Eromanga Sensei Episode 11
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Eromanga Sensei ?
If Eromanga Sensei was setting up for complicated romantic pratfalls with the impassioned confessions of Elf and Murasama over the past two episodes, it isn't worried about following up on them immediately, as Masamune returns home to spend time exclusively with Sagiri in this episode. Even with Sagiri's nebulous worries about him not truly ‘coming home’ after the trip, it seems the show has no interest in exploring any stumbles in the step-siblings' quasi-romance. After being nearly gone for two weeks, this episode is all Sagiri all the time, as she and Masamune recount how they inadvertently influenced each other in their younger years, which led to their intersecting careers.
I'm glad the show didn't drag out the release of their new novel, and instead of spinning some standard romance comedy plot around that plot point, the story instead makes the clever choice to use it as the catalyst for this flashback episode. Granted, there is some typical romcom stuff bookending the history of our main characters (and at least Masamune walking around with Sagiri through Skype on a tablet is kind of a cute idea), but the main story that we're given is probably the most genuine Eromanga Sensei has felt in a while now.
A flashback to our heroes' earlier childhoods mostly averts the tragedy we know befalls them; in fact, the two don't even meet face-to-face during it. Instead, it turns out that shortly after both of them wound up in single-parent situations, they became virtual pen pals, bonding over messages sent after Sagiri commented on Masamune's first story. This is a relatively huge revelation, because it shifts the context for their relationship and sets up some interesting elements that may or may not be followed up on later. The dramatic irony here is that neither knew who the other was at the time, and while Masamune still isn't aware that the girl who was the first fan of his first story is now his step-sister who he's also in love with, Sagiri's end of the situation makes it apparent that she realizes who Masamune is but hasn't revealed this connection to him yet.
There are a multitude of shifts this causes for their central relationship. The show is basically built on the fetishization of the little step-sister romance, but adding this reveal to their backstory remixes that factor considerably. Sagiri's romantic attraction to Masamune is no longer a power-imbalanced devotion to her caretaker, it's an appreciation for a creator whose works she enjoyed and admired. The big theme of this episode is how Sagiri inspired Masamune to become a professional author and vice-versa for her as an illustrator. A romance built on that would be a significantly more interesting story that's less rooted in catering to such a particular fetish. However, the series is still utterly reliant on that fetish, which makes keeping Masamune in the dark about Sagiri's true identity (for now) seem less like a dramatic stepping stone and more like a convenient way to keep his half of the romance centered on the idea of wanting to date his little sister.
Eromanga Sensei seems to be trying to have its cake and eat it too this week. It's possible that this prior relationship of mutual inspiration was introduced as a concession to those criticizing a romance predicated on the characters being siblings, but going halfway with the reveal like this almost exacerbates the power imbalance inherent to their issues. Now Sagiri knows exactly why she and Masamune work so well together as a novel-creating power couple, but she's apparently grown so reliant on him as a caretaking brother that she's willing to deny him the truth and entertain his fantastical conflict because she thinks it's the best way to maintain their relationship. (She said as much back in episode 8.)
All that is to say nothing of the sheer contrivance behind the whole situation. Of course it makes some sense that even after ‘breaking up’ as children to pursue their professional dreams seriously that Masamune and Eromanga Sensei would end up finding each other and working together, but it also increases the odds of them later becoming siblings from "highly implausible" to "outright absurd." It's possible that the show has something to say about destined love and the red string of fate and all that in their reunion coming about via such a pitch-perfect setup, but that's a stretch considering that it hasn't actually tried to say anything about romantic destiny at this point. This whole thing is one of those plot points that seems like a fairly clever idea at first, but the more you think about how it actually works and what it implies about the whole series, the more it folds in on itself and baffles you.
Eromanga Sensei just can't get out of its own way this week. Beyond all the overt issues that come from the central reveal, what we get just feels incomplete. For all my befuddlement at the revelation about Masamune and Sagiri's past, I actually thought it was an interesting idea. I found myself intensely curious about where it could go, since Masamune's dad and Sagiri's mom seem like pretty cool people, so exploring their relationship with mentoring their kids as well as how their families got together would make a more natural continuation to what we got here, but the show doesn't even attempt to connect the parents (nor indicate that it intends to any time soon). Instead, it just ends this eye-opening flashback with Masamune witnessing his new book being gushed over by the main cast of Oreimo. (That's a pretty bold choice, given that Masamune and Kyosuke look exactly alike).
It's especially uneven given how well the show presents all this material. The flashback's execution is atmospheric and detailed. I particularly loved its repeated detailing of what all the extras were following at the time, that was a unique setting choice. The flashback's very nature also means a near total lack of the show's usual romantic comedy pratfalls, instead building the story on heartfelt emotion and seasonal atmosphere. For all the hard time I'm giving it, Eromanga Sensei did at least feel like it was trying this week.
As a footnote, the show's fanservice bears mentioning again at this stage. This episode opens with a highly sexualized striptease of Sagiri leading to her showing off a bikini, and her Skype conversation with Masamune results in a lot of seductive poses while her clothes slip off her body. Contentious sibling relationship aside, the age gap between Masamune and Sagiri is not as much of an issue given that they're both so young, but scenes like these are clearly there for the audience to sexualize Sagiri, which makes her twelve-year-old status more of a problem. The show already glorified Megumi's sexual humiliation earlier in its run, so it's likely to keep going on this level regardless, and this is admittedly a broader issue that affects many anime in general. But it still merits criticism as a disrupting element of a series that frankly doesn't need it. This issue is exemplified in this episode, when we're treated to naked fanservice of seven-year-old (!) Sagiri right in the middle of a sentimental flashback.
In the end, the mostly well-executed flashback and at least the idea behind the retroactive revelation about the characters' past make this episode seem a cut above the show's usual antics. But the issues that crop up from not following through on that twist, along with the sheer distraction of the fanservice in this context, just drag it down again. For all its frustrating faults, at least I can't say Eromanga Sensei wasn't interesting to watch this week.
Eromanga Sensei is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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