It’s been a few years since you lived with your sister, but now you’re both under the same roof. Three additional girls have joined you as you repair this dorm, and you all are part of the local school’s Student Council. With all the girls chasing after you (including your sister), how can you hope to find some peace as a writer? As long as there’s love, it doesn’t matter if she’s your sister, right?
That’s the question that OniAi poses in a roundabout manner (the Japanese title is the unwieldy As Long As There’s Love, It Doesn’t Matter If He’s My Brother, Right), and there’s no question that the simple concept of the show is one that could cause a bit of controversy. Akito and Akiko, our male and female leads and twins, are living together after the death of their parents, but Akiko is a self-obsessed “BroCon,” which is not a convention for college drinkers of Natty Ice but a girl with a brother complex. While Akito does steadily refuse her advances, he does have a secret life as a writer that tends to dabble in that area of romance to the point where his editor begins to wonder.
OniAi is part of a newer breed of releases, and something unexpected from FUNimation. Many anime releases are coming out with both Blu-ray and DVD formats in the same box; physically, this set is identical to the comparably-timed Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero: two Blu-ray cases in a chipboard box with reversible artwork (for this set, the two Blu Ray discs are in one case, DVDs in another; oddly, Aesthetica does both formats first half in one case, part twos in the other). Each case comes with reversible artwork, revealing the characters in more revealing attire. The unexpected part is that OniAi is a completely dub-free release. It’s a new endeavour for FUNimation, complete with a guide explaining why they’ve done this. Much of the logic comes from an effort to release more titles, and go straight for a subtitled physical release for shows that might not have performed too well on streaming and simulcast, rather than spending time dubbing the title.
There’s a cast, but like prime time television, you’ve seen all the characters in some fashion before. While sitcoms might have “wacky next door neighbor” to pair off with “sane male lead,” harem shows like this feature “boisterous sex-chasing woman” and “shy best friend who wants to be more.” Clearly, there’s the sister that has the obsession with her brother, the young girl who works hard, and the foreign blonde girl who’s quiet. The show is very limited when it comes to the cast. Outside of the main man (and, outside of a few lines, he’s the only male of note) and interested ladies is our lead’s editor, who’s afraid his novels are based a little too much on reality, and two recurring girls who are only there to recount plot every few episodes.
Likewise, many of the plots have been seen before. Each episode has two to three plots, with a pre-intro scene being generally unrelated to the following episode, which may have two different plots divided by the commercial break. There’s not a significant amount of plot tying them together or advancing. Halfway through the series, a new girl is introduced, becoming a regular character soon after the editor’s introduction. As expected, the show isn’t too creative: there’s the story where Akito gets sick and all the girls have to take care of him, the one where they all get to try on swimsuits, and even the one where two characters get locked in a shed. You don’t even have to look beyond Tenchi Muyo! to see those stories play out.
If the characters were amazing, you could get beyond some of these plots being redundant. But with stereotyped characters and overdone plots, you’ve got to rely on a few packs of lipstick to dress up this hog. A character that likes her name to be shortened to a sexual pun? Got it. One girl wearing an eye patch for no discernible reason (it even disappears during scenes to show a perfectly fine eye)? You’re given an interesting explanation for it, but one that’s dismissed as quickly as it arrives. A sister that’s in love with her brother? It’s not that a taboo plot can’t be handled amazingly. Koi Kaze was a show from the early 2000’s that handled the concept amazingly: characters were disgusted with themselves, society did not approve, and it was handled in a mature manner. Theoretically, it could be handled with humor, but with a lack of quality characters or writing, OniAi just stands as an unremarkable title that has some window dressing for your attention.
Collected under the extras are some standard fare; textless openings and ending (with two version of the opening, but you’ll struggle to find any differences), the trailer for the show, and trailers for other releases. None of these are particularly special, but leaving them out would raise questions. There are six short special episodes, and here’s where things get weird.
The main series does offer fanservice on rare occasion, but it’s usually more talk, less action. A few scenes of topless nudity, a few shadowed and appropriately angled lower shots, and it’s all in good fun. These six short episodes, totaling nearly 20 minutes of heavily limited animation, decide to break most barriers, and dedicate them to putting the cast in compromising positions. Limited fully to the female cast, there’s mud-wrestling, strategically-targeted bees, and even a bit of focus on the show’s only 12-year old girl, which can and will make most people feel uncomfortable. There’s some decent humor, especially if you can appreciate how absurd the situations the cast get in, but a sense of unease comes about when a teenage girl is trying to get a preteen to go to sleep so she can see her naked, all for a laugh.
OniAi is a series that knows its demographic, but you might not want to be included in it. Controversial subject matter exists only to make some sort of name out of an otherwise unremarkable series, and with the set coming sans dub, you can feel that this is going to be a lowly-regarded footnote in the history of the company, not the second coming of harem animation or even a critical analysis of social taboos.