Savaging Anime Rom-Com: An Introduction

The girl's the one with the barrette in her hair, not the one holding the stuffed animal.

And by “anime ,” I of course mean “anime and manga” since most anime start as manga.

And by “rom-com,” I of course mean “harem.”

The seemingly vast majority of anime and manga romantic comedies revolve around love triangles – love triangles that usually expand as the series progresses, adding enough new sides to become love dodecahedrons or more. At the center of these complicated relationships is usually a single, audience-identification figure protagonist who gathers a so-called “harem” of would-be lovers. In a standard harem, the protagonist is male; in a “reverse harem” or “seraglio,” the protagonist is female. In a “supporting harem,” the protagonist has a single true love (or two rival loves) and the other members of the harem are only distractions and supporting players, while in a “balanced harem” all of the love interests are equal choices (and in a “bloodbath harem,” they’re hyper-competitive to be the chosen One True Love). 

Particularly in anime, high school is the preferred setting for harem comedies (as much of the anime-viewing audience is high school age or younger – or just really, really doesn’t want to grow up) – but these high schools exist in a broad variety of genres: fantasy, horror, martial arts, military, sci-fi, and more. Many frequently mix genres for additional incongruity and comedy. College and workplace harem comedies also exist, many of them involving just as much cross—genre pollination.

Most experts consider Rumiko Takahashi’s 1978-1987 manga series Urusei Yatsura as the progenitor of the genre; unlike later harem comedies, Urusei Yatsura revolves around a lecherous protagonist who actively pursues a large harem of women, frequently ignoring the alien space princess who truly loves him. Takahashi’s later series Ranma ½ pit the budding relationship between two young martial artists against their respective supporting harems, while Kousuke Fujishima’s Oh My Goddess! (AKA Ah! My Goddess!) depicted the love-life of a technical college student, the Norn he wished would stay with him forever, and the complications caused by the Norn’s sisters. 

The space opera/quasi-Star Wars parody Tenchi Muyo! cemented the formula of the harem comedy in the minds of both English-speakers and Japanese with its oblivious hero and his balanced harem of space pirates and alien princesses. Tenchi Muyo! established a formula of flustered – even unwilling – young men surrounded by far more aggressive, frequently naked women. After Tenchi Muyo!, the harem genre quickly became the dominant comedic genre in anime (or at least that anime imported to the USA) including Ai Yori Aoshi and Negima! Magister Negi Magi, with aspects even being represented in otherwise straight action series such as Outlaw Star

The 2001 anime of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket – with its tale of a lonely girl torn between boys cursed to turn into cute animals when touched – created an audience for reverse harem series in the US, a trend given a huge boost by the 2006 anime for Bisco Hatori’s series Ouran High School Host Club – the story of a poor, possibly genderqueer girl who becomes the center of attention for a club full of rich, ridiculous (and ridiculously good-looking) teenage boys. Reverse harems tend to more often have supporting harems, with the female protagonist distinctly drawn to a specific male character, such as the kitsune Tomoe, the only man in high school girl-turned-goddess Nanami’s heart (despite the hunky magical snake, oni, and pair of tengu lusting after her) in Julietta Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss.

The harem genre continues to be popular. Among the top-selling manga in the USA sits Monster Musume, the story of a genial college student living with a bevy of half-human, D&D-style monster girls, while the same publisher recently picked up the rights to To Love-Ru, an infamously raunchy series about a high school student who keeps accidentally winding up naked with a quartet of alien space princesses as well as a trio of alien assassins, a ghost, and half the normal girls in his school. Meanwhile, more reverse harems pop on bookshelves as well, such as the (again) youkai-themed That Wolf-Boy is Mine! and The Demon Prince of Momochi House.

This series shall offer new setting rules, Hindrances, Edges, and possibly more in an attempt to bring some of the wacky hijinks of anime rom-com to Savage Worlds. My apologies in advance if anything turns out to be similar to anything presented in the Savage Worlds edition of the Ninja High School RPG. Despite also being based in San Antonio, I've never followed much of anything Antarctic Press has published (the exception being some of Rod Espinosa's early works).   

Guess which ones are alien princesses!

Next: Comedy Backlash


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