In a world where gods and demons have come to live alongside us, seventeen year old Tsuchimi Rin lives a normal life in the home of his childhood friend Kaede. Everything changes, however, when the kings of the gods and demons move in either side- since both have beautiful teenage daughters who believe that Rin promised to marry them many years ago! As Rin struggles to cope with his new, vastly more eventful life, he must unravel the secrets of the past and search deep within his heart to discover which of the girls he truly loves.
The archetype of the harem series, Shuffle brings us everything we would expect from the genre, starting with an unremarkable and perennially indecisive male lead surrounded by girls who all adore him for reasons that are largely unclear. Within that framework, we have the usual line-up of the childhood friend, the shy girl, the forward girl, the peppy yet secretly ill girl and of course the mysterious loli. By now, few anime fans will be unfamiliar with this setup, but even so, Shuffle remains an enjoyable series in its own right.
Taken one episode at a time, there is much to like about Shuffle; the lead may be ordinary, but unlike so many others, he isn’t dislikeable, whilst each of the girls has their own dynamic to add to the series. There’s humour, character development, fantasy elements and dark pasts to uncover, all woven into one story.
That being said, all is not well when we consider the story as a whole. In an attempt to load each girl’s story with poignancy and tragedy, a degree of repetitiveness is introduced to the story, making it impossible to care as much as one is supposed to. Also questionable is Rin’s final choice of girl, which, without giving too much away, is not only unexpected, but also extremely unsatisfactory.
As with all harem series, Shuffle has quite an extensive cast of characters, all of whom are likeable in spite of their somewhat predictable personalities. The core characters all receive development in their own mini-arcs, although, as mentioned above, it does get a bit much when everyone has a similarly tragic past. Supporting characters are obviously less developed, but help to add some variety to proceedings.
Visually, Shuffle is showing its age a bit, but the basic character designs remain aesthetically pleasing enough to be memorable even amongst the modern competition. Background music is largely forgettable, although it serves its purpose.
If you can accept its flaws and brace yourself for Rin’s disappointing final choice, there is much to enjoy about Shuffle. Take it episode by episode and it stands as an entertaining example of how to properly implement the standard features of the harem genre.