Monster Musume and Date A Live are my two favorite harem shows and as man who has consumed more than his fair share of the genre from the standard-bearers like To Love Ru and Zero no Tsukaima to the slightly more bizarre ones like Kaempfer (which more or less survives because of the best gender-bending yuri fanservice known to man), I consider my words on the subject to have considerable weight. Which is to say the most weight an obscure blogger with little more than hard-won experience under his belt can muster. Like I said in an earlier post, I feel that Monster Musume and Date A Live are indicative of a recently emerging split in the harem genre, shitty light novel harems and genuine, for lack of a better word, harems. If you’re at all interested in the differences between the two feel free to read the linked article first, and I’m saying that purely for your sake and not for mine, because it will maybe help you understand where I’m coming from and give my older post more views that I don’t make money on but totally will use to feel better about myself. There will be some spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.
There are a lot of trashy harem shows out there. Luckily most of the new ones come bundled with shitty light novels about battle high schools and OP teenage boys and as such can be ignored by everyone 12 and up. Monster Musume and Date A Live are significant, and my favorites, because they aren’t trashy. A lot of what makes many harem shows shitty and trashy is that they are cynically manufactured. Almost every harem show in existence has the boob jiggles, panty shots, clumsily protagonists falling into panties and groping boobs, beach episodes, nude shots where steam or blinding bars of light are everywhere. But a lot of them do not fit into the story at all or a loose skeleton of a story has been created for the express purpose of setting up fan service. And it’s shit. That so much of the fanservice is formulaic across the many shitty harems only makes the whole thing worse. Monster Musume and Date A Live are not like this.
Both shows have a lot more there in terms of narrative and characters. In Monster Musume’s case their isn’t much of an overarching narrative but the show constantly has to deal how the various monster-girls are perceived and how they struggle to fit into the human world, which is likewise struggling to deal with the sudden emergence of countless beings with their own customs, strengths and wildly varying sizes which make interacting with them a challenge. Sure Monster Musume is a little ham-handed in it’s approach when it comes to assholes who don’t integrate very well, be they human or monster, but the show puts in a lot of detail where the girls are concerned. They all have various mental and physical hangups brought on by their interactions with humans who aren’t the main guy and their physiques respectively. Simply put, the girls have meaningful character arcs, often more than one like how Cerea has to deal how she really, really doesn’t like Rachnera after she already goes through her initial arc with the main guy and the thief. It makes them really endearing, I can get invested in them as people regardless of the various appendages. Much like the main guy (I can’t remember his fucking name because everyone calls him by a different nickname [I’m not kidding, here’s all the nicknames I remember off the top of my head- Darling, Darling-kun, Goshujin-sama, Master, Aruji-dono, Honey, Kareshi-chan, & Bae] so from here on he’ll be Darling-kun), I see them as girls first and monsters second. And whatever they can do with their monster bits is just a bonus.
On the subject of the main guy I do like that while he fulfills the usual nice guy roll he’s not afraid to take hits to defend the girls or fucking falco punch humans making fun of them. More than that though he’s a got a great grasp of their various problems and actively seeks out to help the girls overcome said problems, like how he alters their clothes if they find something they like but it doesn’t quite fit. Shido, the main guy in Date A Live, is similarly a cut above the average harem protagonist. It’s not a particularly high bar as many harem leads are wimpy, clumsy nice guys or, thanks to light novel harems, OP teenage boys, but having male leads with more depth and conviction is refreshing nonetheless. Shido seems like the typical wimpy guy at first and he doesn’t seem ready for sex at all, but he has fucking balls. He willingly and stubbornly confronts beings who can, and on occasion do, deal him mortal wounds, also he storms the villain’s base and smashes aside full blown adult soldiers along the way. Shido struggles to provide the constant support that Darling-kun does and while that can open the door for some lazy bullshit it’s also very realistic, he’s a 15 year old kid whose not ready for real intimacy let alone intimacy with a harem of supernatural beings.
Let’s cover those beings. Unlike Monster Musume which is almost never violent and certainly not violent in earnest, in Date A Live all the girls are Spirits, and if they aren’t committing violence then they are met with it. Constantly. In fact Tohka, the main girl’s arc is all about learning to trust Shido and enjoy a human world which has attacked her within minutes whenever she shows up. Unlike the monster girls of Monster Musume, the Spirits don’t exits in the human world at all times nor are they public knowledge. A few secretive factions handle all things Spirit-related and Shido is thrust into this situation because by means outside his control he has the potential to be a solution. I’ll get back to that later. The Spirits all have special, mostly amazing outfits called Astral Dresses and the each have their own special weapon and powers. These powers are limited in usage but devastating in their output and no two Spirits function alike. Arguably the most interesting spirit is Tokisaki Kurumi, as she is only character in either series who is actually a malevolent being. In a more harem normal show she’d be a yandere and that is sort of there, but she straight up murders like 8 people in the time we see her and we’re told she’s killed many more. I can’t say I ever seen a character like Kurumi in any harem show, certainly not as one of romantic interests, she’d be the villain or the yandere gag character in any other harem show.
Getting back to Spirits as a whole, much like the monster girls described above each of the Spirits actually has a meaningful character arc and are, ironically enough, more endearing than any of the human characters in the show. They also have some ongoing hangups but as Date A Live has a more concrete narrative most of their problems are the result of new enemies, human or Spirit, entering the fray and messing things up for everyone already their. Another thing I failed to mention above is that whenever the Spirits enter our world they cause “spacequakes” which destroy whatever they touch, hence why the ASDF, the government’s official if covert response team to Spirits, attacks them immediately. It’s a sort of lose-lose situation for most involved, most Spirits intend no harm and can’t control the spacequakes, but it’s hard to fault the government’s violent response, regardless of their intentions the Spirits are causing tons of property damage and potentially killing people. Plus the show opens with a spacequake of such massive proportions that it’s ruled the greatest natural disaster in human history.
Another major difference between the two shows is how down to fuck the girls are. In this regard Date A Live is the more childish of the two, with no one involved really ready for sex but instead gradually working towards a romantic companionship. In Monster Musume the girls, at least some of them, totally want the D. The problem is that the law currently forbids inter-species boning so Darling-kun can’t fuck them even if he really wanted to. However his handler, tells him that he can choose to marry one of the monster-girls he plays host to inorder to advance the laws, and as of the end of the show he hosts 7, giving the girls extra motivation to really try and win him over. This facilitates dates and encourages fanservice and aggressive flirting tactics as a natural extension of the characters and plot, not a gimmick for guys to just jack off to. It’s a genius setup really because it feels organic and natural, and by extension not like cheaply thrown together bullshit made for a quick buck, but still gets all the romance and nudity you know you come to harem shows for. More in fact because the romance is better and fanservice is especially good.
Date A Live has less of a focus on sex and less fanservice, and most of the fanservice is not quite as good, at least at first, because it takes some time for the girls to even really consider intimacy something they really want. It gets better as the various Spirits realize they want Shido and have more competition with each arc, but initially it’s not that good. But that’s ok because the story is good right from the get go. The show begins with goofy comedy before transitioning into tense scenes wherein Shido meets Tohka and then a spattering of violence. There’s a lot of mystery and confusion at first but unlike some show *cough Shingeki no Kyojin cough* Date A Live goes about readily revealing information we need to keep us going along while still hiding a few big secrets, such as why Shido has the power to seal Spirit powers in the first place, which is why he is recruited by a faction that want’s to handle the Spirits peacefully, Ratatoskr, which incidentally is the name of a squirrel in Norse mythology that delivers insults between the eagles at the top of Yggdrasil and Nidhogg at the roots. That’s not really important or relevant, it’s just a random bit of mythology I find hilarious.
Moving right along both shows benefit from strong visual presentation. Date A Live is the uglier of the two, though that may have to do with the lower quality rips I’ve seen as opposed to the DVDs. In any event Monster Musume looks much cleaner. The monster girls are mostly adorable and they have a very wide range of monsters on display, including ones that have no interest in Darling-kun. Smith, Darling-kun’s handler, also looks stunning, though her personality and work ethic leave much to be desired. As a general rule the Spirits are not as gorgeous as the monster girls, though Kurumi and Tohka are probably hotter than any of the monster girls in my humble opinion. Where the Spirits unquestionably have the edge though is in costume design. The monster girls can have cute outfits but outside Racherna and Lala the clothes are normal, which is fine but I prefer the Astral Dresses. The various Astral Dresses look nothing alike and are tied to their wearer’s powers and/or personality. Tohka and Kurumi in particular have the best dresses but Yoshino, Kotori and Miku all have pretty solid outfits. The only Astral Dress I’m not a fan of is the Berserk twins’ because it looks kinda BDSM-ish and that doesn’t really have a place in the story, but it’s honestly not that bad either.
The main reason I want to talk about these two shows in the same post is not just to discuss their differences and similarities though. It’s because I have a lot of trouble picking which of these two is my favorite because despite both being harem shows they honestly cater to such different interests. Monster Musume is relaxed, funny, cute and when it’s not cute, it’s sexy. It’s not quite a feel good show but it’s very easy to just jump into and let the show take you along for a funny, sexy ride. It has such a strong presentation and such natural feeling fanservice that it’s one of the hottest harem shows of all time. And I don’t care if you think that’s weird, I’ll take that stance to my fucking grave.
Date A Live on the other hand is kind of a grab bag of action, comedy a little drama and of course fanservice. There’s plenty of harem shows which go for this sort of grab bag approach but they so often fall flat where Date A Live doesn’t. It’s hard to say exactly why Date A Live does it better but Kurumi, perhaps more so than anyone else sort serves as a visual of example of Date A Live being a cut above. Her time powers are great and they mesh well with her genuinely dark and sinister personality, but it also is part of the problem, because her reliance on that power has fragmented her personality to the point where different versions of herself will kill each other to prevent Shido from robbing the dysfunctional collective of it’s powers. And the fact Shido is still willing to go as far as he needs to to save Kurumi from the world and herself, and that she will play the roles of ally or enemy with Shido to advance her own goals, is not something I’ve seen in many shows period let alone in a harem show. There are some weak comedy scenes and fanservice elements in Date A Live, but there’s so much of the show that feels genuine and interesting for reasons beyond the fanservice, that it’s like a breath of fresh air. It feels so much better than shows like Zero no Tsukaima, which despite having a long and sometimes involved story was a show where I spent most my time debating on whether Saito should end up with Siesta or the Princess because fuck Louis, or Kaempfer which had a vague semblance of a plot but I was really only there for the gender-bending transformations and ensuing fanservice.
Date A Live and Monster Musume are good shows. Date A Live and Monster Musume are harem shows. These two things are not mutually exclusive and thanks to the onslaught of shitty harems from years prior to many people harem shows are inherently, shitty and trashy. These two shows are proof harem shows don’t have to be, much like Akatsuki no Yona proves not all reverse harems have to be based on otome games and pander exclusively to girls or fudanshi. And I for one, want more good harem shows. In case you’ve made it this far without watching these shows I would recommend them particularly if you’re iffy on the harem genre as a whole and don’t want to get burned by some lazy, trashy show which confirms all the worst stereotypes of the genre. That’s all I really have to say. I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.