Harem Wars: Fall 2007

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I just want an excuse to use the word "threesome" in the 'wrong' way again.

In all seriousness though this season's crop of anime is looking very promising for any harem/visual novel show lovers, with at least four shows out there that look to impress.

In the four corners we've got:
Clannad, the 500 Pound Moe Gorilla,
Da Capo II, the Never-Dying,
Myself;Youself, the Newcomer,
and ef, a.k.a. Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film (because it hasn't been subbed yet).

Luckily the subs for the shows have been very speedy as well so I can offer first impressions on the first three of this batch, and if there's one thing I can say about them it's that, despite all technically being visual novel anime, they all feel like they have a different approach to the genre.

It's not the world-upside-down approach to the harem genre like School Days, by any regards, but certainly each show has a different feel and creates different expectations. It looks like the next 3 months or so will have a lot of tense spamming-refresh-waiting-for-subs moments...

(No spoilers for anything past the first episodes ahead but I might hint vaguely at past anime of the same genre)

Da Capo II was one of the first shows of the fall season to hit the ground, and it hit the ground running...for about five seconds. It uses the perhaps seen-before but still highly awesome premise of "let's start with a confession," which I find a great way to kick-start a series in gear. Perhaps it's because I dislike it when a show takes too long to beat around the bush.

Which, to be honest, is kind of what DCII does for the next 23 minutes; it's a very introductory episode with every Important Character getting at least a scene as we dash about the cultural festival in the typical fashion.

Watching anime girls stumble over themselves and blush the color of a tomato has never been one of those things I could really call adorable for more than 5 seconds, and considering that Koko's character essentially consists of that for the first episode it was almost a painful episode to watch.

As I always say though, other characters again swoop in to save the day. Yoshiyuki, the protagonist, seems mostly the typical naive, pushed-around harem lead but at the end of the episode where he accepted Koko's confession with a smile (despite, perhaps, not loving her in the same way) one can really begin to like the accepting and friendly personality that the Asakura bloodline has passed down to him. (At least, I assume he is such, being the male protagonist)

As one who has watched the first two Da Capo seasons I can also enjoy the other hints of characters from the past, whether it be the now double-trouble siscon incest pair, another Shirakawa, or just mysteriously-exactly-the-same-but-still-entertaining Suginami.

The D.C. series has never struck me as a fast moving series, as the first episodes of each season have been less than impressive and so in that regard D.C. II is right on track; although I expect it to move faster if it really is a 12-episode series.

Another thing I've enjoyed the series for is the lesser amount of focus on just one confession; frequently the relationships are taken care of ahead of time, with a bigger conflict at the end that's more of a test for the already paired lovers. Koko getting "with" Yoshiyuki certainly looks to breed some interesting conflicts (cause, y'know, it's a harem show) in the following episodes, to that regard.

And, finally, D.C. II does seem to continue the trend of being a very unpredictable show, harem-wise, as I am unable to find the winner out of the crowd, unlike many more obvious harem shows. Koko's got the disadvantage of being a childhood friend and getting the first strike, Nanaka has the Shirakawa name working against her, and even if we nail the contenders down to the two sisters, which one at the moment seems like a toss-up. So I hope that D.C. II will remain fairly interesting in that regard.

Myself; Yourself was the second show up, and being based on a as-yet-unreleased visual novel it has the clear advantage of a unspoilerable show. While watchers of the other three shows may be tainted by prior knowledge and focus more on What Path Are They Going to Take, Myself; Yourself works with a blank slate.

This of course means that it has to work a bit harder to establish a devoted audience, but the first episode seems to be a solid intro to the show.

Admittedly, Myself; Yourself is a bit by-the-numbers as far as harem/VN shows go. There's one standard-issue harem lead, a bunch of moe girls, and a large time gap. However, this somewhat-cliche setup can still run a bunch of paths, anywhere from Kanon's sad-in-snow-fest to Shuffle!'s boxcutter-frenzy, so don't count this show out just yet.

And it does seem to have a couple of tweaks on the normal formula as well. The support male is actually from the childhood friend era as well. The lead female (Nanaka) seems to have undergone an interesting personality change - many call her a tsundere over five years (all dere before, all tsun now; how 'bout it) , which may be a stretch, but certainly she's been doing some brooding.

And Sana, the lead male, certainly seems to have a balanced personality. While he makes no pretenses that he's a guy (sizing up Aoi and Nanaka) he isn't overly perverted or overly spineless, which makes him what could seem to be a realistic character.

Some interesting points, some new and some old, are raised as well. Why did Sana move back, and why does he seem to have such a rocky relationship with his parents? What did his friend (the support male) yell to him when he was leaving on the train? How have all the characters changed in the last five years?

...And there's a couple sticky points in the OP too (awesome song, I must add); the guy in the flame background right before the concert scene, the clock stuck at 11:59 with the two twins leaning on it, Nanaka playing the violin, depressed Sana in the middle of the street, all sorts of things to think about.

One last point on the characters; the voices really throw me off, like they do a lot of people, but it's less the squeakiness and more the previous roles. To see Sakura (D.C.) and Chiyo (Azumanga) voice characters with a physical appearance in the double-digits for once is really kind of strange, but it's not really that bad. It'll just take getting used to.

One complaint of mine about the characters though is that Aoi, as awesome as she may be, seems too manufactured. She's moe to the ninth power, yes, but it almost seems like she was made that way rather than just happening to be that way. Think about it; megane, energetic, likes books, large chest, easily blushing, loli voice... it seems to hit a lot of demographics, which almost seems like too much of a perfect storm, so to speak.

Other than that, though, I like the cast of Myself; Yourself so far.

The direction of the show is wonderfully ambiguous as so far it has mixed some light fanservice with a bit of heavy plot, so it's anyone's guess whether it will be more D.C. or more Key. The main girl seems to be pretty guaranteed Nanaka, but there definitely will be a large fanbase and hopefully plot built up for Aoi or...uh...the other one, so we'll see just how this turns out.

Not a lot of complaints so far, which might remain my biggest worry; a show that starts strong has a lot more pressure to stay strong.

And to that regard Clannad is going to be one of the toughest-judged anime in the history of mankind, given that it's from a highly reputable studio (KyoAni) adapting a highly-reputed viusal novel work (from Key).

The amount of hype that this show has recieved is immensely huge, and even I'll admit that this was my big-ticket show for the season.

And, what can I say? It's lived up to the expectations so far.

Perhaps it's just because I am partial to the Key storytelling of "Rend mind first, ask questions later" but the first episode introduces a lot of really likable characters and really burning questions.

What appeals to me about the Clannad cast is that it's a different balance than usual. While most anime have one strong guy and perhaps a tsun girl, Clannad is bursting at the seams with badassery.

Tomoya, the main lead, is striking of Yukito from AIR, a character who doesn't take any crap yet is kind of a softie at the core. Nagisa's father is hilarious in his macho parentitude; take his consideration of Tomoya as 1) the ungrateful rice-cracker-pan-hater, 2) potential boyfriend (yes, no, and maybe), and 3) Tomoya ETHANOL. Oh yes.

Meanwhile, on the female side, we have the tsun + dere twin pair of Kyou and Ryou. Ryou's strange mix of Shiori, Tsukasa, and maybe Mikuru seems to be a win of the ages for those who like shy characters (and I'll admit her off-kilter fortune telling was funny as well). I don't find Kyou too appealing yet but I like the different factor in that she's more cocky and up-front than an already cocky and up-front delinquent character; most normal harem shows wouldn't have characters with half these guts.

Oh yeah, the other fighting character: Tomoyo. Wow. Real impressive fighting skills, and I look forward to learning more about just how she's like that.

Nagisa, the final remaining main heroine (aside from the Phoenix Wright pose underclassman who hasn't been introduced) seems to be the main heroine from all the attention she's got, and to be honest I'm not a huge fan of her character. To do more comparing, she's like Shiori (with the sickness and whatnot) but without that great combo of shyness and boldness. She's just sort of a quiet, antisocial pushover at this point. Almost like Misuzu as well, but again, less bright.

Which is great. I'm sure she appeals to a bunch of people out there who feel they are in the same situation, to the loners and the shy ones, but really her character just doesn't really strike me as something entertaining, or, realistic to be honest. Only in visual novels, kiddies.

Still, even if Nagisa isn't strong yet and even if she is The Chosen One (which I can't say 100%), there's a bunch of episodes between now and the end, and the strength of Key anime has always been the focus on the characters instead of the relationships. Perhaps it's missing the point to say "I'm looking forward to crying manly tears," especially considering the very amusing and light nature of Clannad so far, but at the very least I imagine that a lot of the characters have some secrets to tell, especially starting with Nagisa and the mysterious world at about 6:00 in.

Not to mention, Nagisa and what my anime companion called the "hooker speech" at the end of the episode. Seriously, standing under a streetlight at night, promising to make dreams come true...naive as ever, Nagisa.

Don't feel ashamed, I laughed at it too.

Oh yes, and the animation was sexy as ever. Just take the mysterious world sequence and the dull-tone/color flashing in the beginning as proof.

To sum it up, D.C. II is the only show so far that I feel mildly let down by, but it will get by on it's track record of starting slow and ending strong. Myself; Yourself has a decent start and I can only hope that it keeps the pace up. And Clannad? I'm afraid it's everything I imagined it would be at this point. Fanboyism is a dangerous thing like that.

All we have left at this point is the ef subs to complete the quartet...



Seems like CLANNAD is going to be the best out of the group of harem anime that came out this fall.