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Let's Stay Together!

By Janet Houck     August 30, 2006


Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play
© DVD
The harem comedy: possibly the origin of most male fantasies. Let's do the math: one run-of-the-mill ordinary guy, living with several beautiful, yet strangely quirky girls, usually against his will. The poor lad is overwhelmed by their attention and affections, unable to pick just one and reject the rest. Thus the girls spend much of the time fighting over the boy, determined to be his one and only.

This genre is the most popular in anime and manga, as it is an easy formula that's almost guaranteed to succeed among fans. Likewise, it is also one of the genres put down by fans as filler garbage when original ideas run out or when writers don't want to commit to a single pairing of characters. It's also hard not to notice the existence of the generic male lead purely for male viewers, who can project themselves into the story as the love object. Reverse comedies, one girl surrounded by beautiful boys, does occur, but not to the degree of harem comedies. Examples include FRUITS BASKET and FUSHIGI YUGI.

Like sit-coms on TV, it's what's on the anime station most of the time and it occupies the majority of the manga section. However, not all harem comedies are mindless sludge; it does contain some of the classic essentials which have shaped anime and manga as a whole and broken the formula to create one of their own.

The anime that coined the term in the U.S. (the Japanese term is "lovecomi;" love comedies) is TENCHI MUYO! (Geneon and FUNimation; manga from VIZ Media). Oddly enough, I have never seen a single episode or read any of the various manga series or novels, yet I can tell you about the plot, although there are three parallel continuities in the franchise, which makes summarizing the plot difficult. Tenchi, a nice teenage boy who is rather courageous when protecting his friends, but timid when facing romance, awakens/finds Ryoko, an ancient demon/space pirate, who decides to live with Tenchi. Ryoko is pursued by Ayeka, a polite-yet-feisty extraterrestrial princess, and her little sister, Sasami, who despite her young age, is a great cook. Stranded on Earth, they decide to live with Tenchi as well. Joining the three girls with varying levels of interest in Tenchi are Mihoshi, a ditzy blonde Galaxy Police officer who ends up being competent through sheer luck; Kiyone, Mihoshi's quiet partner; and Washu, the red-haired mad scientist/genius who is either the creator of Ryoko or merely employed by Ryoko. They too, decide to live with Tenchi. They drive Tenchi into danger and drama, as the ladies fight among themselves and team up against external evils. This franchise is extremely prolific, and there's no easy way to slip into TENCHI MUYO! except to just jump in at the beginning of a series and hang on. You'll laugh, you'll want to throttle the characters, and occasionally, you'll want to cry.

Recently, LOVE HINA (Bandai; manga from TOKYOPOP) has replaced TENCHI MUYO! as the name associated with the genre. However, unlike most harem comedies, the girls spent most of the series hating Keitaro, and he endures enough physical abuse that would kill anyone else that he is regarded as immortal. Over time, the girls begin to respect him and eventually, have some sort of affection for him. Despite the abundance of girls, Keitaro is interested only in Naru, and their relationship gets put under stress from other girls' crushes and childhood friends returning to have Keitaro make good on his 'promises'.

There are several variations of the theme, such as HAPPY LESSON (ADV Films; manga from ADV Manga), where an orphaned teenage boy is adopted by his five single female teachers, who come to live with him in his house in order to keep Chitose from being depressed. The teachers themselves place themselves in the mother role for Chitose, but for the viewer and Chitose, they are nothing but legit eyecandy.

SABER MARIONETTE has our everyday man lead, but uses robots for the girls. An accident leaves the only survivors of a colony ship for Terra II as six men. Using cloning technology, they populate the planet with men, as there is no female DNA to use to clone. Seeking female companionship, they create marionettes, female androids who lack any sort of sentience or personality. Years pass. Otaru, a young man in Japoness, finds an unusual marionette named Lime, who possesses a maiden circuit which gives her a life-like personality that grows as she experiences life with her master, Otaru. As the series goes on, Otaru awakens two other marionettes, Cherry and Bloodberry, who also bond with Otaru. The marionettes fight for their master's attention and the right to serve him, and eventually serve a greater purpose when SABER MARIONETTE takes a turn into RPG territory.

COMIC PARTY (The Right Stuf; manga from TOKYOPOP) tells the story of Kazuki, an artist who gets tossed into the world of doujinshi (fan-drawn manga, often parodies or fanworks of existing characters, but sometimes original work), and consequently meets many female comic artists, cosplayers, a con organizer, an idol singer and a very clumsy printing assistant. Oh, and Kazuki has a girlfriend as well, Mizuki, who hates all things otaku, but slowly warms to Kazuki's new passion. (On a side note, this is a series that I highly recommend, both in anime and manga formats. It always makes me feel like I can write, just need to sit down and do it!) COMIC PARTY originally was a visual novel (think PC game with a lot of clicking), where the plot was Kazuki interacting with the girls through making doujinshi.

Finally, we have DOKKOIDA!? (Geneon), where a teenage boy (see the pattern here?) is hired by a cute space alien to wear a crime-fighting suit for an intergalactic toy company battling for a contract with the Galactic Federation Police. Suzuo must battle with archvillains and his arch-nemesis, Neruloid Girl, wearing the other company's revealing battlesuit. The only other catch is that he must never have his identity exposed... but of course, the heroes and villains all live together in an apartment complex to save money. Thus Suzuo finds himself at the attention of Asaka (Neruloid Girl), Ruri (the princess who controls monsters, Edelweiss) and Sayuri (the well-endowed dominatrix, Hyacinth).

NEGIMA!: MAGISTER NEGI MAGI (FUNimation; manga from Del Rey Manga) is the latest creation from the creator of LOVE HINA, Ken Akamatsu. A ten-year-old genius wizard, Negi, is assigned to work as an English teacher at a middle school in order to become Magister Magi, a wizard who helps ordinary people with their problems, as well as to find his father. Only naturally, his class is made up of 31 girls, each with her own quirks. It's the ratio of boy to girl that makes this title a member of the harem comedy squad.

Over on the domestic front, AOI HOUSE (Seven Seas Entertainment) is a great example of harem comedy, almost to the point of being a parody. The manga is available online at the publisher's website (http://www.gomanga.com), and is updated three times a week. Set in the US, a pair of otaku freshmen find themselves joining Aoi House, the local anime club/frat house... of all girls. Apparently, the "Y" in front of "Aoi" fell off... This webmanga, available in paperback as well, will give you a good overview of harem comedy and the humor within.

And that's our really, really brief tour of a very large section of anime and manga. Tune your browser in for next week's genre!

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