I put off watching Ore no Imouto while it aired. The surrounding hype and endless references or comments such as “my cosplay can’t be this cute”, “my rollerskating dog can’t be this funny” or “my home made dung bomb can’t stink this bad” were beginning to grate. So despite my interest in the series – and the protests of my relatively picky best friend claiming that it was awesome – I deferred. While maybe not as awesomely brilliant as its reputation may suggest, OreImo isn’t as generic as I’d anticipated, and I’m glad that the hype didn’t put me off.
What strikes me most about the anime is how much it feels like an amalgamation of several different existing series, without being derivative. Instead the show grabs the best bits from each and makes them its own. Utilising the same basic premise as Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu – a perfect schoolgirl hiding her otaku hobby with the help of one guy who happened to discover her secret – OreImo questions the negative stigma attached to extreme geeks and the girl’s battle between personal shame and what she loves. However, it scrapes away the dull and frankly excruciating “romance” section of Nogizaka, replacing it with Genshiken’s joy of exploring different aspects of the otaku culture. Topping it off with a spritz of hardcore nerd-dom akin to that of Konata from Lucky Star, a sprinkle of tsundere, and the kind of occasionally perverted comedy seen in countless other series, OreImo manages to entertain for all twelve episodes.
The series plays heavily on its eroge aspect – even so far as to create different endings with the ‘True Route’ included as DVD extras. As such, the storyline often mirrors whatever game the siblings are playing at the time. This subtle symmetry between virtual dating-sims and Kirino’s life not only seamlessly weaves one of the key components throughout the narrative, but also generates plenty of comedy. One of the show’s funniest moments depicts Kirino’s immense frustration as she encounters a character in one of her games that bears a worrying resemblance to her.
Despite offering up countless laughs, Ore Imo still has its share of pitfalls. While the first half of the series ambles along in an episodic manner, parts seven and eight veer off and introduce a more distinct plotline. Sadly, this only lasts for two episodes before being dropped in favour of the plodding format and same old jokes of earlier instalments. The anime also plummets into the same trap that plagues many light-hearted shows and pulls an emotional finale out of nowhere. Though this allows for more of the luscious eroge symmetry, the series’ “ending” feels tacked on and disconnected from the previous content.
What most defines OreImo’s animation is the care that applied to the virtual worlds within the series. AIC pours so much detail into the fake series, Meruru and Maschera, that each clip feels as if it could actually be a currently airing anime. This not only alludes to the studio’s varied abilities, but also makes the parody of their genres and the cast’s comments on them all the more humorous. Meanwhile, Kirino’s plethora of little sister themed eroge are so stuffed full of beautifully drawn young girls that you can almost hear the “fap fap fap” of some lonely guy “appreciating” the concentrated, scantily-clad moe of it all.
The series’ opening theme, Irony by Claris, falls into the realms of standard electronic J-Pop. Light and bouncy enough to make for easy listening, it serves as a decent opening to this type of anime but won’t blow you away.
OreImo’s voice cast delivers an impressive performance. While Kuroneko’s calm, refined inflections and Saori’s bizarre archaic speech pattern infuse them with character, the real stars of the show are Ayana Taketatsu and Yuuichi Nakamura’s depictions of Kirino and Kyousuke. Taketatsu seamlessly flits between stony, demanding tsundere, composed and popular model, and giggly moe fanatic, to ensure that Kirino’s multifaceted personality shines through in the vocal performance. Likewise, Nakamura’s frustrated and harassed, yet deadpan, reading of Kyousuke plays perfectly alongside Kirino providing a relatively calming influence in contrast to the secret otaku’s inner crazy.
There are several archetypes I dislike and my two most hated are tsundere and kuudere, both of which feature heavily in this show. I can’t help but admit that I dislike both Kuroneko’s indifferent and “cold as a penguin’s nether-regions” attitude and Kirino’s crotch-kicking, cheek-slapping tsun-tsun nature (I desperately want to slam Kirino into a wall half the time for being such a bitch). Independently, they are unremarkable stereotypes. However, together they make for one of the most entertaining on-screen partnerships I’ve seen this past year. Their heated arguments where each party vehemently insists that they know which anime is best and the other has no taste make the scenes come alive. On top of proving highly entertaining, their relationship is also incredibly relatable. Kuroneko’s insistence that Meruru is a waste of airtime reminds me of countless arguments I’ve had with a friend over the merits of Naruto. That the duo’s antics not only compensate for, but far outshine, their individual traits proves that even archetypal characters can be refreshing.
The most notable aspect of Ore Imo’s narrative is the development of Kyousuke and Kirino’s relationship. Starting out as two siblings that detest the sight of each other, the pair gradually grows closer thanks to Kyousuke’s kind-hearted, enthusiastic, and at times downright masochistic efforts to help his younger sister. Again, this mirrors the eroge format, as each flag – in this case their latest otaku-related misadventure – prompts a slight development in their kinship. Seeing them finding common ground to bond over and the subtle differences in their reactions towards each other is the highlight of the anime’s characterisation.
The secondary and tertiary characters generally do as they are supposed to: support the primary players without overshadowing them. Certain one-shot individuals shine, such as Manami’s grandfather whose mischievous antics provide a hefty dose of comedy during the episode in which he appears. However, others feel incomplete due to the constraints of a twelve-episode series. While Saori and Kuroneko work well in their own rights, we only ever see their “Internet persona”. This would be all well and good if OreImo didn’t hint that there’s more to their “real life” than we’re seeing and then fail to follow it up. In a sense it’s like the series is an alpha release of a dating sim; they’ve set up an additional two routes, but after triggering the first flag you hit an error screen unable to proceed further with the girl of your choice.
I’m pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable this anime is. It may not be spectacular (other series, such as Genshiken, represent otaku culture much better), but if you fancy light entertainment with pretty visuals and comedy, OreImo is a solid choice.
Kyousuke Kosaka is a normal teenager with average grades and an average home life, but when he finds out that his overachieving younger sister Kirino has been hiding her vast anime and eroge collection from their unassuming parents, his world turns inside out! Now, having promised to help his formerly distant sibling navigate her two distinct lives, Kyousuke finds himself drawn into Kirino's world of magical girl anime and "little sister" fetish games while covering for his sibling to her parents and friends, not to mention trying to provide what guidance he can.
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.