Notice: This review covers both seasons of this anime.
The first anime about otaku culture was a pseudo-documentary back in the 80s called Otaku no Video. It was short, simple, with a rather negative image on anime fans, depicting them as creepy and antisocial, even though the protagonist was inspired to create his own anime studio.
Fast forward to the early 2000s and we get Genshiken. It was presenting anime fans in a much more positive way, yet still didn’t hide the awkward things they were doing, which made them seem like freaks in the eyes of non-anime fans. Otaku culture was beginning to be far more widespread at this point, so it was much easier to be perceived more like a hobby, rather than some weird type of deviance. It was balancing the good and the bad of the fandom, so it was a fine watch for those who were anime fans, and educational for those who weren’t.
Then came the late 2000s, where optimism went out of hand, reaching such levels of autism and naval-gazing that it becomes downright nauseating. Ore no Imouto (Oreimo) became the trademark series of this mentality, by rubbing its buttocks on the crotch of those who already are deep in anime culture, instead of keeping a somewhat neutral stance, like Genshiken did. A rookie who still doesn’t understand the meaning of moe or hasn’t browsed hentai CGs will definitely feel lost with the constant terminology and hardcore fascination. He will most likely also be disgusted, since despite trying to present itself as a parody at first, Oreimo eventually sticks its head so deep in its own ass by taking seriously the perversion going on in it, to the point it stops being funny. In simpler words, it begins as a dramedy about otaku culture and turns into a fantasy empowerment harem, heavy on incest.
This though became clear only in the sequel, since the first season was mostly poking fun at the whole thing and was doing a decent job at balancing the comedy with some drama. There was emphasis on accepting people for who they are, and not avoiding them simply for having different tastes and hobbies. Otakus are still people, even if they love to play hentai games about incest. This theme is presented through the lead heroine, Kirino, who loves to play such games, but also can’t reveal it to anyone because they are prejudiced. She wants to stop hiding, meet more people like her, and be more creative with the hobby she likes. This is the positive aspect of the series many liked, and were willing to not take seriously the hints of incest that were constantly flying towards Kyousuke, her brother. Those are just jokes, no such thing will ever happen.
The story was otherwise never realistic or serious. It uses a lot of situations any otaku goes through at some point in his anime life, but the way everything unfolds is definitely NOT realistic. All problems are resolved quite easily, by having people who despise anime as if they are Jews in Nazi Germany, changing their minds because Kirino was sounding very serious about it. What’s that my underage daughter? You want me to let you go to photo-shootings, where you are paid for posing sexy? Sure, why not. Oh, and you also spend all that money to buy porn games for adult males, where you have sex with little sisters? Keep doing it, nothing wrong about it. I won’t even ask how the store manager let you buy them in the first place. What did you said? Your brother, whom I know has the hots for you, wants the keys to your apartment? Sure, he can have them. I am only your father.
And exactly because it was so easy to overcome every conflict imaginable, the writer eventually jumps the shark and thinks he can do the same with any topic. And thus came the incest, which of course is not bad either. Otakus are still people, even if they do in real life what they play in videogames. This is not about acceptance anymore; wish fulfillment is completely self destructive when directly transfers from imagination to reality.
There is a huge difference between social critique and pandering. The show is not bad because it has incest, but because it presents it as just another thing people should simply accept with a motivational monologue. Koi Kaze was also dealing with the subject but it took itself seriously. Oreimo doesn’t do that. It doesn’t even end ala School Days, where the characters destroy themselves by losing their touch with reality. Even if you try to see the ending as an incest love story, it still is not satisfactory at all. Kyousuke essentially dumps all the girls who liked him and accepts Kirino as a lover… before dumping her as well. What was the point of all this?
I know that the author was not allowed to end the story with them being lovers, but by compromising, he blew up everything he was trying to accomplish. Though this way he got what he deserved, almost as if it was poetic justice. He was making it seem like you can convince people to let you do any crap you like, as long as you sound like you really-really want it. That is why Kyousuke keeps trying to help Kirino in ways that feel degrading, takes the blame for all her mistakes, goes to places he shouldn’t, and even plays eroge even though he doesn’t like them, just because she wanted to. That is also why Kirino is able to publish her own novel AND adapt it to anime immediately afterwards, before she is even 15 years old. Well dear author, guess what, in the real world, publishers don’t let you write anything you like, nor adapt it before you are an adult, no matter how much you want it. How do you like them apples?
And no, making OVAs where Kyousuke is dating other women does not fix the problem, if they take place in alternative realities. You cannot get away with it, ala Steins;Gate.
If you are still wondering how all that flew over the heads of most viewers while they were watching the show, the answer is pretty simple: It looks nice. It has a much higher budget than your typical harem, and that magically makes everything ok. Also, Kirino belongs to the annoying yet lovable loli stereotype, who otakus worldwide love to have as a waifu, and that miraculously makes her silly antiques to get a pass. It’s apparently hot to have a selfish and mean sister who abuses you all the time, but is otherwise dependent on you and loves you deep inside. Tsundere imoutos are kawaii! Or do you honestly believe that the show would appeal as much if the protagonist was an ugly adult male?
Kyousuke is also an easy to like character if you are an otaku, as he acts like a typical harem lead in the role of the deuteragonist. All the girls are essentially otaku cosplayers who like him for no real reason, gets unfairly blamed for everything, and yet still somehow manages to get on top all the time. And since this is based on a light novel, of course and the girl he chooses is his own sister. And no, the cop-out excuse of them finding out they are not blood related does not make it feel any better. Though, unlike conventional harems, he chose a girl instead of remaining indecisive, for the purposes of maintain the status quo and keeping all the shippers happy. Sadly, that is the exact same reason everybody hates him now. Harems are by nature not meant to have closure.
Other characters include Manami, his schoolmate female friend, who keeps giving him constant signs of affection and everybody around them tell him to make the first step but he rejects all signs and just browses at porn sites. Does that make any sense? She is not ugly or anything; hell she is the epitome of the traditional perfect Japanese wife, following the archetype to the fullest. She doesn’t even mind all the creepy stuff that happen around him and his sister. She even caught him watching megane porn and she just went along with it. So why is he such a ding-dong with her? Oh, that’s right, we need to make fun of the dense harem lead, before he decides to choose his own sister. How funny. And let’s not forget Kuroneko, the goth loli tsundere which plays out as a rival of Kirino as well as flavoring Kyosuke’s harem. Some of the funniest scenes are about Kirino and Kuroneko arguing about what counts as quality anime. Did you notice how I only mention cute girls and no other males? Heaven’s forbid if a harem does that, even for laughs. The girls are supposed to be the only ones who stick out. And they all need to blush, be moe, be sexy, and to throw in some fan service.
Then we have Kirino’s parents and friends, who as I said despise otakus yet in less than 20 minutes she and her brother manage to convince them of otherwise. The funny thing is that the only otakus with personality in this show are all girls (pandering to otakus, remember?). Males are just cardboards in Comiket and female otakus exist to flavor other aspects of the fandom with different tastes and views than Kirino’s.
Thus, what began as a dramedy, became propaganda for creepy NEETs. Something like “Yeah, society hates you but look how this cute girl deals with it in a pseudo-realistic way. So cheer up and keep piling those eroges. And don’t mind how she is in reality a proxy for fat smelly male otakus, like the ones who watch and love this shit.” The characters are likable and colorful but their motivations in a show that is supposed to be about the “real” otaku culture are off by miles. If you are not in favor of cosplay, eroge and teen idols, this show will not convince you of otherwise. It is biased towards pro; the negativity some characters show in it, is played for laughs and superficial conflict that is resolved quite fast and easily. Makes as much sense as an invisible pink unicorn dancing on the moon.
… and don’t watch it with your underage little sister. Just to be on the safe side.