Eromanga Sensei
Episode 1-2

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Eromanga Sensei ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Eromanga Sensei ?

Can you judge a series for something it technically hasn't done yet? This is the central dilemma of critiquing a series like Eromanga Sensei on a weekly basis. At this point in time, while the setup and subject matter of the show (to say nothing of the history of the author) make it seem pretty clear where it's going, it hasn't actually gone there yet, leaving us in the unique position of biding our time until the other shoe drops.

In case you hadn't picked up on it yet, Eromanga Sensei spends its opening episodes skirting around the idea of a romance between its (not blood-related) sibling main characters, leaning into the whole little sister fetish that took off as a trend a few years ago. This was thanks in no small part to Tsukasa Fushimi's previous series, Oreimo, which actually took until the infamous final act to reveal its hand as a full sibling romance. While Eromanga Sensei hasn't actually committed yet either, the signs are already much more prominent than they were in Oreimo.

This complicates things, because the other parts of this show aren't too bad! The opening half of the first episode is a respectably entertaining look at the life of a guy trying to support himself and the family he has left with his career as a light novel author. Masamune is actually rather likable as a protagonist, his reactions to working the book-signing and worrying about drawing too much attention to his career at school come across nicely down-to-earth, and it's appealing that the scenes with his publisher are more about selling his incredible work ethic rather than talking up his supernatural writing skills. Knowing that this work ethic is there in service of taking care of his sister only helps our opinion of him; all the components of the story do work cohesively, to the point where his climactic rush to stop Sagiri from undressing in front of her camera (which leads to the show's big reveal) works specifically because we've been shown up to that point how much Masamune does want to take care of his little sister.

And then the second half of the episode focuses on leering shots of Sagiri, selling us on her moe and tsundere appeal and making us wonder if it's just a matter of time before Masamune finds her appealing that way as well.

It's too bad, because the people putting Eromanga Sensei together are clearly trying hard. The production values are strong, the direction is sharp, and the show looks good. Even the early scenes of Masamune's daily life with him fixing breakfast and talking to his publisher didn't bore me, as the show keeps a strong pace that draws you into the characters' lives. Even the first episode's second-half conversation with Sagiri, for all its leeriness, was still composed with the heart of two siblings trying to reconnect after an awkward separation. Little touches like the soft-spoken Sagiri having to use a mic to let Masamune hear her or leaving off their reconciliation on an awkward ‘to be continued’ help sell the scene, even as we're peering between the lines for any romantic context that might raise concern.

It's the second episode where the concerning elements of the series really jump off the deep end. We're introduced to Megumi, the representative from Sagiri's class who has tasked herself with befriending the shut-in artist and bringing her back to school. Megumi immediately endears herself to Masamune and the audience with in-his-face flirting attempts and suddenly talking about dicks with no provocation. I was taken aback by the sudden minute-long segment where a middle-school girl expounds at length about her love for dicks at the beginning of this episode. The series wasn't exactly family-friendly in its first episode ('Ero' is right there in the title, after all), but blunt material right at the start like this is jarring, to say the least.

The series also uses this as the opportunity to raunch up the sibling incest teasing a bit, with Masamune remarking to himself about how cute his sister's panties are when he gets to wash them.

The whole business with Megumi trying to get Sagiri to come out and go to school takes up the first half of the episode, and while the subject is potentially compelling, the direction of this whole scene suddenly turns lifeless. There are long stretches of Masamune and Megumi just talking in the living room. The show tries to add a little flair with Sagiri using a phone to listen in on their conversation, but it doesn't really add anything in practice. The one chuckle from this scene comes when Megumi suggests curtailing Sagiri's shut-in tendencies by cutting off the house's internet. The otaku siblings' pained reaction to the very suggestion rings true. Then the conversation caps off with Masamune commenting on how attractive he thinks his little sister is, while she secretly listens in. Know your audience, I guess.

The second half of the second episode returns to the light novel business side of the story that started the first episode. As before, this element is just much more interesting than the dressed-up ambiguous romantic tension between the siblings. Masamune's petty reactions to Elf Yamada's better-selling novels in the store are amusing, even if it is an obvious lead-in to him encountering the rival novelist at his publisher, where of course she turns out to be a cute girl. Yamada (who may be an actual elf, judging from her ears) is a pretty grating character at this point; even if she's supposed to be a satire of the narcissistic successful light novel author, she's maybe a little too much. Granted, this could be a tsun facade that will eventually give way to her also wanting to jump Masamune's bones, but at least they thankfully put aside any hinting at that for now to instead have her try to poach Sagiri (as Eromanga-Sensei) from Masamune for novel art.

This at least throws an interesting element into the relationship between the siblings, one that frankly piques my interest much more than the whole potential incest element. If their light novel work is supposed to be the foundation for their rebuilt relationship, the show will do well to lean into that more than any potential romance (although I guess there's nothing stopping them from doing both). At least Sagiri decides to start washing her own panties at the end.

As it currently is, Eromanga-Sensei really isn't hurting anyone. Viewers wanting a solid domestic comedy about siblings reconnecting over their light novel work are going to feel distracted by the strong possibility of quasi-incestuous romance, while those who are actually here for the whole little-sister-fetish scenario are going to be left waiting for the series to actually show its hand. The very existence of this Schrödinger's Incest element leaves what could be a strong series in one direction and at least laser-specific pandering the other direction stuck in a holding pattern, wasting time with domestic conversation scenes that dance around what the characters actually feel. At least it's a nicely-animated, strongly-directed holding pattern. If the series can move along on Sagiri coming out of her shell so it can devote more focus to the novel-making aspect, it might end up being worth something. For now, it's just an uneven, awkward ride for those here for anything besides a cute little sister.

Rating: C

Eromanga Sensei is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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