But that's enough criticism. This post is dedicated to all that was great, and is still great, about the Oreimo series.
Warning: Spoilers after the jump.
|Art by ge ge gedou.|
Given that Sister Princess was such an important anime for me, one "problem" I had with that show was that it was a highly idealized picture of having little sisters. I am well aware that, in real life, little sisters aren't that nice and friendly all the time; in fact, for many people, their little sister is someone that is annoying and difficult. As such, I was left wanting a show that could fill this particular gap of "getting along with a sister that is not particularly loving".
This is where Oreimo, and specifically, Kirino, comes in. Backstory aside, Kirino goes in the opposite direction of the overly-adoring sisters she’s a fan of, and instead comes off as incredibly bratty and hard to get along with. For some viewers, this makes her an unlikable character, but to me, it was important to finally have a family show where a brother and sister who most definitely do not get along learn to get along. (It was also amusing when Kirino started playing one of her little sister eroge featuring a little sister as bratty as herself, and having all sorts of hypocritical complaints about her before eventually loving her as much as the other sister.) For this reason, I could say that I was invested in this series from the start.
The other draw of this series was the fact that Kirino was secretly an otaku, which she had been alone in indulging in before her brother discovered that side of her and took steps to get her connected with others with her interest. This was a premise that I had seen before, in a show called Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, which I also liked (well, at least the first season). These stories have a definite appeal to them, in how characters that are otherwise seemingly unapproachable (in the case of Haruka Nogizaka, she’s the most popular girl in the school, but is secretly an otaku) become more relatable after learning of their secret interest.
After the basic premise got me interested, the characters really got me hooked. Kirino may not have the best temperament, but she’s no one-dimensional character; she is quite concerned about balancing her otaku hobbies with her modeling job, her non-otaku friends, and her track team involvement, and considers all of that important to her, and that’s in addition to having to decide just how much she wants her older brother back in her life. Kyousuke at first goes to great lengths for his sister out of a familial sense of duty, before having to come to terms with his own desires regarding his relationship with his sister. And then there’s Ayase, who learns that her best friend is an otaku and must deal with this new revelation. Other characters like Manami and Kuroneko are all important in their own ways, and together provide a great cast for this show. (Hence, my disappointment at how the direction of the ending also took away from what made these characters so great.)
With a premise I was interested in and a great cast of characters to go with it, much of my enjoyment from this series was simply in watching these characters play things out with the premise. Even during those dreaded ending episodes, there were still moments that I enjoyed the show, when the characters were simply doing what they had been doing, especially with regards to their otaku hobbies.
A(nother) Story of Grace
Thematically, there is a large theme of grace (unconditional love) in Oreimo. This isn’t too surprising; it comes up in pretty much every show about family I’ve seen (at least the ones where the family members don’t kill each other off). In many ways, family is the perfect setting to explore the theme of grace, since ideally, familial love is unconditional and not dependent on whether the family member is being “good”.
That said, this type of unconditional familial love is in a rather broken state at the start of the series. The flashback episode 13 of the second season shows why Kirino acts so cold to her brother: growing up, she idolized him for how cool he was and how awesome were the things he did, so when he stopped being cool and doing awesome things, it hurt her so deeply that she grew cold towards him. For young Kirino, loving her brother for himself and not for what he did was a concept that just didn’t quite click with her. Note the scene where, after Kyousuke loses that which Kirino admired him for, Kirino goes to Manami to ask for her brother (read: the brother that was cool and did awesome things) back, and Manami accuses her of being in love with her brother—after all, this kind of blind admiration for someone is very reminiscent of romantic attraction, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, even before Kyousuke regressed like this, Kirino's broken picture of love took a toll on her, as she sought to gain her brother's approval by becoming every bit as awesome as he was, hence her involvement in track and modeling. Because she could only love her brother for what he did, so she thought her brother could only truly accept her if she could match up with him. This, of course, only made the pain of his regression that much more painful. (That their father is a very strict type who is very reminiscent of the stereotypical Asian parent in his desire to see his children come out right doesn't help things at all.)
Convinced, though, that the brother she admired would someday return, she continued her path of performance, and while on that path, discovered "Little Sister Maker", and the world of eroge. And that was how Kirino became an otaku. She likely found the adoring little sisters in those games to be a good escape to her ideal world. Unfortunately, in the real world, she found herself having to hide her new hobby from her friends (namely Ayase), who consider such things creepy.
It is with this broken familial love and the pressure of having to hide this part of herself from others in order to get their approval that Kirino first seeks "life advice" from Kyousuke... thus starting the show in Season 1, Episode 1.
Over the course of the series, Kirino slowly grows to understand a number of things. First of all, her brother just never was that amazing. Second, it's okay if he's not that amazing, because he still loves her and will go to great lengths to help her. And third, it doesn't matter how well she performs, because her brother will still love her.
That last one took a while for her to understand. In the True End episodes of Season 1, Kirino departs for America for a track training camp, without notifying her brother or her friends, and without contacting them afterwards. When she does contact her brother, it's to tell him to get rid of all her eroge. Sensing something wrong, Kyousuke takes a flight over to find her. When he does, he learns that Kirino was struggling at the camp, and felt that she would disappoint him and her friends if they knew that she was struggling. (Her request to get rid of all her eroge was so that she could focus on her track training without distraction.)
Kyousuke's response is to tell her that he's lonely without her, wants her to come back, and that it doesn't matter to him whether or not she is a good runner; he loves her regardless.
This is Kirino's first real encounter with gracious love, one that does not require her to perform to be accepted. With that, Kirino heads back to Japan with her brother (though not before managing to win one race with her roommate and rival), and then Season 2 starts.
Things continue for a while as Kyousuke has to fake being Kirino's boyfriend, then Kirino brings in another fake boyfriend to make Kyousuke jealous, and then Kyousuke starts dating Ruri/Kuroneko and grows to love her, only for her to suddenly break up with him and disappear. Here, though, Kirino is able to bring everything full circle. She finally understands what it means to love someone for just who they are, and she agrees to help out Kyousuke by tracking down the black cat.
This last event happens in episode 9 of season 2, which I consider the best episode of the entire series. Kirino finally talks about just what her brother means to her and how she wants to be the most important person to him, but also does not want to see him cry. What happens here is, I think, where the series finally reaches the point where one can say that the relationship between these two estranged siblings is finally "reconciled". They still don't quite get along, and there's still the issue that neither of them is comfortable with the other having a lover, but there is no longer antagonism between the two, and they finally understand what it means to be siblings and to love each other graciously.
In the end, Oreimo is a story about grace, and for that, I love the show, even with all its various flaws and its weird ending.
The Sibling Borderlands
I might have not liked the direction the ending took towards full-fledged incest, but I never really had a problem with the fact that the feelings of Kyousuke and Kirino frequently grew awfully close to that "incest" line. Personally, I find the "borderlands" where a brother and sister's relationship is awfully close to that of a romantic couple, to be quite fascinating. Residents of the borderlands oftentimes have very complex characterizations and relationships with people around them, and they frequently have to deal with some interesting emotions. Plus, sometimes the best way to learn more about two related but separate things--say, sibling relationships vs. romantic relationships--is to study what happens in the borderlands in between.
For this reason, I find things like Kyousuke's feelings of loneliness when Kirino leaves, and his desire for her to come back, to be very interesting. This applies even more so to episode 9 of season 2 (again), because of how Kirino admits that she hates seeing her brother with a girlfriend but hates seeing him cry even more. Their later realization that their feelings of not wanting the other person to find a lover isn't really a good thing only adds to the complexity that now characterizes their relationship, as well as their relationship with Ruri.
And really, it's one thing to say that incest is morally wrong, but wanting to be close to a sibling, feeling lonely when she isn't around, and not wanting him to get a girlfriend... it's much harder to make a moral statement on these feelings. They're all valid feelings regardless, and perhaps for a given amount of time, it is okay for the Kousaka siblings to simply go along with them. It would have been nice to have the show end not with an incest end, but with Kirino and Kyousuke rebuilding their relationship during this temporary time of reconnection, and then finally finding love elsewhere once their relationship is secure enough again to be able to do so.
But alas, we got the ending we got instead. In many ways, I consider Season 2, Episode 9 to be the True End, with episode 10 being a good epilogue and episode 13 being good backstory... but the rest is all rather forgettable, honestly. It's not like those ending episodes were a complete waste, but by and large, the Oreimo that I will remember will not include those episodes.
My Otaku Little Sister Anime Can't End This Way.
All in all, I still have an extremely positive view of Oreimo. It has a good premise, great characters, lots of fun things with otaku-related elements, some fascinating trips into the Sibling Borderlands, and a great message about grace through familial love. Even the second season, which I overall consider not as good as the first, still has many strong points, as well as the best episode of the entire series in episode 9.
Did the show have its flaws? Definitely. Had I wished it ended differently? Of course. But do I still consider myself a fan of the Oreimo series? Of course I do. In the end, I do think there really is a lot to love about this series, and five episodes' worth of a bad ending (out of 32 episodes total) isn't going to be able to do nearly enough to change that.