Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall 2010 - OreImo

Translation: "My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute."

You guys remember Gobots, those less-advertised precursors to Transformers? Back in 1984, I got my first Gobot toy for Christmas, and I couldn't have been happier. It was also the first memory I have of when I was truly enraged at my youngest sister, as it was also the first time one of my toys had been broken just minutes after unwrapping it. As I looked at the broken Cy-Kill in my hands through teary eyes, I told myself that sisters were not cute at all—in fact, with three of them tag-teaming against me, I'd be in a verbal war with them for years.

While I've reconciled long ago and have been good friends with my sisters since high school, I've come to understand that personal hobbies seldom mesh well with younger siblings. Unless you both discover your interests at the same time, there's a good chance that your anime fix or your manga shopping sprees will just make your younger sister or brother roll their eyes. It's also a likely given that they won't call you "Nii-sama!" either.

Kirino on the phone. Remind you of your sister?

That's the reality we face in the new show My Litter Sister Can't Be This Cute (Ore no Imôto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, abbreviated into OreImo). Typical of many brothers his age, Kyôsuke doesn't see eye-to-eye with his middle-school sister Kirino—he's just jumps through the hoops at school in a plain fashion, while Kirino is more of a hipster girl, big on fashion and talking on the phone. However, an accidental discovery of an anime DVD case holding an erotic visual novel suddenly forces the tsundere Kirino into an awkward admission—she's a total closet otaku for anime and erotic visual novels.

Kyôsuke comes to a jarring realization that he knows very little about Kirino—after she floods his senses with her knowledge of the moe anime Stardust Witch Meruru and lolicon games, he discovers her need for guidance, as she's not even sure how she started enjoying them. Kirino does admit one thing; this is flat-out NOT some latent big-brother complex she has for Kyôsuke, despite the piles of "little-sister" games she has. While Kyôsuke could easily freak out, he opts to help her out as an older brother in order to keep his high-school life peaceful and to help Kirino be a little more comfortable with her lifestyle.

Does your sister react to eroge this way?

The light novel's illustrator Hiro Kanzaki has been retained for character designs, and the softer pastels brought to his characters add some good life to a colorful supporting cast. As Kirino is introduced to the Akiba subculture, she's also led out of the shadow of online communities and into more public forums. She starts to interact with two female otaku—Saori, a swirly-eyed meganekko who embraces her nerd lifestyle with colorfully-archaic language, and "Kuroneko", a lolita boys'-love fan whose own icy nature clashes with Kirino's.

Both side characters and the supporting cast do a good job at creating stability with their arguments for and against Kirino's obsession, as the story definitely needs some sanity to keep from hurtling off at a scary tangent. The precarious "Brother-X-Sister" relationship has been skirted in the likes of Durarara!!, AkiSora, kissxsis, and Yosuga no Sora already this year, so OreImo is already tap-dancing on a pretty active landmine. When presented with these taboos, both Kyôsuke and Kirino sensibly react the way that brothers and sisters should react.

Kirino and Kuroneko.

One technical thing that ought to be mentioned: this series was picked up by Anime News Network and was subjected to a premature leak, leading to its delayed release. That being said, I still prefer ANN's media player to those used by Crunchyroll and Funimation. The switch between raw Japanese and English subtitles is clear, and the transition between commercials and show is smoother. The screen may be smaller when embedded into the website, but the image doesn't get shifted like it occasionally does at Crunchyroll. It certainly helps that OreImo contains an art style that is certainly gentler on the eyes.

There. Sibling rivalry. That's more like it.

Is OreImo realistic? Perhaps the series is two steps closer to reality and one step back from it. Kirino is still the moe mascot of the series, acting mad at the world, only to soften from the effect of her fandom. This series is more to sell the point that otaku are not necessarily the overweight male stereotype, as the gender ratio is starting to balance a bit more, but such a maneuver only appeals more to that exact male stereotype they're trying to avoid.

OreImo paints a clever story through a fun-house-mirrored view of fandom, but there are signs that we're still watching more of the same. The show deserves to be watched, if mostly to observe the dynamic of anime fans interacting against their own hobby in the anime medium itself, but there's still danger lurking. Depending on the direction the show chooses to go, OreImo can either succeed at lampooning itself or fail by becoming its own target. Hopefully, it tells its story without depending on incest.

Yes, incest. There. I said it.

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