[Apartment 507] How Monster Musume Attracts Hardcore Fans


I wrote another post over at the site Apartment 507 about Monster Musume. This time, I go over what I think makes Monster Musume a special series. Warning, the post might be NSFW.

And yes, I am planning on making a Fujoshi File for Zombina.

A Tale of Two Harems: Kore Wa Zombie Desuka? vs. Infinite Stratos

WARNING: Spoilers.

When the Winter 2011 season of anime began I saw two harem anime on the schedule. One was Kore wa Zombie Desuka?, which apparently being zombie-themed I wrote off as something to skip. The other was Infinite Stratos, which, while likely not to set my world on fire, had mecha and SF elements that I wanted to check out.  But thanks to a tip from Sub, I decided to check out Zombie after all, and now that I’ve finished these dual harem series, I find that my relative opinion has flipped. Kore wa Zombie Desuka? is a pleasant surprise, while Infinite Stratos‘s faults far outweigh its strengths.

First, let’s actually list the highlights of Infinite Stratos.

  • Good character designs, better than Zombie
  • Charlotte Dunois
  • The fact that it did not turn into a tournament fighting series

In contrast, I feel that the strengths of Kore wa Zombie Desuka? are substantial enough that they shouldn’t be listed in bullet form, but to sum them up, Zombie does a good job of playing with the conventions of the harem genre and bolstering many of the areas where harem shows tend to be weak. The main character in a harem series tends to take a lot of physical damage, so the series incorporates that into the basics of the setup. The hero Aikawa Ayumu is made undead, so that he can take abuse far beyond what is normal and regenerate. Whereas most harem protagonists tend to waffle and lack motivation, we see that from the very start of the series he has an initial goal to spur him on: to find the person who killed him. He’s still your Average Japanese Guy with Extraordinary Circumstances, but just by having drive and personality, you can see why more than one girl might take an interest in him.

Harem anime are really all about the girls. It is something I gladly accept when watching harem shows, but I prefer to see that the girls have fallen in love with the main character for something resembling a good reason. It helps that Ayumu has something called a personality, as well as traits that are actually admirable instead of vague “nice guy” characteristics, but Kore wa Zombie Desuka? also shows the girls actually developing feelings for him. Seeing the female necromancer Eucliwood’s first meeting with Ayumu, we can see how he charms her with a goofy and well-meaning attitude. Haruna, a chainsaw-wielding magical girl, is witness to Ayumu’s continuous noble actions and sense of self-worth. We can even see where feelings don’t develop with Mael Strom, who does not have feelings for Ayumu but actually works to go from indifference to affection-after-the-fact in some kind of twisted parody of an arranged marriage.

The girls of Zombie are not particularly well-developed in terms of personality, but they have a manic edge to them where their simple traits are pushed to the extreme without having them become tiresomely one-dimensional. This is probably most evident with Seraphim, a deadly vampire ninja not unlike a couple of Axe Cop characters, whose hobby, talent, and favorite word are all the same thing: Tsubamegaeshi, a sword technique, and whose catch phrase, calling Ayumu a “piece of shit,” feels delivered with sincere malice instead of being there to compensate for any sort of weak, fragile interior.

Infinite Stratos fails to convince me that most of the girls have legitimate reasons to be interested in the main character, Orimura Ichika. Looking at four out of the five girls in IS, two of them are childhood friends and two of them fall in love with him after a single fight. With neither situation are these explanations given time to develop. They just are, as if their purpose is to get Ichika in the harem situation as quickly and efficiently as possible. Instead of further flattening the characters as Zombie did, IS sees fit to give them contrived flashbacks where a girl will literally narrate to the viewer as to why her life is tragic. Ichika does this as well, and it doesn’t happen until half-way through, so when we first see him, he’s just a bland fellow who draws all the ladies for Some Reason.

This is actually why I emphasized Charlotte Dunois as one of the highlights of Infinite Stratos, because she is the only girl among the five whose eventual attraction towards Ichika was given room to develop. Charlotte Dunois starts off disguised as a boy, and as the only other guy in the school, Ichika finds a comrade in “Charles.” Their friendship grows through this “male” bonding, and with Ichika talking to her closely and comfortably, it makes sense that she would develop intimate feelings. If more of the girls in Infinite Stratos had this sort of portrayal, instead of having their affections develop out of un-reasons, then my opinion might have very well been more even between the two shows.

The essential strength and flaw respectively of each show is that Kore wa Zombie Desuka? creatively manipulates the harem genre conventions while Infinite Stratos feels beholden to them. This is evident even in each show’s approach to the dramatic. While neither series excels in this regard, in Kore wa Zombie Desuka? the dramatic elements are continuously built upon and reach a fairly satisfying conclusion, while with Infinite Stratos, much like the flimsy bases for affection, the drama just seems to appear instantly and recede just as quickly.

Overall, while I would say that the girls in Infinite Stratos are more attractive, it does not feel as complete a product as Kore wa Zombie Desuka?, which is able to show that a lot can be done with the harem genre without completely subverting it School Days-style. In doing so, Zombie winds up being the better anime.

Ruminations on Harem Anime, Part 1: Responsibility

I’ve been doing some thinking about the concept and tropes of harem anime recently. Here is Part 1 out of I don’t know how many parts but expect at least one more. Today’s topic is the concept of responsibility in harem anime.

The basic concept of a harem show is that it involves one guy surrounded by multiple gorgeous women who are all either vying for his affection, or could be conceived as such. As such, it tends to be a rather divisive genre among fans. Some of the more controversial topics in anime spring to mind, such as sexualization of anime characters, arguments about whether or not harem shows hurt or help anime, what makes a “good” anime character, or whether or not the fans of such shows are just perverts with no taste. One common criticism of harem anime is that they tend to feature a do-nothing protagonist who sits around and lets his gorgeous harem girls sexually tease and prompt him without himself applying any sort of initiative. However, what I have come to realize is that harem anime, with very few exceptions, requires a certain level of passivity from its male protagonist, without which the “harem” concept would weaken and crumble.

The “Arms’ Length Harem” as I have dubbed it is a simple concept. It is where, as stated before, a male protagonist in a harem anime never actively makes a move on any of the girls until perhaps the very end when the story is nearing its conclusion. The reason for its existence is also quite simple: as long as the protagonist is at “arms’ length,” he is absolved of responsibility. What this means is that as long as the male protagonist does not make an active effort to start a relationship with a female character, he is in a sense still “innocent” and can maintain the harem illusion. It doesn’t matter how many times he accidentally walks in on girls taking a bath or how many times their breasts fall on his face because he is not the initiator and thus it is never actually his fault.

As soon as he makes a move, he must take responsibility, and if he tries to maintain the harem while also in a relationship with a girl, he loses the support of the male viewers who want the benefits of being considered a good and pure man at heart who is surrounded by beautiful women who tend to be in various states of undress at any given moment. The male protagonist cannot be an uncaring, unfeeling womanizer if he wishes to keep the support of the men viewing him.

Even in erotic games and dating sims, this sense of innocence and responsibility is maintained. In games where you pursue only one girl per story path, while you can sleep with all of them eventually, in the specific plotline the player is pursuing there is only one “true” girl. In games where you have sex with multiple partners, sometimes simultaneously, the girls are usually the ones to initiate. And in games where the hero is actively trying to have sex with multiple women, at the very least this is displayed front and center and the main character is given a predatory personality to match his actions, i.e. making it not an Arms’ Length Harem at all.

An interesting case study is Itou Makoto from the School Days anime, who is a male harem protagonist who goes against this “unwritten” rule of harem protagonists. Makoto starts off just like any other harem protagonist, being a nice if innocuous guy who finds himself in a situation where multiple girls are interested in him. However, unlike most protagonists, Makoto gains an extreme amount of confidence from the knowledge that girls can find him attractive, and it transforms his personality from a caring individual to a player who manipulates girls so he can sleep with them. As one might expect, Makoto does not have many fans in the anime community beyond those whose who like him in an ironic sense. However, it’s not just his sleeping with multiple women that garners him hatred, it’s the way in which he does it, as well as how his sense of responsibility is entirely lacking.

Makoto tries to do exactly what I said is death for the male harem protagonist: he attempts to maintain the harem while actively pursuing girls, but on top of that he tries to act as if  he is still an innocent protagonist along the lines of Negi Springfield from Negima. It is Makoto’s two-faced dichotomy and his active deception of the girls he pursues that makes him such an unlikable character.

Makoto’s situation is different from heroes who sleep with multiple women such as Golgo 13 or even Minase from Bible Black because they do not hide this facet of their personality. Characters such as those are sexual dynamos who act as they truly are and accept responsibility for their actions, something Makoto never manages to do.

Makoto eventually finds his extensive harem crumbling, with girls blocking his phone number and refusing all contact. In this situation, where Makoto basically manipulated countless girls into having sex with him by being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, h reacts poorly to the sudden change in his daily life, from constant sex to no sex whatsoever. However, the thoughts that spring to Makoto’s mind are all along the lines of, “Why did this happen to me?” and “I don’t deserve this!” With this mindset, where no matter what he does or which people he hurts he still considers himself the “nice guy,” he completely alienates the male viewers who might be supporting him otherwise.

No matter how the real world is, an Arms’ Length Harem must have a male protagonist who is essentially pure of heart, even if his libido rages with the power of a million exploding suns. While the girls are important for any harem, it is actually the main character that is necessary in order to keep the harem in its ideal state. What can be said about this mindset, then? Is it just a symptom of otaku being unable to handle women in real life? I would not simply say “yes” to that. What I think is important in this subject is that there are certain contradictions which cannot be reconciled because they violate how the target male viewer perceives himself and others. This viewer, whether he truly exists or not or is simply a fabricated “ideal viewer” by the show itself, sees himself as a person who would not betray his responsibilities. However, if responsibility can be avoided then there is no need to take it.