Let’s be real about it; a self-proclaimed lover of the reverse harem sub-genre, I am not blinded to its faults. In fact, I was suprised when—in conversation with my friend, Chronic—he said something I found quite odd as I guided him through his initial exposure to Hiiro no Kakera (and, continuingly, reverse harem in general). One of my biggest critiques of the reverse harem sub-genre has been that, all too often, its female main characters are written as bland and unimaginative, furthering their purposes as effective means of self insertion. However, Chronic said that he found said leading ladies to have more personality and…spunk?…than their counterparts in other genres. (This makes me very concerned about the narrative quality of his moe preferences, but I digress.) It was in the context of this same discussion upon which today’s point of interest was stumbled. If the point of moe is to make one go, “Aww! That girl is so objectively adorable and I just need to protect her!” then the point of reverse harem is to make one go, “Oh. My. Gosh. This is the coolest guy that ever lived.” Knowing this, Chronic lamented the lack of alternate development featured by our Hiiro guardians, and I began my very brief lecture into the categories of such bishonen brotherhoods. It is the necessity of elaborating on the Hiiro baes’ solidly upper-middle-of-the-road standing that I present my findings today. Truly, when it comes to reverse harem bishies, there are levels.
Without further ado, I offer an expanded presentation about the categories of bishonen reverse-harem boys!
These characters are nothing more than tropes used to satisfy female audiences raving for romantic or sexual satisfaction. Personalities are contrived, backstories limited, and their likability for anything other than appearance is…questionable at best.
Example: the Sakamaki vampire brothers from Diabolik Lovers
These characters, still not much more than tools used to satisfy female audiences’ bishie cravings, may possess attributes that make them more likable on grounds other than those of their appearance. However, their main draw is still intended to be their looks. Such characters’ backstories may have plot potential, but find their appeal seriously limited by the method (or lack) of execution chosen on the part of creators. Again, the characters drown in abundance of their unique tropes’ quirks. To put it simply, they are clearly “types.” Naming each type in such a grouping is second nature to even a fairly inexperienced revere harem watcher.
Example: the gods from Kamigami no Asobi
A marked jump in quality occurs between groupings 2 and 3. These group 3 characters still noticeably fall into traditional trope-y roles, yet they have significant backstories which—while not fully explored—add depth to their struggles and lead the viewer to truly care about the characters for their own sake rather than romantic pressures. These characters are, of course, markedly handsome (because, I mean, this IS reverse harem), but they also possess other attributes that make them quite likable (or deplorable, but the point is that the viewer feels strongly). They are more than eye candy, and they steal the focus from the female main character (potentially making her seem underwhelming by comparison in a weaker title), becoming show stars themselves. This is the turning point between mediocre and quality titles, and the moment that the point of revere harem becomes making the audience think, “Oh. My. Gosh. This is the coolest guy that ever lived.”
Example: the guardians from Hiiro no Kakera
These characters still meet some requirements of trope, but the type of each character isn’t always obvious. Characters in this grouping are more multi-faceted than those of the previous category, and their backstories are thoroughly explored, often becoming major plot points. These characters evoke strong emotions from the viewer to the point that, while their looks are a bonus, they are far from the primary draw. Bishonen in this category are a sign of a reverse harem title’s high quality. Such a plot offers significant focus on these complicated characters. Shows offering characters of this calaber rarely let one down in regards to the potential of their female MC, and the shipping potential in such a title, while not singular in focus, offers OTP (one true pair) quality options based on the quality of characters (both male and female) presented.
Example: the dragons, bodyguard, and prince from Yona of the Dawn
Such characters are the stars of their titles. The bishonen in question are elaborately explored, the secrets of their backstories eviscerated and deeply poignant, resonating within every facet of the plot. Types become less evident and—while present to some extent—do not detract from the character as a wholly realistic, complicated human being. Their desires, needs, motivations, complications, and resonance are multifaceted and do not necessarily revolve around a woman. The expected reverse harem romance, while present, needn’t be singularly focal, and plot lines featuring such characters are likely to be of outstanding quality. Male characters of this grouping are rare.
Example: the warriors of Hakuouki
Do you agree with my categorization? What reverse harem casts would you categorize into each category? Let me know in the comments below!
Also, would you look at that! I had time to write a post! 😀 My responsibilities wind down quite a bit this summer, so expect more content fairly soon! (Also, you know what else summer means… MORE MYMESS HELL!)
13 thoughts on “Reverse Harem in Retrospect: Your Posse in Effect (or, “Bishonen Classification within the Reverse Harem Sub-Genre”)”
Nicely laid out and explained! I was just having a chat with somebody last night about this, and why we find so few titles up in the same category as Hakuouki.
In my opinion, Code Realize has some solid advantages, and the characters are definitely developed and have important backstories. On the other hand, the heroine is a stronger character than many otome leads and the guys are a clearly unified bunch, although they ultimately work together. Still, it should be up there in the 4-5 range.
Amnesia Memories is one that comes to mind just because for many of us, it was the first real otome we played. In Amneisa, the tropes are very clear and although the characters are well defined (more than looks), they tend to be slightly one dimensional. (I mean, I adore Kent, but he and his parents are caricatures, really.)
It’s also worth considering some of the indy games, but they’re harder to characterize. Mystic Destinies is quite interesting. I’m not sure where it fits, to be honest. And what about games like Mystic Messenger or Nameless?
Anyway, just some musings…
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Firstly, thank you. 🙂 It is an important distinction to make when considering overall characterization. Also, you classified some casts!! I’d rate the Amnesia cast a high 2 or low 3, all things considered. Also, I’ve never played nameless, and only one route of MyMess, but MyMess (while a fantastic game!!) rates solid level 2 bishies, I think.
Reblogged this on Shoujo Thoughts: Otaku Ramblings.
One thing, though, I do think that the dragons in Yona of the Dawn seem to stop developing as characters once their backstories are explored and they join the group, which is a bit of a letdown for me. So, I’m not sure I’d have used them as an example for your 4th group. I’d probably go with the Host Club from Ouran High School Host Club for that one.
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With that consideration, would they be a level 3 for you?
I’d personally be torn grouping the cast of Ouran in level 4, because for me, I’d feel like they’re /almost/ level 5? I need to rewatch it to see how I feel…
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Hm, that’s a good point about the Host Club. They’d be group 4, but right on the cusp of group 5, I’d say. Like, the apex of that level.
Yeah, the dragons seem to me like a good fit for group 3.
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