarming scenes out of the show, because viewers will be happy to see a couple get together when they respect both characters who make up the couple.

On top of that, an interesting, likable main character does not do harm to the wish fulfillment element of a harem anime. If anything, most viewers would feel much more flattered imagining themselves as the stand-in for a character they actually like and respect rather than feeling like they were being compared to a bland, personality-less no-name whose on-screen presence irritates them.

Anime that did this right: The World God Only Knows; Ouran Host Club; Boys Over Flowers; Ladies vs Butlers; My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (OreGairu); Golden Boy

Anime that messed this up: To Love Ru; Maburaho; Heaven’s Lost Property; UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie; Diabolik Lovers

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Happy Lesson

4. Love Can (And Often Should) Take Different Forms.

This is a rule that seldom hurts anything when it is not followed, but following it can absolutely make a harem anime more interesting than it would have been otherwise. In quite a few harem anime, the options all want to become the main character’s girlfriend or boyfriend and all find the same thing(s) about them attractive, and that can provide plenty of entertainment in its own right. However, it’s more realistic and engaging when there’s some variety in the attempted relationships being forged.

People are different – even fictional people – and they will likely find different things about a character impressive, admirable, or lovable. They will also have different needs in their lives that are not currently being met. Because of all of that, it stands to reason that what they like or what they’re seeking from the protagonist would also contain some variety. A member of the harem may love a character and feel jealous when it comes to their attention, but the relationship they are seeking out may be more platonic – that of a friend, a brother/sister/parent/child figure, or that of a professional mentor. This not only helps the sense of realism in the show, but also allows for richer and more creative plot elements than the entire harem simultaneously trying to get into the main character’s pants or skirt.

One of the most unique anime I can think of in this regard is Happy Lesson, which is about an orphan teenager named Chitose who suddenly has a gang of hot women in their 20s move into his home. The catch? They’re all his teachers at school, and all of them want to become his mom! The series does contain one or two characters closer to his age who like him romantically, but this unique, purely platonic spin on the “harem” concept elevates this otherwise-mediocre entry in the subgenre into something considerably more interesting and memorable.

Anime that did this right: Happy Lesson; Haganai; OniAi; Ah My Goddess!; Saber Marionette Series

Anime that messed this up: My Sister is Among Them (Nakaimo); Ah My Buddha; High School DxD

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Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth

5. The Protagonist’s Appeal Shouldn’t Be A Mystery.

This is related to both #3 and #4, but it’s important enough to merit mentioning on its own, and it’s also possible (albeit uncommon) to mess this up while getting those rules right. The romantic attraction between the protagonist and the options shouldn’t feel like it materialized out of thin air, nor should it feel like a completely unnatural reaction to a toxic personality.

This is usually a direct, straightforward reflection of good or bad writing. Ideally, you’ll have an interesting, likable protagonist whose appeal speaks for itself. Even in cases of a bland protagonist, though, an anime can still follow this rule if it has the protagonist do something positive on an option’s behalf to explain why they find him or her lovable. If they don’t do either of these things – if the protagonist has no inherent magnetism or charm, and if they do nothing to earn affection – and they have an entire harem fighting over them anyway, that’s a huge problem from a basic writing perspective.

It’s also possible for a protagonist to be too toxic for the harem to make sense. I have seen some anime where the writers tried to make the protagonist prickly to make them more interesting, but they were occasionally enough of a jerk that it strained credulity that many people would like them. (Takeya in DearS, an anime I quite enjoyed overall, was guilty of this in a few scenes.)

Unfortunately, a toxic male protagonist surrounded by women who fawn over him is more often a reflection of some pretty deep misogyny baked into the writing – the author’s belief that women are most romantically and sexually attracted to bad boys who treat them poorly. I won’t say that such women don’t exist in nature at all, because it’s a big world out there, but they’re pretty darn rare, and forming a harem around that concept just feels gross most of the time. In reality-world, both women and men generally save their warm, fuzzy feelings for those who make them feel loved and valued, and fiction tends to be better when it reflects that.

There is a rather unique loophole around this rule that can explain the harem’s attraction to a character who does nothing special, is nothing special, or has an abrasive personality – the “they’re after his genes” scenario. These aren’t common, but a few anime (ex. Maburaho, Peter Grill and the Philosopher’s Time) feature a harem based purely on sex where the options are not after romance at all. Instead, the protagonist has something special in their bloodline (usually some massive latent power) that the female cast members want passed on to their own descendants, which in turn requires making a kid with him. Such anime are almost always sky-high on ecchi content, tend to be rather silly, and generally don’t want you to take them very seriously… but one has to concede, it is at least a reason.

Anime that did this right: Ai Yori Aoshi; Shomin Sample; Hakuouki; Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth

Anime that messed this up: Trinity Seven; Demon King Daimao; DearS

8 Harem Anime You'll Actually Watch For the Story | All Harem Amino Amino

6. Every romantic option should be a viable one.

Not a lot to say here, other than that a considerable amount of the dramatic tension of a harem anime revolves around a single question: “Who will the protagonist end up with?” If it’s almost a foregone conclusion from the very start and the only real question is how they’ll get there, you’re actually watching a romance anime, not a harem anime.

If it is a genuine harem anime, though, there shouldn’t be any candidates so much weaker than the others that it feels like they were never in the running at all. They don’t have to all have perfectly equal shots, but if it’s not a close race, it substantially lessens the dramatic tension and makes for a weaker show. If there’s only one candidate weaker than all the rest, that’s even worse, since it will cause the double-whammy problem of the audience feeling pity for them as well as being bored with the overall lack of romantic suspense.

There may be an isolated anime or two out there that break this rule without it substantially harming the quality of the series, but those are rare enough that I feel comfortable standing firm behind the general principle. Romantic tension makes for a better harem.

Anime that did this right: Infinite Stratos; Outbreak Company; Monogatari

Anime that messed this up: Ranma ½; Love Hina; Hand Maid May

Prison School - Episode 8 English Sub - YouTube
Prison School

7. Fan Service Is An Additive, Not a Substitute.

By “fan service” or “ecchi” material, we’re talking any lewd or naughty images the animators cooked up for the audience. There is often quite a bit of risqué material in harem anime, simply because the setup lends itself so well to sexy scenes, wardrobe malfunctions, and attempted seductions. (In fact, I’d go so far as to say that while not all harem anime are ecchi, almost all ecchi anime are harem. There aren’t too many shows where sex appeal is the main focus and a single character provides all of it.) And this isn’t necessarily a problem! There is certainly a place for risqué comedy and artwork in anime, and as long as it’s clearly identified by the rating, viewers can “take it or leave it” as they choose according to their tastes.

However, a problem arises when fan service is the only thing a harem anime has going for it. Even for a one-season anime, 12 episodes is a long time to suffer through an anime with a bad or meandering plot, poorly-executed comedy, and boring characters. No matter how sexily it manages to animate its cast, no matter how much time and money is blown on the “animation budget” (ahem), viewers still want a decent story to go along with it. At the very least, all things being equal, they would vastly prefer a story where all of those elements are also strong.

Note that “fan service” and good writing emphatically don’t need to be an “either/or” proposition. A series I would highlight as an example that proves the point by featuring a shocking amount of both is Ladies Versus Butlers. This series is lewd to its very core – its characters tend to look rather suggestive even when they are standing perfectly still or are engaged in normal interactions, and when it actually tries to be risqué, it goes way over the top. Despite that, it has a loveable cast, is well-written, and has many touching and laugh-out-loud moments. High ecchi content is not everyone’s cup of tea and might limit a show’s appeal for that reason alone, but the overall quality of Ladies Versus Butlers proves that it’s virtually impossible to over-spice good writing out of existence with fanservice. Provided it’s there in the first place, the good writing will still show through.

On the other hand, the second season of Maken-Ki proves that no amount of fanservice can replace good writing. The first season of this anime would win no awards for its disjointed and meandering plot, but it did at least make a weak effort at having one and was slightly better for it. The second season didn’t even bother, jettisoning any pretext of plot in exchange for “plot,” and it resulted in an anime season that had no more artistic value than any other embarrassing thing you’d want to erase from your search history.

Anime that did this right: Ladies Versus Butlers; Prison School; Monster Musume; Golden Boy

Anime that messed this up: Maken Ki; Mr. Nobunaga’s Young Bride; Mouse

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Quintessential Quintuplets

8. Production Values Matter.

This one may sound like an odd one to include, because it’s not unique to harem and is equally true of any anime genre. However, since we’re listing the rules of what it takes to make a good harem anime, I’d be remiss to not say that this subgenre benefits or suffers from its production values just like any other.

An interesting aesthetic, appealing and unique character design, beautiful colors and lighting, good animation, catchy opening and ending songs, and good background music can elevate a mediocre harem anime or make a great one shine even brighter.

A generic aesthetic, bland or off-putting character design, flat-looking or lazy artwork, stiff or no animation, forgettable opening or ending songs, and inappropriate background music can kneecap even a very well-written harem anime and make it forgettable or outright bad.

Anime that did this right: Are You the Only One Who Loves Me? (Oresuki); Grisaia series;Quintessential Quintuplets; Samurai Girls / Samurai Bride

Anime that messed this up: Rosario Vampire; Happiness; Love♥Love; Koi Koi Seven; To Heart series


And that’s it! I hope this tour through the philosophical underpinnings of silly romantic comedies about a crowd of girls or guys drooling over an “unlucky” protagonist has been useful to you. Candidly, I think it will be useful to me here at Anime Obscura as something I plan to point back to when reviewing harem anime in the future.

I feel I should mention one or two things in closing this little list. First, you may have noticed what seems like a rather glaring omission – the rule that “the harem options themselves should be lovable and interesting.” While absolutely critical, the reason I didn’t include that particular rule in this list is that it’s actually the one thing that harem anime virtually never mess up. Even the densest anime creators seem to understand that their harem characters are the life and soul of the genre, and even if they break all eight of my other rules, they get that one aspect right and create love interests that are at least somewhat interesting and feel like they have the potential to be lovable. If a harem anime goes wrong, the problem is usually not with the harem options themselves, but the fact that they were not fleshed out fully enough (rule #1 and 2) or that their relationship to the protagonist felt forced, illogical, or boring (rules #3-5). In the handful of cases where they serve no purpose other than eye candy, they violate rule #7. Between all of that, I felt like enough bases were covered that this didn’t need to be listed as a separate rule. If anyone wants to make it an apocryphal ninth rule, though, I have no problem with that.

I should also stress that I can only mention shows here that I have personal experience with or knowledge of. There may be other anime that would serve as better examples of breaking or following these rules, but they just aren’t in my repertoire at this time. I also have to admit that while I have watched most of the anime I mentioned here in their entirety, there are a handful (especially among the “bad” examples) where I’ve only watched an episode or two and formed my opinion based on that. If I’ve falsely inflated or sullied a particular anime’s reputation, you have my apology in advance. I still stand firm behind the general rules I’m advancing even if I were to make a minor goof on a “case-in-point.”

Finally, I’ll close with the usual disclaimer about how every rule has exceptions, and about how it’s possible to break the rules and still have things work, yadda yadda yadda. You’ll notice that some anime I singled out as problematic in certain areas were featured as exemplary in others (Oresuki and Ranma ½), and a few of the ones I have pointed out as having problems are nonetheless “Top 10” anime for me overall. It’s very possible for a harem anime to still be outstanding thanks to its overall merits even if it gets one or two aspects of the overall “perfect harem anime” formula wrong.

All the same, I’ll be happiest when they get all of it right, because if the harem genre teaches us anything, it’s to shoot for the moon in terms of our expectations. After all, why settle for one good thing when you can have it all? 😉

Are You The Only One Who Loves Me? / Oresuki