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The Brother and Sisterhood of Fan: Oreimo’s Two Families

Oreimo, perhaps the most surprising show of the season, has sparked a lot of discussion across the blogosphere. Is it a more realistic depiction of sibling life, at least compared to the rancidly moe depiction of little sisters in recent anime? Or is it just another incest-fest waiting to happen, as a jaundiced interpretation of the most recent episode might suggest? Heck, might it be a covertly Christian lesson in turning the other cheek and loving your enemies?

Genshiken said it right several years ago, of course: only people without little sisters can possibly fantasize about them. Oreimo seems to have taken that critique to heart but also wants to eat that cheesecake too: hence the initially bratty behavior of Kirino and Kyousuke’s admission that seeing his sister provokes “no love, but mostly anger.” Right after the requisite butt shot, of course. And, of course, the sister happens to be into games that are almost entirely aimed at lonely only male children, a fact that the show via Kyousuke openly acknowledges. Eat cake, have cake. The pattern goes on.

As the show continues, however, it becomes clear that Oreimo is not really about eroge, imouto-oriented or not. It’s really about the ties that bind people together, and how and why people become close. Or, less abstractly: are blood relations enough for a close relationship? What about common interests: does having anime/manga/games in common, even if they are different sorts, provide a solid basis for friendship and emotional attachment? Which is the real family at the end of the day: the people with whom you happen to share a common roof but have little else in common, or the people with whom you have the same hobbies, and therefore dreams, values, and worldviews?

Oreimo appears to be suggesting that otakuhood runs deeper than blood. Kirino and Kyousuke only begin bonding when Kirino shares her secrets with him, and he responds nonjudgmentally. In fact, he becomes willing to try her games, and soon enough (ie, by episode 3), he is already immersed in the game’s mechanics: he begins thinking in dating sim flags. Fandom, not their mere family relations, brings them closer. When Kirino goes to Akihabara for the first time and meets a fellow fangirl, albeit one who is into different anime, they immediately begin bickering like forumites, anibloggers—like siblings. Their constant communication with each other proves their closeness, which is almost instant upon realizing their common interests.

The final step toward otakuhood as family is taken in the close of the final episode, when loyalty to blood family is pitted against loyalty to fandom. By this time, Kyousuke is fully on the side of his sister, and he explicitly rejects the perspective of his father in not only arguing that Kirino should not only be allowed to be a fan, but that it is OK for her to have R-18 eroges. In a rather predictable, if rather unbelievable, move he claims ownership over all her eroges, sparing Kirino from the opprobrium of the mainstream society the father represents. “You’re a worthless son,” the father–voiced by the voice of Gendo Ikari—declares upon a battered Kyousuke. But Kyousuke is unfazed by his disowning. He, and Kirino, have moved far beyond the biological family. It’s only at that point that Kirino utters the word “aniki”: Kyousuke is not so much her brother by relation as brother by reluctant, though increasing, fandom.

I’m going to be blunt. As appealing as this is to otaku who have a hard time with their families, perhaps, or others who feel disconnected from all others who don’t share their interests—there’s something noxious about how the show is setting up the story at this point. The scales have been tipped too far, and my sympathy toward the characters stretched thin. It’s too simple and too, for lack of a better term, anti-family for me. As unsympathetically as he’s drawn, I was surprised at the length the father was willing to concede everything Kyousuke was saying: everything except the eroge. I can’t see how any responsible parent could react otherwise. Considering that eroge has become the foundation of so much modern otaku fandom, it probably couldn’t be admitted that, even for a fourteen year old person, that was an appropriate line; still, the moment Kyousuke pretended the games were his was the moment I groaned. The speech he gave, in retrospect, seemed more like preaching to the choir, an ideological defense to tickle the ears of the audience rather than a heartfelt expression of brotherly devotion and character. It upset the delicate, almost realistic balance that the first two episodes struck in the way Kirino, Kyousuke, and the other characters related to each other and to the outside world. There was always an element of wish-fulfillment to be sure, from the show’s very title and premise and the bits of fan service—but it had managed to avoid so many of the other obvious pitfalls of the genre. Kyousuke’s lie felt like a shark jumping moment, when the creators decided to head down the usual path a show of this title normally suggests. “Aniki” is a bad sign. It’s only a few steps away from “onii-chan…”

What I am curious in seeing is how the biological family is going to relate to one another now. Will Kyousuke be able to keep up the facade that he is the owner of the eroges? Will Kirino become further alienated from her mom and dad, and how much is Kyousuke willing to share in that alienation on her behalf? How is the show going to explore just how deep fandom is as a basis for friendship, as opposed to blood? Because, in the end, Oreimo seems to be a show about two competing ideas of togetherness, and right now one side is clearly winning. It’s not unexpected, given the audience and premise: but here’s one fan wishing it was handled with a little more nuance and complication, the kind that the beginning seemed to promise.

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