Cersei Lannister vs. “Anime Incest”

There are a great number of anime and manga with incestuous overtones, but contrary to what might seem obvious, I’m not so sure how much of it truly has to do with a desire to have sex with siblings, real or imaginary. There are other qualities to take into consideration, such as what goes into a “little sister” or a “big sister” as a character archetype beyond simply a familial relationship, or the fact that these archetypes exist at all.

To what extent does the anime/manga aesthetic itself, as well as the other tropes that these works tend to carry, make “anime incest” into something even more different from simply its portrayal in fiction, positive or negative?

HBO’s Game of Thrones is a non-Japanese property which features very prominently an incestuous relationship. Jamie Lannister and his sister Cersei are madly in love with each other, and have even bore children as a result. However, I don’t think Cersei is thought of in the same vein as the sisters of My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute or The Irregular at Magic High School, and therefore does not possess the aspects which make those characters so popular. There’s something to this “positive portrayal of incestuous relationships” in anime and manga that transcends the characters being connected by blood… or not, in the case of the “non-blood-related sibling” trope that technically removes the moral and biological issues to an extent.

CerseiEW

My Big Sister Can’t Be This Vindictive

Put a different way, if the sisters, hot moms, or other family members were not portrayed visually and narratively through anime and manga, would the fans of these characters still be fans of them? If so, would it be for the same reason? My feeling is that the answer would be “no,” because it’s these incestuous character archetypes exist within a greater realm of tropes that anime and manga fans are drawn towards.

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Kine-Sis: Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai

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.

“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.