The harem genre of anime is quite divisive, and an example of a formula that sells ridiculously well by pandering to the crowd of lonely, slavering otaku. One half of viewers, the intended otaku demographic, sees it as an entertaining seasonal inevitability that gives them half a dozen 2D girls to lust after until the next batch of boobs (or lack thereof for some discerning gents) comes about. The beach episode, the school festival episode, the harem-inclusive cram session… they’re all bound to happen and are anticipated by an audience desperately groping for their computer monitors. A ridiculous amount of fanart ends up being made and promptly forgotten about, each harem indistinguishable from the last.
The other half, the demographic that I’m a proud member of, watches out of a bizarre sense of obligation. The seasonal harem is the show that you love to hate, something that you watch to whittle away a few spare minutes between sessions of not chasing nonexistent tail. All those annual family visits to the poor side of town to make you appreciate what you have weren’t in vain. After moving away, the subsequent lack of annual stabbings courtesy of Uncle Albert (A Christmas tradition!) has left a knife wound-shaped hole in your heart. Or rather the doctor that failed to treat your hemorrhaging cardiovascular system did, but let’s not pin the blame on him, shall we?
To fill that knife wound-shaped hole in your heart the only way you know how (With animu), you’ve turned to the one genre that his consistently performed below average since its inception: The milquetoast protagonist surrounded by a variety of cookie cutter girls in a high school setting. Though you should probably look into getting that wound patched up in more than a figurative sense.
It is here, you hope, that you can continue to gain an appreciation for what you have and enjoy the occasional masterpiece that meanders into town even more, when you have a guaranteed stream of slop to compare it to. Like comparing a meal of succulent snow crab legs on rice pilaf to oatmeal mostly made of wallpaper paste for consistency.
Yet, there are whisperings on the internet as to the true nature of Mash(iro2) Symphony. People keep saying that it does things differently from most of its kin, and has a fighting chance of throwing off this delicate equilibrium for both sides and uniting them under a common banner of peace. For those who have seen this show, I’ll give you a minute to stifle your laughter.
Done? Okay. All disbelief should have been aimed squarely at the part about it being different. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that every harem anime, regardless of actual quality, shares five distinct characteristics that will be outlined with commentary in the following list.
1. Puts the main character in a situation where he’s surrounded by a bevy of (Often high school aged) girls
To copy straight from the synopsis:
“The traditional girls-only Yuihime Private Academy is considering the possibility of starting to accept both genders and has thus made an agreement with a neighboring school to receive some of its students as an experiment to see the reaction to this adaptation. Shingo Iryu is one of the many students transferred for a ten month experimental phase at Yuihime Academy. He, his sister, and his fellow relocated colleagues are impressed by the sophisticated campus, but even more by the resistance of many students who don’t want the boys over there.”
It’s a high school, the protagonist is sent there as part of an experimental program, and is met with as much cold hostility as he is with warm acceptance. Of course it’s probably as much because he is a male as he is…
2. A boring male lead that the audience is meant to project onto.
Just look at this guy. You can probably guess from his appearance alone that he has all the personality of a piece of brown rice, and even the girls in the school know it. Yet he ends up with every girl clamoring for his attention (Totally not wish fulfillment), even…
3. The unreasonably vitriolic tsundere.
You can tell this character from a mile away. She’s the only one willing to critique the male lead when it comes to anything that he does. She also ends up at the receiving end of unintentional groping or peeping on his part, and hurts him every chance she gets. But little does either of them know that she’s just really looking for somebody to love her. She can often be identified by at least five shots an episode that make her look like she’s saying something along the lines of “B-Baka. It’s not like I like you or anything.” Even when she isn’t saying it, you know she would if given the chance.
4. Hair that covers the Skittles spectrum
Just as the male is as boring as can be, each of the haremette girls has a different hair color as the only means to distinguish them. Ironically, this only makes them seem more generic than if they didn’t have it, and the one with the least outrageous hair is often the most likable of the bunch. It’s not the case here since all the girls as pretty unlikable, but it occasionally happens.
5. You can tell who the main love interest is from the very beginning
Arguably the only reason to really watch a harem anime is to see which girl the male lead ends up with… but it all ends up the same each time. The “lucky” lady’s given away at the beginning of the first episode, and the rest of the series is a stalling tactic meant to appease whoever went through the original material.
Now, all of these have their reasons. Often being adapted from visual novels (Another characteristic that I should’ve included), the main character is intentionally forgettable. Ultimately, these kinds of adaptations are pure escapism for the main audience, and are never intended to be more. Of course while you have your exceptions that usually aren’t adapted from visual novels (Love Hina being foremost), Mash(iro2) Symphony doesn’t fall into that category. It’s as close to being a cookie cutter harem anime as can be, and at only three episodes in I can comfortably tell you that’s not going to change anytime soon. Yet I’ll keep watching, because I need something to fill that certain hole in my heart to make me long for something better. And ultimately, it’s more fun to bitch about bad shows than to praise good ones.