Back when I wrote my initial thoughts on Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute), I felt unsure of just how the show would turn out. While definitely an otaku-pandering show, it seemed to be capable of much more, and so I refrained from posting about it again until I finished the series right and proper. Now that the series is over I feel I can lay down a firmer opinion.
So, did Oreimo live up to its potential? And would it indeed have been better off if it wasn’t so focused on the “little sister” thing?
The answer to the first question is “not quite.”
Whenever I was asked what I thought of Oreimo as it was airing, I could only summarize my opinion by saying that for every good thing the show did, it also did something bad, and this didn’t really change too much as I kept watching. That doesn’t mean that the show didn’t improve some over time, but that every improvement was met by an equal and opposite reaction. Originally, the reason the show caught my attention was that underneath all of the basic little sister stuff, it seemed to address a deeper issue that concerns the otaku that are inevitably its own fanbase, that of self-confidence and self-image in otaku. It’s one of the themes that made me love Genshiken so much, so perhaps I was somewhat biased in seeing that, but little sister Kirino and the show at large brings forth the question, “Can I show my otaku self to others?”
In one episode, Kirino tries to make friends with fellow anime fans she’s met on the internet, but her initial attempt is stymied by the fact that her stylish clothes and lack of interest in bishounen and pairings creates an incompatibility with those with whom she was trying to speak. “We’re otaku, but we have nothing in common.” In another episode, Kirino has to face her best friend Ayase discovering Kirino’s obsession with little sisters and the pressure of having someone close to you, someone who genuinely wants the best for you, try to help but come across as attacking the very core of your being with very hurtful words. Her dad also discovers her collection, and will have no part of it. I know these problems. I’ve felt them myself and I’ve seen others struggle with them, and when Oreimo is on, it can really hit home for the anxious geek, at least in bringing those sore spots into the light.
Unfortunately, the resolution left something to be desired fairly often. While Kirino’s plight with making otaku friends turns out well with her eventually befriending Kuroneko and Saori Bajeena and showing that incompatible anime tastes doesn’t mean you can’t be friends, the solutions for the non-otaku finding out about her hobby essentially came out to going around them. In both the case of Ayase and her father, the problem was resolved by older brother Kyousuke purposely taking the blame for everything. This was noble of him and all, but the issue is that the problem itself is not confronted. I worried about this for a while, wondering what would come of it, if anything. In a later episode you see Ayase trying (and failing) to understand Kirino’s obsession and overcome some of her own prejudices so it didn’t completely disappear, but overall moments like those made the show feel like while it could bring the big guns to the party, it couldn’t actually fire them.
I know I might get criticized for expecting too much, and that I should have just treated it as an otaku-pandering fanservice anime, but it was not I who brought up the aforementioned otaku problems, but the show itself. If it had ignored those points or not have presented them as well as it did, I wouldn’t be basing on my opinion on that aspect, but it did. At its best, the show seemed genuinely heartfelt. Seeing Kuroneko “out of character” and just interacting with her younger siblings showed a very human side of her. It provided a contrast with the title of the show nicely, Kuroneko herself being the older sister and not in the “onee-san” character type kind of way, which complements Kirino’s own status as a not-quite “imouto character-type” little sister. At its depths however, Oreimo was like a show that talked realistically about cancer and the financial burden it can cause on the family around a cancer victim, only to magic the cancer away at the end or fall back on the same old stereotypes and tropes.
I don’t really regret watching Oreimo, as I feel that even though it didn’t do as much as it could have, it still accomplished something, and I can only hope that the otaku that could be helped by its message, however distorted, can benefit from it even a little. If it can do that, then I might just recommend it. As for the second question of whether the “little sister” aspect helped or hurt the show, I think it would have been a little better off if the show encouraged us more to see her as a girl first and a little sister second.
I also thought it could be pretty funny.