Yeah, I’m not exactly used to reviewing anime, so forgive me if I fall short in some areas…
If there is one anime genre that gets negative reception nowadays, it’s the harem genre.
Now, I do kinda understand why this particular genre exists, and I can’t say it makes me the happiest of campers: it’s a type of anime that goes and makes a broad assumption about the viewer, assuming that he (probably not “she”) leads a fairly awkward life, unsuccessful with the opposite sex. Therefore, there are several anime shows that have guys just like them receiving excess amounts of female attention, with the intention of making them feel better about themselves.
Now, while there are people that may fall under that category (though it’s easier than you think to break out of that), I’ve been around anime conventions enough to know that this is not always the case, as I have seen enough guys there that aren’t really all that awkward and there have been a healthy amount of couples around as well.
Besides the reason the harem genre exists, however, there is little to individualize each show. Many of the girls fall under the same stereotypes, like one being reserved and shy, another being extremely straightforward, and expect a tsundere or two among them. Oh, and lots of fanservice. And, most of the time, while the male lead is supposedly there to represent the intended viewer, he’s usually too much of a moron to notice how all these beautiful women feel about him, and is usually anything but flattered. Now, I don’t really hate this genre as much as I feel it shows that there isn’t a whole lot of innovation among some anime series, coming off as just something to pander to the intended audience, rather than come off as something that someone wanted to make, but it’s easy to see what the problem is.
Also, a common trope seen in a few anime shows is a romance between a (usually male) human and an (usually female) android. Now, I kinda get why this exists: to depict a love transcending everything, including biological limits. However, while I do see what the show is going for in this case, I hardly ever buy into it. Yes, the android has proven herself (or himself in rare cases) to have human-like feelings, and all, but looking past the end of the show, just what kinda future do the human and robot lovers have together, anyway? I mean, no matter how you try to break it down, while they may be compatible on an emotional level, they sure as hell aren’t on a biological level, and whatever happens between them from then on, it isn’t gonna involve having kids and starting a family. This is especially vexing when there are plenty of other human characters for the human half of the pairing to hook up with, and yet, he chooses a being that technically is not a “being,’ as much as she is a “construct.” Now, there have been times when things like these have been done tastefully enough that I can suspend my disbelief, but it’s not all the time.
However, early in my anime fandom, I watched a show that is a harem anime, which heavily involved the human-android pairing trope. That show is Saber Marionette J, a twenty-five episode series, created by Satoru Akahori, that ran from October 1st, 1996 to March 25th, 1997, and was licensed to the US by Bandai Entertainment.
The planet, Terra II, is a planet with a problem: it’s 100% populated by men! The reason for this is because six people, all male, crash landed on the planet during a journey to find planets to colonize after Earth became too overpopulated. In order to expand their numbers and inhabit this new world, they created thousands of secondary clones of themselves.
On a side note, it should technically be possible to clone women from men, due to the X chromosome in every guy’s genetic code, but whatever, let’s just go with it.
Anyway, the six originals moved on to create and lead city-states (fantasy counterparts to places here on Earth), creating direct clones of themselves to carry on their legacy. To remind all the men on Terra II of women, androids were created, called Saber Marionettes, made to look like human females, but are simply soulless machines, with duties ranging from housekeeping to automated military.
The show’s main character, Otaru Mamiya, a poor, hardworking youth who lives in the city-state of Japoness, a fictional counterpart to medieval Japan, really likes Saber Marionettes, but cannot afford one of his own. One day, however, he accidentally comes across and awakens a Marionette named Lime. Now Lime, unlike all the other Saber Marionettes, has emotions, smiles, and generally acts human, plus, right off the bat, she is in love with Otaru. Later down the line, Otaru also meets Cherry and Bloodberry, two other Saber Marionettes that act human and have the same strong feelings for him.
Meanwhile, the city-state of Gartland, a fictional steampunk counterpart to Nazi Germany, led by the diabolical Lord Faust, seeks to take control of all of Terra II, and Japoness is his next target. Also, Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry hold the key to Terra II’s survival, and when the time comes, Otaru will have to make a difficult choice.
Now, this was one of the first full-length animes I’d ever watched that was not aired on TV. Back then, I thought the premise was pretty interesting, and even now, it holds a special place with me.
Since this is a fairly old show, that has started fourteen years ago, it has that much more old-school look and feel to it, and I find that to be very refreshing.
I found the characters to be a fun bunch. Sure, Otaru is one of those characters who gets annoyed by Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry pretty often, but the show regularly reminds the viewer that he cares very much them. Also, since the three girls are androids and all, they do most of the fighting in the show, but Otaru does know how to fight for himself if it comes down to it, so he’s not just a helpless male lead like in most shows like this.
As for the girls, Lime is childlike and innocent, Cherry is feminine and motherly, and Bloodberry is hotheaded and seductive. Yes, it has the kinds of personalities one should expect from a harem anime, but their personalities are still diverse enough that it’s fun to see how they interact with one another. At least none of them are tsunderes. Also, none of them do what we see so often in harem anime, where it’s clear that she will sooner or later fall for the male lead, but constantly second-guesses herself on the matter. No, all three of the girls, from the moment they are introduced, make it clear that they love Otaru.
Now, for another issue commonly seen in harem anime: fanservice. Now, while some of the female characters are not exactly modestly dressed, the fanservice in this show is actually kept in moderation. Sure, you can expect the obligatory hot springs episode, and stuff along those lines, but overall, it doesn’t repeatedly rely on things like sudden panty shots and the like to supply most of the show’s humor.
For shows about a relationship between a human and android, one of the issues that typically gets a lot of attention is the android character’s progression from an emotionless machine to something with human-like emotions. In an interesting subversion, however, the android female leads have human personalities and emotions right off the bat, but are more or less naive about the world, as well as fitting into a society where everyone who is flesh and blood is male. As for the idea of the romance between Otaru and the three Marionettes, I didn’t find the concept all that questionable in this case, because the setting more or less makes sense of it, as there are no “real” women around.
As for the progress of the show, the most sluggish parts of it were the beginning episodes, but it really gets exciting when the plot finally starts to pick up, especially toward the end. It has everything, from humor, to drama, to romance, and all the characters are given a good amount of depth, and even if they seem to fall under some kind of stereotypical trapping, there is more to them beneath all that, as revealed at one point or another.
Now, seeing as this series started back in 1996, I don’t really hold it up to the standards of today, as it was before anime became overly redundant, and was still a fresh and rewarding experience, and this feels like the kind of story the creator wanted to tell, and is not just a form of pandering to anime fans.
Overall, Saber Marionette J is pretty unique among harem anime with an interesting setting and lots of character depth and development to be found, with a little something for everyone, and is well worth checking out.