As a child, Kyousuke Kosaka was really close with his little sister, Kirino. He was her strong, capable brother that she loved and looked up to, and he was more than happy to fulfill that role. He eventually stopped hanging out with her, because he was getting older, and he felt that being that close would be lame. From that point, he became shiftless and lazy, while she began throwing herself into her academic and extracurricular activities. They remained distant for years, until he bumped into her one day, and accidentally discovered her copy of an incest porn video game. She asks him for advice on how to deal with her secret obsession, and from there, the two of them finally begin to repair their strained relationship.
Oreimo was originally released in 2010 by AIC Build, a production company that dates back to the early eighties. The art is bright and colorful, the character designs are inspired, and there’s an element of realism that you wouldn’t expect a show like this to possess. The animation is subdued, taking a minimalist approach to the movement of the character. There are still frames, of course, but not very often… And when the characters move, they move very gracefully. They save the budget for when they really need it, and as a result, the shots of Kirino fangasming over her games are some of the funniest shots this show has to offer.
Oh, and the characters have different hairstyles as teenagers than they did as children, so that little tidbit made me happy.
Umm… Like Kirino, I’m afraid I have a confession to make. I’ve brushed this issue aside in previous reviews, but I think I’m finally ready to address it. You see, I have no ear for anime background music. I rarely notice it, unless it’s exceptionally out of place or repetitive. I can’t say a lot about the music, but I didn’t have any complaints, so it must have at least been passable.
The title of Oreimo is the shortened version of the actual title, ‘my little sister can’t be this cute.’ With a title like that, and a reputation like this show notoriously has, it’s hard to escape the knowledge that this is an incest anime. You’ve probably heard that before you decided to watch the show, so I really don’t think there’s any harm in telling you about it now. It’s not a spoiler, it’s an expectation. And in truth, I’ve always had a kind of spotty relationship with that kind of material. I don’t hate it, and I’m not really offended by it… It’s not something I’m into, or ever will be… But I do have standards, and in judging this kind of show, I like to use four specific rules. For the sake of context, I’ll be judging this show while at the same time judging two other ‘Flowers in the Attic’ type shows that I had wildly different opinions on… Kiss X Sis and Koi Kaze.
Rule 1: Take it seriously.
My biggest problem with the incest genre is that the vast majority of it seems to exist for the sake of people who use it as escapist jerk-off material. Ironically, like Kirino does. They either have a sibling they wish they could date, wish they had a sibling they could date, or the least disgusting option, they get off on the very idea of forbidden romance. In order to appeal to a wider audience than just the fetish crowd, you have to take the project seriously. It has to be a genuinely good show on more levels than just ‘wow, this is so hot!’ I’ll admit that I dropped Kiss X Sis after only two episodes, because even after two episodes, I didn’t see any evidence that this rule would be observed. I could tell that there would be very little that this show was going to offer, other than a ‘will they won’t they’ scenario between three characters I was already hating.
Koi Kaze did a fantastic job of taking itself seriously… There weren’t very many sub-plots aside from the main one, so the entire spotlight was on our two blood-crossed lovers. But since the writing, animation, music and characterizations were so good, they were able to pull the entire series around with them. Thankfully, Oreimo falls mostly into this category. The writing in this show is excellent. The characters are over the top and exaggerated, but still grounded pretty firmly in reality. This makes for some complex decisions, believable dialogue, and just enough melodrama to get the viewer invested wherever it counts. Conflicts are carefully constructed and cleverly resolved at a brisk pace, with each conflict quickly leading towards the next one. This goes a long way towards rule 2…
Rule 2: Develop the relationship
It should go without saying that no romance story in any medium can work unless the focal couple itself works. It has to be believable to be enjoyed by any audience that isn’t just looking for a softcore subtextual porn. In Kiss X Sis, the main thing drawing the main character and his sisters closer together is the fact that… They’re all attractive, and should be attracted to each other. I think. Yeah, there’s another reason, but I’ll save it for my huge rant in rule 3. In Koi Kaze, the writers took a brilliant approach by having the siblings, who haven’t seen each other in over ten years, not recognize each other. They let their guards down, and bonded, forming an interpersonal attraction before they learned the harsh truth about who the other really was.
In Oreimo, the dynamic between Kirino and Kyousuke comes from a very honest place. Kyousuke wants to be the reliable big brother he used to be, which is why he listens to her problems, helps her find friends who are into the same things she is, and sticks up for her whenever necessary. You believe his motives, and every time he goes out of his way to make her happy, you believe her reactions as well. Most of the time, at least. Yes, she’s a tsundere, but when she shows him gratitude, you can instantly tell how sincere she is about it.
Of course, they do grow uncomfortably close over time, which leads me to rule 3.
Rule 3: Social stigma
Incestual romance is a subject that a very relatively small percentage of people can actually relate to. See rule 1 for a brief overview of this audience. In order to make your material resonate with a wider audience, you have to include a strong element that they can relate to. And since virtually everyone on earth can relate to the concept of hiding a secret from the world, and being ashamed of something that you just can’t stop indulging in, you absolutely have to deal with the social disapproval that your lovebirds face.
I didn’t like Kiss X Sis at all, but the reason I dropped it after only two episodes was the way the world seemed to be reacting to the main romance. Everybody in school was either jealous of him for having two hot sisters, or jealous of them for taking their bland dream boat away from them. And their parents? Actually encouraging them to do the nasty? “Your sisters are hot, and you’re not related to them. What are you, gay?” What world does the mind of this show’s creator exist in?
Koi Kaze did a pretty good job with this, addressing the emotional toll that society’s rules were taking on it’s main couple, and using one of Koshiro’s coworkers as a pretty damned effective mouth piece for those rules, but regretfully, after they decide to get together in the end, the series just ends, ignoring any long term consequences.
In Oreimo, Kyousuke and Kirino don’t face the issue of being a couple until the second season, so I won’t talk about it just yet… I will say, however, that I had really high hopes for the show’s handling of this concept, judging from the way they handled Kirino’s obsession with H-Games. There are a few times in the show where her predilections would be discovered by someone close to her, and they would have an instant knee jerk reaction to it… They were disenfranchised by it, and it threw everything they knew about her into question. But no matter how harshly these people react, you can understand how much it hurts them to do so, and with Kyousuke’s clever interventions, they’re willing to step back and try to understand things from her perspective. These moments are incredibly nuanced, and will probably have you on the edge of your seat.
Rule 4: They have to be siblings
The siblings in question have to be legitimately blood related. There are many reasons for this… I’ll get into some of them in a moment… But when you reveal that the pairing is legal through adoption, you effectively kill any sense of drama or stakes that could have made the couple relatable or interesting. Oreimo thankfully follows this rule, but it’s guilty of violating one other obvious rule, this time pertaining to the believability of the couple. According to a real life phenomenon known as The Westermark Effect, children of any gender who are raised together, in constant contact, throughout their formulative years will develop a mental block against each other as romantic options. They’ll become sexually desensitized to each other. Whether blood is part of the equation or not, it will be virtually impossible for a brother and sister to have any adult tension between them, unless there’s an extremely messed up family dynamic in place… Like the one presented to us in Nisemonogatari.
In Kiss X Sis, the brother is not related by blood to his sisters, who he was raised with, so that show fails at every single rule. In Koi Kaze, They were blood related, and raised apart, which brought some actual realism to the situation. This is because on the flip side, people are inherently narcissistic(to a degree), and are likely to gravitate towards people who look slightly like them. It’s somewhat common for blood related children who were raised apart to become attracted to each other, just like one particularly famous couple in Germany.
In Oreimo, I was honestly worried that they were going to pull the adoption card. The first four episodes contained numerous mentions of ‘you two don’t look like brother and sister,’ which I was afraid would be some kind of foreshadowing… After all, if you choose to use that cowardly cop-out, you’re not dealing with anything, you’re just making excuses. But yes, they are related. They don’t use that cop-out, but… Well, I’ll get to that later.
You eventually get a backstory that explains Kirino’s feelings throughout the series, and it’ll actually make you want to root against them as a couple. And I won’t blame you for it.
Aside from these rules, the reason Oreimo was able to build such a large following back in 2010 is because it wasn’t actually about incest… Or H Games, or Otaku Culture, or any of that esoteric stuff. It’s because it was about acceptance. Oreimo, at it’s core, was about people learning to understand each other despite having every reason to not even bother. That’s a very rare, and very mature message to have for a show that could have been among the lowest of the low brow. It’s also very rare for any form of media to carry that message without getting too preachy, or defaulting to a lazy, cut-and-paste anti bullying message. It carried through the first season, all the way through the first season OVAs… which, by the way, you can’t skip.
Unfortunately, when the second season came around, this message was gone. The story devolved into a much loser slice-of-life style story, and while the change in production company didn’t have much of an effect on the animation, the writing took a noticeable turn south. The first few episodes of this season were really good, but it went downhill pretty abruptly in episode 4, when a loli character entered the picture, and dragged it down into the cliched ‘main girl misunderstands an obvious situation and gets violent’ BS that the show had been so carefully avoiding up until that point. The fanservice count went up, the characters took some bizarre turns, entire episodes seemed pointless… The writing as a whole wasn’t bad, but it had some really embarrassingly painful moments to it. One of Kirino’s otaku friends, Kuroneko… My favorite character of Oreimo… goes through some development with Kyousuke, and the dynamic they form is really fun to watch, although her motives are entirely baffling. And one of Kirino’s model friends, who made some awesome Higurashi references in season 1, goes full on Yandere.
When I got to the second season OVAs, I had already noticed that this praiseworthy series had significantly dropped in quality, but I still liked it. In fact, I was pretty incredulous about the general consensus towards those OVAs, which everyone seemed to hate. And I was just fine with them, most of the way through. I liked how they were tying off the main plot thread, and I thought Kyousuke’s childhood friend had one of the strongest moments in the series, and I really wanted to see how her encounter would be dealt with… But then I got to the ending. Let me tell you something about that ending. As much as I enjoyed this show, those last ten minutes of the s2 OVAS was the worst ending I have ever seen for anything in my entire life. I won’t spoil it, but I was WISHING they’d gone with the adoption cop-out, because the resolution they chose wasn’t just bad, it was insultingly bad. It made absolutely no sense, in context with neither the characters nor the story, and even having finished it and put it behind me, I still feel angry about it. It’s like the last few bites of my ice cream cone were made out of battery acid.
In 2010, this show was outstanding. It did almost everything right, despite having every excuse in the world to do it all wrong. I don’t know why it took three years and a change of production companies to put out a continuation, but in those three years, something must have gone wrong, either with the original light novels or in the artistic integrity of the people adapting them. I don’t hate the second season, and I could definitely watch them again if the mood ever struck, but my god, that ending throws a very sour sheen onto my thought of this series as a whole.
Oh, well… Breaking down my opinion, this is how my rankings for Oreimo go.
Season 1: 8/10
OVAs 1: 8/10
Season 2: 6/10
OVAs 2: 2/10
My overall score for Oreimo: 5/10
PS: I’m nowhere near the first person to point out those facts about incest IRL… In fact, I wouldn’t have known about them if it wasn’t for Jesuotaku and her Koi Kaze review. Check out her work, you won’t regret it! She’s my favorite reviewer for a reason!