Review: Oreimo Season OnePosted: April 19, 2013
I figured that I’d also need to review the series after writing about it in My Little Religion Can’t Be This Cute.
2.5 out of five stars. It’s not entirely bad, mostly due to the supporting cast, but it has several faults. The main character is one, and the odd coyness about the actual theme of the show as opposed to describing otaku culture is another. I don’t want to say missed opportunity, but it comes close.
Kyousuke has a problem. He doesn’t really like his little sister, who excels in looks, wealth, academics, and life in general. He’s reconciled to their frosty relationship, but one day things change. He finds out that his sister is a closet otaku, and worse, one who focuses on a particularly nasty piece of fandom; little sister games. He’s dragooned into helping keep her secret, but instead, he winds up helping her integrate her otaku side into her everyday side. He might just repair his relationship with her and make some friends in the bargain too.
The idea sounds good. Why not twist the sis-com fetish into something a girl likes, and make the boy the nurturing helper? It’s done with faithful attention to otaku trends, down to eroge pc-games and other paraphenalia as well as touching upon mainstream attitudes towards them. But why then is it only partially satisfying?
I think the biggest problem is Kirino. The anime tries to have it both ways. Kirino is a particularly bad embodiment of what’s called a tsundere. Tsunderes are mostly women who run hot and cold; their default mode is insulting and brash, but with the right person they get all fuzzy cute. She’s a stereotype of one of the little sisters in siscom fandom, and the anime literally references this by having her play an erogame where a younger avatar based on herself berates her as she does Kyou. The thing is though, she’s not likable because she’s mostly all tsun. Shes selfish, very slow to show gratitude, uses Kyou as a servant, and even physically hurts him several times. One of my pet peeves in fiction is having women beat up on men and it simply slide by. If you get headbutted or kicked in the groin, it hurts no matter who does it, and Kirino’s attitude to her brother sometimes comes across as borderline abusive.
Kyou himself isn’t the best character either. He comes across as warm and affirmative, but the anime suggests that Kirino possibly might be the way she is happened because Kyou emotionally abandoned her, and is more comfortable with his surrogate in Manami’s family than his own. There might be some justification to this, as it seems his own family doesn’t respect him all that much at times, but it’s there. There’s also the whole Manami issue, where he’s kind of using her for a sister surrogate when it’s obvious she likes him more than that. He’s also abused so much that he seems to be a doormat. Why reconcile with a sister like this? The two main characters aren’t really all that endearing, and it hurts the anime a bit.
What also hurts it is a weird coyness the anime has. The main idea is for a brother and sister to reconcile, right? Yet it wastes its time on pointless episodes about Kirino becoming an author and getting her work animated, and the reconciliation comes out of the blue in the last two episodes. Most of their interactions feel like clearing the routes of a bad girl game, and I assume it’s intentional. I’m not sure that it’s satisfying though, because it feels more like a commentary on things than an actual reconciliation.
It’s also coy about the past of all the characters. This might be because there’s a lot of them. and the supporting cast is pretty good. You’ll get the most entertainment out of the series by watching each character interact with each other, rather than the main plot. Kirino’s frenemy the short, deadpan gothic lolita Kuroneko is a particular standout, as she dominates every scene she’s in, and unlike Kirino seems far more human despite her acidic wit. Yet for all of this, we know very little about why she is this way. There’s obviously some history, and the anime hints at her home life, but all it does is hint.
Same with other characters. Ayase for one has a dark side that’s hinted at, yet never amplified. The unfortunately named Saori Vajeena is a cipher beyond being helpful. It seems what you know about the characters is mostly what’s needed for the plot, but they are such fun characters that you want to know more about them. They have personalities, but little history.
It’s also coy about the whole little sister thing. We’re talking about an entire genre of anime, games, and erotic games and doujinshi about little sisters as romantic and sexual interests. There’s very little talk about why Kirino likes these games, and why she seems to have latched onto them as a form of identity. If it were Kyou, it would seem more natural because he regrets his relationship with his sister, and these kind of games tend to be followed as much as an idealization of a relationship with a dependent, younger girl as much as baser reasons. But Kirino is like Sena in Haganai, in which she latches on to something cross-type but with even less explanation why.
It makes for a frustrating anime to watch. It’s appealing with its character interactions at times, (and Kuroneko is surprisingly cute) but it comes across as scattershot, and more about otaku-dom in general than the relationship between Kyousuke and Kirino. Yet it’s not really a commentary on them, in the same way the manga I Don’t Like You Very Much, Big Brother is. If you can stomach the raunchiness of the latter, it’s more about what would happen if women embraced anime stereotypes, and how men couldn’t deal with it and women’s sexuality at all without retreating into celibacy or fantasy. But Oreimo tends to show otaku culture and mildly defends it, and it’s not really satisfying to watch on that level either. It’s still enjoyable in its own way, but it would be more satisfying if it tied up a lot of loose ends and picked a clear direction to follow.
For Christians, it’s tough to rate. There’s very little nudity, with an fighting game screen having partial obscured nudity, and one scene of clothing reveal with Kirino as she’s knocked down. The siscom stuff is there, but it’s not heavily described as opposed to shown and commented on. But this is where being an otaku is a disadvantage, because the series is essentially treating a like for brother/sister…well, incest, as a part of otakudom. If you’re a deep otaku yourself, you understand how a lot of these things are sublimation for others, and you wonder if a lot of it is a reflection on the brokenness of Japanese culture where otaku have to sexualize possibly the only healthy male-female relationship they’ve ever had. But there are a lot of aspects of otaku culture that are repulsive, and despite the kid gloves, shows about sister complexes are one of them.
I’d probably have to slap the NC-17 label on it simply because of mature themes. If you like anime, at some point you find one that goes beyond the surface and starts to reveal dark aspects of the otaku culture. Many people turn away from anime when they are revealed, and I can’t say I blame them. I think really only Christians who were serious otaku before conversion, or who can look critically at it while not falling prey to the mindset could probably navigate it. Essentially its a standard story with a theme that is distasteful, but hovering just in sight.
So take this as you will. A series to contrast this with is Please Twins!, which has a stronger male lead, uses uncertainty of relationship as the sense of the drama, and while packing in some fan service redresses a lot of the issues I had with Oreimo. It’s also NC-17, but attacks the idea of sis-com from a different angle.