New Year’s has come and gone, and with it the time for New Year’s Resolutions. Some of you may be making resolutions in regards to dating or finding that special someone. Oftentimes, when we’re inexperienced or just plain stuck for inspiration, we look for ideas and advice about love from the media around us, such as romantic comedies, romance novels and – if you’re an otaku – the infamous harem anime genre. For those that don’t know, harem anime is a genre within romance anime (often with slapstick comedy) which tends to focus on hapless young men (or women!) finding themselves the focus of a veritable tribe of beautiful women, from alien space pirates to childhood sweethearts, eager to be their girlfriend and forming a “harem” of sorts, often moving in with the hero and engaging in all sorts of shenanigans; a subgenre known as “reverse harem” reverses the genders (a young heroine with tons of gorgeous men chasing after her), and there are some male/male and female/female variants as well.
Of course, as we all know, things like harem anime and romantic comedies can be terrible places to get advice from, as they are idealized fantasies at best and can promote genuinely unhealthy behaviour at worst (e.g. Stalking and hounding someone who does not show any interest = admirable persistence which will totally get you the girl/guy of your dreams!) However, if you take a step back and look at harem anime with a critical eye, you can still find plenty of good common sense ideas to keep in mind when dating, as well as some pitfalls of the genre to avoid in real life. Keep your mind open and your tongue in cheek while we look at the do’s and don’ts of following harem anime as advice for life.
- Keep an open mind and eye
- One common element in harem anime is the sheer variety of personality types within the hero’s circle of men/women. One harem anime hero will be enticed by a spontaneous and adventurous stranger on the first meeting, while another will end up passing over a “harem” full of supermodel deities, aliens and demons for the shy, quiet childhood friend who’s always been there for them. Keep this in mind when dating and be ready to broaden your horizons. Preferences are fine, but keep your eyes and heart open and be willing to go beyond your boundaries from time to time.
- Balance dating with other priorities
- People often joke about how some harem anime heroes seem utterly disinterested in the copious amounts of eye-candy wandering around their houses, inns, dojos and so on. In truth, though, it’s often not that they don’t like the “harem”; it’s that they have other priorities. Yes, gorgeous alien supermodels are all well and good, but a guy still has to get his homework done, and a girl’s gotta get accepted to a good university! Don’t let the pursuit of love disrupt your other pursuits, particularly those related to your career, school, finances, housing and so on.
- Be a nice guy (or nice girl)
- Note that this is “nice guy” in lower case, not the Nice Guy that has become somewhat infamous online. Harem anime heroes seem to be nice guys (or nice girls!), though there are a few exceptions. They are kind to others and help the men/women in their life not because it will get them brownie points or make people more attracted to them, but because they genuinely think it will make others lives better. We can do the same thing, and in our case, it won’t involve journeys to space to save our girlfriends or summoning phoenix gods to magical kingdoms of handsome men.
- Harem anime is very clear on this: poor communication kills. How many times has some poor schmuck been caught in an embarrassing or incriminating situation – like, say, landing face first on some magic goddess just in time for a childhood sweetheart to walk in – and rather than calmly and rationally explaining what had happened, freezes up, stammers and does the whole “I can explain, no really!” routine? And turning it around (because communication involves listening too), how many times have the other party refused to listen, leaped to assumptions and exploded all over their hapless partner? Part of a successful relationship (vs. one that is on TV for laughs) is talking and listening to each other. Rather than enact your favorite anime’s shenanigans, keep it cool, be clear and calm, and chances are you will end up with a better grasp on the situation and your partner, rather than a giant mallet to the head.
- Know when to walk away
- Some of the most poignant and moving moments in harem anime are not when the hero makes his/her choice and gets together with one of the “harem”. Rather, they can often come from other “harem” members finally letting go of their one-sided feelings and moving on with their lives. You don’t have to go for the big OMG DRAMA of anime, but like your favorite characters, you can come to understand that sometimes, things just don’t work out and the person you love doesn’t feel the same way… and that’s okay.
- Be a pervert
- This really should go without saying, but I’ve heard enough horror stories to figure it’s worth putting out there: being a pervert and ogling people is not an attractive feature outside of anime. At all. In harem anime, it’s treated as something very funny and cute, involving peeking in bathhouses and misunderstandings and nosebleeds and mallets to the head, and it’s all supposed to be innocent fun or… something. Except that sort of behavior or “comedy” really doesn’t translate to reality. Before you think that you are quirky and lovable for your dazed drooling or your oh-so-adorable excuses for why you weren’t REALLY peeping through the keyhole, honest, take a moment and think about whether you want to be that sort of harem anime hero.
- Be clingy or overly persistent
- On some level, harem anime does actually address this; whenever you see one of the “harem” glomping onto the hero, obsessing over them and generally making a nuisance of themselves, chances are that they are not going to be “the lucky one” at the end. Yet at the same time, harem anime often glorifies the more subtle forms of clingy, stalkerish behaviour where the hero pursues the least-interested “harem” member around and in the end they usually prevail and “win” the love of their object by sheer persistence. Life doesn’t work that way, however, and love is not a prize to be “won”.Not interested means not interested, whether spoken aloud or shown by actions, and respecting the person you like means respecting their feelings. No one is saying you have to be totally passive or detached when looking for love, but attaching yourself lamprey-style to someone and telling yourself that romantic leads in anime NEVER GIVE UP and FIGHT FOR THEIR LOVE etc is the best way to scare someone off for good.
- Be wishy-washy
- Despite the popularity of harem anime, a large number of fans tend to dislike the actual hero of the piece. Characters like Keitaro or Tenchi or even Miaka get slammed for being bland and uninteresting, not to mention indecisive and wishy-washy. And let’s face it, most of the conflict and tension in these series (both between the hero and the harem and between the harem characters themselves) comes from the hero being too hesitant or passive about who they like or what they want or what they think of the situation, which leads to misunderstandings, arguments, and sometimes giant explosions. While this sort of conflict is great for stories, it’s not so great for real life. Being flexible and respectful of others’ needs is totally awesome, but don’t feel you have to censor yourself, and don’t be afraid to make your own feelings or needs clear when appropriate.
- Idealize violent or overly aggressive relationships
- One of the most popular character type in harem anime is the tsundere, an aggressive and often angry character (usually female) with a sweet and mushy core that the hero wins through to, usually after enduring lots of verbal abuse and bodily harm (see: Akane, Ryoko, half the cast of Love Hina). In reality, a certain amount of this behaviour is perfectly fine – I know plenty of sarcastic and excitable real-life tsunderes and plenty more people who love ‘em! - but take care to recognize the difference between, “mild temper and crankiness” and “dysfunctional and unhealthy abuse.” On the screen, seeing Girl A call Boy B an idiot every episode can be funny and endearing, but it’s something very different to have someone in reality calling you an idiot (and meaning it) every day.
- Ignore the feelings of others
- This is going to sound weird after I pointed out all the dangers of idealizing perseverance and the problems with clinginess, and I hasten to point out that I am in no way suggesting that someone loving you = you must love them back, or anything like that. But far too often in harem anime, the hero will be so focused on gaining the love of their preferred love interest that they will end up being extremely insensitive and oblivious to the others’ feelings, ignoring the obvious signs of interest or reacting to their confessions with confusion and discomfort. You don’t need to go around treating people with kid gloves, but be mindful of others, even if you just like them as friends. If someone confesses interest in you and you don’t return it, be gentle and kind but firm; make it clear that you appreciate and respect their feelings but that a relationship is not on the cards. If you think someone might like you but aren’t sure, just show them the same respect that you would expect if your places were switched (e.g. maybe keep the breathless squeeing over the awesome new boy/girlfriend a bit in check). Remember, you are not obligated to do or feel anything just because someone likes you, but it’s always a good rule of thumb to be kind. Besides, even if your childhood friend isn’t secretly pining after you, she can probably only stomach hearing so much of your perfect geeky supermodel space alien princess girlfriend before wanting to grab the nearest comically-oversized anime mallet to whack you with.
What harem anime do you watch? What life lessons have you gleaned from them?