It’s a sad fact that harem shows pretty much came and went with the ’90s. They’re cheesy, outdated, and pander to desperate guys. However, a few did manage to rise above the stigmas to stand among the iconic shows of today. Surely, many fans remember Love Hina and Tenchi Muyo fondly. Saber Marionette doesn’t command quite at that level of reverence.

Among older fans, Saber Marionette J is remembered fondly, but it seems to be a dying title, as the waves of change sweep over the anime landscape.

What is it?

Saber Marionette J is a science fiction comedy that’s set in the distant future. The story is set on Terra II: a planet in a distant star system populated only by men. Experiments in cloning were done to repopulate the female population, but the closest they came was Richard Simmons. Anyway, to fill the void left by the lack of ladies, Marionettes were invented. Marionettes are basically lifeless, soulless androids that are used to fill that void (and perform various household chores).

In the country of Japoness, Otaru Mamiya ekes out a living as a fishmonger. His life is turned upside-down when he discovers Lime, a marionette that is able to not only feel emotions, but act on her own. At the same time, war looms nearby as Gartland (basically an allegory for Nazi Germany) prepares to invade Japoness and begin a drive for world conquest. As one can expect, Otaru and Lime are caught in the middle, and are tasked with saving the world… or at least Japoness.

Why Was It Passed Up?

This is another one of those shows that was fairly popular when it originally hit. It was a harem show with a twist, and quality writing. The show did well enough to warrant an ultra-limited edition signed by character designer Tsukasa Kotobuki. However, as time went on, the harem fad died out, to be replaced by maid shows and later moe. The series was just a victim of changing times.

Why This Show?

Saber Marionette J is one of those shows that’s a relic of a not-too-distant past. It’s a product of the now-dead harem boom, I’ll admit. However, the writing, the characters, even the concept were leagues beyond a majority of the competition at the time. The show touched upon many deeper lying concepts, from mortality, to the question of humanity. Granted, there were the average “bad guy” figures – Lord Faust is a shameless allegory for a certain German dictator. However, this is more of a means to an end, as a vast majority of the show revolves around Otaru and the marionettes.

The series plays a find balancing act as it meanders between its light-hearted comedy aspects and heart-wrenching dramatic scenes. Segments that involve the marionettes learning about life and death are carried out with subtlety, but hit with the impact of a freight train.

Granted, a number of the old harem standbys are in full swing: Otaru still lives in a house with three attractive female figures. Various hinjinxs and humorous in-fights between the female (and flaming gay male) leads are common, and a lot of the typical tropes are adhered to. However, the strong writing and characterization more than make up for the missteps made.

Closing Thoughts

Saber Marionette J is one of the victims of a changing fanbase. While the show doesn’t break much new ground, it manages to deliver a great series that seems to balance its elements just right. The show spawned an OVA and a sequel TV series, but neither seemed to capture the same magic.