You all have your own opinions on this, so I’ll be brief about laying the foundation and get into the meaty theoretical crap. The premise is simple: as genre is refined and redefined, people start to take cue as to what’s the best way to pitch within a familiar context, and evoking the same feel to reach out to the same demographic. The parallel is drawn from the “genre innovation” model that describes the video gaming industry and Nintendo, so if you’re familiar with that, you should have a good foundation.
From a cynical perspective, it all resulted from some successes like Love Hina or Ranma 1/2, where these genre-breaking/creating masterpieces started a trend. Just like telling your friends that “Trinity Blood is kind of like Trigun” will automatically get some of them to check it out, even if it isn’t really like Trigun… When a show resembles a certain something popular it gives the creators the incentive to mimic.
And there’s nothing wrong with mimicry. But when a genre is so well-defined (enough for a wiki article but not enough for bright line rules) because of the excessive mimicking, that if you toss all the divisible elements of what makes a harem anime into a randomizer and when the result of this mad-lib returns as a familiar premise of a real show, something is wrong. It’s not just because it’s absurd, but it’s so absurd that the work stands not on a creative bedrock recognizable by law. (Or is it?)
Thankfully, there are many ways out of this trap, and I think the anime industry has long since started to climb out of. When people like myself with no prophetic powers can see that, it means others are probably annoyed as well. Tsuyokiss is one example: the harem narrative reversed on its head; a typical bishoujo game adaptation has been spun around by the anime’s core team to draw a familiar story. But even then, such an “obvious” trick doesn’t distinguish the trite attempts at entertaining in TonaGura, for example, with Tsuyokiss. When the dumb shtick slapstick becomes the defining characteristic of your show, you’re not going to go anywhere.
But I suppose what these two shows told me, more specifically, is that people are ready. Sure, shows like Shuffle and DearS may prey on the weak still, but when I see Higurashi or even Negima, the vibe is just slightly different. In as much as in a post-Love-Hina reality we no longer can do a shounen romance show without the harem taint, people are tired of that. People are looking for the same, patently haremic elements elsewhere (looking at the new round of SaiMoe for some clues)–Aria, Rozen Maiden, School Rumble, and Mai-Otome, just to name a few. We want the relationships, the characters, the lightheartedness, outside of the traditional harem context. For some it is the desexualization of the context (Rozen Maiden); or it’s the focus on mood without drama (Aria); or inversely just the drama (Mai-Otome); or even pure comedy with little anything else (School Rumble). These shows all contain, for practical purposes, “harems.” However they do not carry themselves structurally as so typically.
Here is where we’re at a loss. This MMORPG dude says where things are going for them. Where are we going?