I'll admit, I love shows like Uta no Prince-sama and playing otome games; it's probably one of the more private things in my fandom life. Yet, despite my constant watching of harem and reverse harem anime, there's always been one thing that's bothered me as a completionist; no one ever wins.
We all know this going into a series, of course. We watch for a variety of reasons; you're just interested in the potential cuties, it's a show adapted off of a otome game you played or maybe you stumbled into it blindly amongst jungle of anime. And despite knowing this, there's always something off about classifying these shows as romantic.
Firstly, we need to acknowledge that a lot of these shows were dating sims in the first place; which makes total sense. At some point you'll end up on a route with one of the leading characters. But in an anime, our lead male or female is given a name, a personality and a background story that takes us completely out of the equation. This means that the character will be made to choose none of the romantic interests present.
Alongside this, he/she usually has a lot of "fate" attached to the romantic interests. A few common archetypes in these harems are the best friend since childhood, the super sweet one, the bad boy/girl, the isolated one and maybe the stoic, outgoing one. Some of them are mixed together or served plain, but you get the picture; they're usually all the same. In some way our main character finds themselves attracted to some kind of attribute, whether it be their history or the other's personality.
But what's worse is that you know some of these characters don't stand a chance with the lead. Not only because the lead is designed to be super vague and not at all interested in any of the surrounding characters, but also because their story lines don't keep up. They either get one or two episodes to really stand out and then dissipate into the background; we see this when fan favorites get more screen time.
Why do we still include these characters? Take Uta no Prince-sama, for example. Ittoki is probably my favorite character in the series, and yet I know he stands no realistic chance. He's super sweet and kind, but his story line has nothing to do with Haruka. Or Kurusu, who doesn't really have anything in common with our lead; why is he there?
We include them because they add a depth to a story and some people, such as myself, still fan over them. The same could be said for shows like Haganai where it's clear some of these girls wouldn't be taken as serious love interests; if you say his little sister is a serious competitor I have no choice but to report you to the loli police.
Sometimes we even feel that a character should definitely end up with a certain person; it's meant to be in our eyes, right? I felt that way with Nisekoi between Chitoge and Raku. However, I've since met fans who disagree and feel that Onodera would have been a better choice; that's sort of the thing with anime harem anime, we all have our own opinion.
While this will continue to annoy me to the grave, you can bet that you'll still see me watching reverse and regular harems as they come out. Because regardless of what they seem to lack, some of those characters are just too cute to ignore.