Friday 1 March 2013

Anime REVIEW: Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai

Oreimo Title Card

Though I'm sure many people reading this would happily embrace the title of "geek" or even "otaku", I'm sure just as many people have been subject to the negative perceptions of those not engrossed in the hobby. Whether you're an avid anime fan, a compulsive toy collector, a perverted eroge/hentai fan or all of the above, this series might ring true with you in some places. Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (which translates to "My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute"), or Oreimo to save yourself a mouthful, is a 15 (12 TV and 3 bonus) episode series based on a light novel series written by Tsukasa Fushimi and illustrated by Hiro Kanzaki. The original series aired in 2010, while a second season will be airing this coming April.

Kirino Kosaka
Kirino Kosaka: closet otaku and rabid fangirl

17 year-old Kyosuke Kosaka hasn't had a good relationship with his younger sister Kirino for years. However one day he finds an anime DVD case on the floor in his house, secretly containing an adults-only eroge game. Kyosuke soon discovers that both belong to Kirino and that she is in fact a closet otaku - with a huge collection of "Stardust Witch Meruru" memorabilia and little-sister themed eroge. In desperate need of someone to confide in about her secret hobby, Kyosuke becomes Kirino's life counsellor - aiding her in finding like-minded otaku friends while trying to keep it a secret from both her parents and classmates. While the former is a relatively simple task, the latter doesn't quite go according to plan.

Kyosuke Kosaka
Kyosuke Kosaka. He clearly loves his sister, but just how does he love her?

Characters are probably the first point of interest, since Kirino might not be a lead to everyone's tastes. On face value, she's a bitch - plain and simple. She comes across as brash, rude and ungrateful of the lengths her brother goes for her. But at the same time Kirino is a character worthy of the audience's sympathy - being an otaku is an important part of who she is, yet she's forced to hide in to seem like a "normal" girl to her strict father and even bitchier friends. Under her mean exterior, she's a good person who does appreciates things in her own way. While her brother Kyosuke is much more passive, he's not as nice as people seem to give him credit for either. He's very misleading of his childhood friend Manami's advances towards him, not wanting to date her but not wanting her to have a boyfriend either. It's obviously a trait that runs in the family, but from an audience perspective it makes for much more interesting viewing to have lead characters that aren't perfect. And to answer your question - no, their relationship isn't as incestual as the title suggests...unless you choose to take it that way that is.

Saori Makishima & Ruri Goko/Kuroneko
Kuroneko and Saori

But regardless of Kirino and Kyosuke, it's the side characters that really make Oreimo so enjoyable. Not so much Kirino's bitch of a best friend Ayase,  but her newfound otaku friends Saori and Kuroneko. Saori's background remains somewhat of a mystery and the character is woefully underused, but Kuroneko shines throughout. What Kirino puts out in preppy bitchiness, Kuroneko gives back in gothic bitchiness. Her bluntless is without a doubt Oreimo's biggest comedy asset.

The problem with dealing with subject matter like Oreimo does is that it has the potential to become mean-spirited, laughing at otaku rather than laughing with them. Thankfully the series manages to avoid this for the most part. Of course there are stereotypical depictions of otakudom, but most of that comes from breaking down an outside observer's opinion. There will always be exceptions, but the show does its best to paint it as normal a hobby as any other - even when its (regularly) dealing with some of its more questionable elements. Moments such as getting obsessed over a super-rare figure or trying to gain every achievement on a game are extremely relatable.

Stardust Witch Meruru
Stardust Witch Meruru, Kirino's favourite anime

But as grounded Oreimo might seem, there is one plot thread that makes it a little less believable. Kirino having a seemingly endless supply of money from her modelling career is fine, but creating a popular which is subsequently turned into an anime is less so. While it's not a completely ridiculous concept, it is an unlikely one and does suck the viewer out of the experience a bit.

One particularly enjoyable aspect of Oreimo was the inclusion of two alternate endings, very much in the style of the eroge games it so constantly references and parodies. While the TV version ending (dubbed the "Good End") is a fairly straightforward and satisfying ending, the ONA (Original Net Animation) "True Route" end is much more interesting, setting things up for a further three episodes. Only the very last one features Kirino, and instead these episodes focus mainly on Kuroneko (whose real name is finally revealed) and Kyosuke's growing "relationship" with her in his sister's absence. Also introduced is Sena Akagi, a Kirino-esque character with an obsession for hardcore yaoi. While an early dislike of Kirino is understandable, she grows as a character. Sena does not. Her introduction comes far too late to be of any interest, and only serves to take screen time away from the more deserving characters.

Manami Tamura
Poor old Manami, everyone thinks you're just plain

Incestual awkwardness and bitchy lead character aside, Oreimo is a solid series with characters that only grow on you as the episodes pass. Its charm is in it being so relatable, even if it narrowly avoids bursting that bubble on one or two occasions. The setting is believable, the main characters flawed in their own ways and the dialogue witty. On the production side of things the art is gorgeous (particularly from a bluray source) and the music really catchy. Fingers crossed the second season can deliver the same sort of quality present here.

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