This is a serious attempt to answer the question.
I don’t mean to be a hater. In fact, I wish with all my heart that I had a kawaii imouto to wake me up in the mornings. And even if I love to troll the ending of OreImo, I am actually a huge fan of the series.
However, I will also admit that the imouto fetish does not exactly lend itself to Pulitzer Prize level writing.
Even if one might argue that imouto stories like Who is Imouto? and Oniichan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne! aren’t trying to be deep literature and that, when taken for what they are, they’re entertaining (this is the point of view I normally take with such things), it still wouldn’t change very much if we’re going by the classical writing standards honed by generations of craft and practice. If you’re trying to be crap and you succeed in being crap, then congratulations, you’re still crap!
Why are imouto stories generally failures in this point of view? It’s because the question of incest is never dealt with in a meaningful way. In choosing to fetishise the little sister, the story portrays incest as a positive thing, but it doesn’t go far enough with the theme to actively subvert society expectations or to make a statement out of this. Instead, we’re left with a confusing message and a clashing tone, because the “imouto character” is a static archetype borrowed from countless other anime series, who is inserted into the story without any regard for context. It lacks individuality; it lacks expression. Note that this is exactly what the imouto series wants to achieve.
The aim of the imouto story directly opposes the aim of good art.
An imouto anime can never be considered good art.
But wait, is that all there is to it? Does that really mean that an imouto incest story can never be actually be good in the view of a pretentious literature critic, just because it is an imouto incest story?
I’m not going to challenge the position of the “pretentious literature critic” – that would defeat the purpose of this post. And in my mind, I think there is a way for imouto incest to be portrayed in a way that is appealing to such a crowd. I’m not talking about deconstructing the trope as if that is the only way to make it good, so no Yosuga no Sora mentions here. I think there is a way to portray the imouto character with the same moral ambiguity as we see in anime and to tell a good story around that. Yes, really.
Here is my number one rule in storytelling:
There is no such thing as a bad premise. There is only bad execution.
See, there is a difference between ‘premise’ and ‘aim’. The premise of an imouto story – that is, that a little sister develops a crush on her brother – is, like anything, open to interpretation. The writer then takes that premise and develops an aim with it. For most imouto incest writers, it would be to show how cute the imouto character is. But you can really do anything you want with that. Good writers can make a great story out of a decent-sounding premise, but great writers can make something brilliant out of something that seems terrible.
Since, of course, there is no such thing as a “good” imouto story yet (well, as far as I know of), I’m going to make one up here. You and I have not developed any author trust, so I’m not going to show you an actual story because I doubt many of you would read it. Instead, I’m going to just pitch an idea and be as detailed about it as possible so you can understand the thought that went into it.
If I’m writing an imouto incest story, the first thing I want to do is decide is my stance on the issue. I can’t bullshit on this, so I have to build the story around my honest opinion: I love little sisters and I love watching siblings who are close act protectively towards each other, but incest crosses the line. However, I do want to tease at the prospect before sinking the ship.
Thus, the proposed title: One Day, My Little Sister Suddenly Became a Brocon!!
… yes I can make this work. Shut up.
The story begins predictably from the title: the little sister wakes up one day and has a crush on her older brother. Unlike most of these kinds of stories, however, it is told through the imouto’s point of view, not the older brother’s.
The imouto has this strong feeling that she doesn’t belong. All her memories except the ones with her brother in them are gone. It’s as if her entire being revolves around him now. So she has complicated feelings. She does not like the idea of incest; she thinks that it is wrong, but can’t help being drawn to her brother anyway, who, as it turns out, is a rather bland nice guy (we all know the type). Her sense of disconnect with reality is further reinforced when she notices that he has a harem which he is oblivious to.
It’s a mystery story, with the familiar setting of the eroge being portrayed with a subtle horror element because we’re seeing it through the little sister’s point of view. The main mystery is whether her incestuous feelings for her brother are determined by the “rules” of the universe or whether it’s because she genuinely finds him attractive. He shows a lot of concern for her and comes off as a genuinely kind and thoughtful person. For some reason, he is much more protective than the average older brother would be. Even though the imouto can’t help but feel creeped out, she’s touched more than she cares to admit.
After struggling with herself in this fashion, she learns that the world she is in is fake. She’s been inserted into this fantasy world based on an eroge. Convinced that all her current memories are fake and desperate to get all her real memories back, she learns that to return to the real world, she has to undo all the “flags” – that is, she has to cockblock her brother’s harem.
So the imouto declares war on her brother.
She dresses up as a guy (turning out to be a delicious reverse trap) and starts going after her brother’s harem herself. It’s Player versus Player. Sibling rivalry, literally.
The majority of the middle portion of the story is about the imouto attempting to outmanoeuvre her brother and all the tactical decisions she makes. It plays out like a chess match. The imouto is a tomboy, so it turns out to be surprisingly easy to charm some of the girls. Others are harder to win over. All of them have genuinely good reasons for liking her brother, as it turns out. The childhood friend is the hardest boss to beat.
The problem is, as this goes on, is that the brother doesn’t actually seem to care that his imouto is cockblocking him. He’s firmly on the imouto route. He seems innocent, but the imouto cannot be sure what his intentions are. She also realises that their battle will end if she falls completely for him, at which point she knows that she will lose all of her free will and will never be able to go back to the real world. But the more she attempts to cockblock her brother, the more she finds herself motivated by jealousy against his haremettes. She has no idea which will happen first: the reversal of all the flags or her losing the game.
Finally, though, she manages to reset all the flags – except for her own. The imouto is caught in limbo. She’s frustrated and in despair, and that’s when her brother makes his move.
He hugs her tightly and tells her, “Please don’t go! I want you to stay with me forever! You’ll never be able to come back if you leave! We’ll never be siblings again!” The imouto is torn; her heart is going DOKI DOKI like crazy. The brother is complex. She can see the fear and self-loathing on his face and she does not understand it.
That’s when the childhood friend comes back into the picture and reveals the truth about this world. It turns out that she was the one who created it because blah blah magic. In real life, she was the one who was genuinely in love with our seemingly bland male MC. (So he actually did score a magical girlfriend without harem logic coming into play.) But MC-kun treated the childhood friend as a surrogate sister. He was always morose, always angry with himself. He wasn’t that nice a guy. The childhood friend was the only one who understood him.
And the reason MC-kun was such an irritable person?
His little sister was dead.
She had died many years ago in an accident. It was something he had always blamed himself for. When they were kids, they were playing on the road because he had no sense of danger. She adored him so she followed him around, and he adored her. But when a car came swerving towards them, the brother dodged to the side and didn’t grab his sister in time. And so she died.
That changed the brother forever. His guilt caused him to retreat within himself, until the only friend he had was his childhood friend. He became obsessed with the memory of his dead little sister. He played little sister games all the time, as if wanting to recreate all his memories with her. When the childhood friend confessed her love to him, he just numbly rejected her and said she was the sister he could never have now. There could be no romance between them.
“Why aren’t you happy, then?” she asked him. “If I’m your sister now, why haven’t you been able to get over the one you lost?”
“Shut up!” he said. “You wouldn’t understand!”
He was right, she decided. She didn’t understand. But that didn’t change her feelings for him. She thought that the only way to make MC-kun happy was to create a world where the little sister had never died. Her reference was, of course, the brother’s eroge.
Now knowing the truth, the imouto is horrified. If she undoes the flag, she will vanish as if she never existed and the world will go back to a state where her brother was constantly unhappy. She can’t wish that kind of miserable fate on him. But she also doesn’t want her love to turn into something incestuous because that is the only way she can stay permanently in the world. She now knows why her feelings were so corrupted: in this fabricated world, the imprinting that normally happens with siblings never happened.
They can never have a normal sibling relationship.
The imouto is saddened, and she knows there is only one that she can do. She gives it all up. She tells her brother that she loves him, always has, and that she would never blame him for anything. These are her true feelings. Everyone cries. It’s emotional and shit. Once she tells him how she feels, she vanishes forever and the world reverts back to normal.
The brother wakes up with no memories about this fantasy world. At first, that makes the childhood friend sad, because he’s gone back to staring at his sister’s grave. But after a long, pregnant pause, he leans over and holds the childhood friend’s hand in his and they walk away together.
The purpose of this is to show that sibling love is so powerful that it can change the world and that fictional stories are great therapeutic treatment. But at some point, you have to face reality.
I actually wonder why I went to all the effort to typing that all up when I could have easily summed it up as Anohana crossed with The World God Only Knows but with imoutos. Um. Also, I read over it now that I’ve finished and… it seems cheesy. For some reason, it sounded better in my head. But whatever, this was a fun post to write. Also, I think I would actually watch an anime with this plot, if only for the imouto versus MC-kun harem shenanigans.
So to answer the question: Can an imouto incest story ever be actually good?
But if you are a better writer than me, then yes. Maybe! Give it a try!