What’s it about? Kogarashi Fuyuzora is what he calls a “hands-on medium,” meaning he exorcises ghosts and spirits by punching them. He’s come to the Yuragi Inn, a former hot springs resort turned boarding house, to exorcise the spirit of a girl who drowned there years ago. When he gets there, he finds the Inn full of cute girls—including Yuuna Yunohana, the ghost he had come to exorcise! But he can’t punch a girl, even if she is a ghost! And on top of that, he really likes Yuuna! What’s a homeless teenage high school dropout to do?
CONTENT WARNING: NSFW screenshots; fanservice
No, no, no. I refuse to be nostalgic for this.
Do you remember Love Hina and its dozens of imitators? A hapless guy ends up surrounded by a half-dozen pretty girls who are all throwing themselves at him because of circumstances, reasons, or shenanigans. The girls are all pre-molded archetypes, including the tsundere, the submissive yamato nadeshiko, the one with the weapons, and the one with the boobs. The main character means well but he ends up accidentally walking in on the girls naked or falling on them a lot. I confess, as a teen I had a soft spot for harem shows, mostly because they had multiple female characters. But no more (unless it’s Tenchi Muyo! or Oh! My Goddess).
This kind of series was more-or-less phased out by the moe craze, which was then supplanted by the MMORPG-inspired isekai, which evolved to include happy slave girls. But Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Spring hearkens back to the quainter, more innocent harem series of yore, where the audience self-insert lead didn’t literally own any of the ladies.
No! I reject you, nostalgia! Begone from here! You are not welcome!
Sorry about that. It’s unfortunate that modern series make Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Spring look better by comparison, because it really isn’t very good at all. Yes, Kogarashi is primarily interested in helping Yuuna resolve her earthly attachments. Yes, it has some funny jokes. But don’t forget the real reason it’s here. It may have some pretense of a plot and comedy, but its primary aim is delivering shiny, bouncing anime titty directly to your eyeballs.
It’s actually quite convenient for the purposes of this review, since the problems with this kind of harem series are well-documented and easy to cover. I just have to dig back into my memory banks and pull up the same things I’ve said dozens of times before, instead of having to come up with all new arguments.
I’m personally of the opinion that it’s easier to ignore fanservice anime most of the time, because it’s not a productive discussion compared to talking about stories that do things well, or unpacking more subtle problematic elements than “lots of boobs and panties,” So, yes, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs delivers a lot of boobs and panties. Like, a lot. And you know what? If you like boobs and panties, I’m not going to take that away for you. But let’s talk about those other troubling elements.
One of the main problems here, and with many fanservice anime, is there’s an element of non-consent and humiliation added to the gaze. It doesn’t just fetishize their bodies, but the voyeurism of looking at them without their consent. Kogarashi accidentally sees Yuuna naked in the bath. He trips and falls on her, knocking her over so her yukata falls open and exposes her breasts. The camera peers up characters’ skirts as they sit, or flips them up briefly for a panty-shot.
If the main point were to show the characters’ bodies, this wouldn’t happen. They’d be happily cavorting naked in the bath, or just shamelessly wandering in states of undress. Rather, I firmly believe humiliation is part of the appeal. It juxtaposes their innocence and vulnerability with their sexualized bodies in a way that is fetishistic and dehumanizing, rather than a positive expression of sexuality. The characters aren’t sexual, but sexualized. That’s the reason why feminist media critics take aim at fanservice anime, not because we hate media aimed at men.
So, yeah. Not nostalgic. Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs may hearken back to a more innocent time than what we have now, but it sure isn’t innocent in and of itself.