Love Hina Ruined Harem Anime for a Decade

John Ohno
3 min readNov 7, 2019

Periodic reminder that Ken Akamatsu, author of Love Hina, popularized (and maybe introduced) the trope of “what if we make the harem protagonist relatable by making him a sadsack who deserves violence against him not because of his actions — which are completely accidental — but because of some essential internal flaw that makes him useless”. This is an incredibly damaging trope, & seems to be based on a misunderstanding of Ataru’s role in Urusei Yatsura.

Like Ataru, Keitaro is cosmically unlucky & some people around him are annoyed by this. However, the women who like Ataru like him because something about him appeals to them (if shallowly), and they are annoyed with him because he is a shallow impulsive inconsiderate jerk.

Meanwhile, Keitaro’s harem accumulates around him because he’s the main character (or, in the rare instances when it’s explained in-story, because he showed a baseline of civil behavior — which, due to everything else he’s been doing, they shouldn’t accept). Multiple times an episode he gets punched into the sky for accidentally seeing someone who is walking around naked, & this is portrayed as a natural automatic reaction. Treating this as a natural & automatic reaction allows us to avoid the obvious conclusion: that, if these women believed (as they often claim) that Keitaro is a cunning pervert, they would not allow him to continue to stay at their residence, while if they did not believe that, then it would not be acceptable to hit him. Love Hina combines a weak excuse for domestic violence with a set of unbelievable deus-ex-machina coincidences and circumstances into a complex justification for a self-loathing author-insert to see nudity and get beaten up in a formulaic way without being morally in the wrong. It’s an extremely weak gag, a weak formula, and it encourages self-loathing otaku to imagine themselves in Keitaro’s place.

Because of Love Hina’s popularity, this formula made its way into almost all harem and harem-adjacent properties made after it, and it’s still common in isekai (which took up the role once straight harem shows started to die). It’s uncommon in the harem revival that is just now beginning, thank god.

There’s a lot to like about the harem genre outside of Love Hina and its lineage. You can wring a lot of drama out of basically well-meaning characters by using love triangles, since folks in the throes of limerence make poor decisions. Often, you’ll get harem protagonists who are a mix of…

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John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net