The reputation surrounding harem anime is understandably not an extremely positive one. Most harem shows boil down to a series of cardboard cutout anime waifus falling in love with a moron that they have no reason to be attracted to, then hijinks ensuing. The story itself is just wacky scenarios that builds to nothing except for fanservice.
But that makes the few diamonds in the rough shine all the brighter.
On paper, Quintessential Quintuplets (which I shall refer to as QQ for the sake of ease) is yet another one of these harem shows. Oh look, five identical girls are falling for our cardboard protagonist! Look how cute and/or sexy they are (ignore the fact that they’re in high school because anime)! It’s a premise that could very easily fall flat on its face.
Aaaand… it’s kind of great.
For those who haven’t seen the show yet, let me give a brief synopsis. Our protagonist, Uesugi Futaro, is an honor student part-timing as a tutor to help support his poor family. One day, he’s hired by a rich family to help five identical quintuplets with terrible grades turn it around. Unfortunately, not only are they completely hopeless, but they get off on the worst possible foot! This whole story is told in the past tense, framed as Futaro’s memories as he makes his way to the alter to marry the one of the five to win the war of romance.
Now, this show doesn’t avoid the harem show staples. There are plenty of wacky and semi-erotic situations that our characters end up falling into. We’ve got a pair getting stuck in a storage shed, accidentally sleeping together, walking in on them during/after the shower, so on and so forth. It is still a harem rom-com, after all.
But there are two aspects to this story that make it genuinely engaging rather than uncomfortable and annoying.
Aspect #1: the wedding. That single framing device fixes the single biggest problem all romantic anime share: meandering. So many romantic stories just keep going on and on and on without building up to anything. It’s just a bit of comedy here, some drama there, then slap a quick resolution together and pick a pairing. If you ever get to that point at all.
QQ dodges that bullet by establishing right away that they’re building to something. Before the story even truly begins, we know that it is going to have an actual resolution. We now have an endgoal to work towards rather than an almost endless road we can wander down forever.
The story builds up towards this premise really well! As it progresses, we get the occasional cutaway to the future wedding, slowly giving us clues as to who was going to end up with Futaro. It puts the story on a set of rails, then says “Ease back, relax, and watch these teenagers act like a bunch of idiots because romance”.
Speaking of those idiots: let’s talk about the characters! What cardboard cutout anime girl tropes are we…
…huh. They’re… actually pretty well-written and compelling. Is that allowed in this genre?
Futaro sets himself apart from most harem protagonists for two reasons. One: he’s not a moron. The dude’s an honor student among honor students. He’s been forced to grow up fast because his only parent is an irresponsible father and he’s got a baby sister to look after. So, with no other option, he got smart and started making cash.
Two: he’s kind of a colossal asshole. He looks at teenage youth and romance with disgust, actively shows off his grades in passive-aggressive manners, straight-up insults a girl on her weight, and is spiteful enough to study on a subject just so he can be smarter than someone else. It’s pretty easy to see why he doesn’t have any friends; the dude is just a total dickhead!
Why then, you may ask, does a collection of rich girls suddenly fall in love with him? Well, it’s not just because he oozes protagonist pheromones. He actually earns their feelings through his actions. Sure, he’s a total ass. But when push comes to shove, he can be a good person. One that helps the girls out in just the way they need.
Speaking of them, all five of the quintuplets are just as well written as our main boy. All five of them have a fun dynamic relationship. Outspoken fashion-diva and popular girl Nino, shy and feudal-Japan obsessed Miku (best girl, fight me), independent and determined glutton Itsuki, Ichika the sarcastic mocking would-be Cupid, and the every plucky and athletic Yotsuba. All five of them have enough going on in their own lives, completely separated from Futaro, to be interesting, likable, and… well, genuine. They feel like actual characters rather than a collection of waifus.
Which has lead to one of the bloodiest waifu wars of recent years. May god have mercy on the fallen…
These six characters build their relationship as the story goes on. It’s not just ‘they fall in love with him instantly for no reason’. For a large portion of the story, Futaro and the girls are at each others throats! The audience actually gets to see them grow closer, learning more about each other and developing more complex feelings than just ‘seething loathing’ or ‘dizzying love’.
Plus, it adds extra weight to the eventual wedding. We truly see every step these characters take together. When you see them about to step onto the alter, then go back to when they did nothing but scream at each other? It gives the character development all the more impactful, painting a clear journey for our characters to take.
Is it absolutely incredible? No. It’s not the kind of story that’s going to make you reflect on your own life because of the interesting themes presented. Nor is it going to make you sob like a baby. In the end, it is still a story about five identical anime girls falling in love with a dude.
But is it damn well executed and fun to watch? Oh, absolutely! I’d say that this is one of the best stories this genre has to offer!
Not that the bar is very high…