Abuse is apparently okay between siblings, at least according to Oreimo. This anime follows the usual teen antics and awkward relationships anime tends to focus upon, but a sister-brother complex and rampant verbal and physical abuse mars what is a basic story.
First, I’ll start with the good. Oreimo, which is short for Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai or My sister can’t be this cute, has some great awkward nerdiness to several of its scenes. As the story goes, Kirino hides her obsession with little-sister themed anime to avoid being labeled as an otaku. She reveals this secret to her brother Kyousuke who encourages her to find friends who share the hobby. The theme quickly takes a backseat to the brother-sister complex the two share, which is unfortunate. The story would be much better if it focused on the need for acceptance and the societal and family pressures to be what you are not.
But the good first. I enjoyed the arc that involved Kyousuke and his sister’s friend Ruri, a fellow awkward otaku who is also a responsible sister. That is, I enjoyed the arc until it was abruptly dropped. The interplay between the two and how Ruri hid behind her cosplay persona had potential that was lost in favor of the brother-sister complex.
The brother-sister complex and its resulting abuse sits at the center of the story. If you are a long-time reader of JP, you shouldn’t be surprised that I dug into the complex in another article. But I’ll give you the cliff notes here: the brother-sister complex is a romantic relationship between brothers and sisters, whether blood relatives or not, that often handles the taboo of the relationship. In anime, that taboo is often a source for comedy–the usual “oops I fell on you and grabbed your breast” bit. Kyousuke and Kirino generally behave more like siblings than lovers, but they do have scenes that flirt a bit too close to the complex. They have a relationship that feels a little strained for strained-sake at times. Kirino puts on a tsundere facade that, while meant to feel forced, falls into caricature too quickly.
Don’t misunderstand. Kyousuke and Kirino have great bother-sister moments (without falling into the complex) because of the forced facade, but their parents never bother to intervene with this problem. The only time they do is when Kirino’s secret comes close to being revealed to her father. Kirino full-on slaps and physically abuses her brother in front of their parents, who don’t say a word. Now, in my family if anyone did that, my parents would end it on the first. Yet, this is played up as comedy or a quirk of her character. It makes violence seem okay because its a sister doing it to a brother. Abuse, however, is abuse. No one stops and says it’s wrong for her to do that, but if roles were reversed–her brother hitting her–someone in the story would have. Abuse is too often seen as male on female, but it can and often is reversed. Only men are expected to deal with it or otherwise be shamed for being beat up by a woman. Kyousuke just deals with Kirino’s abuse with only a few comments. The parents’ silence is particularly troubling. Other than a few scenes, they may as well been absent as they often are in these types of stories.
What’s more, Kirino’s facade is verbally abusive. Siblings often name-call, but she devolves into verbal abuse that goes beyond mere sibling quarrels. The nice sibling moments they have don’t fully counter the scenes of abuse.
Oreima disappointed me with the dropped arc between Kyousuke and Ruri and the normalization of sibling abuse. In the end, I found the story par for the course. As I study anime, I find few transcend the tropes and formulas that dominate the medium. Of course, there are many reasons to this, audience demands being just a part of them. Oreima isn’t one of these transcendent stories. It isn’t the worst trope follower, but neither does it explore the more interesting themes it touches. I find this common to many anime stories. They touch on interesting themes, but never fully pursue them. Sometimes they try to do too much instead of focusing on one idea. Multiple ideas work fine if pursued through a character, such as in literary works, but I’ve seen only a few that have taken this approach. Of course, manga’s stories seek to provide entertainment for trips between work and home or between classes. They aren’t always meant to be deep works, which is fine. I just wish we would get stories that were meatier in content and light on the tropes and formulas that pervades anime and manga and light novels.