The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide A Sister's All You Need.
How would you rate episode 1 of
Sister's All You Need ?
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How was the first episode?
Alright, a reason to watch the beginning of A Sister's All You Need again! This infamous introduction (along with the rest of the episode) is every bit the uncompromising exercise in tasteless comic whiplash it was a month ago. Aside from that nauseating fake-out, (can the first minute of a series be eligible for worst anime of the season?) the episode to follow is mostly a low-key affair. It introduces the characters and their dynamics, but not much else. Maybe that's fine, since the series to follow hasn't proven to be anything more than character-based vignettes so far. While the emotional surprise at the end of this episode still lifts the experience overall, what we get still feels pretty thin on content.
SimulDub Preview: I was curious how this effort would turn out, given its odd and often outrageous subject matter. The horrifying intro is honestly a treat in English, with tongue-in-cheek delivery that fully sells its parodic nature (complete with extra slurpy make-out noises!). The subsequent argument about this fantasy between Stephen Fu as Itsuki and Eric Vale as Toki is an interesting exercise in actors adapting a conversation where they're reacting to tasteless fake material within only slightly less tasteless real material, making for an amusing listen that pulls at least a Level 3 on the meta-scale. Fu is a solidly skeevy Itsuki, getting the character's idiotic confidence in his own grossness right, though he and Alejandro Saab's Haruto also sound a little too alike at times. Arielle O'Neil does a cute job as Chihiro, while Sara Ragsdale's Miyako comes across more stilted so far. However, her character hasn't had much to work with yet, so maybe she'll improve as emotional elements come to the forefront. Just like the character herself, Jamie Marchi's Nayuta will probably be the most divisive. Her performance presents a nice duality between Nayu's cutesy and vulgar sides, though the latter can come across somewhat forced. The vulgarity and profanity of her lines has noticeably been toned down, with a lot of the sexual language shifted from explicit propositioning to euphemisms. That's not necessarily a bad or good thing, but it does make the one instance of a censored ‘sh*t’ land a lot funnier. Otherwise, the dub comes across as naturalistic as this show should, despite having to just go ahead and clumsily explain the Japanese pun at the core of the Turtle Soup game. Conversely, Toki has one line of dialogue that's just a straight title drop, which is almost laughably clunky. But this show's various rough edges are part of its charm, so maybe it's okay that the dubbed version has some of its own.
A Sister's All You Need wins one extremely dubious honor from me: I can't think of any other premiere that's brought me closer to throwing up in my mouth. The show's first two minutes, which involve a fantasy imouto-land where the protagonist washes his head in his sister's bathwater and eats her eggs and milk for breakfast, was one of the most viscerally revolting sequences I've seen in anime. If it was supposed to be sensual, it was so far beyond the pale that it was totally unparsable as titillation. If it was supposed to be gross-out humor, congratulations, that was incredibly, excruciatingly gross. Not actually funny, though.
That's pretty much the problem that carries through the rest of the episode, though in a far less intense manner. After several wasted minutes between our protagonist Itsuki Hashima and his editor, where they reiterate every single point of that opening, the rest of the episode is dedicated to a meeting between four young adult friends, three of whom are published authors. I'd actually love to see more shows about literary-minded anime characters, but unfortunately, none of these characters demonstrate much creative talent. They play a game of “Turtle Soup” that's presumably supposed to reflect their creativity and give us a better image of their personalities, but it doesn't really achieve either of those goals. Itsuki's personality is “loves little sisters,” his fawning fan Nayu's personality is “loves Itsuki,” and the other two friends are pleasant non-people. The show's only jokes are “Itsuki loves little sisters” and “Nayu makes bawdy advances on Itsuki,” so it doesn't really work as a comedy, and there's not nearly enough chemistry for it to work as a character drama or romance. Most of this episode is basically just dead air.
The show's only saving grace is its final scene, which is actually quite well-executed. We learn that the likely reason Itsuki never returned Nayu's affection is that he sees her more as a professional rival than a potential lover. As a pleasant vocal track plays, we see Itsuki shift from giggling over being liked by a girl to shocked by the strength of her writing, and his prior rebuffs are thus reframed as a kind of fellow-writer respect. But one good scene after an episode's worth of ill-conceived sex comedy and poor character writing does not a good show make. A Sister's All You Need gets a hard pass.
If the title of A Sister's All You Need was enough to set off alarm bells in my head, the opening scenes of this episode sent me straight into DEFCON 2 levels of repulsion. By the time the naked fourteen-year-old pulled her used panties from another dimension to feed to her brother, I was well aware of the jokey-joke status of the whole scene, but that didn't make watching it any less gag-inducing. Thankfully, after protagonist Itsuki is rightfully chewed out by his editor for writing something so unreadable, ASAYN reveals its true colors, which are much more tolerable though not necessarily funny or entertaining.
As it turns out, A Sister's All You Need is more of a hangout comedy than anything else, with hints of romance tossed in for good measure. The episode's loose plot has all of Itsuki's friends, along with his dutiful younger brother, come over to drink and play games, with almost the entirety of the episode devoted to their banter. Itsuki is the eccentric and socially awkward lead, Haruto is the handsome friend, Kanikou is the brash and foul-mouthed sex-obsessed one, and Miyako is the boring nice friend who sits in the background and doesn't do much. In a lot of ways, this episode presents the show as a more perverse anime version of How I Met Your Mother, which isn't anything to write home about, but it's certainly more tolerable than the trashy eye-bleach we got in its first couple minutes. While this is hardly the most engaging or interesting cast for a hangout-style show like this, I can see some potential here for growth.
Honestly, the biggest issue is that most of the episode is neither entertaining nor funny. The opening gag kind of works as a shocking psyche-out, but it also paints Itsuki as criminally lacking in self-awareness, which only makes his “little sister” shtick more obnoxious. Even when the rest of the cast assembles, nothing much happens that I would say is worthy of devoting an episode to. Kanikou makes an excessive number of penis jokes, Itsuki keeps working little sisters into the game of Turtle Soup everyone plays, causing a grating “Little Sister” stamp to pop up over and over again. Even the game itself takes way too much time out of the episode with very little payoff. Haruto's scenario relies on the specific understanding of a pun that only makes sense in Japanese, and the characters proceed to ask the necessary questions and explain the punnery at play to sort out the story. There's no joke or punchline, and the character interactions that result are only mildly revealing. Until the very last scenes of the episode reveal that Kanikou's relationship with Itsuki is more complicated than it seems on the surface, I was tempted to write off A Sister's All You Need completely.
That final sequence does offer the hint of a more interesting show, or at the very least a show with more to offer than an insufferable protagonist chatting with his boring friends. Watching Itsuki become engrossed in Kanikou's writing was almost moving, and I can see a version of A Sister's All You Need that capitalizes on that potential. Time will have to tell though, because most of this premiere is totally disposable, and I wouldn't blame anyone for dropping it entirely.
A Sister's All You Need is a hard series to figure out based on the entirety of its first episode. Every early indication is that it's going to be purely trashy fare, and yet its final scenes seem to contradict that with an incongruous level of sincerity incongruous from the rest of the episode. All that's actually clear at this point is that the plot will follow college-aged writers and their editors.
The immediate first impression is ultra-trashy, with an eye-popping opening 90 seconds where Itsuki's little sister fetish plays out in its ultimate form. The main character of his story proposal (clearly modeled after himself) wakes up to his 13-year old sister sitting on top of him naked and actually manages to go downhill from there; it would almost be parody if it didn't induce your gag reflex first. Although Itsuki's little sister fetish is pervasive throughout the rest of the episode, nothing past the first couple of minutes is anywhere near as bad as that beginning, and his editor does lay into him heavily for proposing that schlock. Instead, the raciness shifts to 18-year-old fellow novelist Nayuta, who doesn't bother with innuendo and goes straight to things like proclaiming that she wants Itsuki's dick for dessert and calling her fellow male author Haruto a “manwhore.” Contrarily, Itsuki's female college classmate seems more like a simple platonic friend, and so far Haruto comes across as more balanced and thoughtful than it initially seemed.
Nayuta is the main sticking point of this first episode, however. She's definitely the standard lovesick-for-the-MC type, and Itsuki is seemingly rejecting her advances because she isn't a little sister, but flashbacks at the end suggest that there's more to their relationship than that. The insinuation is that she may have been a hikkikomori who came out of her shell and started writing after being inspired by one of Itsuki's novels, and in the episode's most serious moment, Itsuki tearfully comments that her first novel is on another level compared to his work, and remembering that inspires him to get to work on his next deadline. So is he keeping his distance from the sexy girl who wants him so badly out of professional jealousy instead? That's a much more intriguing angle.
Another potential complication is Chihiro, the supposed 16-year-old stepbrother who comes to cook for Itsuki and his group. Though he's referred to as a boy, I will be shocked if he doesn't turn out to be a girl instead. I just don't see a story like this being bold enough to have an actual brother filling the role normally taken by the enamored younger sister, and the irony that Itsuki does have a little sister but doesn't know it would be too great to pass up. If that is the case, though, then why the deception?
Technical merits here are nothing special, and while fanservice is clearly going to play a part in this series, it doesn't look like it will be a major factor despite the first couple of minutes. The episode also has fanservice of other kinds, as it tosses out direct references to other little sister series like Oreimo and Oregairu. Board game fans with keen eyes may also spot familiar titles on Itsuki's shelves, including Dominion, Carcassone, Agricola, 7 Wonders, and Dixit, among possibly others.
Take the first 90 seconds as a sick joke gone wrong, and the episode becomes much more tolerable. It's still not going to be to anyone's taste if they don't usually at least tolerate vulgar fare, but there are enough potentially interesting aspects along with apparent tidbits about light novel writing in general that I'm willing to give it a second chance.
A Sister's All You Need wins the prize for Worst First 30 Seconds of an Anime. Seriously. Between the naked, French-kissing, baby-talking little sister and the brother eating her used underwear, the gag reflex is strong with this one, even when you recognize that it's supposed to be a joke. Fortunately, that scene turns out to be part of a truly terrible novel that the actual protagonist of the show, Itsuki, is writing instead of the actual show's premise.
But what is the series about? That's a little less clear. I suspect that the meat of this tale is going to be the way that Itsuki's novels helped Nayu when she was facing troubles at school, ultimately inspiring her to become an author herself. Over time, her obsessive love for Itsuki has only gotten stronger, and I admit to some concern on that front—one of her last scenes in this episode has her rubbing her face on used boxers from his bathroom hamper, which is an uncomfortable callback to the opening seconds of the show. The parallel is deliberate, so it's how the story will use that parallel that may be cause for worry.
At this introductory point, things still feel a little muddled. We know that Itsuki's love of little sister characters is beginning to get in the way of his literary career (his poor editor), and he in fact has a younger brother instead. One of his friends is getting his book turned into an anime, and his friend group appears to enjoy playing party games when they get together, which frankly feels like the show is trying too hard to make these authors into an automatic friend group unrelated to their natural chemistry.
And then there's Nayu. She's what ultimately pit me against this series, not only because she's incredibly annoying, but also because it feels very unreal for her to have morphed from the girl so nervous that she barfed on Itsuki when they first met at a party to a sex fiend trying desperately to get into his pants. There may be a good explanation for this, but her antics, which clearly make Itsuki uncomfortable, really cross the line. At first I was willing to buy that she's acting like the kind of woman she thinks he wants based on his books, but by the end I wasn't so sure. If she were more toned down or Itsuki welcomed her attention, I might be more interested in this show's potential underlying theme about the power of fiction. As it stands, Nayu doesn't feel worth the journey into this series.
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