Monday, 2 May 2011

ラムネ/ Ramune / Lemonade

For the uninitiated, then: a brief lowdown on harem anime. Harem, as the name suggests, revolves around one boy receiving the romantic attention of several girls. However, in contrast to what the name suggests, the boy rarely becomes romantically involved with these girls until the very end, where he chooses one. The reason that these sorts of anime have become so common that they have their own category is because of the popularity of Gal Games, Erogames and Dating Sims, which in general terms refer to the same thing: a video game about a boy trying to win the heart of a girl, playing through a story (almost always series of static drawings) and making key choices in order to attract or repel the girl of his liking. So picture the plot of this game: there’ll be a central character with little personality, an everyman any gamer can project himself onto, plus half a dozen or more girls who all either already like this boy, or can grow to like him. Other male characters would only complicate things and put the gamer off, so they tend to be comic relief. If you flatter one girl enough (and avoid the writers’ tricks), you’ll quite often get a perverted scene with them, generally pornographic to the point of total tastelessness. Plenty of young men find this sort of build up and reward very appealing (can’t say I share their passion; hentai (anime porn) tends to be more laughable than sexy), so there is often a high demand for an anime adaptation. Those cute girls – moving!

Except imagine trying to adapt one of these games for television. You have to chose one girl to focus on (there’s usually a default story you have to try hard to misdirect, so that’s not too difficult) while wedging in the other stories to some degree, resulting in this ludicrous world where one boy with not much going for him is the centre of attention for a whole gaggle of girls, while other male characters have to be such clowns that they are made asexual. Unless they’re very robust comedies, harem anime tend to annoy me. Yet somehow, despite fitting into the above mould so precisely that it’s laughable, something about the series made me take a liking to it.

There’s little point relating the insipid story: a boy called Kenji has been friends with Nanami, the girl next door, since childhood. There are lots of other girls around him who like him very much, but Kenji and Nanami have more flashbacks than anyone else, so it seems they are fated for one another. You couldn’t stick more closely to a formula if you tried.

And yet…the flashbacks are really cute. We see little habits formed in childhood that continue to the present day. Counting promises, visiting each other during storms, putting crabs on heads…it’s just cute. I have to say that the Japanese fixation with puppy love blossoming into full romance later in life is one that appeals to my sense of romance. The art and animation is functional but cute and the character designs are nice. The seiyuu for Kenji (Taniyama Kishou – Seiji in Midori no Hibi) and Nanami (Goto Yuko – Mikuru in Suzumiya Haruhi) put in strong, likeable performances. There are some moments of real warmth and fun in this series, although the last episode, which even the cheesiest soap opera would reject, really didn’t work. And the tacked-on fanservice added for the DVD, mostly involving more blushing and panty shots, really wasn’t needed.

All in all, this is by no means a great series, and it’s hampered by the clichés of its genre. But it’s a harem anime that works, that knows what it is but chooses to do what it does as well as it can. So I freely admit that here is a harem show that I liked.

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