What’s Wrong with Onii-chan? – A Look at Tsukasa Fushimi’s Work

I Finally Watched Them!

While author Tsukasa Fushimi has done other, smaller works, he’s mostly known for Oreimo and Eromanga Sensei. I’d go as far as to say that, at least in Oreimo’s case, that the series carries the same kind of cultural weight to the medium that other titles such as Cowboy Bebop or Code Geass have, albeit for those deeper into the medium. This is a bold claim, but the notoriety that his works have is the whole reason I’ve threatened to watch these two titles for some time now. It’s not like Tsukasa Fushimi’s work was positively received in the same way that those other titles were, much less so today, but it would also be completely incorrect to say that they didn’t leave a lasting impact. Now having watched both his flagship works, I couldn’t help but wonder just what’s wrong with onii-chan?

What I mean by this question is what exactly makes Oreimo and later Eromanga Sensei resonate with audiences, in so much they’ve stayed in the public consciousness for so long and why both shows simultaneously seem to fall flat with those very same audiences. To do so, we’ll have to discuss how Tsukasa Fushimi transitioned his storytelling style from one title to another alongside other incest titles that came before and after each respective work.

All of that sounds like a lot, but at its core this is actually pretty simple. What Oreimo and Eromanga Sensei isn’t is deep. They aren’t works trying to say something profound about human relationships or commentating on the actual taboo of said relationships. I guess you could kind of argue that Oreimo touches on these themes in the form of otaku culture, but that’s also getting a bit ahead of things. In short, this isn’t your Koi Kaze of the world but it isn’t something completely trashy like say Kiss x Sis.

Since I only recently watched Fushimi’s work, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to assume that this conversation is sparked solely from that. However, this has had some time coming, dating back to 2020 when I first covered the aforementioned Koi Kaze. The series predates both Oreimo and Eromanga Sensei but is considered quite a bit more controversial. After finishing that title though, I couldn’t help but feel that this kind of disdain for the title wasn’t warranted, it had a lot to say about these types of relationships, handling the topic maturelly. This was the starting point that would eventually lead us to where we are today.

I chose to start this conversation here because it should give you an idea of where I’m coming from when discussing these titles. My general stance on “controversial” media is that it should challenge you, and in doing so, you should learn more about yourself and the world around you. Critically thinking about these topics and ideas is a way to gain a deeper appreciation for when something is doing things right and when something isn’t. So while I’ve already mentioned that Fushimi’s work isn’t exactly doing this, they aren’t without merit in other areas.

With all that preamble out of the way, let’s finally talk about Oreimo. Having two seasons, we’ll talk about each part separately because part one is actually pretty good while the other one is… well, not so much.

Oreimo & Otaku Culture

The idea of Oreimo is a simple one, we have our brother and sister duo who absolutely despise each other. Kyousuke is a pretty average guy while his sister, Kirino is anything but, she’s a model, top student, and above all else a completely hopeless otaku when it comes to little sisters. Everything kicks off when Kyousuke discovers Kirino’s secret, and from there what you get in season one, is a pretty interesting exploration of otaku culture at the time in a way that is almost reminiscent of something more targeted like Genshiken. A bulk of this season is Kyousuke helping his sister accept her hobby and make friends in the space, all the while being slowly sucked in himself to a degree. After awhile, the pair become closer which is where the (quite obvious) incest ideas come in, but truthfully it feels more like a generic harem show more than anything else.

Oreimo | Know Your Meme

Even so, the exploration on the perception of otaku in this show gave Oreimo something to say. There’s a really great episode in the show where Kirino has successfully made other otaku friends in Kuroneko and Saori, enjoying her hobby in full with them, while still seemingly keeping things separate from her “IRL” self. However, that changes when her best friend Ayase learns about her hobbies, and things quickly fall apart. In that singular moment Kirino doesn’t embrace what she likes and instead tries to reject it, going as far as to call her other friends creepy right in front of them. It’s a real low point for Kirino as she desperately clings to being viewed as “normal” in spite of her history with everyone involved. For better or worse, this does end up getting sorted rather easily in the plot but these are the kinds of moments that likely lead to the anime being such a prominent title for more dedicated fans. There’s something there that resonates, or at least feels genuine.

Overall Thoughts on Season 1

While the previous section talked about what was most interesting about this first season, there are a few other good qualities worth mentioning. For starters, this season has shockingly good direction for the entire runtime, including both the OP and ED. Couple this with the pretty nice character designs, the only exception being Kyousuke’s childhood friend Manami who’s intentionally made to be a pretty flat/boring character, and you can almost forget that the show is sporting that early 2010’s look.

Even though the narrative is not always the most robust, I still found it to be largely enjoyable here. This was especially true of Kirino’s friend group and there interactions with Kyousuke. The only character therein that I absolutely hated was Ayase, but even in season one she’s not overbearing like she becomes later. Despite Kirino being a pretty terrible person, I was also able to buy into the big conclusive moment of the story which tries to shoot for something more profound even if it doesn’t hit the mark. The direction is still spot on there though. As I mentioned already, there’s heart here.

In terms of what I found to be lacking, it really does boil down to how the narrative is executed. Usually my problem is with pacing when I make a comment like this, but actually no, Oreimo has good pacing in season one. Instead it is more to do with how events and ideas are connected. There were a few occasions where the plot felt overly forced, or pushed the “romance” angle with Kyousuke and Kirino a bit too hard. That last part made especially bad with how tsun Kirino is, to the point where she can just be straight mean in a very unlikable way.

Generally though, I can see real value in this first season of the anime. It certainly isn’t very deep in the way that any of the other media I’ve mentioned is when it comes to exploring their respective topics, but at the same time it isn’t as if this has nothing to say. If Fushimi had left things here, it would be a flawed but otherwise enjoyable work. However, it continues, which is where a lot of the real issues with the series come into play…

Oreimo Season 2 or That Time we Retconned the Entire Plot

That section header should practically scream the main issue with the second season of the anime. It isn’t even the fatal flaw, it’s just something you are going to notice immediately coming into things, and it is only just an omen of what is to come. The mostly likable cast? Yeah, well you can kiss that goodbye. Random time skips? Sure, we got those! Adding whole plot points retroactively off-screen? You bet your bottom dollar! Oh, and not to mention that time where they hid snippets of one of those off-screen plot developments in the OP, you know, one of those things a lot of modern anime viewer skip (not myself personally, but still what a move).

Just to illustrate the point, let me tell you how things ended previously and where this season decides to pick things up. Basically Kirino is supposed to go to America for some track thing but decides not to because Kyousuke won’t be there with her (though she doesn’t say that obviously). Cool. Fine. It’s whatever. This season goes, “oh wait, she went to America actually and only came home because Kyousuke BEGGED her to come back!” for some reason? Toss in Kuroneko giving Kyousuke a random kiss off-screen (which they don’t touch for like half the show) and the fact that he goes to her school all the time now, it should be pretty clear that it’s a mess from start to finish with the only saving grace being three stories, so to keep things a bit positive they are as follows:

  1. Saori’s “arc” (if you can call the single episode she gets an arc)
  2. Kuroneko’s arc (despite how jumbled it is and my personal feelings there)
  3. The final episode (even if it is unsatisfying as an ending)

Whoops, this was supposed to be positive yet all of these plot points come with caveats of their own! What a joy.

Starting with Saori’s arc, I liked this one because she was the only character in season one to not really get a ton of development despite being one of the more prominent cast members. This is essentially her origin story. She’s an interesting character in so much that she more closely represents the “old” version of what Otaku are, like in Genshinken, despite wearing that as a façade. She’s not actually that kind of person, so seeing why she puts on this front was a great moment in the show. The only downside being it is a single episode and then the character devolves into a bit of a mess, which becomes a running theme for nearly everyone.

oreimo or Ore no Imouto ga Konnani kawaii Wake ga Nai season 2 episode Five  | Imnotanotaku's BlogWhere most of the infamy of Oreimo seems to come from is with Kuroneko. It’s setup in season one that she’s interested in Kyousuke and that it’ll be a future plot development later. True to the show’s word, that happens in season two. She confesses to him and they begin dating. Of the entire cast, this is the most fleshed out relationship, even above the two leads, and one that you’ll likely want to root for. It’s easy to see why they like each other, it feels healthy, and most importantly, it is actually fun to watch. However, all good things must apparently come to an end. Kuroneko just dumps Kyousuke as part of some master “plan”.

You might be confused here, and I wouldn’t blame you. She’s still in love with the guy, so why does she do this? Simply put, because she doesn’t want to lose Kirino as a friend. In fact, she’s gone as far as to state her plan is to have the brother-sister duo hook up and get that out of their system so they can all remain friends forever, of course with her still getting the guy too. It’s baffling. Not to say I can’t understand her thinking, but it feels like the plot bent over backwards to deny Kuroneko and Kyousuke the ending they both wanted. To that end, Kuroneko gets shafted and more-or-less fades from the narrative outside a handful of future cameos outside of the resolution to this arc.

Last, but not least, while the final episode leaves a lot to be desired I’d be acting in bad faith to say it is a bad episode. In fact, this episode is the most like Koi Kaze. It’s well directed, explains the motivations behind Kirino’s actions clearly, and tells its own self-contained narrative. Really, the problem is that this is the final episode. It leaves things hanging with no real resolution.

I’ve seen it argued that means that the “relationship” we’ve been building up for two seasons ends platonically, but that just doesn’t make any sense and feels like denial on the part of those saying that. In other iterations of the story, be it source or otherwise, Kirino and Kyousuke end up together at varying degrees of intimacy from dating to going all the way. However, the anime is not this, instead winding up at a lackluster note that leaves the viewer feeling like they just spun their wheels for two seasons.

From what I can tell, it is the general sentiment that Fushimi doesn’t really understand how to end a story. He’s stated in several interviews that he doesn’t play favorites (even stating how much he hates Kirino despite her popularity) and let’s the story go where it should, but I just don’t see it. For how much the story funnels Kyousuke to Kirino, there’s just no way that’s true. If I had to point to a critical flaw in this author’s writing, it is that he doesn’t know how to naturally connect events to get to the desired end, especially once the story has deviated from the intended path (rather intended or not). At least, when it comes to Oreimo specifically this seems to be the case.

What was Oreimo’s Influence?

It shouldn’t be surprising when I say this, but Oreimo missed the boat when little sister media was at its peak. Additionally, this series also runs counter to the realism movement the genre saw around the era of Koi Kaze. Basically, it seems like an odd series to stand out in the way it does, but in a way it isn’t. While there was a boom of this kind of incest media in games, anime, and manga (just do a Google, you’ll see, but think Kiss x Sis and so on) it eventually circled back around to being rather taboo. Of course the topic was always taboo, but Oreimo’s initial focus on otaku culture wasn’t for nothing. In a lot of ways this is a gateway into the more serious side of the otaku community.

When you consider the “heart” I talked about earlier with the show, it should become pretty obvious why this has stuck around in the public consciousness as long as it has. Does that mean it’s good? Eh, there’s certainly more here than you might expect, but I’d hesitate to fully embrace it as “good” in the typical sense. Still you can feel the influence of this series even today, even if it isn’t always in a flattering light.

Life After Oreimo

When thinking of examples of what anime clearly take influence from Tsukasa Fushimi, I’ll admit that it was somewhat of a struggle to think of good examples. That is until I watched Eromanga Sensei, his other title. No, I’m not actually talking about that show but rather the series A Sister’s All You NeedI’ve actually watched this some time ago, and even reviewed. That show is basically Eromanga Sensei but if it took the piss out of everything these kinds of stories are while still embracing their appeal. Not to mention the show has that “heart” which is a critical component to making anything like this work even remotely.

To be frank, I didn’t really expect that in spite of the fact that I knew A Sister’s All You Need was doing exactly this. As an aside, that’s kind of what makes these huge retrospective articles I do that nobody asks for interesting. With this example, you can really see how this kind of story has evolved over time, demonstrating quite clearly where common pitfalls lie and the ways to avoid them. Although this series isn’t perfect either, it has its own issues, that growth is something I love seeing in the media I consume. Which is exactly why I can’t fathom why Eromanga Sensei is held in such lackluster regard even if it deserves that opinion in isolation.

Fushimi’s Growth in Eromanga Sensei

If you take everything as a whole, you’ll see that Eromanga Sensei learned from Oreimo’s mistakes. Right out the gate episode one of Eromanga Sensei is better than anything its predecessor did. The reasons for this are pretty clear. The characters are likable, they have a clear reason that would lead them to a relationship, they aren’t related by blood (a trick these types of shows eventually figured out), and most importantly, they have actual chemistry. On top of these things, they hint at a backstory where both parties have a shared tragedy with the death of a parent, but it isn’t explored super fully. However, it is enough to get you to care about them and justify the setup, but just barely. All of that comes from the first episode. It’s streamlined and to the point compared to Oreimo.

Other areas where this anime shows signs of growth is in the supporting cast. Each of them are likable, even if they aren’t always the best of people. Ayase went too hard into being obsessive, for example, but in this show even the unlikable qualities of Elf are given reason. Plus they give her appeal. Ayase’s appeal was that she was a model I guess, that’s really it. Of course this is only one example but it extends to the whole cast.

So what is Eromanga Sensei about? In short the exact same thing Oreimo is:  Two siblings who have grown apart learn and grow together, eventually turning into something more. Well, sort of. Given that the story was still ongoing and the ending was further away this does stop in the middle, but at a much better point than its predecessor. Sagiri started to heal from her past trauma and leave her room while Masamune got to get closer to Sagiri while becoming a more successful author. That’s the interesting part, the parallels between Fushimi and Masamune, the lead of this story.

There’s a part in the show where Masamune proudly declares that he’s going to write a totally interesting junk story that is completely unmarketable. He does this for is biggest fan, Muramasa, but it is the sentiment here that is important. It seems like Fushimi’s philosophy when it comes to writing isn’t to tell the best story possible, one that’s easily marketable with mass appeal, but rather what he wants to write. That would certainly explain why the plots in these stories go the way they do, because they don’t always go in the most natural directions (even if Eromanga is much better at focusing).

That said, if this were true, then the cameos that characters from Oreimo have in this series are hard to explain. Those are obvious fanservice moments. I won’t lie, I was excited when Kuroneko showed up, even if it wasn’t to really do anything important. However, these moments are so small and insignificant, that they more act to suggest that Fushimi simply likes telling this one kind of story and wants the characters to live that shared connection within the world. Obviously, this is somewhat speculative on my part but these things tell me that Fushimi grew as an author.

I was able to enjoy Eromanga Sensei a lot more as a result. Was it amazing? No, it really wasn’t, but that isn’t the point. I could feel the passion coming through in this work where I couldn’t in the other. I enjoyed the characters a lot more and the plot followed a more logical path. That isn’t to say there were things I didn’t like, Sagiri is kind of creepy sometimes with how she treats the other girls, but overall there’s heart here.

So what gives? Why do I claim that Fushimi improved but Eromanga Sensei reviews don’t seem to reflect that? Simple, his stories were never that great to begin with. It’s a harsh thing to say, but it’s the truth. However, I don’t think that he cares. Again, he’s writing to make the stories he wants to see regardless of what anyone thinks. At the end of the day you’ve got to respect that and recognize the growth here. Doesn’t mean you need to like the works, but that’s OK. Had this anime had something more insightful to say in the way Oreimo sort of does (barely), it might have stood out a bit more, but it doesn’t. Instead, it is a lax show that’s decently fun but otherwise unremarkable. Well, except the opening, what a straight bop!

What are your thoughts on these shows and Fushimi’s works? Let me know in the comments. If you like my work consider making a donation via the buttons below. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

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