I am a firm believer in the Harem Genre and its potential to have good characters and good storytelling. The genre hasn’t yet produced a ‘great work’, but it has several excellent examples of characters with believable motivations and personalities and enough effort put in by their creators aside from just having a hot body and a collection of tropes to service the lowest common denominator.
Now let’s be real here, Harem animes are male power fantasies. That is an undeniable fact and it must be acknowledged up front, but they can be that AND have well developed, well rounded and interesting male and female leads that can discuss worthwhile themes such as love, dedication, devotion, and commitment. While many dismiss the genre as trash, and to be fair, it has had more than it’s share of crap work, you do yourself a disservice if you write off an entire genre of work simply because of its overall premise.
For our first Character Dive on this blog. I want to take a look at a harem female lead who in my mind, shows off the great potential that can be found in the Harem anime genre. After the cut let’s take a character dive into the main female lead of Majikoi ~ Oh! Samurai Girls!’s Momoyo Kawakami
Momoyo Kawakami is an interesting character to look at because at her core she is a tomboy. She is portrayed in the series as a battle maniac: Someone who loves to fight and seek out stronger opponents. When she is unable to have a good fight she can get antsy and take out her frustrations on Yamato, check out this example.
While she is a tomboy, Momoyo also has many traits that are often seen in the male anime leads. She’s lazy, bad with money, and pays so little attention to her schoolwork that she has been held back more than a few times. She is potentially bi-sexual, often taking interest in girls and whisking them off to spoil. However, the show also states that this is because Momoyo has yet to find a man who can live up to her standards.
Momoyo could have easily come off as a tsundere, and while she does have some of this (most notably the feelings she is too proud or scared confront) she is not a walking and talking version of the trope. In fact, most of Momoyo’s actions in regards to Yamato come from two separate but intertwining emotions: Her greed, and her fear.
Momoyo is a very greedy person when it comes to Yamato. She has known him her entire life and they made a promise when they were kids that they would always be together as master and student. However, because she won’t date him, or at least return his affections in the way he wants (he confesses but is rejected twice) Yamato’s attention begins to drift away from her and towards the other girls of the cast. While Momoyo and Yamato were always close, the show’s choice to have Yamato not dwell on his rejection instead allows the viewer to see how Momoyo’s greed affects both her relationship with Yamato, and her relationship with the Harem.
You see, Momoyo wants to keep Yamato all to herself, she wants all of his attention to be on her, and she wants to maintain the relationship they had as kids, one where he constantly followed her around and worshipped her. In a sense, Momoyo suffers from Peter-Pan syndrome: a refusal to grow up and see the world for what it is, not the fantasy that she wants. Momoyo would love nothing more than for her and Yamato to have the same status quo forever. However life doesn’t work that way, and when Momoyo realizes that the other girls are starting to take Yamato away from her, she becomes jealous and then angry. Check out an example in this clip below.
This green eventually comes to a head where after Yamato is injured the other girls are all looking and focusing their attention on him, Momoyo realizes what his happening and angrily and violently reacts. This, in turn, leads to a very rare moment in a harem series: where one of the girls is actually put to task for their actions. Mayuuchi, another one of the girls actually stands up for herself and calls Momoyo out on her bullshit behavior: that she’s trying to keep Yamato all to herself, but not take the leap to actually commit to a relationship.
Both of these scenes show Momoyo’s greed and her desire to keep Yamato both as her friend, and as a loyal pet that only she can have. It is through Mayuuchi’s takedown that Momoyo begins to realize that if she wants to keep Yamato, then she needs to start fighting for him. Momoyo begins to see that she needs to either accept Yamato’s feelings or accept that she can’t keep him all to herself and let him go.
However, along with her greed, Momoyo also has fear. Despite all her strength, her bravado, her lust for battle and her slacker attitude, Momoyo deep down is terrified of change and what it may bring. While she does have growing feelings for Yamato, she would rather them go unanswered then risk anything affecting her status quo, because that right now makes her happy and content. She would rather waste away her days as they are then taking the plunge and see what could come from a romantic relationship. This is again the Peter-Pan syndrome coming back into focus. Momoyo doesn’t want to grow up and face the reality that is staring right in front of her. While should she ruin what she has now? Even though she is pretty much just taking Yamato for granted? In another scene after Yamato is injured (separate from the last scene) one of her fighting rivals again steps up and calls her out on her feelings.
This, along with the scenes already shown above, eventually force Momoyo to confront her own feelings, and admit that deep down she is in love with Yamato. In the end, Momoyo admits that she was scared of what might change and how that might ruin the happiness she feels now.
Now while these are all good ideas and explored as best as they can be in a show of this type. (This is still a comedy harem show, so the status quo of “all the girls fighting over the guy” must still be maintained) It manages to make it work because Momoyo’s feelings and Yamato’s feelings play so well off each other. If Yamato was constantly weeping and kicking himself because Momoyo had turned him down, then it would come off as pity or pandering. If Yamato was constantly trying to win Momoyo’s affection it would come off as tacky or insulting, or even caving into his demands. Instead, we see that Yamato’s seeming acceptance of the rejection, and moving on from it forces Momoyo to confront herself, and the viewer gets to see the side of a female lead that is rarely shown in the harem genre.
Every other harem show I have watched has never really gone this much into depth in the relationship between the main male and female leads, especially when there are other girls trying to win his affection. Momoyo’s negative personality traits allow the viewer to take a look into how a harem operates and see that sometimes, it is not always fun and rosy. Sometimes it can bring out feelings and thoughts that can lead to conflict and argument. I do not think there is a single show aside from this one that I’ve seen, that actually has the girls confronting each other over the perceived indifference or hesitation of the main female, and that was something I did not expect going into a show like Majikoi.
Momoyo Kawakami is a character with far more depth than what is to be expected, and she makes Majikoi leave something for you to think about aside from the humor. Her relationship with Yamato is one of the more unique ones I’ve seen in the harem genre thus far, and I highly suggest you take a look for yourself. Your mileage may vary, you might not come to the same conclusion, but I think you’ll see a character who a bit more interesting than you’d initially believe, and a character you wouldn’t expect coming out of this “tacky” genre.