Strictly going by the opinions of those around me, shoujos seem to be my secretive guilty pleasure, particularly reverse-harems.
Recently, I’ve been hooked on shows such as Yona of the Dawn and Akagami no Shirayuki-hime. Besides the coincidental correlation between their strikingly red hair color, both girls also seem to always be surrounded by a group of (often-times) sexy men happily sacrificing time, money, and status, just to be around the girls. The similarities between these shows, and the usual harems did not blow past my head, however, strangely enough, I grew to be quite satisfied after watching these two young women grow stronger as the episodes went on- an opinion that I didn’t share when it came to the usual harems.
I couldn’t quite explain my reasoning for it either. Even though I’ve watched through many shows that commonly featured harems, over the rather peculiar “reverse-harem”, I knew that I definitely preferred the latter; what was commonly referred to as a shoujo over the usual harem.
I felt strange at first.
To define a show as a “shoujo” would mean that the show was targeted for the female audience, a demographic that I was definitely not included in. Finding out that these very engaging shows were categorized as being for the female demographic came as a surprise. Though it wasn’t that I was ashamed to admit my love for both Yona and Shirayuki, it definitely was a curious taste to find out that I wanted more of these “shoujos”. My final conclusion was that these shows did something fundamentally different from the seemingly shallow premise of just being “the opposite of a harem”.
And they do…
The biggest factor for me when it comes to Shoujos vs. Harems is frequency. From the dramatic tension in Nisekoi, to the action-oriented comedy of High school DxD, these shows have been a familiar premise, if not a well-worn one. At this point, I can already pick out the tsundere in Hundred, or point out the character that’s there purely for the fanservice (which isn’t hard to figure in the first place, mind you). Not to say that I don’t enjoy myself a well-written harem from time to time. After all, Clannad is an old beloved classic. I also enjoyed the charm of Love Hina when I first watched it. However, the all-too familiar premise of male MC woos multiple females by either being generically bad ass or for the sake of having a harem (despite the fact that girl C has nothing in common with the MC-kun, yet chooses to pine over him anyway). It’s mostly either irrational, or done to death. Is it still entertaining? To a degree, I do enjoy harems from time to time. Though many have an odd focus on fanservice over plot, I don’t want to say that the genre as a whole is devoid of meaningful writing. Which brings me to another prompt.
I hate fanservice…
Without getting too in-depth onto the subject, aside from the distinct cutback on female characters for us to fawn over, the reduction of fanservice that comes along with shoujos is a comfort that I enjoy. For me, I find fanservice to be distasteful. Not only is it unappetizing to watch, it also cuts into screen time that could be used to advance the plot or deepen character development. Instead, it is used to highlight panty shots, and other bathroom related shenanigans with our clueless MC. I enjoy having a diverse group of heroines to adventure with. Hell, many have their own distinct look that sets them apart from their other female counterparts, regardless of cliches. Being “unique” is not exclusively based on appearance however. It’s the personality that we get from the heroines, the dialogue, and how they react to various situations.
The kind of situations these traditional harems place our favorite female casts in however, can only be described as shallow and degrading. After all, I can only watch a supposedly strong female warrior become reduced to a bumbling embarrassment after the MC “accidentally” stumbles upon their oh-so-shameful femininity so many times (despite the fact that their perfectly fine swinging their chests around and losing various articles of clothing on the battlefield, like what the hell). Shoujos highlight a different perspective, aimed at a different audience altogether. The most crucial piece as to why shoujos appeal to me, however, is the switch from a male protagonist, to a female protagonist. I mean after all, I like girls.
Yeah, hella’ shallow. I know.
Turning a female character from just another heroine to a lead is drastically different. Focusing on a female as the protagonist as opposed to being the “sidekick” of a male protagonist changes the story up altogether. Frankly speaking, I couldn’t care less about Kirito’s motivations for going after Sachi, or whatever Hayato’s motivations are in general. Sure, I could connect with their actions or understand their reasoning behind it (shallow or otherwise). But by the end of the day, I’m not watching the show to see how Kirito will power through his next obstacle, rather, more for his moe band of weapon-wielding girls. Shoujos play it a little differently however.
The female heroine is now in the lead, controlling the pace while we’re able to get a more in-depth look at her: the way she walks, talks, acts, and her general disposition. Rather than feeling like an overplayed record, I’m now interested in the new character, the pacing, and by default, also interested in the story she plays a role in. Give me a male protagonist from any one of these harems. Can I relate to them? Of course. Maybe not as a badass swordsman, but as a high school teenager with raging hormones. Now give me Shirayuki. Can I relate to being hounded after by a prince for my amazing looks? Possibly, but not likely. However, am I genuinely interested in getting to know Shirayuki? That’s the first question you ask yourself when building a foundation for character, something that the usual harems seem to take for granted, what with all the recycled templates marked with a bolded “Generic Anime MC” on the back.
Also, I’d waifu the shit outta Shirayuki.
What’s more, I do believe that the guys in shoujos tend to be better side characters as opposed to their female counterparts. I’m not delusional enough to believe that they don’t fit into one cliche or another. But going back into my previous point, frequency is a major element when it comes to shows. I’ve seen the tsundere-esque childhood friend, or the “shrinking violet” trope countless times by now. Our heroine’s harem of handsome men on the other hand all slide into their set tropes well, working in tandem to highlight and support the MC, rather than steal the spotlight. Whereas the female harem members felt flat and shallow, the male support cast properly put our MC in the spotlight. Why? Because again, I like girls. The guys make a better support cast due to the fact that I don’t really expect more from them aside from their affixed roles in the story. I don’t think of them as shallow or uninteresting. After all, these guys already fit a familiar trope. A character filling in the “stoic and tough” guy trope doesn’t seem cliche. Not only does it seem natural, but as a guy, I can’t help but say “Damn, he’s pretty cool”. I can’t relate to him as much as I can to a male protagonist; they were built to be relatable to the audience after all. However, I don’t need to relate to them. In the end, I’m more focused on the plot and our heroine’s growth, rather than fawning over how sexy one of the harem members are.
In the end, diversity is an essential piece in the puzzle. Harems may be targeted for the male audience, but repetition and familiarity kills interest and entertainment. Shoujos provide that small variation I desperately need, while retaining an otherwise familiar premise. Now are shoujos any less cliche than your average harem? Of course not, they’re both stocked full of tropes, traditions, and cliches. However, going forward into a new genre for the first time gives me a sense of wonder and adventure. It definitely is a whole new beast to me, one that some friends have teased me for. Is it wrong to like a shoujo? Of course not! I’ve enjoyed my time with Yona and company just as much as I have with Love Hina when I first watched it. That’s not to say these shows are flawless by their own right; it’s just something that fulfills my cravings for anime at the moment. It’s not something to be guilty about, rather, it’s akin to liking a new flavor of ice cream when they run out of your favorite.
And you know what? I’m a shoujo man and I’m proud of it!
Until I’m forced to watch Vampire Knight or the like. Then I’m done…