Shuffle!

shuffleRin Tsuchimi leads a difficult life. Apart from sharing a house with Kaede, his doting, fussy childhood friend, but his life gets turned upside down when two young women — princesses no less! — arrive on the scene and ask Rin to marry one of them. Rin’s world has become a second home to demons and gods/goddesses, who have peacefully coexisted with humans after making contact with our world. Nerine (daughter of the King of Demons) and Sia (daughter of the King of Gods) have come to Earth and vie for Rin’s love and eventual hand in marriage. Shuffle! is more or less a slice of life adventure, focusing on Rin’s interaction with Sia and Nerine, along with other women who cross paths with our hapless hero, and the effect these interactions have on Kaede, who struggles to find a place within Rin’s now busy life. The question on everyone’s mind is: Who will Rin choose?!

In its original form, Shuffle! was a PlayStation 2 video game that had more than its fair share of adult themes and situations. While I can’t say much to the content of the game, the anime features plenty of  fan service paid to the female characters, so expect panty shots, semi-sexual situations, bikinis, and a few bare breasts. While there is nothing explicitly sexual in the series, there is a bizarre sequence involving Rin hiding underneath a table occupied by his friend, Asa, who proceeds to playfully press the young man’s face against her crotch. Each episode focuses on Rin’s day to day interactions with the women in his life who find ways to keep maintain his interest. His school life is mired by a gaggle of Kaede groupies, including the KKK (Knights of the Kissy Kaede, not “the guys with the sheets!”) who have it out for the boy, giving him chase whenever possible. At home, Rin shrinks under the watchful, yet overly encouraging, eyes of Sia’s and Nerine’s fathers.

Shuffle! is everything you’d expect from a harem romantic comedy and while the idea of a world populated by friendly gods and demons is an interesting set up, the series is a tasteless entry in an already crowded genre. Rin easily settles into the established archetype of the kind, gentle soul oblivious to the advances of the women around him who tries very hard to please everyone at the expense of his own happiness. The female characters, who exist only to give Rin romantic options, also take on familiar roles such as “the sporty girl,” “the sensible girl” and “the flirty girl.” Shuffle! feels like its working off a template and checklist, hitting all of the expected marks of the genre while leaving little to the imagination.

There are a few narrative threads throughout the twenty four episode run, including the identity of Nerine’s sister Primula and how Sia, Nerine, and Kaede’s childhood experiences with Rin influenced the type of woman each has since become. For the most part, however, there’s very little conflict outside misunderstood advances and flaring emotions as the girls spend most of their time playing Ms. Susie Homemaker. And that brings up a thought I just can’t let go: the women in Shuffle! come off as incredibly hyper subservient to a point that bothered me. As each episode presents each woman’s attempt to win over Rin by bending over backwards for him, the series reveals doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that it nothing more than animated male fantasy and nothing more. I recognize that it is typical for women in the genre to exhibit this behavior, but here it seems so much more pronounced.

The harem romantic comedy genre is vast and I find it difficult to recommend Shuffle! outright because of its blandness. It had the potential to be something interesting, but it falls short in the end mainly for a number of reasons: the constant fawning over Rin grows weary, the ending is a bit of a cop out, and the final few episodes feature an odd turn involving demon experimentation. Shuffle! would easily find a place in any otaku’s collection, but those with more discerning taste (or overcrowded DVD shelves) might consider giving this series a pass.

Shuffle!
Funimation, 2011
directed by Naoto Hosoda
600 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, Season set
Company Age Rating: 17

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