“Hey, Your Sister’s Pretty Cute,” He Said

Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, literally “My Little Sister Can’t Possibly Be This Cute,” is a Fall 2010 anime based on a light novel by the same name. Known as Oreimo for short, the series follows an “average” high schooler, Kyousuke, and his hardcore otaku of a younger sister, Kirino. Though only two episodes are out as of this writing, the show quickly explains the unwieldy title of the show by pointing out that “This Cute” basically means “like the loyal and affectionate little sister character you’d find in a moe anime or a visual novel.”

However, while the series emphasizes how Kirino is not “This Cute,” Kirino is shown to be so objectively good-looking that she works as a clothing model. Kyousuke expressing how he cannot see Kirino and her disrespectful, overachieving attitude as anything resembling adorability is akin to a man going into a crowd and loudly proclaiming his absolute hatred for chocolate. Even if he were telling the truth, an outburst like that would still make everyone think of chocolate.

The degree to which Kyousuke and the show itself remind the viewer that he is as far from a sister complex as possible reminds me of a certain situation in fanfiction, where an author notorious for creating Mary Sues, impossibly perfect characters often used as wish-fulfillment for the writer, tries to prove that they are capable of doing otherwise by creating extremely flawed characters. Ultimately though, these “Reverse Mary Sues” are just that: the tails to the Mary Sue’s heads, equally as “special” in terms of how much attention is given to them, even if it’s just about how imperfect they are.

Does that describe Kirino? Well, the easy assumption would be that Kirino exists on one side of the coin while the standard “moe little sister” resides on the other, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. Kirino is not simply the opposite extreme, but more of a moe little sister character who also incorporates elements from the more established little sister archetype of smart-alec brat seen in American shows such as Boy Meets World and Full House and perhaps best exemplified in anime by Pop, the younger sister of the titular Ojamajo Doremi. Kirino, who nonchalantly disrespects her older brother, complains about a lack of privacy, and also expresses vocal disgust at the idea of a sibling romance, has those bratty qualities juxtaposed with the amount of time and effort the show devotes to putting Kirino’s cuteness on display.

By establishing Kirino as being not-cute-but-actually-really-cute, as well as giving her qualities closer to a more antagonistic and thus arguably more “realistic” younger sister, it begs the question of whether or not Oreimo is trying to diversify the concept of the moe “little sister” by incorporating those bratty elements, perhaps in response to any possible growing weariness with established and rigid moe tropes. In other words, could Oreimo be an attempt at reconfiguring moe from within, and if so, is that a sign of the times? Assuming these to be true, it would not be Kirino herself who equates to the Anti-Sue, but rather the genesis of Kirino as a new type of little sister bearing similarities to the initial motivation by which the Anti-Sue is formed, though handled with more skill and professionalism than your stereotypical fanfiction.

Further complicating the whole matter is the fact that Kirino herself is an otaku fanatically devoted to the “little sister” type who, instead of envisioning herself as the little sister yearning for the affections of her older brother, sees herself in the role of that fictional older brother. Moreover, Kirino is actually embarrassed about her hobby and is a closet otaku. When these aspects of Kirino are taken into account alongside Kyousuke and the degree to which he expresses his disinterest in little sisters both “real” and “fictional,” Kirino’s existence as an “attractive girl” actually takes priority over her existence as a “little sister” in certain respects. In particular, by making her the “otaku” and making Kyousuke the “normal one,” the (male) otaku watching may find themselves relating more closely to Kirino than her older brother, despite gender differences. That’s not to say that she is the viewer surrogate, of course, as Kirino is still very much designed to be the object of desire for the audience.

Essentially, Kirino’s charm starts to become that of a cute girl who is also someone’s younger sister, something is much more applicable to the real world than the typical visual novel archetype, seeing as how many females out there are younger sisters to someone. At the same time however, the trappings of Oreimo, namely the frequent and prominent use of the term “little sister,” also bring that fandom/fetish to the forefront of the viewer’s consciousness. Oreimo thus occupies a sort of contradictory space, where it appears to both reinforce and subvert little sister moe by being a variation on the established formula which also goes about reminding the viewer of that original formula. In doing so, the series then casts into question, perhaps unintentionally, the nature of the “little sister” character itself, as well as whether or not someone can enjoy a character who falls into a moe archetype without being specifically catered to by that archetype’s inherent qualities. Given such a contradiction, I have to wonder, is the overt “little sister” aspect of Oreimo a boon or a detriment? Or to put it another way, would Oreimo be better off if it weren’t about a little sister at all?

That all said, it’s only been two episodes. I’ll have to ask again at a later date.

12 thoughts on ““Hey, Your Sister’s Pretty Cute,” He Said

  1. I hate to see where the brother-sister relationship will go, because I’ve quite fallen in love with the whole idea of having a couple of siblings dislike each other (as they should). Anime needs more characters that doesn’t fit into the standard-slots, especially in times like these when all of the standards have been played out for at least two decades.

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  2. I love how you’ve pointing out how the series, and particularly the character of Kirino, brings together opposite ends of more than one spectrum. Perhaps this is why people from all over the blogosphere are loving this show. People as diverse and one reviewer who indulges in bro-sis romances is enjoying the show, while others, like me, who find such a thing disgusting are also loving it. I think, as you suggest, we might be seeing some major shift with this series…and one for the better.

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  3. If this weren’t about a otaku little sister and his ‘normal’ elder brother, Kirino would only be a Nogizaka Haruka.

    Trying to make fun of the traditional imouto moe archetypes is what makes this anime fresh.

    I don’t agree though that this is a step forward for moe, a sign of the times or whatever. I can just break down Kirino as a mere tsundere imouto who ‘just’ happens to be an otaku. We have many examples of each.

    Maybe a step forward for girl-otaku portrayals though. We have only a handful: Ogiue, Konata, Haruka. Kirino is next.

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    • When I asked if having Kirino be a little sister was for better or for worse, I meant it more that if the show had de-emphasized the overwhelming “little sister” aspect, would the show be able to breathe more freely? Would it be able to tell the story of, putting the otaku thing aside, a girl who has to deal with living a “double life” of sorts, where she feels she can’t quite relate to her peers on either side?

      You said it right there: you could break Kirino down into a “mere” tsundere imouto. If the show had not shouted “IMOUTO” as loud as it could, would you have defined Kirino as such?

      That’s not to say your opinion that the show works better with the little sister emphasis is invalid, but as you put it, if the show is indeed made fresh by the way it makes fun of traditional imouto moe archetypes, doesn’t that speak to some sense of stagnation, real or perceived?

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      • I myself am bored of the traditional imouto moe, but I have an inkling feeling that the relationship of Kirino and her brother at some point will go through the same cliches. We already got introduced to the harem team (normal girl, gothloli, south virginia), surely Kirino will have jealousy flags here and there. How it keeps the freshness while avoiding this trap will be something to see.

        About the overt imouto aspect (I hope I got what you mean though), not sure how it will work in this case. For me the setup is a perfect storm, in that if we try to lower the emphasis on the little sister relationship, either both characters have to be mere side-characters, or other side characters have to step up. I can’t imagine two siblings in this setup being interesting without some romantic tension between them.

        My point is: if you lessen the imouto, it may not be interesting. If you lose it completely, it may be a Nogizaka Haruka-type anime.

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      • Wait I realize I may have contradicted myself lol. If I’m asking for sibling romantic tension that means I’m falling myself into the traditional imouto cliche. My bad. Does this mean that (for me) the show is interesting because there’s no cliche yet, BUT I’m hoping for it in future episodes?

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  4. I think the show uses a unique setting for little sister moe characters, in a way that incestuous relationships are hinted but not pursued because of blood relations. I mean, if we are to look closely at the imouto trope, we can readily see that the idea of incest is only very much supported if a.) she is a little sister to someone else related to the male protagonist, or b.) the protagonist and the little sister are not related by blood. I personally would like to see how the show goes using the semantic of having harbored feelings actual blood-related siblings.

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  5. I don’t think Kirino is quite “subversive.” Subversive would be someone like Sasahara’s sister in Genshiken, whose moments of closeness with her brother are completely overshadowed by how obnoxious and generally not-lovable she is. You don’t want to put yourself in Sasahara’s shoes. The trick, though, and what makes Ore no Imouto brilliant in my eyes, is that you still kind of want to put yourself in Kyousuke’s.

    You’re right that this show attempts to portray a more realistic sibling relationship while constantly pointing back to more fantastical antecedents. But I think we’re still meant to desire this new kind of little sister character, in pretty much the same way we’ve always been meant to desire little sister characters. In short, Ore no Imouto is playing around with us in a very typical way, with some changed rules to mix things up a bit. :)

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  6. Pingback: Kine-Sis: Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai « OGIUE MANIAX

  7. I’d like to add that the comparisson betwen Kirino and Nogizaka Haruka seems unvalid because Kirino has friends on both circles BESIDES the male lead, wich constrains her in two fronts, while Haruka is JUST a role model at her school (Kirino’s starting situation).

    I agree that a non-imouto variation of this plot is worthy of exploration, I remember a certain book (“Herr der Diebe”, or “The lord/prince of thiefs”) with the same idea (sort of): a couple of brothers escape of home and go to a street child gang. The leader is a boy that comes and goes as he pleases and ocassionally brings silver objects and money. As it turns out, he is the heir of a rich house and he steals from his own parents to give to the kids whithout anyone finding out.

    So, the common motif would then be the desire to belong simultaneously to conflicting groups (not like in Romeo & Juliet, in wich the main attractive on a group was another person, but more like wanting to be good AND evil in Star Wars at the same time without beeing neutral).

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