I normally don’t like harem comedies, but I decided to give Shuffle! a try. After all, it is geared toward my age group ( It’s a seinen anime) . I braced myself for nudity and other sexual theme; surprisingly Shuffle! was lighter than I expected for this genre.
Shuffle! is pretty stereotypical. The male protagonist, Rin Tsuchimi, is a generally nice, clueless, and a little selfish dumb ass (as I called him at times). The harem consists of demons, gods, and humans. In Shuffle!’s world the realms of the gods and demons have opened into the human world. Now they all live together as a matter of course. Humans have technology; gods and demons have magic. Anyway, the harem has the daughter of the King of the Gods, Lisianthus, the daughter of the King of the Demons, Nerine; Rin’s childhood friend, Kaede; the mysterious demon, Primula; and Asa, Rin’s friend and senpai (mentor).
Each of the girls are pretty messed up as we discover in the later arcs. For awhile I thought this anime was going to go School Days and end up with everyone killing each other. While it gets very dark, it doesn’t go Shakespearean.
Shuffle!’s girls fall into the usual roles: the shy girl, the extrovert, the sisterly, the lolita, the pervy friend. The reveal of the dark side of the girls is rather abrupt. There is very little foreshadowing or hints that each of them has a dark past or problem.
Being that this is a seinen anime, there are plenty of panty pranks, boobs, awkward but funny situations, and something most harem comedies lack: heart. Sounds sappy, I know, but this anime actually has characters that are heartfelt. While there is still the borderline misogynistic elements (such as the girls proving themselves as wife material through their cooking), the anime has endearing life to the way the characters behave. They are coy, vulnerable, flirtatious, yet strong. They also moved away from the co-dependence they have for Rin.
The fan service got old. The panty pranks wore thin after a time. Although some of them were funny and even charming. There isn’t any action to speak of. This is a dating anime after all. Some of the arcs, like Primula’s, felt odd in the pacing. The animation quality was good quality for the main characters. There is a lot of detail, but the supporting cast suffers a bit. The soundtrack is pretty forgettable.
I was pleasantly surprised with Shuffle! I didn’t expect to enjoy this anime since I normally don’t like excessive panty shots, sexual jokes, or fan service. This one struck a fair balance. Although stereotypical, the characters held my attention. I even found myself rooting for Asa ( hoping she would knock some sense into the clueless and blind Rin). I enjoyed how the characters also grew up and awakened to the people around them. It also shows the consequences of Rin choosing one girl over all others.
Shuffle! is funny and heartfelt. It’s worth a watch.
On a side note, I can see why harem anime are popular. It is quite difficult to establish a romantic relationship. It is typically up to the guy to pursue. In harem comedies, the roles are reversed. In Shuffle! the girls pursue the guy: they mostly plan the dates, and they even initiate the kiss. As I guy, I get tired of the expectation that I must do all the planning, pursuing, and initiating (although I know that isn’t true; the societal expectations are there). While harem anime are often misogynistic, they appeal to guys more because males want to be pursued. Harems target males ages 30-40. Most of whom are married or dating and have work where they have to pursue clients.
They provide an outlet for the male desire to be awkward, vulnerable, and, yes, fawned after. You will notice that in most harem anime the guy is normal looking. They are neither handsome or special. It allows these stressed guys to escape into a world that lets them relax from always being the leader. It is the opposite of what a normal day is like for the target demographic. That is the escape and the appeal.