Unpopular Opinion – Double Feature: Monster Musume VS Date A Live

monmusu

VS

date a live

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.

Understanding the Genre: Harem Hoedown

Ah the harem genre, famously considered the worst genre in all of anime.  Or is it?  Well yes and no, while a lot of people like to lump all harem shows together I tend to take a different view.  As someone who has watched more harem shows than I probably should have, I think it’s time to fight against some of the common conceptions of the harem genre, and I’ll include reverse-harems too.  There will be scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

Let’s start by dialing the clock back to the mid and late 2000’s and talking about what harem shows used to be, and then how they compare to what they are now.  Back in the day all harem shows were ecchi, romcoms.  They had one guy, lots of girls and usually it would take the entire show for the guy to decide which girl he wanted, and the ending would be when the couple got together.  There are plenty of exceptions of course, perhaps most famously To Love-Ru, where the guy never does end up picking his best girl.  But the one of the most notable differences between harem shows then and harem shows now is the main guy.  In the mid and late 2000’s the main guy was almost uniformly a wimpy, useless nice guy.  The only major exception that comes to mind is Zero no Tsukaima, which more closely resembles a lot of modern harem shows but we’ll get to that later.  The point is that the majority of harem anime in the mid to late 2000’s followed a pretty strict formula, they were all ecchi romcoms, they almost all had useless wimpy male leads, and they were split 50-50 or 60-40 between shows where the guy ended up with a girl and shows where the guy doesn’t end up with one.  So what’s the difference between harem shows then and harem shows now?

The biggest difference is that modern harem shows have very clearly split into two different sub-genres.  For the sake of convenience I’ll be calling them the “light novel harem” and the “new harem.”  Contrary to it’s name I don’t mean any harem adapted from a light novel when I say light novel harem, instead I’m talking about the kinds of harem shows that are copy pasted in so many fucking light novel shows.  Back in my Raging Rant about male power fantasy-based SAO clones, I said that a lot of the worst harem shows come from these kinds of light novel adaptations.  Part that has to do with how terrible these light novel are in general but I’ve gone into detail about that before.  The point is that the light novel harem shows closely resemble Zero no Tsukaima, where the girls fell for the male lead one after the other and the male lead had this special power that made him the strongest fighter in the show.  There are however two major differences between most light novel harems and Zero no Tsukaima, one, that light novel harems usually aren’t as funny because they put less emphasis on comedy and more on action, and, two, that most light novel harem leads usually don’t end up picking any of the girls because they care more about pandering and fanservice than actually making a romance story that works out.  I mean Zero no Tsukaima had plenty of fanservice, and usually better fanservice than the modern light novel harem at that, but it a least still told an actual romance story by the end.  Light novel harem shows suck at telling stories because they just want to appeal to male power fantasy and make easy money off stupid teenagers who have no idea how to distinguish quality shows from shows which pander to them specifically.  Anyway, moving onto the new harem.

New harem shows more closely follow the typical harem structure from the mid to late 2000’s.  Monster Musume for example pretty clearly falls into the traditional harem model.  However there are some noticeable differences, mainly that new harem shows are getting a hell of a lot better than their traditional counterparts.  Monster Musume is a pretty popular harem show that people love, and I love it too, but I think’s a pretty humble example of what new harem shows are capable of.  Setting aside the obvious visual upgrades new harems have, I think the writing has started getting better.  In Monster Musume the girls had slightly more complex characters than their traditional counterparts, for example.  But for my money the best new harem shows are Akatsuki no Yona (told you I’d get to reverse-harems) and Date A Live.  Akatsuki no Yona in particular flies in the face of all the negative stereotypes of the harem/reverse harem genre.  It had minimal fanservice or manservice, it had a gripping narrative, it had some kick ass action scenes, it built a believeable fantasy world and it had great characters.  It was a reverse harem that was actually one of the best written shows of it’s season and just one of the better written anime shows in general.  Akatsuki no Yona proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that harem/reverse harem shows can be genuinely good, while still being harem/reverse harem shows.

Date A Live on the other hand was not nearly as good as Akatsuki no Yona but it’s still a good show despite sticking much closer to, ecchi, romcom, fanservice romps that harem shows are known for.  I think Date A Live strikes a good balance as a show which is still clearly in the tradition of the older harem shows, but also is improving that old formula.  There’s definitely fanservice scenes and old nods to the typical gags of traditional harem shows, like the guy or girl walking in on the other in bath, but while that stuff is usually annoying I forgive it in Date A Live based on the fact it serves the plot.  Yes Date A Live has a plot, and no it’s not like Nisekoi or something where the plot is truly threadbare and the real point of the show is just to have fanservice.  In Date A Live all of the relevant girls are Spirits and each of them has the potential to do, or has already done, tons of damage to the world either by killing humans willingly or by the disasters they cause just by coming to Earth.  The main guy, Shido seems to fall into the archetype of wimpy, useless nice guy, he is only useful to the story because he can seal the Spirit’s powers, which he can only do after dating them and kissing them.  Trust me, it makes for a better story than I’m making it sound. However in season 2, the plot advances quite a bit, new enemies appear on the horizon, there is suddenly a lot more potential for darker and more serious episodes to come, and Shido actually levels up his own powers and goes full on badass near the end.  In addition to a plot and characters that are actually going somewhere, Date A Live brings some interesting technology, superpowers and action to the table, though the animation of these scenes is pretty uneven, with some looking great and others looking like they skimped on the animation to save money.  The Spirits have incredible designs though.  When I look at Date A Live I see a show that takes the old style of harem show and gives it a boost, it builds on the foundation, bringing new kinds of scenes and storytelling to the harem formula while still retaining some of the more enjoyable aspects older ecchi romcom shows had to offer, to make a show that objectively is only decent but something I love nonetheless.

So what’s going on here?  If the harem genre is so famous for being bad, and many harem shows are still quite terrible, how can it be improving too?  There’s a couple reasons.  One, the harem genre has acquired a bad name for several reasons.  A lot of the older harem shows suffered from being so similar to each other, as well as just being badly written.  Because back in the day, harem shows were the cheaply produced, easy money makers of the anime industry.  And because of all the bad harem shows of the past, the genre has gotten a bad reputation.  However, in the past few years traditional harem shows have stopped being the cheap, easy money makers of the anime industry, that role has been passed onto to light novel adaptations like the Asterisk War or the current season’s Hundred.  And as noted above, a lot of shitty light novels have a harem in their template.  You see harem shows still are the cheap, easy money makers of the anime industry, but now it’s the light novel harems that fill that role.  This might seem like I’m splitting hairs here but there is an important take away from all of this, yes light novel harems are perpetuating the idea that harem shows are the garbage bin of anime, but the same is not true of new harem shows.  This isn’t to say new harem shows can’t be bad, the current season’s Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta is a fine example of a terrible new harem show, though I think has more to with the fact that the main premise is dated back to the mid and late 2000’s like a traditional harem show more than anything else.  But if you pay attention to you might notice that new harem shows have been getting a pretty good reception compared to their light novel counterparts.  Akatsuki no Yona, Monster Musume, Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches, Outbreak Company and even Nisekoi, which is never going anywhere and is therefore boring, got a lot of positive attention in the anime community.  Hell if my memory is working correctly Nisekoi wasn’t viewed in a particularly negative light until the shitty second season, or maybe after it became common knowledge that the manga was going nowhere fast.

The point I’m trying to make here is that as the harem genre evolves, the old reputation the genre is stuck with is not helpful anymore.  Sure there are still shitty harem shows, and if you never found any of the calling cards of the genre appealing you probably still won’t find much on offer (though Akatsuki no Yona proves there is in fact things on offer for those who aren’t into fanservice), however I think it’s time for the anime community at large to stop writing off the harem genre entirely as it has been wont to do for years now.  If you still really want to shit on harem shows, then shit on the bad ones, don’t lump the good and bad together and declare them equally terrible.  In a similar fashion I think now is a good time for people who have been wary about the genre, either because of it’s reputation or prior experience, to consider giving the new harem shows a shot.  Because there are genuinely good shows out there, shows which bring interesting things to the table.  In my experience, new harem shows can actually be rather creative, funny, interesting and refreshing.  Back when Monster Musume was wrapping up that’s how I described the show, refreshing, and while at the time I was comparing it to all the older harem shows I’d seen, I have since started looking at it on a larger scale.  Harem shows used to feel so stale and boring and generic because it was the safe bet, so many of them were made the same way, because that’s what the audience kept buying.  Now the audience is buying tons of shitty light novel adaptations.  Now for the first time in about a decade, harem shows have the freedom to try and be something new, to push the boundaries of what the genre is capable of and create a new identity for itself.  For the first time in a decade, harem shows can cast off so much of the baggage that has been weighing the genre down.  If the genre itself has shed the baggage why should we the audience be held back by the same baggage?

If anything, we should be paying more attention to harem shows more than ever.  It’s not often that we get to see major cultural shifts in any medium, getting to see where new harem shows will end up is interesting by itself.  But I think it’s also a chance improve the standards of the harem genre.  For now shitty light novel adaptations have the spotlight when it comes to audiences making money, but that will pass, probably in a few years.  You can make money off generic copy-pastes of popular anime but that’s basically just capitalizing on a fad and fads are by their very nature temporary, and mindless fanboys will eat up a lot of shitty anime but even they get tired of eating shit eventually.  Alternatively the fanbase might just outgrow the fad as they get older, and if the rest of the communtiy gives the fad a bad reputation, it might be poisoned for incoming fans and its success will vanish; you know, like what happened to the harem genre.  But if we the anime community support good new harem shows like Monster Musume and Akatsuki no Yona, and stop supporting shows like the current season’s Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta, then maybe, just maybe, we can force creators of harem shows to raise the bar.  Because new harems have the ability to be less niche than their counterparts.  All harem shows are niche shows to some extent but light novel harems and traditional harems are specifically designed to tap what is considered the largest customer base for anime, teenage boys (or in the case of reverse harems, teenage girls), and to not worry about appealing to anyone else.  New harem shows can still appeal to the same audience, but without the same kind of backing that the light novel harems have from the business side of the industry, and based on how much more frequently light novel harems are made compared to new harems I would say light novel harems have a quite a bit more backing, new harem shows should be more open to trying to grab new audiences in order to stay successful.  This is part of why I think new harem shows are improving, they have to if they want to survive, they can’t just stick to the same tired trends or even exploit the popular new trends and reach the same success that light novel harems do.

By upping their game and appealing to another crowd, and I hate the reverse harem genre but I love Akatsuki no Yona so it is quite doable, new harem shows have a chance to reinvent the harem genre, or at least to officiate the birth of a different type of harem show, one without the bad reputation the harem genre has.  And as far as I’m concerned I think new harem shows are succeeding in this endeavor insofar as they are upping their game; obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this.  So weird as this may sound out of context, I think harem shows are going to be worth paying attention beyond a personal want for fanservice and/or the desire for fap material.  It will probably take a long time for the harem genre to lose it’s bad reputation or for the genre to get split into separate categories on an official, community-wide basis, however there are good shows in the genre coming out now, and their success or failure will have a hand in determining the kind of stories, gags, fanservice and culture of future harem shows.  Now is the time to show support for the good harem shows, be they new harems or light novel harems, because as much as I shit on light novel harems there are a couple I have enjoyed, but this especially applies to new harem shows because light novel harems are super popular regardless of quality at the moment.  Right now new harems are showing more creativity and artistry than a lot of light novel adaptations across all genres, and that creativity and artistry deserves to be celebrated and deserves to succeed.  So I ask you, out there on the internet, to kindly consider paying more attention to the harem genre and giving support to the shows which you feel deserve it.  Thank you for reading and I do hope you enjoyed it, see you in the next one.