When it comes to watching anime, I’ve long been content to wait for series to come out on DVD before committing myself to watching them. Heck, most series I own are either re-issues or used copies that someone else sold off (though this is slowly changing as the industry adapts to put out new series at a slightly quicker rate than in the past). I don’t follow what’s currently airing in Japan, don’t get excited over “Chartfag” posts, and certainly don’t try to torrent anime within hours after its television debut. I guess you could say that I’m an old fashioned fan, one of a dwindling number that anime industry probably looks upon like an endangered species. Then again, who’s to say that I won’t change my ways? After all, I just finished watching Oreimo (streaming on ANN), which aired its final episode in Japan just over three weeks ago.

Why did I watch this show? I guess the hype around it finally pulled me in, and I decided that this time I’d rather be in on it than feel left out of the conversation surrounding it. After the first episode aired, it seemed like half of the blogs I follow were enthusiastically weighing in on it, more or less crowning it the Series Worth Talking About of 2010. The premise seemed titillating in the best and worst ways possible; if anime fans only get excited about meta-anime series, what does that mean for the future of anime? Then again, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, “It’s not what a [series] is about, it’s how it is about it.” Even if it were the most otaku-focused title ever produced (it’s not), so long as Oreimo is creative, original and/or interesting, then it justifies its existence. And after watching all twelve episodes, I think it more than does.

So then, less about Oreimo the bellwether for the industry, and more about Oreimo itself. The main characters, high school student Kyosuke and his younger sister Kirino, live an ordinary life of mutual, passive disdain for each other’s existence. Kyousuke’s life as an ordinary high school student takes a turn for the strange the day he discovers a eroge game on the floor in their home, and begins investigating his family to find its owner. It’s not long before Kirino confronts him over the matter and, much to Kyousuke’s surprise, reveals her secret hobby to him. “Hobby” does not do Kirino’s interest in eroge any justice. Her expansive collection of anime goods and eroge games, kept hidden from her family and friends, would be better described as pure obsession. Oreimo‘s decision to treat this matter with great seriousness forms the heart of the series. Kirino’s love of eroge is commonly played up for laughs, but her sincere desire for her hobby to be understood and accepted, starting with Kyousuke, is no laughing matter. Kyousuke takes his sister’s revelations in stride and agrees, perhaps out of a newfound sense of brotherly duty, to accept her hobby, no matter how strange and shameful it might be. Kyousuke vows to help keep it a secret from their family. Little does he know, Kirino’s requests for help are only beginning.

The first few episodes of Oreimo hit the viewer with an unexpected poignancy, one that’s on par with Genshiken in their unique understanding of otaku self-identity and the personal issues that often accompany it. In episode 2, Kirino turns to the Internet to find friends who might share her interests. Her visit to a meetup-group of other otaku girls is, initially, a complete disaster. Despite the second half of the episode, which points to a more promising future with a pair of newfound friends, the sheer awkwardness contained in this episode is devastating. Yet, despite the less-than-ideal outcome of Kirino’s initial encounter with the group, I found the episode inspiring enough to do a search for a Meetup.com group of my own (which is actually active and seems to be attended by interesting-looking people my own age… curse this wretched second-shift job that keeps me from going out and having an actual life!).

The second half of the series focuses less on these kind of real-life, personal issues that we can all identify with, and drifts into some rather unlikely territory that’s less “real” and (in my opinion) less interesting overall. The same charges of “wish fulfillment” that people have levied against Genshiken could be applied here, perhaps to an exponential degree as Kirino’s adventures in otakudom progress from meeting friends and attending conventions to somehow, despite being her lack of talent, find her breaking into anime industry. That’s not to say that these episodes aren’t enjoyable, only that they lack the believability and emotional depth of the first half dozen episodes. However, I’m sure that most fans weren’t troubled by this shift in plot. Your mileage may vary.

Kirino’s relationship with her brother, her parents, and her friends (from both sides of her double-life) feel very realistic, and the series gives these relationships great time to grow and change in a way that feels very natural considering the weight of the secrets she carries into all of them. Even after Kirino’s confession to her brother, she often treats him with a tense ambivalence, which will feel familiar to anyone who’s navigated adolescence alongside a brother or sister who’s close in age. She’s far from the perfect sister or the perfect friend, as her squabbles with Kyousuke and her eccentric otaku friends Saori and Ruri show time and time again. Kirino embodies the hot-blooded tsundere archetype to a degree that could be troubling to some, but remains a likable character that the viewer will root for in spite of her emotional shortcomings.

Oreimo displays a bright color palate, very detailed settings and simple but attractively-designed characters, making it a series that’s very easy on the eyes and fun to simply look at. As if to show off their creative prowess or seemingly-endless budget, each episode boasts unique opening and ending credits animation, which range from simple artwork to completely unique, fully-animated sequences (I lament the fact that no one’s uploaded the opening to episode 11 to Youtube just yet). Each episode also concludes with a different ending credits song. I have to wonder how this will mold viewer expectations and whether more studios will feel pressed to follow suit for future series.

I found Oreimo to be a very entertaining series with unexpected emotional depth. Its creators definitely knew who their audience was, and crafted a series that, while probably isn’t going to rope in many incoming anime fans or much of the general public, will give its limited audience much to enjoy. Despite its depiction of eroge games (chiefly employing controversial, if not deal-breaking themes of brother-sister incest) and the culture of its fans, there were plenty of more opportunities for it to wallow in fanservice and to milk its controversial subject matter for cheap lewd humor that thankfully went untapped. If you can get by those themes, you’ll find a surprisingly sweet little series that has a lot to say about self-identity and interpersonal relationships.