We Never Learn – Harem endings are for cowards

I’ve made this confession once before, but I’ll go ahead and make it again; towards the end of last year while writing my top ten anime of the year list. Ever since the first season of Kaguya Sama: Love is War ended and I needed to know what was going to happen; I fell into a deep manga hole. One I’d say I am comfortably circling the rim of these days.

It’s strange though, despite my childlike attraction to all of these action shows when watching anime, when it comes to Manga, I’m almost exclusively drawn to comedy, romance and whatever you call that weird combination of the two.

As I pour through so many of these manga, I inevitably find that a ton of these Comedic Romances also happen to be harem stories. Ones in which a (milquetoast) protagonist finds himself having to chose between a number of girls who have all fallen in love with him by the time the story finally reaches its conclusion. Something I had fun about poking holes in last year when I was just still getting familiar with the genre.

We Never Learn - Harem endings are for cowards
There was a 2 season anime adaptation that rushes to a conclusion pretty similar to the one we got in the manga proper some time later.

Having read a bunch more of these stories since then, and seen many of my favourites reach a conclusion in that time, I have found a new source of frustration with the genre: Where a Mangaka can’t just pick an ending and stick with it.

Part and parcel of writing a Romantic Harem Comedy is dividing your readership into factions, and then pissing 25% or more of them off when you pick a final girl and end the story. People are going to be mad their favourite didn’t get picked, but that’s the risk of the game son. You can’t please everyone.

Except some madhead’s go and break the rules and try to do it anyway.

We Never Learn - Harem endings are for cowards
What happened to this guy, he went softer faster than a stick of butter left out in the sun.

The thing that really got me started on this was the conclusion of Bokutachi wa Benkyou ga Dekinai! Called We Never Learn in English. This series was just about the most generic harem series I think I’d ever read, doing everything by the numbers and not especially going out of any comfort zones throughout its 150 chapters. I still liked it though, the major thing it did have going for it being that it’s the only Harem I’ve read in which I actually liked all of the love interests.

I wouldn’t have minded Yuiga ending up with any of them, as I liked all of the girls for different reasons, and Taishi Tsutsui’s simplistic, cute art-style went a long way in helping that. So when our hero did pick the most obvious girl he could of, I was like “yeah, that seems about right.” I mean, the writer didn’t break the mould in any regard during the story, why would he start with the ending?

Except, while the story ended… the manga didn’t. Before I knew what was happening there were eight more chapters retelling the ending, except this time Yuiga ended up with a different one of the girls… and it kind of bothered me.

We Never Learn - Harem endings are for cowards

Maybe I’m being irrational. But part and parcel of telling this kind of story is having your cake and then pointedly not eating it too. You pick a girl and risk the wrath of the angry otaku who rage that their Tsundere or the reserved/shy girl that must be protec didn’t get the happy ending. Telling a parallel reality story for each girl kind of feels like a cop out to me.

Sure, the Mangaka says that the Uruka is the “canon” ending to the story, but at this point, when the story is already over, “canon” is kind of a meaningless word. It seems weird that people are getting excited to see their favourite girl’s “route”, even though it could be the final one presented, by which point I kind of feel like Yuiga is kind of a creep for being with all of these girls one after another.

Kind of makes him seem like a flake in that he falls for whichever girl happens to be there at the time. I know, parallel realities and all that, but seeing these stories back to back to back, I can’t help but feel that way. But I’m a weirdo whose obsessed with integrity of story and following through with an ending you had planned from the very beginning.

We Never Learn - Harem endings are for cowards

And maybe that’s one of my other problems with these types of stories, I get the impression that a lot of the time the writer themselves don’t even know which girl they’re going to pick by the end, and find themselves swayed by the popular discourse and end up shying away from something they had originally had planned. Again, I don’t know if that’s every actually the case, I just get that impression.

At the end of the day, I kind of feel like this is some weird personal bugbear I have to deal with. I feel the same way about a lot of video games and people who save-scum narrative games akin to Telltale’s old stuff and Life is Strange. I always like to think I’d consume a story that’s just fully formed and ready to go from its inception. Which I know for a fact is not the case with Manga and how they release.

We Never Learn - Harem endings are for cowards
Also, Ogata’s route had ghosts for some reason.

In the end, It’s the price I need to pay for filling my cute quota and staving off the depression for another day. Because, as much as I am complaining, I felt the “Ogata route” was a better ending for me than the original one. So it’s a case of swings and round-abouts in the end; I complain about storytelling integrity, but enjoy the additional stories anyway. Although, if I had to pick between the two I’d still prefer one, solid, conclusive ending as opposed to a “please everyone, dancing in the flowers” approach.

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