I’m sure most people are familiar with the history of harem anime and how it’s difficult to define whether Rumiko Takahashi or Tenchi Muyo created the tropes that define them, but it was definitely Love Hina that popularized the genre to the point that they were basically that generation’s isekai light novel adaptation in that they were fucking everywhere. But while the harem genre is still in demand to this very day, most of today’s overabundance of X-chromosomes in the anime world comes from light novels instead of manga, which is very different in the same way harems in visual novels and hentai manga are different from the ones in regular manga.
Light novel harems tend to weakly tie their boner-pandering tropes to generic “save the world” plots that are so lacking in imagination they make the writing in those Dead or Alive games look consequential. Visual novel harems tend to be overdramatic bawlfests that seemed to have been conceived secondary to the trope checklist the writer marks down during the design phase. And hentai manga harems all basically end with every single girl accepting the concept of polygamy in a very physical manner. Conversely, harems in normal manga tend to focus on the everyday life of a man and his potential lovers; and when I say “everyday life”, I mean “wacky hijinks that may or may not involve girls losing their clothes” where any semblance of plot tends to quickly rocket into the stratosphere by the third volume. And they practically always take place in high school, and it’s kind of strange that Love Hina popularized this because the majority of that series was centered on characters trying to get into school rather than actually go to one.
You probably know a lot of the popular harem manga adaptations. To-Love-Ru. Monster Musume. Rosario + Vampire. Nisekoi. The Love Hina anime itself. Honestly, there are a lot of harem manga out there, but it’s kinda rare to see one get made into an anime unless you’re really popular. I’m not really sure why a harem manga has to stand out more to get adapted as opposed to a harem light novel, but then again I don’t know why Japan considers drug use to be a worse crime than child pornography. And apparently, the public is in agreement that the two biggest harem manga at the moment are The Quintessential Quintuplets and We Never Learn: both series about a male tutor trying to teach his female classmates how to score points as well as he can. What exactly makes them stand out from the competition? Well I’m not going to have an answer for the latter until its (quite frankly ugly-looking) anime adaptation comes out, but the adaptation for the former has just finished, so why don’t we get to judging that?
One refreshing thing you’ll notice about The Quintessential Quintuplets compared to most harem stories is that it pretty much wastes no time in setting up its contrived premise involving five girls and one guy. The show literally starts with our lead male, Fuutarou Uesugi, marrying one of the girls with the rest of the series being dedicated to how he got to that point, How I Met Your Mother-style. We don’t actually know which of the girls he’s marrying though because it turns out that the girls making up this harem are quintuplets who all have the same face, height, and bust size. Now anyone with actual working eyes, ears, and brains could easily tell them apart by their hair color and voice, but apparently this is a stylistic choice for the anime to make things easier for the viewer and canonically, they all have the same red hair and are voiced by Ayane Sakura.
There’s also a decent reason why Fuutarou is involved with the girls in the first place. It turns out his family is dirt poor and debt-ridden, but the rich father of these girls will happily get his imouto a freaking pony and pay for all pet expenses if he manages to tutor them properly. Too bad that they are such poor students that the only score of 100 they can get is if they all combined their scores, but to be fair, Quintessential Quintuplets is one of those harem anime where it takes a while for the girls to warm up to our lead to the point that having all five of them finally accept him actually serves as the finale for this season. Can’t make saving your family that easy now can we?
Some of girls warm up to him quicker than others of course, but by the end of what I assume to be the first season (because there’s no way it won’t be back given the huge boost in manga sales and the decently sized audience for the blu-rays), only two of them genuinely have feelings for him, one of them just likes everybody, one of them likes him when he’s in disguise, and one of them is half & half. In a contest between who can ship the girls the fastest between the creators and the audience, it’s obvious that the audience would win even if they were wearing metal jackets tied to boulders, and it’s something I really appreciate.
While I’m all for romance with direction, there needs to actually be a romance to give direction to. And most romance doesn’t happen right away. You’ve got to hang out with the other person first and give actual reasons regarding why you’d be attracted to them. Even if it resorts to some cliches like saving a girl from falling off a cliff or getting locked in a storage room for the chemistry to form, and Fuutarou himself is basically just a prototypical version of Miyuki Shirogane from Kaguya-sama: Love is War, at least he works for the girls’ affection, and it helps that he’s mostly doing so for his own benefit rather than out of the goodness of his heart. Honestly, he’s probably the real reason why this property works as well as it does, because without his chemistry, the sisters are stereotypes we’ve all seen before.
The five sisters are as follows: Ichika, who’s basically the big sister of the group and is trying to make it as an actor. Nino, who’s basically the tsundere of the group and directly opposes Fuutarou whilst having affections for his past self when he looked like a thug. Miku, who’s a socially withdrawn girl with a vast knowledge of Japanese warlords. Yotsuba, the friendly athletic girl who’s more of a joke character than a viable serious love interest. And Itsuki, the first girl and the least interesting one on account of she’s basically Naru from Love Hina without any drive. All of their development is centered around their relationship with Fuutarou from Miku realizing she wants to be more selfish to Nino realizing she has to be less of a bitch, and that’s fine for what the show is trying to do as long as Fuutarou remains interesting, but it does make it hard to really see each girl as their own individual self.
Not that the sisters themselves are above taking advantage of this. There are several points in the series where they impersonate each other by changing their hairstyles in order to trick other characters including Fuutarou, which obviously looks stupid in the anime because of the different hair colors, but again, you’ve just got to roll with these manga-to-anime decisions. And just like how I roll with those, I don’t let the girls’ characterization act as a deal-breaker because if I went by that logic, how many of my old favorites in anime, manga, films, and even pop music would I have to disown? Still, when done in the harem genre, it stands out more because you want to ship the characters, and I’m not a fan of calling someone a waifu if I don’t see them as relationship material. It’s why whenever I get asked who my waifu is in Kaguya-sama, I go “None of them, because Kaguya is an immature brat and Chika wouldn’t know what a relationship was if you showed her all of the episodes of Kare Kano“.
In regards to the storytelling of The Quintessential Quintuplets, another welcome change from the usual harem formula is that it never resorts to episodic filler, instead going for an arc-based structure that never resets the status quo and is always pushing things forward in regards to Fuutarou getting closer to the sisters while helping them out with school. Fanservice is minimal with most of the “laughs” coming from Fuutarou and one of the sisters trying to get the upper hand on each other. I personally didn’t find the comedy to be more than smile-worthy for the most part, but there weren’t any jokes that made me groan or were trying too hard, and there are a few gems in there like when Nino flips Fuutarou off during a number game or when Fuutarou tries his hands at impersonating the sisters and it looks like his plan works for a second.
Maybe there would have been more laughs if the animation wasn’t such mediocre shit. There are tons of derpy faces and obvious cost-cutting techniques abound to the point that you could just see the words “obvious advertisement for the manga” flashing on the screen, and in a world where the Nisekoi adaptation exists, “romantic comedies not needing good animation” isn’t an excuse I’m willing to accept anymore. As many people pointed out, only Episode 11 gave the series the visual quality it deserved, and that was because it was done by Shaft. I’m aware that the series was only given a year in terms of production, but when the quality of the Shaft episode is night and day by comparison to the rest, that’s when Tezuka Production needs to realize that it can’t accomplish anything on its own and keep good relationships with MAPPA to make some quality anime.
Still, the direction is just inspired enough to the point that it didn’t take me out of the experience. And the experience was a mildly amusing one because despite the number of familiar tropes used to execute a premise that is fundamentally flawed for romance lovers like myself, The Quintessential Quintuplets is the genuine article when it comes to telling this kind of story with a heartwarming tone. The amount of supporting characters outside the main six are very limited so practically all of the drama is contained within our core cast, and there’s no chance of any late inclusions to the harem, which is helped by the flash-forward confirming that it has to be a Nakano sister who marries Fuutarou. And the overarching plot regarding how the male lead has to make good students out of these sisters keeps the momentum grounded whilst making it clear that love is far from the only things in these characters’ lives.
Ultimately, you have to take The Quintessential Quintuplets for what it is if you’re going to enjoy it. It’s not an evolution of the genre it encompasses by any stretch of the imagination so much as a return to the genre’s routes that embraces some modern trends whilst ultimately intended to be a purging of all the baggage said genre has built-up over the years. It’s definitely popular for a reason, but I can’t help but see this series being the exception as opposed to the rule really sad. Not that I’d know what a revolutionary harem series would be like. If one does come out though, it’d probably be directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara.
- For the record, I did kinda like To-Love-Ru’s first two volumes before it started introducing girls like Team Ninja introduces paid DLC.
- I heard the manga was ending within the next year and it’s not that long to begin with, so that’s another refreshing thing about this harem series compared to others.
- For those looking for a good sister harem hentai, I recommend “191109”.
- Yes I know the blu-rays for the first volume came with VA tickets, which definitely tipped the scales somewhat.