We’ve been gone for a while now, haven’t we? Between work, school, trying to collect payment for work, videogames, moving, travelling to Japan, videogames, and general depression, Colony Drop’s output has come to a complete halt for the past year or so. I think we were supposed to print a fanzine or something, too? Well, it might take us a bit to get back in the swing of things, to summon up the proper bile to confront the state of Japanese cartoons for children and nerds in 2013. So, let’s warm up by discussing My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute.
Oh, don’t give me that look.
MySis might be the most representative multi-media project for the otaku zeitgeist of the early ’10s I can think of. It’s about otaku like you and me — otaku who struggle to disguise prurient interests which would surely make them pariahs amongst their family and social circles, who claw their way through the crowds to obtain rare and coveted goods at fanzine events, who craft derivate web-novels destined to be published as proper young adult fiction and hit anime adaptations… and who’d just like to have a couple of people who share their interests to hang out and a good time with. Yes, it’s that classic tale of a fourteen-year-old girl who’s a super-attractive professional model, competes on a national level in track-and-field, is the top of her class academically, and is really, really into adult games about big brothers who fuck their adorable little prepubescent sisters, and her older brother’s accidental discovery of her interests.
Imagine Genshiken, except the funhouse mirror’s not merely warping space, but collapsing it into a black hole. Now the characters you’re totally moé for — in a non-sexual way; God, get your mind out of the gutter — are, themselves, totally moé for character types of their own!
Our heroine, Kirino, is a fusion of otaku-friendly fetish object and a reflection of their common fears and anxieties. This alone isn’t especially novel: that’s pretty much what Genshiken‘s Ogiue is, except Kirino’s outgoing and confident (in non-nerd situations), and prefers little girls gettin’ nude to dudes gettin’ rude. But there’s something especially brilliant about making her fetishes of choice overlap so much not just with current market trends, but her own “character type.” Over even the show’s own protests (hence the title), it rarely misses an opportunity to make a joke about how awkward it is for Kirino, a “little sister” herself, to drag her elder brother Kyosuke into her incestuous pornographic interests, as the camera lingers on her bottom with calculated frequency.
Yet there’s something just a bit genuine about Kirino’s behavior, both as the identifiable otaku obsessing over her prizes and as a teenage girl. Her sibling rivalry with her brother, the familial affection they clearly share but neither is mature enough to admit it; that part feels almost serious and heartfelt! Heck, while Kyosuke doesn’t get much in the way of his own interests explored, and seems only a couple steps divorced from “stock” self-insert lead, his aimlessness and alienation are just relatable enough to cut him some slack. It’s not his fault he’s a normal dude in a show about otaku. (And this is one series which isn’t afraid to tell the real truths: kids are totally getting their hands on cartoon pornography with no oversight or ID checks, descending into a pink abyss of writhing flesh.)
Then the show goes and crosses the wires, using tropes and situations which code as “romantic” in exactly the type of otaku media the series is drawing from — and later in the series itself — as expressions of sibling bonding, and you wonder: what’s the deal, exactly, with otaku wanting to fuck themselves? Kirino’s not an especially critical viewer, as long as her database checklist’s filled out, but her influences are still her influences… are her responses seeming so “stock” and awkward, like bad anime writing, actually a brilliant spot of characterization?
(No, but it’s fun to pretend.)
MySis‘s story arcs are self-congratulatory and sometimes almost didactic: here’s how you keep your weirdo hobby in check enough to “pass” in normal society and still have a good time, and here’s how to understand your weirdo otaku friends even if you can’t get down with the animes! We’ll give dramatic speeches about how our hobbies are a part of who we are, same as our intellects and our aptitudes, and nothing can change that! But MySis doesn’t really have answers to offer when it comes to the crises that hit closest to home. “As long as you fulfill your responsibilities, there’s nothing to be ashamed about your hobby,” declares the older and wiser otaku character with those swirly glasses that sadly went out of style. A good sentiment, but, revealingly, not one the show’s willing to commit to.
Your average arc goes like this: Kirino runs into some sort of opposition to her nerdy hobbies, or the expression thereof, and Kyosuke yells and screams until the situation is defused and forgotten, but not actually resolved. For example, an early arc has Kirino desperately trying not to lose a close friend who discovers her creepy hobbies and can’t handle it. Kyosuke fruitlessly appeals to reason, attempting to defuse the “FUD” spread by sensational articles about the dangers of anime and videogames. (Setting aside, for a moment, that Kirino’s core interests are pornographic and, honestly, pedophilic, because the show usually does too.) What ultimately works is convincing Kirino’s BFF that Kyosuke’s ten times the creep she is, repairing their friendship on the grounds of “protecting” Kirino. A feel-good non-sequiter and we’re back in business.
And that’s the show. The cast goes to Comicket. They hang around in fast-food restaurants and argue about which animes are the bestest. They have dumb rivalries which extend into extremely on-the-nose jokes about the otaku media publishing market. A more conventional fangirl character appears and creates a homebrew Wizardry clone where the characters all look like the guys in her class (and partake in graphic bath-house orgies). Multiple attempts at dramatic events are made and fall flat on their face for one reason or another. As bizarre as its premise is — and it’s important to remind the most cynical among us that it is bizarre — MySis is really more inoffensive than anything. Plus the theme song’s hella catchy.
And it’s a show about people who actually put themselves out there to make connections with other people, to try to better themselves, to pursue their ambitions, even if the attempts don’t always work out. There’s no glorification of the “NEET” lifestyle, so often the starting point for otaku characterization. Nobody’s “hopeless,” they’re just huge damn nerds, and they’re not just a source of cheap self-deprecating gags to insert into the background of a “serious” show. MySis might not be realistic, and it knows that there’s only so far it can go even as an fantasy, but I just can’t hate it for that. Maybe that little bit of real optimism is what the navel-gazing otaku fiction market could use more of.
But that dating-sim spinoff for the PSP is pushing it. C’mon. You assholes will run anything into the ground, huh?