Can We Stop Giving Harem Protagonists “Ultimate Bullshit” Powers?

Token Male Best Friend: You’re completely average, yet you have all these hot girls falling for you? That’s a load of…

Harem Protagonist (with Nagito Komaeda’s voice): BULLSHIT! I know, right?

While I can kinda get the appeal of dating sims in the video game world, the transfer of that formula to the anime world has always come off as awkward to me. Not only do I not see why any female would fall in love with the blank television set that makes Link from The Legend of Zelda series look like Christian Slater, I don’t get why any male would fall in love with these females given how loose they are along with being defined by only one personality trait that’s never expanded on or expanded on very poorly. It’s easier to buy in hentai like Invasion of the Booby Snatchers or Sweet Home because, for the most part, the characters in those products are shallow/easy on purpose (and we also get to see some hardcore fucking). But not when you’re trying to sell the concept to a broadcast audience. Especially since there’s no give or take between these people that goes beyond saying a nice thing every once in a while and copping a feel, only to get punched for it.

But by far the biggest problem I have with these shows is how the creators of these stories try to justify these unlikely scenarios through the lazy response of “well the main protagonist just a lucky motherfucker, ain’t he?”. In other words, they flat-out admit to just giving the male lead “ultimate bullshit” powers and calling it a day. Why do these unlikely male protagonists get all these girls who are totally out of his league? Because they have “ultimate bullshit”. Why do all the girls have friendly rivalries with each other whilst going after the same dude? Because they fell for a guy who has “ultimate bullshit”. Why is that the more abuse the main character goes through, the more likely the girl doing the abusing will fall for him? Because he has “ultimate bullshit”. Literally, every single contrived thing that happens in these stories from the lack of dates to the “girl moving in with guy” to everything that’s defining Fuuka at the moment, it’s because of “ultimate bullshit”!

For those of you who don’t know, “ultimate bullshit” is a meme coined by anime video game Let’s Player, as well as all-around funny guy, Nico B during his LP of Danganronpa 2 (45:37 of that link is a good starting point to see where the meme originated). There’s a character in the game named Nagito Komaeda, who was accepted into the most prestigious school in the world on account of being the Ultimate Lucky Student, not accounting for his incredibly insane personality and the fact that you could literally replace every time he says the word “hope” with “penis” and change nothing. His talent was basically that he would always get incredibly lucky in a Monkey’s Paw sort of way in that there’s always an equal opposite reaction to his achievements, like how a plane he’s on would crash in the middle of the dessert and kill everyone but him, only for him to land right next to an oasis where he can give the fangirls a shot of his naked back. Or how he’d get into a car accident, only to meet a really cute nurse as a result. Or how he was once kidnapped, but found a winning lottery ticket in the bag he was in, winning three-hundred million dollars after being set free.

Because of how cheap and unnaturally forced his situations tend to be, along with his (initial) dislike of the character, Nico started un-affectionally calling him the Ultimate Bullshit. The meme skyrocketed when Danganronpa 3 came out and Komaeda tried to use a bomb threat to stop an exam, only to ruin a friendship, get himself suspended, make a dog grow as big as Clifford, have a gymnasium blow up, and cancel the exams in the process. Since then, every time something unnatural would happen in the show, it would mostly be blamed on the “bullshit” that surrounds these characters. And it’s one of the few anime memes I find funny, because Danganronpa has the power to make the negative a positive in anime land.

But of course, I along with many people know that the power of “bullshit” has been used in anime way before it got an official name, let alone when Danganronpa came out. Ken Akamatsu himself has been self-parodying the trend with the very manga that popularized it in the first place. And there’s a very good reason for that: because “ultimate bullshit” is synonymous with “narrative contrivance”. And last I checked, “narrative contrivance” is also synonymous with “bad writing”.

I mean seriously, if harem shows are going to continue to exist, why on earth can’t we apply a better/different method of storytelling to telling them besides the writers saying “ultimate bullshit, go!”? This especially stands out to me this anime season because I’m watching both Fuuka and Scum’s Wish at the same time (as well as Riverdale, but let’s just stick to anime for this post) and while the two have a lot of superficial similarities and depend on a lot of contrived situations to tell their story, the actual quality between the two is more vast than the entire continent of Asia.

Fuuka, to put it lightly, abuses “ultimate bullshit” to the max. Not only are the methods the main characters uses to meet the girls awfully contrived and the reason he gains their affection even moreso, but I refuse to believe that they all just happen to have an interest in music as well and seem to find something endearing about his unique ability to sexually harass them at the most inappropriate times. And of course, the one girl he’s going after gives him the hardest time so that he can get the hardest boner for her in exchange. Which of course is total fucking crap, especially considering we never see him do much “give” on his end unless you count Twitter and off-screen practicing as “give”.

Not only are most harem protagonists unaware of these mythical boner-growing powers in these stories, they’re never used for anything interesting beyond getting the cute girl’s affection and cheap jokes that wouldn’t make fans of Chevy Chase’s post-80s career laugh. They never put in their own effort to gain the girl’s affection beyond token things that a dog could do (if it had opposable thumbs). This is not romance, this is not comedy, and don’t even get me started when it’s used for drama. I’m reminded of that terrible ending to Suzuka when Fuuka’s mother ended up getting pregnant, forcing her parents to abandon really good college deals in order to work as a typical salaryman and a stay-at-home wife. The bad news is that we threw away our futures, but the good news is that we have each other. What a blissfully hopeful piece of blergh!

Speaking of which, the bad side to the “ultimate bullshit” in these shows is almost never worth it. Nothing but a bunch of physical and mental torture that’s played in a “comedic” manner, whereas if something like that happened in Great Teacher Onizuka, you’d see the male trying to commit suicide, only for Onizuka to save him and wreck a car in the process. Sure said male ended up unrealistically falling in love with his torturer in that show as well, but that was only after they made “peace” with each other, which is the equivalent of starting with a clean slate that has burn marks on it. And if it’s not that, it’s a bunch of fluff story arcs like in those Sword Art Online video games that just throw Kirito into a new dangerous adventure and call it a day. I’m pretty sure I’ve read somewhere that relationships born out of dangerous situations never last.

Is it really too much to ask that if we’re going to continue harem shows that we use a different formula that’s more fair and less, well, bullshit? Something with a little more self-awareness and actually uses that self-awareness for something interesting like Scum’s Wish? The main male in that has a childhood friend who wants to be his princess, a sexfriend he can apparently call up at any time judging by the latest episode, and the main female who is only with him in order to ease her loneliness. And he’s a billion times more relatable/interesting than any harem protagonist I’ve seen because his situation slips him into a depressing state and none of the females he’s with are interested in him for healthy reasons. It may be a little bullshit that he got into that situation in the first place, but at least it’s not “ultimate bullshit” where there’s a (usually forced) bright side at the end of the tunnel.

If there’s anything most people love, it’s character arcs. And unfortunately, you can’t get a character arc or any sort of personal growth if everything is just handed to you after an arbitrary number of token bad things happen. Sure Disney popularized that sort of wish-fulfillment storytelling a lot with their old-school princess stuff like Cinderella and such, but they eventually moved on from it and ended up making Frozen in the process. How many decades do we have to wait for harem anime to do the same?

Minor Quips

  • Other anime memes I have no problem with are “Kaneda!” and “drill that pierces the heavens”.
  • I wish I could go wherever I wanted without parental supervision when I was in high school.
  • Maybe we can get a modern reinterpretation of No Longer Human that focuses on the many depressing relationships the main dude had with all the females in his life and how it symbolized his empty lifestyle. That might be interesting.

6 responses to “Can We Stop Giving Harem Protagonists “Ultimate Bullshit” Powers?

  1. What do you think of the charge that Scum’s Wish uses melodrama and emotional manipulation to make readers care about the characters? It’s a criticism I recently heard and I think its important to start up a dialogue regarding this, because I think Scum’s Wish is an anime quite unlike any we’ve ever seen before. I can’t deny that Ecchan confessing to Hanabi and Akane being a bitch to Hanabi are quite melodramatic, and I’m sure the melodrama hooks many viewers, but I don’t think that is what the melodrama is designed to do.

    • I think that’s a pointless charge to discuss because all dramas are emotionally manipulative. It is silly that these two protagonists have so many admirers and problems surrounding them, but this is a story about terrible people trying to understand relationships. I’d agree with those people if the analysis was weak (Kiznaiver anyone?), but Scum’s Wish brings up enough interesting subject matter in exchange for its theatrical ludicrousness that I can move on from it easily.

  2. You used Fuuka as an example for the unrealistic “falling in love” scenarios and from this season I’d like to add Seiren to the mix. Every hottie in sight is falling for our self-insert protagonist who is devoid of any kind of attractive character traits. Like you said, it might work in dating sims but when trying to tell a story… not so much.

  3. I don’t they will ever move from it, since most harem shows are aimed at an specifical demographic in japan that wants wish-fullfilment, the main character has to be dull AND powerful enough at the same time so the audience can self insert in him and feel ”powerful” also can’t have charisma because it will ruin the immersion in said demographic, thats also the reason to why all is fluffy because the consumers of harem don’t want drama, they want a bunch of cute girls wanting to fuck them for doing nothing and having powers, is the ultimate ”power” fantasy of the NEETs, is simple as that.

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