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Ten Years Later: OniAi

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© Daisuke Suzuki・MEDIA FACTORY / ONIAI PARTNERS

OniAi’s based on the light novel series by Daisuke Suzuki, which has also spawned a manga series in the seinen magazine Monthly Comic Alive, this series arrived in the fall of 2012. Known originally as Onii-chan dakedo Ai sae Areba Kankeinai yo ne!, the light novels began in 2010 and wrapped up in 2019 with twelve volumes. It saw a couple of manga spinoffs over the years as well but none of it was ever licensed in English. The twelve-episode anime adaptation came via Silver Link with Keiichi Kawaguchi directing as it delved into brotherly love. And what it’s like to live in a dorm with your little sister. Brother/sister angles tend to not be the main focus and the little sister isn’t the real lead here, but the situation that plays out is definitely interesting. In this series, the two leads are definitely brother and sister with no weird unrelated aspects being mixed in and the situations throw them into pretty regular contact. This makes things awkward – and uncomfortable depending on how you feel about this particular genre.

The series focuses on the brother and sister pair of Akito and Akiko, who now find themselves living together as she moves into a new dormitory with him when he ends up transferring into the same school system she’s already in. Her arrival at the start is pretty nicely done, showing her looking for the dorm that they’ll now share, and it goes against the usual grain by having Akito actually happy to see her there when she arrives. The brother complex is certainly obvious on her part, but he plays it in a way that doesn’t really feel like it’s pervy and is just a brother that’s helping her to settle in at the same time that he’s getting adjusted as well. Especially since it’s about to start school.

And that doesn’t sit well with her, which is comical when you do get down to it. When she takes a bath, she waits forever for him to peep at her, but he never does. She calls him out on it in great fashion and he just can’t grasp it since they are, as he says, brother and sister before being boy and girl. Much to her dismay. She’s pretty cute and funny to watch when she’s mad since it’s so simple and childish, but Akito does a good job of trying to push back gently against her to act normal, though she’s a bit more submissive than he might want without realizing why she’s being that way.

Watching her manipulate the situation is a good bit of fun as she’s almost conniving in her approach. But she’s not going to be the only one that wants her brother’s attention as it’s obvious at mixed-gender school, so there are lots of other women. And some real characters at that, especially as both end up in the student government together. Bringing in characters like Anastasia, Ginbee and Arashi sets up the kind of vying for affection scenarios that you’d expect. And they’re made worse when they all share the same dorm space together. Akiko’s realization of this is comical, especially when there’s a good discussion about who actually gets to sit next to him. And in the midst of all of this, as the series main gag, is Akito going on about how he loves Akiko, but just as a sister.

Like any series of this nature, the more we get into it the more we see the connecting stories of the girls as they know Akito and in some cases Akiko before it all came together like this. Some are more interesting than others and having Akito as the dorm manager kind of works in a rather fun way. Not surprisingly, you do find yourself rooting for some characters over others, at least if you’re not into the whole bro-con aspect of it. I found myself interested in Anastasia from the start and the more we get to know her and the time she’s known Akito, you really do have to like her because she feels the most natural in a way with her passive-aggressive way of expressing interest in Akito. Arashi doesn’t seem to really be into him most of the time so when she does show an interest it just feels very off-putting. Ginbe is one that comes across as a more natural sister type than Akiko herself, though obviously, she has an interest in Akito as well. But time after time, I found myself far more interested in the show when Ana was on the screen since the pairing to me just felt the most ideal.

Akito, for his part, doesn’t feel like most of the male leads in these kinds of series do. He’s happy to see Akiko but deflects every single one of her advances. And that of all the other girls as well, which is admittedly a bit weird at times. With Akiko really being strong in her pursuit of Akito, seeing him deflect her so easily is really nice to see and keeps him feeling above the fray so to speak. But there is a side to him that causes you to wonder the truth as he secretly writes brother/sister prose novels for a publishing house and is growing quite well at it. So much so that his editor, Jinno, spends her time after awhile wondering if he’s getting it on with his sister in an effort to gain better material and understanding. That leads to a few awkward encounters between the two, but having this side of Akito keeps you wondering if there’s more to it. But it really does just feel like a business side for him more than anything else and it reinforces how much I like him because he does his best to keep Akiko under control.

A series like OniAi obviously lives and dies by the wackiness of the relationship between the two leads and how over the top it gets but also by the way he interacts with the other girls. OniAi doesn’t disappoint as Akito is constantly thrust into some really awkward situations along the way that involves the girls being naked, changing or getting undressed, and even a really comical bit in the final episode where Anastasia is without underwear for awhile, and struggles with the feeling. Having watched the censored version of this in the simulcast, having the uncensored version is fun because there’s so much attention paid to the undergarments and such, and having such blunt sexual acts nearly happen makes for some really hilarious sequences along the way. The girls try way, way too hard to gain his favor and it shows. And it’s simply a lot of fun to watch.

OniAi, sadly, never got a dub and that continues to disappoint me even all these years later. This is a fun show that plays in a genre that usually has a lot of really bad elements to it. But it works hard to sidestep so much of it and to paint what Akiko is interested in as not the right thing while Akito is clearly looking at her as family and a brother with no other real intent. OniAi doesn’t try to reach for the stars as it instead goes for the humor and fanservice while doing it very well and with a lot of detail. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this the first time around, largely owing to the way Akito so deftly deflects Akiko on a regular basis, and it holds up both in a marathon form and a decade later. I can easily understand why people would avoid a brother/sister love project like this, but I think it does it right and works through the material well – even if it doesn’t really get to the heart of why either Akiko or Akito are acting like they are. It’s one of those little gems that sticks in my head over the years and makes for a good experience that I wish more people would take a chance on.