Ore no Imouto, etc. Episodes 4 and 5 – There’s No Way My Little Sister Could Be Such a Bad Person
When I last wrote about Oreimo, many days ago, I mentioned that not only did it have an obnoxiously bratty closeted otaku 14-year old as its main heroine (and thus object of desire), but that it did a horrendously bad job at defending otaku hobbies, particularly for a show which seems to exist mostly for that purpose. These episodes continue with both of those trends, and somehow manage to make Kirino seem even more irredeemably awful despite refusing to acknowledge her awful behavior, and continue to be pretty bad otaku apologia.
Ridiculously-henpecked brother Kyousuke manages to rescue Kirino from opening a package of pornographic, fan-made comics disguised as boutique cosmetics in front of her decidedly anti-otaku friends, but only at the cost of embarrassing her through clichéd anime shenanigans. Instead of gratitude (even begrudgingly), she makes her take him out somewhere.
That somewhere ends up being the Comic Market, the semi-annual convention which is the largest gathering of otaku in Japan. She and Kyousuke head there with her other otaku friends, and have a good day gallivanting around the con, being otaku.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a large gathering of people specifically tailored to your hobbies, but it can be an intoxicating experience, particularly if that hobby is attached to a subculture as isolated and closeted as otaku are. Your ordinary life may be full of people who just don’t understand your hobbies, and might even have socially-problematic preconceptions related to them, but here are a bunch of people gathered together to celebrate the very things you normally feel uncomfortable sharing with strangers.
Here you can just be yourself, to enjoy the things you enjoy, without having to worry about what others think. You can finally step out of the closet and be the person (or an aspect of that person) whom you normally aren’t.
If Oreimo was being written by a talented writer, who has a deep understanding of his subjects and the way social pressure affected them, this episode might be about that. There’s never any indication given by the show that Kirino is thinking about this at all, that anyone involved in the production of the show ever thought about this at all, but I’m going to be uncharacteristically charitable and say that it might affect what happens next, when Kirino runs into her otaku-hating best friend by chance and completely disowns the people she’s spent the last few months ignoring her best friend to get to know.
I’ve criticized the show before for never letting Kirino suffer any negative social consequences because she’s so perfect and, to be honest, the show does bring it up later. But you’d never get any indication of it here. She meets her friend, they hang back behind her, awkwardly waiting. Her friend asks if she knows them, and she says she’d never have anything to do with such disgusting people. That’s it: they just walk on by. Even when they talk about it on the train ride home, it’s never with any hint of malice. They’re sad, sure, but they forgive her.
Sure, her friends are socially passive people, the kind who would rather avoid a confrontation if possible, but that’s the sort of behavior that would completely define a relationship. I may be more flawed than these cartoon characters, but if one of my friends called me disgusting to my face and denied ever knowing me that would likely affect my relationship with them. Even if I tried to forgive them, even if I did my best not to let it affect my judgment of them, it’d probably still come bubbling up unbidden from my subconscious. Short of Kyousuke apologizing on her behalf, it’s never even brought up again.
That’s not just a phenomenal misunderstanding of human character; it’s a missed opportunity for interesting drama. As the writer of a television show (or the series of novels upon which a television series is based), it is literally your job to find such situations and mine them for drama, because that drama produces the entertainment that you are being paid to provide. And a conflict about how people understand other people and the relationship they are in is one of the most basic kinds of drama there is.
In fact, it’s the underlying idea behind where the plot ends up going. Except, instead of navigating a complex relationship with the complex supporting characters the show has spent three episodes developing, we get a shallow quarrel with the one-dimensional character that is Kirino’s otaku-hating bff, all in the name of more pro-otaku dialectic.
Ayase Aragaki (I can’t keep calling her “the best friend” forever) is another model who is perfect in every way, except this also includes despising otaku. She demands Kirino give up her hobbies and, when she refuses, goes on a whiny self-indulgent rant about how this means Kirino likes otaku stuff more than her.
Since making Kirino fight her own battles would cause her to grow as a person and possibly mature, which would make her infinitely less desirable in the minds of otaku fanboys slavering over her immature body and personality, it’s once again left to Kyousuke to fight her battles for her. In a bewildering twist, that leads to a debate about whether or not otakudom is inherently dangerous.
See, Ayase has actually done some research, and names a few incidents in which otaku have done bad things, with motives seemingly related to their hobbies. For anyone with a somewhat marginalized hobby, it’s pretty common to see these kinds of arguments (immediately prior to writing this, I was reading an editorial about a British program on the evils of video game addiction which neglected to mention the complete lack of conclusive evidence for game addiction despite a great deal of research on the subject).
So, I guess it’s good that Kyousuke mentions that the incidents Ayase brings up didn’t have anything to do with otaku hobbies. But it’s kind of a hollow argument to convince the fictional character in the story you’re writing that the made-up incident she cited as evidence didn’t occur the way she claimed it did.
Kyousuke does bring up that just because some otaku do bad things doesn’t mean all otaku do bad things, or that there is necessarily causation there, and then Kirino steps up to try to reconcile with Ayase herself, and I start to think that maybe, just maybe, Oreimo is turning over a new leaf.
But then Ayase can’t accept Kirino’s otakudom, so Kirino browbeats Kyousuke into stepping and saving her again, which he does by claiming to be in love with Kirino, thus getting Ayase to ignore Kirino’s predilections in order to get her safely away from her pervert brother.
It’s actually a funny scene, but it doesn’t resolve anything. And the next episode isn’t even about Ayase; it’s a welcome respite from dealing with Kirino’s awful behavior. But it’s all too brief, and after that it gets even worse.