Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: OREIMO

The 2nd review of Christmas is a new title from Dark Horse (well, one that isn't a CLAMP omnibus).

OREIMO (Ore no Imoto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, or My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute), adapted from the light novel series by Tsukasa Fushimi, drawn by Sakura Ikeda and Hiro Kanzaki.  First published in 2009, and first published in North America in 2012.

PLOT:  Kyousuke is an ordinary teenage boy who has a rather distant and thorny relationship with his younger sister Kirino.  She's a popular, pretty 14 year old who is also kind of moody and in other words, she's very much like any 14 year old girl.  Then by accident, Kyousuke discovers Kirino's big secret: SHE'S AN OTAKU.  Not just any otaku, but one who loves magical girl anime and (more distressingly) little-sister theme eroges and the like.  She loves them so much that she keeps a stash of her merchandize hidden in her room, and even took up modelling to help pay for her habit.  After this discovery, Kirino begins to open up to Kyousuke, even if it's mostly just so she can have someone to talk to about her interests.  He in turn encourages her to reach out to other otaku, even accompanying her to an otaku meet-up at a maid cafe.  What will happen, though, when their father discovers one of Kirino's games around the house?

STORY:  Oreimo is marketed as a comedy, but I don't quite see it.  Well, I can see how it might work as one in Japan, but the main conflict that is supposed to serve as comedy is lost when you try to bring it to the USA, and the end result is kind of confusing and even kind of offensive.

Most of the comedy is supposed to stem from the notion of "HUR HUR, SHE'S POPULAR, ATHLETIC, AND PRETTY! SHE CAN'T BE AN OTAKU! NO ONE WOULD EVER SOCIALLY ACCEPT HER AGAIN IF THEY KNEW! ISN'T THAT IRONIC AND HILARIOUS!? HUR HUR!"  It's a rather crude joke, but I can see how it would fly in Japan.  There, you are very much expected to consume age-appropriate media once you grow up and to put aside things like video games and anime.  Those who do not are seen as childish, socially hopeless, and even as perverts.  Thus, the humor is supposed to stem from the conflict between Kirino's successful social image and her own embarassingly childish and perverted interests, even if she claims that she enjoys the eroges for the stories and the cute character designs.

The problem with this conflict is that it no longer works as comedy once you take it out of Japan.  American adults don't face nearly as much social pressure to give up geeky pursuits and media when they grow up - indeed, where would the internet be without them?  Thus, your average American manga reader would see no problem with being pretty, popular, athletic AND being into anime and eroges.  The manga repeatedly infers just how awful and shameful otakudom is, yet it is being marketed to those very otaku, and the manga is thus implying that its own audience is awful, shameful, and socially hopeless.  Oreimo is making fun of its own audience, and it's presuming that said audience is not self-aware enough to notice.  That's what makes it truly offensive to me - it's not laughing with its audience, but at them.

All that being said, what is the rest of the story like?  Oddly, while it fails as a comedy, it does sort of work as a family drama.  Kyousuke and Kirino's relationship initial relationship felt very familiar, where you regard your other siblings as weird and annoying and your whole relationship is strained because you're still growing out of being moody, bratty teenagers.  Their relationship actually got weirder the closer they got, between Kyousuke's repeated instances of calling his sister "hot" and Kirino's latching onto her brother and even trying to kiss him at one point.  Yeah, I know she states that she's not into incest, despite what her game choices would indicate, but I don't think the author fully wants us to believe that.  Also: ewwwwwww.

I will say that I like that Kyousuke isn't a spineless wimp.  He's understandably weirded out by Kirino's interests, but he does try to understand her interests and even consults some of his own friends to find ways to help Kirino interact with other fans like herself.  The results are kind of mixed, because Kirino has too much pride to befriend a bunch of nerd (and yes, that does make her a total hypocrite), but it's a genuinely nice gesture.  In truth, watching Kirino interact with the other otaku, including the tall, strapping, and completely oblivious ringleader and a gothloli cosplayer who almost instantly is at odds with Kirino, is probably the closest this volume gets to genuine humor.  Funny how that works when you try to base the humor on personality conflicts instead of shaming the audience indirectly.

When it comes to the story, Oreimo is a mixed bag.  The main conflict might work as source of comedy in Japan, but it falls flat on North American audiences.  The story actually is most effective when it focuses less on Kirino's otakudom and more on building a better relationship with her brother and drawing humor from putting Kirino into new situations.

ART:  The story of Oreimo at least tries to put a twist on the vaguely incesty little sister story; the artwork sadly plays it all too straight.

The character designs are very simple and moe-fied.  We're talking pure moeblob here - big wide-set eyes, barely any noses to speak of, simple lines for mouths, faces which are not very distinct and not terribly expressive - it's all there.  The art also goes out of its way to undercut the story's assertations that it's not supposed to be perverted through its constant sexualized gaze at Kirino.  Rare is the time that the panel is gazing down at her cutely pouting, or focused with laser-like precision on her ass, or setting her up into some vaguely suggestive position.  Even the cover sexualizes her, having her twist her spine into an impossible, Rob Liefeldian position to best emphasize her boobs and butt.  I can't take the story's denial of any pervy undertones seriously when it keeps presenting fanservice like this.

Backgrounds are exceedingly rare, as the majority of the panels are taken up by almost uncomfortably close headshots.  There was a suprising amount of chibi action, all within sillier moments and all featuring Kyousuke's hyper best friend, complete with the perky ears and wagging tail of an eager puppy.  The panels are larger than average, but when you use all that space for close-ups and fanservice, it's something of a waste of space.  It's mostly just there to attract and titilate the moe-loving otaku audience, and little else.

PRESENTATION: There's an afterword from the writer and artists, as well as a few gag 4-komas and an essay from the editor, who also seems oblivious to any weirdness about anything about this story.

I was drawn to the more subtle, relationship-based elements of the story, but the otaku-shaming element falls flat and the moe and incest fanservice overwhelmed any relatable story elements.  Kyousuke may not be able to believe his sister is that cute, but I can't believe this series got licenced.

This series is published in the USA by Dark Horse.  The first of 4 available volumes have been published, and is currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Want a chance to win Volume 1 of this and 5 other series?  Leave a comment to enter the 12 Reviews of Christmas Giveaway here!  

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