Fun fact: I know a guy in real life who is basically a harem lead character. For reasons which continue to baffle me to this day, he is insanely popular with girls despite putting zero effort into talking to them and having the emotional radar of a sack of potatoes.
Perhaps because of this, I see the harem genre a bit differently from other people. While the lead character is obviously meant to be as bland as possible so you can project yourself onto him, sometimes I get dejavu instead. It makes me quite nostalgic about my high school days. Instead of coming across as escapist drivel like it’s probably meant to, it ends up being scarily true to life at points. Unfortunately, I was not the one in possession of a harem. I was merely the dashingly attractive, intelligent, godly, only-slightly-perverted best friend.
So let me tell you a story about me and this friend of mine. Let’s call him Ichika, since I’ve been rewatching Infinite Stratos lately.
I should start off by saying how our lives were not like anime. This was most of our high school existence. Actually, it was nothing like anime at all, but shhhh that would kill the story. For a start, there was no nudity or pantsu involved for the entire duration. There was also a distinct lack of variety in Ichika’s harem. There was no childhood friend, no hot nurse, no shrine maiden, not even a robot chick. It basically consisted of the same girl with different names and faces.
“That’s boring,” you might say. But if you had a bunch of girls hanging around you who wanted to date you, would you really care? These were nice girls too, mostly the nerdy ones. My friend Ichika seemed to satisfy a deep need in academically inclined females to have a male of approximately equal intelligence to talk to. Never mind that I was the top student in the school. Ichika’s skinniness, his brown hair and total lack of distinguishing facial features set many girls’ hearts and ovaries alight, and soon they were making friends with me so they could make friends with him.
You might assume I was jealous from this. But to be honest, I could understand it somewhat. I’m not ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to admit that, for all his generic characteristics, Ichika was a Pretty Boy. Girls are shallow creatures at heart. His personality, though… I failed to see how a girl could stand his company. He was – pardon my French – a bloody pain in the arse.
You see, my good friend Ichika was one of those annoying and frustrating individuals who constantly complained about being misunderstood and how he didn’t have any friends despite being surrounded by people. He was completely and utterly dense about relationships. If you told him that you considered him a friend he would either pretend he didn’t hear you or think you were mistaken.
He was like goddamn Kodaka!
Since I had known him for years, I understood that about him, though. He was afraid of emotional commitment because he had such a deep-running inferiority complex. He hated this idea of anyone thinking of him as special – he always referred to himself as a bland and boring person – and so he refused to acknowledge his harem. All we ever talked about was philosophy, religion and science. He hated small talk, especially petty gossip, and so he liked me because I disliked that kind of stuff too. We never discussed girls together. He never picked up on their intentions at all.
But his obliviousness went deeper than that. He wasn’t just dense about love – he was terrible at reading atmosphere or picking up on what people were feeling in general. If I went up to him one day with a frumpy frown on my face, he would not even ask me why I was upset. Or if he did, it would only be as an aside. For all his good intentions, he was a very insensitive person.
We were friends for a reason, though, and that reason was that we both considered ourselves social outcasts. Just as I understood that there was more to him than what met the eye, he wasn’t put off by my quirks either. We were interested in the same abstract ideas and geeky hobbies. I hung out and played video games at his house. We were best friends in everything but name, and slowly but surely, his lack of open regard for me started to frustrate me.
It all came to a head one day when I asked him straight out, “Do you consider me a friend or not?” and he said, “No, you’re my acquaintance.” So I punched him in the face and called him a bastard.
He was stunned but he soon retaliated. It escalated quickly from there. I always thought he was as harmless as a fly, but it turns out he could throw a mean punch too. Soon enough, we were having a full-on brawl that had to be broken up by the teachers. We didn’t talk for a month after that.
I did a lot of thinking during this time. I was shaken at myself, you see. I’d never gotten so worked up over something so seemingly inconsequential. My motives baffled me. I’d never realised how important his friendship was to me. I felt as if we were closer fighting than we had ever been before then, skipping around the important things.
I understood how he wanted to distance himself from me and from other people. He was scared of being hurt. But we had hurt each other then, and I think he knew as well as I did that he couldn’t avoid the pains of friendship. He could not hide behind his ignorance forever.
The next time I saw him, we didn’t say much. We sort of just nodded at each other and we just resumed things from there, as if nothing had ever happened. We never had a real conversation about it. But he was warmer to me from then on. I don’t think it was ever swept under the carpet. In our final year of high school, he became more confident; he even started to open up to his haremettes. (I think he even picked up more of them as time went along.)
These days, he’s doing fine. We’re not as physically close as we once were, but when we talk, it doesn’t matter if days or months have passed. We’re friends, and that’s something he admits to me now. I don’t think he picked anyone from his harem, though. Fair enough – there was no Best Girl in it.
On retrospect, it’s not a surprise that I only really came to like the harem genre after I left high school. Up until then, it all just seemed like a waste of time to me. Now I see it in a different light. Whenever I watch a harem, especially one of the more generic ones, I can’t help but see a part of my friend in that. I respond to harem male leads with more empathy than I would ever have previously. I can understand their self-loathing and indecisiveness. The portrayals are shallow, but the core is very human.
…And that’s the end of the story. You probably went into this expecting a story about a harem romance. Instead you got a tale of friendship. I’m terribly sorry. But hey, it’s a nice change from the usual harem stories that you get, right?
A bizarre but kind of touching story. Getting nostalgic over harems? Haha, never even occurred to me.
Oh, I remember the convo we had for this. (I’m glad everything ended well for you two :3)
“I was merely the dashingly attractive, intelligent, godly, only-slightly-perverted best friend.”
^I have never laughed so hard before upon reading this. *snort* no wonder you didn’t get the harem.
As for how your friend obtained his harem of nerdy girls must have been due to what you said before (he can intellectually satisfy then) but I believe there was something else too. Girls feel empathy/sympathy for characters who believe themselves to be misunderstood and have that inferiority complex. They want to be the girl that can change all that because it boosts their confidence.
How did it fare once he entered University?
You know, I wonder why there doesn’t seem to be a harem show that asks what happens once a harem protagonist graduates and becomes a University Student.
That actually sounds like a premise for a rather wacky show:
“I can’t believe my Boyfriend is a Harem Protagonist!”
We actually do go to the same university, except he’s doing a science degree and I’m doing an arts degree. Our schedules don’t mesh very well, but the thing is that we can still meet up whenever we want to, even though he’s moved house and now lives hours away from me. I guess our friendship is rather unconventional.
Would totally watch this.
or “My little friend Can’t be a Harem Protagonist” (a ripoff title)
it sounds like your talking about your dick lol
I too have a friend like this so I can sympathise with how you felt during the whole situation. We haven’t spoken for months either, but I am certain that if you or your ever decides to be as close as you were before, it’d work out.
After all a true friend stays true right?
Even after your enlightening real life story, I still can’t take 99% of hetero harem anime male leads seriously nor refrain myself from questioning the candidates’ intelligence. Despite this, I won’t question your tastes, just like you don’t question mine.
Actually, yuri is the best because you still get to see all the cute girls only there’s no utter retard of a protag clogging up pixel space.
Never had a harem experience or known anyone that’s had one XD Though a couple of your other points resonate with me.
The frustration when you can tell that someone else is not as invested in a friendship as you are. I’ve never quite gone as far as your example, but there have been times where i’ve wondered if a friend would do the same for me as I was doing for them, though they were always small things. I think I may just be very socially sensitive about those things.
And the friend that you get on with no matter how much time has passed. You just sort of pick up from where you left off, even if you haven’t really talked in between. It’s actually incredibly nice to know that you have someone like that whenever you return to your home town (or wherever they’re living).
Well, nowadays the only way I end up meeting people is at university and very few of them are interested in the same things. Hopefully i’ll find someone to geek out over anime and visual novels with in the future, though for the time being normal friendships are fine too.
Actually, I very much preferred your stort of friendship to any of the harem anime out there. Your friend does sound like a real-life Kodaka or Ichika, which makes me want to punch him (but since you’ve already punched him for me, thanks for that). It’s good to see that he grew out of that nihilistic phase and you’re back to being friends. That’s another nice thing about real life – people change and grow. They will never be the same person they were 5 years ago.
Whereas most harem protagonists remain pretty much the same throughout the series (being a nice guy, bland, helpful, kind, oblivious, etc)……sigh……
Enjoyed reading your post once again!
Harem anime do seem to lack that human dimension to them, don’t they? The success of a harem anime really does hinge on how well-written the lead is. We have shows like The World God Only Knows and Clannad, where the lead character is very popular with the viewers, and the series are better regarded for it. So I guess the problem with the generic harem lead characters is that there’s no forward character development with them, because people like that really do exist, funnily enough.
Yeah, I guess you’re right, but didn’t your friend develop as well? From what I’ve read, you seemed to imply that he changed a great deal after getting into college.
Oh yeah, my friend did change. Not many harem leads are as dynamic as real people, though :)
Hmm, bromance is wonderful.
Still a better love story than Twilight
I bet there are a few Bella’s in the real world as well.
I liked your story and wished more harem leads had more to them. I never like the bland ones that are just supposed to be audience surrogates. They get shafted so bad and I hate it. We need more leads like Rintarō Okabe from stein’s gate~
HEY MISTER I AM MAD SCIENTIST! IT’S SO COOL! … Sonuvabitch.
(Yes, we need more leads like Okabe.)
Lol!!! totally. I can’t remember a lead that I actually liked…hm…*thinks*
[…] also that story of me knowing someone very much like Ichika in real life. He was a bit of a tool but I got to know him pretty well, since I was part of his harem his […]
Based on the descrpiption you gave about your friend, he’s really different than harem leads in anime.
[…] As a side note, while there are harem protagonists like Keima making an exception, I ultimately prefer harem protagonists to be openly perverted. Granted, you lose the ability to relate and self-insert for these types of characters, but then again, I feel it’s incredibly difficult to relate yourself to a protagonist whom beautiful anime girls just seem to flock to him for unknown reason anyway, even for the closet-types. Though, perhaps, Froggy-kun might have another say to that. […]
I liked that nice read now to my sandwich
Your friend sounds to be the type who just listens and nods; aka, completely harmless, in a conversation, and perfectly comfortable to be around with. Because people love people who listen. And who are smart.
Dude is probably gay, and when he said your not his friend thats probably cus he looks at you more than just friend(if you know what i mean)