Monday, August 19, 2013

My Otaku Little Sister Anime Can't End This Way! (Part 1)

So, the final 3 episodes of Oreimo Season 2 have gone up on Crunchyroll for premium members, and will be available for everyone a week afterwards (on Saturday). I watched my way through all of them, and...

...well, honestly, I was disappointed.

In addition to not liking these last episodes, now I find it hard to figure out just what is my overall opinion of this second season and of the show as a whole.

What follows in this post is some writing about how I disliked the direction this show ended up going in. A later post will look at my resulting overall view of this show.


I still like Kirino, though. Art by yakan (2281101).

So if you haven't seen the series but want to be spoiled on what happens, here's a quick rundown:

Kyousuke first goes to meet up with Ruri/Kuroneko, and tells her that he can't go out with her because he has someone he loves. (Counting Ayase from Episode 12, that brings Kyousuke's broken heart count to 2.) Then, he convinces Kirino to go out with him for Christmas Eve, and after a series of events, confesses his romantic love for her and asks her to marry him... and she accepts. End episode 14.

The two of them know that their newfound relationship is considered disgusting by the world and that they can't get married, but they still consider themselves a couple. Kyousuke goes to one of Kanako's concerts where Kanako confesses to him, and he turns her down (broken heart count: 3). Kirino then takes out her box of personal belongings, where she reveals how she had always loved Kyousuke since as a child, and also plays for him some voice recordings she made when she was younger about how she wanted to become someone that Kyousuke could love, as well as how she was told (by Manami) that her relationship was improper. End episode 15.

Kyousuke graduates from high school and meets up with Kirino afterwards. The two of them then meet up with Manami, and Kyousuke breaks the news to her. Manami does not take this well, and she and Kirino get into a no-holds-barred fistfight (which Kyousuke gets caught up in). She tells the two of them how society will frown upon them and how this will hurt them, and even threatens to tell their parents; however, Kyousuke insists that he will deal with it all as he loves Kirino more than anyone. Finally, Manami confesses her love to him, and he turns her down (broken heart count: 4, plus one pair of broken glasses; no broken bones, though).

After Manami accepts defeat and leaves, Kyousuke and Kirino go to an empty chapel, dressed up as if for a wedding, and play out getting married, right up to and including a kiss. Then... they decide to end their relationship, as it is revealed that on that Christmas night, they had planned to be a couple only until graduation, after which they would go back to being a normal brother and sister. The show ends with them taking yet another trip to Akihabara, where Kyousuke gets in one last kiss on the cheek before the ending credits. End series.

...So, yeah. They went for the full incest route. Sure, they eventually got off that path for the ending, but it doesn't change the fact that this ultimately was not so much a story about reconciliation between a brother and sister as it was an incest story.

Now, I don't have anything against incest stories. They can be interesting looks at a type of relationship society tends to not want to look at, and they can be done well (see: Koi Kaze). I think a story about a temporary incestuous relationship, one where two people have a brief period of indulging in their feelings like it was done here but eventually move on, could be particularly interesting, since that sort of thing does happen in real life, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. So I'm not against the ending out of any overall distaste for incest stories.

That said, for many reasons, I feel that that route just isn't the best route for this show, and I'll give my reasons for it...

1. The writing isn't good enough to support a believable incest story.

An incest story can be good, but it absolutely needs good writing. The nature of an incestuous relationship is extremely complicated, mixing both romantic feelings with familial ones, plus the obvious taboo aspects of the relationship. Unfortunately, Oreimo doesn't quite write out its story good enough to make it believable, and while the hints are there, the whole thing just ultimately comes off contrived.

There are numerous reasons why the writing doesn't work out. One is that the focus for so much of the series was on familial reconciliation: Kyousuke goes to many lengths for Kirino because she is his sister. The transition from that to wanting to marry her was awfully jarring, helped none by his temporary relationship with Ruri. Add in the fact that the actual relationship only got about two episodes' worth of time, as well as a near-complete lack of attention to the aftermath after their "breakup", just makes it a poor choice for an incest story.

There's another, even worse writing problem, though, that plagues this series...

2. The characters suffered from going the incest route.

Of course, there was their suffering in-show, evidenced by the trail of broken hearts in these last episodes. However, what was worse was that, from a writing perspective, the characters by and large ended up a lot worse off because of the direction this show ended up going in.

Ruri/Kuroneko comes out perhaps the most unscathed. The loss of probably the show's lone good romance is huge, but at least it is consistent with what Ruri truly desired: to be able to continue to get along with Kirino and Kyousuke. And parts after her rejection do indicate that she at least still has that. So I won't count her among the victims of the incest plot.

Saori is also by and large unharmed, aside from a couple of hints that she might have developed feelings for Kyousuke, something that's rather unnecessary. At the same time, she neither confesses nor gets rejected, so that can be ignored.

Ironically, Kirino herself is probably next least affected. She's still a hardcore otaku, and still a big fan of little sister eroge, and in many ways remains a likable character during the route, perhaps even more so given that her bratty side dissipates greatly here. The main problem here is that her reason for her conflicted feelings--her over-idolization of her big brother for his achievements and her desire to become someone great for him--never really gets resolved. I'll go into this more in reason 3, but I feel that, ultimately, Kirino never quite grows in this regard due to the show wanting to go the incest route.

Now, for the real casualties.  First, Manami. She's a cute, plain girl who serves as the childhood friend love interest that clearly isn't going to win they almost never do in manga or light novels when they're not the main focus of the story, and I oftentimes feel they're just shoehorned into the story to be a romantic rival. Yet, she does provide an interesting role for the story due to her tension with Kirino, especially as Kirino resents her for having the relationship with her brother that she wants to have. Had the show really explored that, perhaps allowing for them to reconcile, she would have served a good role for the story. Instead, she just becomes the "final boss" of Kyousuke's needed rejections, and despite her fight with Kirino being at least different from the more accepting others, she in the end is nothing more than a childhood friend who never had a serious chance to win but was shoehorned into the story to be a romantic rival. (It could have been worse; the light novels apparently reveal that (LN spoilers ->) she was the one that convinced Kyousuke to stop trying so hard so Kirino would hate him. I mean, Manami is still a likable girl; no need to make her so manipulative and villainous.)

Ayase was also interesting at first due to how she has to learn to accept Kirino's otaku side, and the strange partnership she has with Kyousuke as a result. Unfortunately, that eventually devolved into her being in love with Kyousuke and pretty much abandoning her more interesting relationship with Kirino story-wise, only for her to be rejected in the end. This all made episode 12 the first really painful episode to watch, being so focused on her when she lost everything that was appealing about her.

Kanako... she's just a fun side character; there was absolutely no reason to have her fall in love with Kyousuke too. (It's as if the main characters of these things absolutely have to have every girl falling at their feet...)

Finally, there's Kyousuke. He's been an interesting male lead, if perhaps a bit too prone to feeling like he has to shout everything important he wants to say at the top of his lungs. He does go through some interesting developments through the series; at first he goes to outrageous lengths to help his sister with her otaku-related problems, out of a selfless love for her as family. Then he comes to terms with his own desires for their relationship when he goes to America to ask her to come back. All the while, he deals with his relationship with other girls, particularly Ruri. However, in the end, he decides he's in love with his sister and is willing to estrange himself from the other girls for his relationship, and this change is too jarring. A lot of the complexity of his character, from the tension between his wish to be close to his sister, his jealousy over how perfect she is, and his sense of duty towards her as family, gets lost in the process, and in the end, he's a plain guy with the hots for his sister that forces him to break the hearts of his friends (some of whom shouldn't have fallen for him in the first place). Kind of cheap compared to the more complex character we see of him after, say, episode 9 of season 2.

Now, I know that, in addition to this all just being my opinion, some of the bad writing might be because the adaptation from light novel to anime caused a number of important things to be left out. Even then, though, given that this is the direction the light novel went in (and also given that the author originally wanted to go for a full incest end without a cop-out), I still have a problem with this direction, because...

3. The incest route just doesn't fit with the overall feel of the show.

In my opinion, an incest story has to have a certain feel to it. If you ask me, a light-hearted incest story just doesn't work; the light-heartedness conflicts too much with the morally-problematic and socially-unacceptable aspects of incest. Unfortunately, Oreimo is an overall light-hearted show that tries to have an incest story in these last episodes, which leads to a jarring change in the feel of the show.

From the start, this show just worked better when it was about the familial reconciliation of siblings. Sure, the whole inclusion of little sister eroge provided an amusing contrast point to the more familial love between Kyousuke and Kirino, but it really worked best as a contrast point, not as some kind of fantasy that actually gets played out. The story was setting itself up to be an interesting exploration of different kinds of love, but instead it just becomes about incest, and then the writing just isn't good enough to support that.

In an interview, the author of the light novels said that he wanted to give Kirino a happy ending. That's fine and all; I rather like Kirino myself and I certainly want her to have a happy ending. The problem is in thinking that only a romantic ending could constitute a happy ending. It's as if it is saying that familial love just isn't good enough, and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It's similar to another series that started off as a heartwarming story about the bond between a guy and the daughter he adopted, before the manga of it threw that away in favor of a romantic ending between the two (thankfully, the anime stopped long before it got to that point). It doesn't work with the feel of the story established earlier, and it ultimately cheapens familial love.

All this makes for an ending that is overall one of the worst ending directions that I've seen. But what do I think about the Oreimo series as a whole after this ending? Well... I still like it a lot. More about that in Part 2.

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