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What’s With All the Sisconning in Kyoukai no Kanata?

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And now for something completely different.

It really says something about how inundated anime viewers these days are with “siscon” jokes that no one bats an eyelid at how overtly Hiromi fetishises his own little sister in Kyoukai no Kanata. It’s just an anime thing, not something to be taken too seriously. And Hiromi’s little sister complex is probably one of the funnier recurring gags in the series.

But when you step outside of looking at Kyoukai no Kanata through the perspective of an anime viewer and just look at the narrative as it stands, what is Kyoukai no Kanata actually trying to say about Hiromi by characterising him as a siscon?

The answer is quite interesting.

Is Hiromi even really a siscon?

Kyoukai no Kanata makes very clear divisions between when it’s trying to be serious and when it’s trying to be funny. That it’s so very tonally dissonant is actually one of the main points of criticism against the series as a whole. It’s hard to tell whether the narrative is earnest about Hiromi being a siscon, since it presents him as an archetype and then caricaturises that archetype for the sake of self-parody. (This is very common in light novel storytelling.)

I think that Hiromi really is a siscon, though, in the same sense that Akihito really is a glasses fetishist. In the serious moments, we see that Akihito’s attachment to glasses transcends its status as a fetish and he becomes concerned about Mirai as the girl, even as he continues to make a point about how much her glasses mean to him. The fetish is not just a cheap joke – it develops honest, emotional meaning. It’s the same with Hiromi, though I think his characterisation is a bit muddier, since it’s not at the forefront of the narrative.

Hiromi is a siscon, but rather than having a complex about his little sister, the implication is that he has a complex about his older sister.

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The older sister in question

Wait… What?

A lot of this post is inference (what fanfic authors call “headcanon”), but I think if we look at his characterisation this way, Hiromi’s attitude towards Mitsuki makes sense within the narrative rather than simply as an “anime thing”.

In the story, we’re told that Izumi is the head of the Nase family and Hiromi is shown deferring to her on numerous points. He does this increasingly less as the narrative progresses. Finally, when he learns that Izumi compromised her own ideals in the past, he resolves to take over her duties. His character arc is about learning to find his own strength independent of his sister. Note that Mitsuki herself barely factors into this.

This subplot is introduced and resolved in a rather rushed manner. The Nase family dynamics are barely ever shown, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this element of the ending left viewers dissatisfied. I don’t expect we’ll ever get the full story in animated form. Maybe the light novels have more information, but I haven’t read them, so my analysis here is mostly speculation and, as I said, inference. I think my logic can be followed, though.

A Complicated Family Situation

Source: Pixiv

Source: Pixiv


Rather than being obsessed with Mitsuki as a person, I’d argue that Hiromi is obsessed with the idea of the sibling relationship. He wants to be looked up to as an older brother and he seeks Mitsuki for this outlet.

Why is this? Because he looks up to Izumi as the older sibling he wants to be.

At the same time, he is frustrated with Izumi and feels distant from her. In a way, she doesn’t really feel like a sister to him.

The emotional distance between the two of them is easy to observe because Izumi keeps herself aloof from everyone and even a casual viewing of the anime would reveal that to the audience.

How can we explain Hiromi’s ambivalence towards her? Izumi plays the role of the mentor towards her two younger siblings and it’s my guess that it was probably she who saved Hiromi’s life when Akihito’s demon form almost killed him.

Her panic and increased personal desire to be rid of Beyond the Boundary then led her to seek devious means and to become emotionally distant from her siblings whom she wished to protect. It was probably around this time when Hiromi became a siscon, seeking to emulate the strength of his older sister by protecting his younger sister and to also shower Mitsuki with the attention he never got from Izumi.

When you add this on top of the fact that the Nase family is said to be an old, prestigious family – which implies insularity – then you have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Hiromi would be sticking so close to his little sister and appears to be a loner otherwise.

What About Mitsuki?

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It must have been suffocating being brought up in the Nase family.

Never really seen for herself but rather as the youngest daughter who must stay at home, Mitsuki eventually got fed up with being treated as a little princess, especially by her brother. She became snarky and somewhat bitter, which explains her coldness towards her brother’s affections and her constant haranguing at Akihito. I think episode 5 conveyed her loneliness in a rather sympathetic way. She wants to be seen as distinct from her siblings and so she relies on her acerbic wit; in the end, she’s rather vulnerable and finds it difficult to make new friends.

If Hiromi wants to step out of his older sister’s shadow and become someone who can be relied upon, then Mitsuki wants the very same thing for herself. There’s tension between the brother and sister over this, and it remains to be seen whether Hiromi will be a better head of the family than Izumi in this respect. The fact that he allowed her to cover for him in the final episode seems to indicate that their future as siblings is nothing to worry about.

Pandering versus Honest Storytelling

What I like about Kyoukai no Kanata is that I was able to infer all of this from such limited prompting. A lot of that had to do with me losing all interest in Mirai and Akihito by episode 3, which led me to pay attention to other things. The other reason is that I’m a huge sucker for family drama and also (especially) siscon characters.

With Kyoukai no Kanata, though, I got the distinct impression that barely anyone else was willing to connect with it on the narrative level. I’ll quote Josh from Chromatic Aberration Everywhere here:

Kyoukai no Kanata shouldn’t just be viewed as “typical KyoAni” stuff – because it looks pretty good and deserves to be treated better than such. Man, even Hyouka had to put up with this nonsense, and I feel it’s time we stop applying this type of mindset to everything the studio puts out. Because they put out some damn good stuff that gets downgraded for seemingly no reason.

When people dismiss an anime’s story elements as “light novel crap” and (even worse) “KyoAni moe crap”, this avoids the intellectual heavylifting required to actually have an interesting discussion about what the narrative was trying to do on a basic storytelling level. Perhaps that’s one of the side effects of having such a genre-savvy, postmodern audience – it becomes tempting for us to look solely outside of the narrative to explain what happens in it.

Kyoukai no Kanata is an anime that consistently straddled the line between earnest and ironic execution of its tropes. To an extent, some aspects of the storytelling can only be understood with respect to the current consumerist trends in anime. Superficially, the siscon gags seem to fall into this mould. But characters who suffer complexes towards their family members have earned a place in our storytelling long before little sisters became a fetish icon in anime. Perhaps Hiromi’s complex would not have been presented with such obvious, subversive humour if this weren’t an “anime thing”, but it’s definitely been worked into the narrative in such a way that his values and attitude can be explained from the plot.

Let’s give siscons a little more credit, guys.

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(Btw, this counts as one of my 12 Days of Anime posts. Today’s guest writer is… me. Seeing the ending of Kyoukai no Kanata drove me to write all of this down, but tomorrow we’ll be back to my usual format for this event. I’m glad to see some of my readers having fun with these posts! It’s been a real blast writing them, and I’m also having a great holiday so far. Hope you’re all doing well, too.)

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Posted on December 19, 2013, in Anime Analysis and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I can sort of understand why you do not care about the main leads, especially when the relationship between the two can be seen as rather dull and uninspiring, something which I personally do not think so.

    Speaking of clear divisions of seriousness and hilarity, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Case in point, Akihito’s violence against his mom in episode 11. If I am in his shoes I will do the exact same thing or at least give her a proper scolding for it. It is hilarious and sensible at the same time. Plus, live in general do have these sorts of moments so it should not be seen as unnatural, but I do admit that pulling it off in media requires a lot of work.

    As I said before, studio stereotypes is a bias. It’s very unfair to judge an anime just because of the studio who animate it and vice versa. This anime is no exception. Speaking of connection with the narrative though, I personally consider “look solely outside of the narrative to explain what happens in it” something that is anything but genre savvy. Truly savvy reviewers see things in-universe and out-universe.

    For me, KnK is an anime that managed to mangle up all aspects of itself into one, but in doing so a lot of plot points were dropped out. The characters are likeable, but lack significant improvement. The battles are slick and sensible, but lack strategy. Overall, it is enjoyable, but is not good enough.

    • Excellent comment! You mirrored a lot of my own thoughts about this series.

      I can sort of understand why you do not care about the main leads, especially when the relationship between the two can be seen as rather dull and uninspiring, something which I personally do not think so.

      Yeah, I usually get bored with the main couple in a story, especially when it focuses so heavily on their romance, which was what happened in the second half of the anime. I got that it was well-written (episodes 9 and 10 were legitimately good) but in the end, I just never got invested.

      I didn’t think the shifting tones were that much of a deal-breaker, either, though the effect was jarring at times. Like you said, the overall product was good but not great.

      Speaking of connection with the narrative though, I personally consider “look solely outside of the narrative to explain what happens in it” something that is anything but genre savvy. Truly savvy reviewers see things in-universe and out-universe.

      I personally agree that it’s not good reviewing practice, which is why it annoys me when I see people constantly write off the creative decisions in a story as consumerism. But you can’t deny that it’s the kneejerk reaction of a cynical audience that is familiar with tropes and the like. Taking yourself completely out of the narrative implies you see it more clearly than other people do, or so some people seem to think.

  2. I don’t think there is any room for questioning if Hiromi is really a siscon or not. He wears it on his sleeves and we have no reason to think he might be faking it. I think your right about his complex extending to his older sister, they hint at that several times and it seemed pretty obvious in the final episode. It clearly extends to his younger sister as well and I think you hit the nail on the head for why.

    The better question for examining Hiromi’s personality might be to ask why does he wear his siscon status loud and proud? It’s a question the show only gives us hints at, but when you factor in Izumi it would make a lot of sense for him to be trying to make up for what he sees as his older sister’s short comings or maybe an attempt to be like her in his own way without really understanding her.

    It’s funny to see anime bloggers/commentors hate on this show. When the final episode aired several of my nonblogger friends were so thrilled with the final episode they felt the need to bother me at work about it. Meanwhile it seems that nearly everyone who talks about anime online never really got all that invested in it in the first place. Most of the guys I blog with haven’t even finished it. It’s a funny distinction to note.

    • I’m glad someone else here likes Kyoukai no Kanata! Like you said in your tweet, the opinions about KyoAni that get regurgitated every time they make a new show get very old very quickly. I tried not to bring them into my own discussion at all, and I’m glad to see that’s worked here and we can finally start talking about, you know, the story.

      I don’t think there is any room for questioning if Hiromi is really a siscon or not.

      There is no doubt that Hiromi is a siscon, but what I was concerned about was whether it meant something to the serious part of the story, because he acts like a completely different person then. But yeah, I think in terms of his “serious” characterisation, he is still a siscon and it’s still fundamental to understanding his character.

      The better question for examining Hiromi’s personality might be to ask why does he wear his siscon status loud and proud?

      Oh man, at first I was gonna say “Because it’s anime!” and then I realised what a hypocritical statement that was. I think your theory is pretty solid, though. I think he wants to be open about his affections in a way Izumi never was, but it comes off as weird and creepy since he’s such an all-round stoic guy.

      It’s funny to see anime bloggers/commentors hate on this show.

      Yeah, I noticed a similar thing to you. Bloggers/commentors tend to be more aware of the consumerist aspects of anime, and if you’re aware of these things, the kinks and humour in KnK really leap out at you and clash with the narrative. Judging from your nonblogger friends’ reactions, it sounds like the show doesn’t do too bad when you just look at it as a story first and foremost. I’m glad to hear about others who enjoyed it!

  3. I think most of the hate come from over-hyping oneself and ultimately being disappointed. Of course, while I had mixed feelings, I still enjoyed the show of what it is and also the underlining picture that people should not let their differences burden them, but accept it as who they are.

    People need to step out of the hype and view shows in a balanced way regardless of the studio. Sure it’s has a number of flaws, but calling it the worst Anime or the most disappointing is kind of overblowing it considering that there are worse shows that aired this year besides this one.

    • Pretty much hit the nail on the mark. I read your final review of the series and I thought you made some excellent points about it.

      I think the general consensus about Kyoukai no Kanata is that it’s medicore and forgettable, rather than outright terrible. Unless the studio keeps the franchise alive by adding to it, it’ll be swept under the carpet and quietly remembered as yet another mildly interesting story ruined by pandering.

  4. I didn’t watch Kyoukai no Kanata, yet. But when you talked about this siscon character, I remembered “Himitsu -the revelation-“. There are plenty of this type, for sure, but that one, for some reason, stand up in me.
    Just saying, anyway.
    Kepp enjoying your vacations! Holiday season is about relax and have a nice day- everyday!
    See you around.

    • Thanks for the well wishes! I’m having a great time and even if you aren’t on vacation I hope you’re having a great time too ;)

      Hmmm, it appears you need more incentive to watch Kyoukai no Kanata. Allow me to bring forth my inner fangirl to convince you.

      imo Hiromi is really sexy. No two ways about it. While I can’t say he’s the best developed character out there, he’s a real Bro, and he has some pretty yaoi-ish interactions with Akihito, which is always welcome. He seems so serious about everything, which is something I really like seeing in 2D men. I actually made a list of my favourite bishonen from this year and Hiromi was in the top 5. (not even joking lmao)

      It’s not that great a show overall, but Hiromi really made the anime for me. So you should watch it ;-D

  5. The best part of the show was the Third Special where Hiromi’s naked for the entire special, the chibi girls attempts to punish him but fail, and the worst punishment he gets is getting to stick his hands in Akihito’s armpits for some time.

    I admit I didn’t notice the signs before, but thinking about it has started to make me suspect you are right about his complex towards Izumi.

  6. Reblogged this on The Kataanger.

  1. Pingback: 12 Days of Anime Day 5: Strike the Blood, or “the most generic crap I’ve seen in a while. I LOVE IT!” | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere

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