A Sister's All You Need
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Sister's All You Need ?
A Sister's All You Need seems to fall decidedly on the irreverent side of the spectrum as a Light Novel About Light Novels. The authorial work the characters do is treated with respectful realism, such as Itsuki's struggles with writing a plot summary in the opening of this episode. However, that down-to-earth presentation also allows it to savage the tropes of the medium, leading to Itsuki's hilariously BS'ed synopsis that plays over the opening sequence of the show itself. It's nice that the series is willing to lay into its own industry at times.
Bite like that is what's missing from the first segment of this episode though, as the core characters sit down to hang out on Valentine's Day in a sequence that plays out too much like a rehash of the tedious establishing conversation from episode one. About the only standout joke is a return to Haruto faking a gay relationship with Itsuki online to help promote his novel. It's honestly hard for me to articulate how I feel about this joke, since I'm not even certain who it's targeting. It's technically less bothersome than a tired old gay panic gag, and there is some truth to its underlying criticisms of fans who ‘ship’ real-life people, but the exploitation element of it just makes Haruto seem more like the bad guy. Overall, it's a joke that just comes off mean-for-the-sake-of-mean rather than actually funny or insightful. In general, this whole hang-out segment drags on longer than necessary with little insight, save for a minor motivation at the end to get Itsuki working on his novel a bit more.
That's only a few minutes of time-killing though, as the lion's share of the episode is spent on one of the most unconventional plots I've ever seen in an anime: Itsuki doing his taxes! I've remarked before on the appreciable additions ASAYN's adult actors afford it, and seeing a character do their tax returns is definitely another grown-up highlight. Japan's taxes obviously work differently from those of Western countries, but Itsuki's explanation of the basic concept to Miyako, as well as a later explanation of deductions, does a more effective job of communicating the process than many purposeful tutorials have probably done for taxpayers.
It's all just the lead-in to a surreal sequence that makes you question how much the teenage light-novel-reading target audience would actually respond to. This segment is heralded by the introduction of an eccentric anime girl tax accountant. I'm really not sure what the show is even parodying anymore. Ashley Ono's appearance and mannerisms alongside her ostensibly droll behavior are entertaining enough, but the episode does well to mine some more understated humor as she works with Itsuki to search for deductions in his dumb otaku lifestyle.
The big joke here is Ashley going through and making Itsuki explain every one of his creepy little-sister-themed figures and video games, which could have been overly repetitive. However, the characters and their delivery contrast well, and they keep finding new ground to cover, be it a quick dig at the Haganai author's predilections or a sequence of increasingly absurd games that themselves seem to be riffing on too-explanatory light-novel titles, as Itsuki explains their plots of by just directly repeating their titles. Those titles might be the bridge too far, as several of them approach the gag-inducing gross-out heights visited in the first episode, but at least there aren't any horrific visuals to accompany them this time.
Back in my first review for ASAYN, I questioned whether the series' acknowledgement of Itsuki as a gross, unlikable person was worth anything on its own, and this episode proves that it is. Everything about Itsuki's dressing-down and the lampooning of the light novel industry in general is articulated as grossly as possible, relying on how absurd it must look to someone in a ‘normal’ profession. For her part, Ashley is a fun character in this role, contrasting well with Itsuki and even flipping the situation on its head when her suggestion that Itsuki rework his novels to be better-suited to tax fraud turns him into the more principled one. There's an old joke about evil accountants in there somewhere, and none of this makes the characters more inherently likable, but it does make for a truly unique lens through which to view the light-novel industry.
There is a more predictable denouement from that conceptual cleverness for the last few minutes of the episode, however, as Ashley appears again to torture both Haruto and Itsuki over their uncovered fetishes. This bit comes across as more blatant fanservice, and if you're not here for detailed descriptions of Haruto's pornographic preferences or Ashley getting teasing the boys with sexual sadism, this part just drags.
That makes ASAYN a mixed bag this week. Unlike past episodes, there were no engaging emotional highlights or flashbacks, and the bookending segments were alternately boring and annoying. But the primary portion of the episode is just so effectively unique, the type of scene I can't say I've ever seen in an anime before. High marks for novelty, at least.
A Sister's All You Need is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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