Welcome, all, again. Regular readers might be a little surprised to see Eromanga Sensei as the subject of this review, especially given the unkind dig I took at the series during my review of Sakura Quest (14 April). But I’ll be the first one to admit being wrong about something, especially when I turn out to be this wrong! And, yes, I really blew this one early on. Good thing my son was familiar with the source material, because my two-episode rule would have done me no good this time.
So, what gives? Well, as I so indelicately pointed out during my Sakura Quest review, Eromanga Sensei seems to start out as yet another story about two siblings getting the hots for each other. A worn-out trope to be certain, but where did this even come from? And why does it keep showing up? What’s the big deal with the incest? Oh, and just to quasi-legitimize things, we’re both told and shown in the very first episode that Masamune and Sagiri aren’t actually blood kindred. No, their parents married and created a little hot-pot family that can just cook down however it wants. Good thing, then, that the parents conveniently disappear, else we might have ended up with a show called Daddy Loves Loli!, or maybe even Crouching Cougar. And didn’t The Brady Bunch already cover this “we’re not blood, so it’s good” thing–40 years ago?! Anyway, that’s the baggage I carried into watching this series.
And for the first two episodes, I was right. And since two episodes is my rule, I got ready to move on to other things, which I mentioned to my son. To my surprise, he seemed disappointed. He reads a lot of manga, and assured me that the story was on the verge of recovery by way of redirection; just try two more episodes, he urged. Turns out that I didn’t even need to–episode 3 saw a major shift in focus. But to explain that, let me address the actual plot: put simply, Masamune is a high school student who writes light novels, novels that he does not at first realize are illustrated by his recluse of a little sister, Sagiri. And if his storytelling can be somewhat questionable, her artwork is undeniably erotic.
And that’s pretty much the opening premise. Brother and sister living together (although she remains secluded in her room), but also working together, albeit in ignorance of the fact. Other characters pass through, but nobody makes much of an impact until the arrival of Elf Yamada, an author both younger and much more successful than Masamune. She is introduced in the latter half of episode 2, but by episode 3 she gains enough presence to completely redirect the story. [This actually prompted a little discussion between me and another expat writer from Crunchyroll’s old Takeout newsletter, edsamac, who agreed that Elf’s presence revitalized the show. In fact, he’s written quite a bit about this series on his own anime review blog: https://animananime.com/.] Anyway, Elf shows up and we suddenly have a trio of characters interacting: Masamune now has competition for Sagiri’s artwork; Elf finds unexpectedly strong competition in storytelling; and Sagiri for the first time experiences competition for Masamune’s attention. Things get much more interesting and, thankfully, a lot less icky. The show’s still pretty out-there, but it becomes a lot more fun to watch.
Now, to be fair, the incestuous desires thing doesn’t necessitate that an anime is DOA. While it is an overworked (and I dare say much over-appreciated) trope, it can really make a story pop in the right hands. Interested in comedy? Recently, My Sister Is Unusual plays for laughs when a little sister becomes possessed by the ghost of a girl who had a crush on the possessed girl’s older brother. That series has so much that is just so wrong, but it’s always done with a nudge and a wink. The slice-of-life comedy Listen to Me, Girls, I Am Your Father! takes a very delicate approach to showing the oldest sister’s crush on her college-age uncle. Sure, it’s used to garner laughs, but never to the point of devaluing Sora’s feelings. And who can forget the poignancy of the emotionally nuanced relationship between the Wakatsuki twins, Shusuke and Shuri, in the anime version of Myself; Yourself? Even their own father assumes incest between them (and even seems a little jealous). My point is that even this tired trope can legitimately contribute to a story’s progression if applied deftly and with an understanding that it has already saturated its medium. So make it original or make it something else!
Eromanga Sensei made it orginial–they rode that horse right up to the cliff’s edge, then sold the saddle and went hang gliding, instead. It kind of reminds me of Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, with the way the story so suddenly changes tone and direction. And, personally, I’m very grateful for the change! What began with an opening episode even more painfully awkward to watch than that of Sakura Quest has developed into a fun, sassy romp of a show! It’s pointless, overblown, exploitative. . .and exactly what this season’s schedule needed. And, yes, I’ll see you there.
[Parental Note: blatant fan service, as well as some pretty tasteless allusions and references to incest, particularly in the first two episodes. Again, things get a lot better beginning in episode 3.]