Are you an H.P. Lovecraft fan? If so, take the following test! Which of the following is Nyarlathotep?
(a) the Crawling Chaos with a thousand faces, walking the Earth as the oldest god of ancient Egypt, as an avatar of the Devil and as the Black Messenger of Karneter. One day, he will arise and resurrect the dead.
(b) a Japanese schoolgirl called Nyaruko who's in love with a human boy (Mahiro) and keeps offering him her body even though he doesn't like her and keeps stabbing her with forks. They live in a house with Cthugha (a lesbian who keeps throwing herself at Nyaruko) and Hastur (a girl who's really a boy, but he'd like to have Mahiro's babies anyway). These girls often talk in a manner never heard outside porn and bad anime.
If you answered (b), then congratulations! You've been watching this anime!
I watched this because the idea seemed irresistible. H.P. Lovecraft's monsters, gods and unspeakable abominations in the form of Japanese schoolgirls! That's got to be brilliant, surely? Even Tomoko was curious, being a Lovecraft fan, but she decided against watching it on seeing the character designs. What's more, everything she's since heard has only reinforced her belief that exposure to this show would cause her pain. I don't think she'd have even got past the opening credits. Personally I love both of this show's title sequences (one for each series), but that bouncy music would have had her hammering nails through her eardrums.
What did I think? Well, obviously it's trash. There are harem anime I like, but this is lazy, sleazy, unbelievable and even depressing if you reflect that this is presumably seen as an acceptable way to fill 24 episodes. People don't do this. Nyaruko and Cthugha are in love with someone, so they make open sexual invitations to the object of their desires! Over and over again! For 24 episodes! They're not dissuaded by rejection, or even by being stabbed with forks. Never do they waver in their devotion to their One True Love... well, except in series two, when the show decides that it hasn't been pandering enough to the audience and so mega-lesbian Cthugha joins the queue to try to have Mahiro's babies.
I could, perhaps, have believed in this had the show been presenting it as the consequence of an alien mindset that doesn't understand humans and is creeping the hell out of Mahiro. However it's not. They're just girls. The show's characterising them as ordinary (if energetic) girls, but from space and given the job of defending the Earth.
Yes, you read that right.
The frustrating thing is that sometimes it's better than that. Half the time, it's just stupid harem trash. I love the basic idea and I even came to be fond of the characters, who have their quieter and more sincere moments. It's just the one-track innuendo and porn dialogue that I couldn't believe, along with the show's conviction that this is an infinite source of comedy.
However the Lovecraftian lore is actually accurate, when they choose to use it. Quite a lot of the Cthulhu mythos gets an airing here, even if the first series especially tends to undercut its monsters by having them obsessed with manga, video games and other otaku-bait. (One scheme to violate the Earth is in order to stock up on pornographic computer games, for instance.) Occasionally they'll even be spooky. This show refuses to do horror, alas, but it doesn't mind transporting us to realms where crows caw from a grey sky, bells toll and our heroes find themselves in gore-splashed alleys in a suddenly empty city. We visit R'lyeh. We go off-world to a sanity-blasting library. There's a character called Clark Ashton Smith. This show knows its Lovecraft lore better than you probably do, in fact, and I'd have been going berserk for all this had the show been exploiting the tension between the horror and the harem comedy. (The best episodes are near the beginning and end of each season.)
It wouldn't even have hurt for the Lovecraftian beings had been allowed to be a bit more foetid, blasphemous, daemoniac, gibbous and hideous. They look and sound right, but they're just going to look like random aliens if they're just wandering down the street or browsing in the library.
Besides, the show's often funny. It'll do Lovecraftian jokes, while I even quite liked the characters when they weren't thinking with their groins. It also has lots of throwaway parodies. I spotted barely ten per cent, but I was still amused by, for instance, Nyaruko's Pokemon in episode one or the Bewitched parody that opens season two.
In its defence, the show also isn't trying to be wank material. The nudity is blandly drawn and family-friendly, as opposed to something like Cat Planet Cuties or Sekirei, while the main characters aren't bra-busters. The brief lolicon moment in episode W8 was alarming, but that's just a shapeshifted Shantak. (Nyaruko has a pet Shantak, as seen in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. It usually looks like a cat-sized hippo with bat wings.)
I also didn't believe in Mahiro, or even find him particularly likeable for quite a long time. He's a boy of high school age, yet he never shows the slightest interest in having sex with hot willing girls. (Note: Japan's age of consent is 13.) It's harem anime cliche instead of characterisation. Again, I could have believed this had the show been saying that he was terrified, disgusted and/or sanity-blasted by these agents of extraterrestrial horror... but, of course, the show's too busy milking cliches to do anything that might actually be psychologically convincing.
I don't like the forks. They just seem stupid to me. More importantly, though, they also give Mahiro the upper hand over the girls and hence neutralise potential Lovecraftian horror.
This is a bad, pandering, annoying show. However struggling to get out from underneath that is a show I rather like. The characters find depth and I ended up empathising with the four main leads and even becoming fond of them. (Well, when I wasn't being irritated.) Why do I like Cthugha so much? Am I identifying with her, perhaps? I'm still puzzling over that one. Besides, it's a light, witty, good-natured show that quite often made me laugh. "Nyaruhodo." If you're wondering what our heroines have under their skirts, the answer is "a chainsaw or missiles". You'll see the gag coming from miles off with Mum's return at the start of episode four, but it's so well-timed that you can't help laughing anyway.
Oh, and I like the fact that Nyaruko is oddly polite and well-spoken, in spite of her over-the-top personality and shameless behaviour.
This is a show of contradictions, simultaneously annoying and likeable. Sometimes it's even sweet. However I was crying out for the heroines to have occasionally gone around killing and eating people. This show has no victims, no dead and no sanity-blasted casualties. The last episode doesn't even really tie things up. Looking up other people's reactions online, it seems common to regard this show as amusing but nothing special, i.e. standard harem fare that's been thrown together from familiar ingredients. That says it all, really, although I'm getting scared now about the implications for what's considered normal in harem anime these days. In the end I developed a fondness for this show, but in several important respects it's a massive disappointment.