Onimai: I’m Now Your Sister! : Disappointingly Frustrating

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Funny enough, the second r/anime Anime Swap I get to talk about (the first being Just Because!) is a series that I’ve avoided, and has turned out to be for good reason. At the very least, this Anime Swap was done as punishment though (I lost a bet in regards to the swap), so the user that dropped Onimai! onto my plate has done a good job. From the ground up, coming all the way out of mangaka Nekotofu’s storied history with doujins, Onimai! is a series that in spite of its inherent flaws had potential. Even with Bind giving 110% to their sophomore adaptation, they’re unable to salvage this lazy and self-serving train wreck of an anime, and I’ll gladly explain why.

So what exactly is Onimai! about? It’s a question that’s a little hard to answer (aside from calling it a sham of a show), but I’ll do my best. On one hand, a lot of viewers will convey the series as one about the experience of transitioning- which I wish I could agree with. On the other and more reasonable hand however, Onimai! is a gender swap anime that quickly settles into the rhythm of a soulless Cute Girls Doing Cute Things series. Because that’s what the series comes off as, I want to tackle the issues that appear from that pivot first and foremost. In the simplest terms, it’s a CGDCT anime that presents the minimum in order to engage a the overlapping target audience of moe lovers, fans of all girl casts, and people that are way too comfortable with risque content in regards to underage characters.

But that’s not good enough, let’s examine that statement a little closer. When I say “bare minimum”, I well and truly mean it. There’s no greater character arc past (now middle school student) Mahiro Oyama’s social rehabilitation, but that is purely in statement alone. The series can frame Mahiro’s life after being a “home security officer” as a continual effort to improve themselves and the quality of their life, but there’s no substance to it. There is no reflection or value that Mahiro expresses through these moments. Rather, much like the rest of Onimai!, it’s bastardized for the purpose of humor. Now, there’s not anything wrong with that- just look at Watamote. The problem arises when there’s no commitment to the concept. You can say anything you’d like, but without the ability to back those statements up, it all just falls apart. There’s no real social rehabilitation, there’s no real humor- it is simply an amalgamation of parts that’s meant to resemble what’s popular and sought after. There’s pillow fights, there’s a gyaru, there’s a hot springs trip and so on and so forth. It has all the decoration and “ambience” that stipple the various CGDCT anime that exist, but it lacks a fundamental appeal, a core purpose.

And I just wish that it was left at that surface level. Unfortunately, Onimai! digs deeper into territory that it utterly shreds apart, actively harming any discussion or narrative about transitioning or being transgender. Of course, that’s mostly the viewer (myself) getting their hopes up for something that would never happen in a million years, but it’s hard to outright deny- largely because the potential is there. There’s content that’s meant to explore the experience of transitioning in Onimai!. There’s content that makes it possible to discuss the effects of dysphoria and the emotional and psychological impact it leaves on a life. It’s all there in the early episodes, but is purpose built for humor and ridiculously sexual expression.

So, let’s go over the points of where Onimai! completely bungles this narrative (in what can only feel as intentional). First of all, Mahiro’s (previously younger) sister and crack scientist Mihari is the one who made Mahiro’s transition possible- though without consent. Despite their inherent interest in turning Mahiro into a girl, they express no worry or wariness over Mahiro’s mental stability or emotional response to the transition… until the literal last episode. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it comment that doesn’t even establish anything, opting to instead vaguely drag conversation in a given direction. In a commentary on Mahiro’s sexual orientation, Mihari can only make snide comments alongside Mahiro’s bemoaning of the change. When further discussed with potential romantic interest further down the line, Mihari outright calls Mahiro a lolicon, firmly shutting the door on any further discussion. We also get exposed to things like Mahiro going to get their first bra, but it turns into such a sexualized affair that there’s absolutely no way to justify it as part of their experience in transitioning. Then on top of that there’s plenty of gutter humor (and sexual content) in regards to the yuri genre. Playing too much with same-sex romances, and trivializing the exploration of it to the same standards that fujoshi are turned into caricatures as, there’s just no room for positive discussion on any front.

There’s no weight to the experience of transitioning, there’s no value in the simpler story that Onimai! generalizes itself towards, Mahiro feels weightless (which is to say nothing of the supporting cast), the cast is relentlessly sexualized despite some being in middle school, the humor actively harms any discussion, Mahiro is effectively dead-named as ‘Onii-chan’ consistently- oh, and did I mention the author’s inclusion of what could only be described as a piss kink?

It’s a veritable cesspool of failure that exemplifies the struggle the simplified “gender swap” theme. Even then, though, as I said earlier it struggles to find a purpose within that. To cut to the chase, Onimai! is an anime that lacks any degree of sincerity or creative passion. It is a work born of fantasy, shallow interest, and “what ifs” meant to hook an executive or editor. In reality, the only valid reason to possibly watch the anime is for Bind’s visual work. Though they’re also the studio that brought forward some of the worst parts of this series, they’re also the ones that have ultimately made it popular. Shingo Fuji’s debut as a director went over quite well with the series, and their work storyboarding episode 1 of the anime was thoroughly impressive. Strong impact and style, it set the tone quite well for the rest of the series- though the pivot at around the halfway point sees that creative effort erased, replacing it with simpler style accentuated by strong animation.

Looking at the overall picture with Onimai! from a visual perspective, it’s just an undeniably strong and sound work. As just mentioned above, it begins to dull as time wears on, but the overall fidelity of the work remains an intrinsic trait of Bind as a studio. Rife with character acting and excessive visual humor, it trades blows with similar recent CGDCT greats like Do It Yourself!!. For most fans of the genre, that’s more than enough to be praise-worthy.

And that’s really a great way to explain it. If you’re after nothing other than visuals and an archetypal Cute Girls Doing Cute Things anime-if you’re okay with excessive sexualization of minors- then you can probably watch Onimai!. There’s several other series that exist that you should watch before getting here, though. However, if you’re looking for something that’s more sincere about the act of transitioning or being transgender, there is absolutely no reason to get close to this anime. You can go watch Skip and Loafer for supporting character Nao, and get better representation and value from their limited screen time than you’ll garner with Onimai!. You could go relish in the melodrama of Black Butler and enjoy Grell Sutcliff’s antagony and obsession towards Sebastian. You could go watch Tokyo Godfathers, Wonder Egg Priority (not the OVA that definitely doesn’t exist), Wandering Son, Lovely Complex, Steins; Gate– there is a world of anime that intersect with transitioning or being transgender, and approach the concept in not only far better light, but with a far more appealing and engaging work surrounding it. So truly, honestly, there is absolutely no substantial reason to engage with this anime. Spend your time with more valuable works.


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