Having seen Michio source a slave and successfully sex her, my personal (perhaps unreasonable) hope for Harem Labyrinth was that it might be able to move onto something resembling an actual storyline, or character arcs, or anything, really. Surely that made my disappoint mostly my own fault as Michio and Roxanne rose from the previous night’s roll in the hay to immediately launch into an exhaustively mundane explanation of game mechanics played over dimly-lit but half-decently-animated scenes of them dressing up in their adventuring gear. It really is an “I don’t know what I expected” situation; This, for all intents and purposes, is the show, and while I can clearly recognize that there is an audience here for this specific flavor of vaguely horny tedium, I can’t for the life of me understand what there is that they actually enjoy about it.
This is technically the “best” episode of Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World I’ve seen so far, not because it’s at last become especially interesting at this point, because it hasn’t, but because it at least seems to have comfortably settled into its vibe. Michio no longer has the specific goal of buying Roxanne that he has to work his way up to, so now the compulsory couple venture into the Labyrinth to slay monsters and earn experience and treasure because…they can? It’s an awkward aside aspect of this story’s world being specifically rooted in game design, as with so many other isekai series, that so many elements of it like the Labyrinth are included simply for the characters to interact with on a surface level. That is, there isn’t yet any sense of mystery or narrative thrust centered on the Labyrinth itself, it simply exists to be farmed as a resource by our main characters as adventurers.
Sure, in lieu of tromping aimlessly around this dungeon, Michio and Roxanne could be taking on posted jobs to rescue people or exterminating monsters that were troubling civilians. But engaging in acts of more demonstrably heroic adventuring like that might impress the need for some sense of urgency to our characters’ proceedings, and Harem Labyrinth is having none of that. No, the story needs the option to take that kind of downtime to laboriously explaining still more game mechanics to the viewers who, seemingly, find this sort of thing more interesting than any sort of actual narrative thrust. So we get Roxanne tutorializing Michio on the color-changing value mechanics of magical crystals, which would still be boring but at least moderately useful to know in the context of a game we were playing ourselves. But as technical flavor for a non-interactive narrative, it just begs the question of why We need to spend so much time detailing this, unless the answer really is “There wouldn’t be enough content to fill the episode otherwise”.
The uses for crystals also ties into this episode’s demonstration of job classes, which includes some earlier discussion about different jobs only being utilizable by certain races. It does spawn a fundamentally flawed explanation of how dwarves working as blacksmiths are just inherently untrustworthy, all clearly in service of manufacturing more consent for Michio to simply buy his own dwarf later on, but we’ll enslave that bridge when we come to it. Absent that forced-companionship foreshadowing, these kinds of details only work to establish a clear ‘gameplay loop’ for how we’re observing the pair’s activities, as Michio makes his dog-wife fetch sticks in the Labyrinth by day before they come home and have some hilariously-censored sex that’s so vanilla it makes late-night Cinemax softcore look downright kinky by comparison.
And as much as I can recognize Harem Labyrinth‘s confidence in codifying that structure, it also clearly speaks to the downright depressing lack of ambition on its part. Part of me wonders if that’s an element of some fetish being catered to here, taking spicy fantasy contexts and arranging them to be as boringly domestic as possible. This is a series that handed its self-insert main character the role of an all-powerful adventurer, only to present that as a money-accruing daily grind, while the ‘sex slave’ he simply earned the role of an uncontestedly-pleasant wife he can smooch at home. What does it say about the desperate degrees of otaku passions that even this hardcore power fantasy of video-game adventures and wish-fulfilling sex-slaves boils down to “I would like steady employment and a spouse I get along with.”?
I could momentarily distract myself from my own spiraling efforts to reckon with this show’s tone thanks to the fact that there were, against all odds, actually some bits I appreciated in this week’s Harem Labyrinth. We at last get some background information on Roxanne, for one! It’s not a lot, just an aside mention of the fact that she had trouble in a previous party she was (presumably consensually) a newcomer in. This was seemingly on account of her other team members not understanding the skillset she had well enough to allow her to most effectively contribute to the party composition, which in turn is the reason she likes serving under Michio so much more: He is able to’ use’ her better. That’s a can-of-worms component that I don’t know I need to break all the way down as it’s just been introduced here, but it’s at least some sort of dynamic, apart from all the other ‘moments’ the couple have throughout this episode which consisted of Michio doing something amazing without explanation while Roxanne tells him how amazing he is. And while the job-skill-menu stuff is as tedious as ever, as a premiere punch-wife appreciator I can at least confirm I enjoyed seeing Roxanne’s equipping of the monk skillset providing a decently-presented bit of her beating a tree to death. This, to me, is the real fanservice.
But even those moments of life still can’t elevate the deathly dull package that Harem Labyrinth still is overall. Even with the addition of Roxanne to all aspects of the “action”, the fundamental problem persists: A Let’s Play is only as interesting as the people playing it, and neither the personalities of these characters nor the way they’re playing the game is particularly engaging. Tooling around with menus in an RPG between battles already feels like homework when I’m controlling it, so watching someone else negotiate those mechanics, in damn-near real time, is simply not compelling television. No matter how many awkwardly-blocked scenes of Michio washing Roxanne’s boob sweat are waiting at the end to be fast-forwarded to.
Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freewheeling Fresno-based freelancer with a love for anime and a shelf full of too many Transformers. He can be found spending way too much time on his Twitterand irregularly updating his blog.