At its best, it's brilliant and savage. It's hammering a stake through the heart of its pathetic, twitching genre. I adore what it's saying. At the same time, though, it's embracing the cliches in order to undercut them, which can make it a mildly uncomfortable viewing experience. It's funny, but sometimes it'll make you cringe.
The first half of ep.1 is a massive fake-out. It's setting up an old-school harem anime. Joro is an Oblivious Nice Guy who just wants to help his buxom childhood friend (Himawari) and beautiful student council president (Cosmos). Obviously they're in love with him. Obviously he'll never realise. He's got the sex drive of a small pebble and he's incapable of choosing. Twelve episodes will pass in a fog of female romantic obsession, because the anime industry loves nice guys who'd be incapable of getting a girlfriend in the real world!
The show then lights all that on fire and walks away laughing. Joro's nice guy facade is an act. He's a sleazebag who's playing the part of a perfect protagonist to get inside girls' knickers. Unfortunately, the people around him are equally two-faced and he's about to experience a whole lot of comedy failure.
The show has three phases:
EPISODES 1-3: GENUINELY NASTY
The fluffy cliches get undercut so viciously until by the end it's suggested that one character might have been about to rape another. What would really happen if you had that love pentangle? Yeah, quite possibly something like this. It's played for black comedy, yes, but it's also taking the characters' feelings seriously. Contrived love comedy situations like this are ten-a-penny in this anime genre, but for once we have a show that's actually digging into it.
EPISODES 4-10: PLAYING THE CLICHES STRAIGHT(ER)
The show gets warmer and less cynical. It also leans hard into cliches. After tearing the romantic comedy genre a bloody new arsehole in eps.1-3, slowly the girls realise that they're all falling in love with Joro after all. More girls show up. Joro's still two-faced and conniving, but his love interests either don't mind or actively like it. This can be hard to take when he's saying things like, "Every day, I have to face this braided, bifocaled, butt-ugly wench!"
It's a bumpy watch. There are moments when you'll be repelled, or at least not want to continue. The reason for Joro's about-face on Pansy in ep.4 makes him look like a piece of shit. (That's because he is. Boobs!)
If you take the show too literally, you'll struggle. Would these characters really do these things? Well, yes, up to a point, because the show's still taking its characters feelings more seriously than is normally permissible in the harem genre. Ultimately, though, all these girls are falling in love with Joro because it's mandatory and the audience just has to roll with it. That's the genre that's being skewered. At least the show's being self-aware and showing how contrived it is, e.g. THE BENCH and its remix of John Williams's Imperial March from Star Wars. Ditto for the baseball game that Joro ends up calling a space-time singularity. "Why didn't she make her debut in the first episode?"
That said, though, it's also a strong show. Even when it's zig-zagging between "good" and "ouch ouch ouch", Joro's shamelessness and extreme reaction shots make him funny and entertaining. The show's also fond of setting up stereotypical situations and then deconstructing them. Standard protagonist behaviour that the genre traditionally paints as noble will get dissected.
This show says things that needed to be said. Every single conflict in the series comes from someone lying to or manipulating their friends. Imagine this as a fluffier, platonic version of School Days, in which people get better rather than worse (and no one ends up dead).
It's also funny. You mustn't miss the recap ep.9.5, in which the voice-over actors go to town. They spill anecdotes about other cast members and stick a knife in implausible plot beats.
"The entire staff was committed to throwing the first half of the first episode down the drain."
"To retain viewers, I see they relied on panty shots."
"I was treated with surprisingly high-quality abuse. Decorated slippers and a golf course. A lot of preparation must have gone into that! It's, like, what time did they have to get to school to set that up?"
EPISODES 11-"15": THE NEXT LEVEL
A rival harem protagonist shows up, for new dimensions of genre deconstruction. He's nice. He's shiny. He's everything that Joro was pretending to be at the start of ep.1, but better.
The show has a lot to say about this.
I loved it. Genre conventions get ripped to shreds, e.g. the male best friend, or the girl who's secretly in love with you but puts aside her feelings to help you win another girl. I'm not convinced that Joro's final decision with his harem completely holds up to scrutiny, especially since it's undercutting the show's message, but there are further layers of motivation to come after that. Also note the not-so-hidden identity of the Final Girl. (To at least some degree, on some level. The show had been playing with that for ages, albeit apparently just for laughs.)
If you've never watched a harem anime, you'll think this is dumb trash. Personally, I thought it was kind of brilliant. It's savage and not always entirely convincing, but also a lot of silly fun. Joro's outrageous faces, its cast of loonies (e.g. Tanpopo in ep.10) and the things it says. This show deserves greater attention.