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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Boku wa Imouto ni Koi wo Suru: Secret Sweethearts - Kono Koi wa Himitsu: "I Think We're Alone Now"... Dude, That's Your Sister!

After doing his composing & arrangement work for Usagi-chan de Cue!! & two forgotten hentai (none of which ever saw license here in North America), Susumu Ueda would release an interesting concept album in early 2003. Titled Nadi, it was nothing but instrumentals that were influenced by traditional Indian music. Though it was about a neighboring country, I'm sure creating this album helped Ueda with his work on the Pakistan Arc of Yugo the Negotiator. Anyway, Ueda would come back to anime later that year to do the music for the TV anime adaptation of Mohiro Kitoh's Narutaru, followed by a busy 2004 filled with Yugo, Re: Cutie Honey, & Ring ni Kakero 1. Afterwards, Ueda would move away from anime, with only the rare re-appearance since then for future RnK1 seasons in 2006, 2010, & 2011, arranging the ending theme for 2010's Cobra the Animation, & helping compose the score for 2012's Asura. Between that busy year & his rare appearances, though, is a one-shot OVA that covers a pretty taboo subject matter, and one that I'm admittedly not familiar with at all: Shoujo Incest Romance.

Kotomi Aoki has been doing manga for girls ever since 1998, but she's all but unknown here in North America. While some of her works have been released in countries like France & Germany, she's had no luck with making it across the Pacific (nor Atlantic). I only bring this up because the manga that this OVA is based on eventually lead to an award winner. Running from 2003-2005 in Shoujo Comic magazine, Boku wa Imouto ni Koi wo Suru/I'm in Love with My Sister lasted 10 volumes & received a spin-off series, Boku no Hatsukoi wo Kimi ni Sasagu/I Give My First Love to You, which would win the Shogakukan Manga Award for Shoujo in 2008 & received a live-action movie adaptation in 2009. Luckily for the original manga, it too received a live-action movie in 2007, but I'm going a little further back & will be reviewing the 45-minute OVA adaptation from 2005. It was subtitled Secret Sweethearts - Kono Koi wa Himitsu/This Love is a Secret, and was animated by Vega Entertainment... You know, the studio behind anime like Babel II -Beyond Infinity- & Maetel Legend, neither of which are exactly known for their quality. Then again, Vega did also make Gun Frontier & Cosmo Warrior Zero, and the studio co-produced 90 mech anime Yamato Takeru with Nippon Animation, and all three of those titles are generally looked at more fondly. So, let's see where this story about siblings who really, really like each other falls.

Yori & Iku Yuki are twin siblings who were nigh-inseparable as twins, but lately, as teenagers, the two seemed to have grown apart, or at least Yori seem like that. The truth of the matter, though, is that Yori has been hiding a secret that's slowly tearing him apart on the inside: He's in love with his sister, with dreams of him having sex with her constantly ruining his sleep. He tries to fight these feelings, even accepting the advances of Tomoko Kusunoki, Iku's best friend, but he can't fight it no longer. One night, after hearing Iku talk about getting a boyfriend, Yori snaps back in jealous rage, eventually admitting his affection for her. Though she's taken aback by this reveal, the one thing Iku wants more than anything is to always have Yori by her side, so she eventually accepts her brother's confession. Yori, however, wants true, sexual affection from his sister, not just dedicated loyalty, and is hoping that his back-up plan of heading away after graduation to a non-local school might be what can truly strengthen their feelings for each other.

When it comes to something as taboo as incest, there are really only two ways to handle it, and that's to either play it up for comedic value, to lessen the taboo nature of it, or to treat it very seriously, showcasing how uncomfortable it can make people. BokuImo, as it's shortened to in Japan, takes the latter path, treating everything as respectfully as it possibly can & never playing up the sensuousness of it all. While there is one scene involving sex, in a love hotel (hey, it was Iku's idea), it's done so via stills where the siblings are all over each other, removing any bit of sexuality it could have; aside from that it's all kissing, grabbing, & the like. That being said, the story doesn't play up incest as something to aim for, exactly, as Yori knows that the way he feels is wrong on some level, while Iku is under a constant state of emotional flux, either wanting to indulge her brother's wishes or hating him for making her feel this way. Not once does it ever feel like their love is "normal", but at the same time Yori & Iku aren't villainized by doing what they do, minus one scene where they embrace & kiss in a church... But, then again, it's not exactly smart to indulge in sinful behavior in a place where angel statues look down upon everything you're doing.

The craziest thing of all, though, is that the OVA still manages to make you care for these siblings, or at least understand the wild cacophony of emotions that are swirling around inside of their heads. Yori is clearly cognizant of how his feelings aren't "normal", yet knows that his attempts at fighting his feelings by warming up to Kusunoki are only going to hurt her more than they will him. Iku's embracing of her brother's feelings isn't coming from a similar standpoint, though Yori wishes it was, but rather comes from the simple fact that he's her flesh & blood (especially since they're twins), and she's not yet ready to live a life without him around; they still share a bedroom via bunk bed, after all. You even can relate to Kusunoki to some extent, as well, since she wants Yori more than anything, and at the end of the OVA gives Iku a look that indicates that she likely knows what's going on between the two of them to some extent. The only oddball, comparatively, comes from Haruka Yano, Yori's best friend. He only makes a few appearances in the OVA, yet when Yori reveals his secret to Yano at the end, Yano responds with "dull surprise", explaining that he's done with being surprised by things. Still, he understands how his best friend feels, so he knows better than to interfere with true love... Even if it is with Yori's sister.

Obviously, a 45-minute OVA isn't going to cover anywhere near enough content to cover the entire 10-volume story, especially since the manga was only nearing the end by the time the anime saw release. From my research, though, the OVA does manage to get through the first three volumes of story, likely by skipping over a lot of the less important parts & focusing on the major plot points. Still, this OVA does manage to tell what story it covers very well, and I am now honestly curious about how the story continues on. I do wonder how everything works out, and if the story embraces the incest, or simply is a way of showing how a pair of twin siblings mature from teenagers into young adults. Believe me 100% when I say that, though I'm willing to try something out that isn't in my general tastes, a title like this is nowhere near what I'd normally try out, but this OVA caught my interest, surprisingly enough

Vega Entertainment, outside of the titles I mentioned early on, is generally known for doing assistance work, so it's only natural that the BokuImo OVA is on the level of "It gets the job done," visually. Still, what is there is generally well done, with direction & storyboards done by Yukiyo Teramoto, who has mostly worked on Doraemon productions, with her only other major directorial work being the recent Mysterious Joker series. For someone with such a limited resume, I must say that I'm actually pretty impressed with the visuals. They may be limited, with only short bursts of flourish here & there, but everything is drawn well & maintains a very consistent look. This is backed up Mayumi Nishimoto, who did the character designs & animation direction. Nishimoto's resume is even smaller than Teramoto's, so it really comes off like the staff were able to make due with the limitations they had. For a staff member who has a larger resume, there's scriptwriter Touko Machida (Chaika - The Coffin Princess, Allison & Lilia), who may be responsible for why the story & characters worked for me. Interestingly enough, looking for more info on the manga resulted in me finding some pretty harsh opinions on it, with a focus of annoyance coming from the idea that Yori's focus is more on "banging his sister" than anything. As mentioned, this OVA covers up through Volume 3 in just 45 minutes, so Machida obviously took the axe to a lot of content from the manga, likely removing the more smutty parts to put the focus on the more substantial stuff. Since the major staff is comprised of nothing but women, I'd say that I would trust what they felt was the right thing to do, if indeed the original manga was more smutty than introspective.

As for Susumu Ueda's score, it's very well done & completely orchestral. Specifically, it's nothing but woods & strings for the instruments, with some great piano solos as well. It's admittedly not a soundtrack that I would listen to on my own if I just wanted to listen to some music, but that's just how I treat orchestral pieces like the ones in BokuImo; they're outstanding for the purposes they are composed for, but not for generic personal use. There is no dedicated opening theme, but the ending theme is an extremely striking bit of dissonance from Ueda's orchestral score. Said ED, "Ai ga Hoshii" by Shion, is completely hard rock, almost coming off as utterly unlike everything that just came before it. Still, I can see why this song was chosen (or likely made) for the OVA, as the band's harsh & loud sound do make a parallel to the wild ride that Yori & Iku have decided to go on with their journey into taboo.

The actual DVD had an odd quirk to it, which was that it technically had two different Japanese audio tracks, barely. The default utilized the usual Japanese seiyuu, and the "Special Cast" option did nothing more than have the twins have new voices done by stage actors Satoshi Matsuda (Yori; Ren/Kamen Rider Knight in Kamen Rider Ryuki) & Mayuko Iwasa (Iku; Mylene Hoffman in 009-1: The End of the Beginning); since I wasn't able to hear the other voice track, I can only go off of the traditional seiyuu track. Yori is voiced by Showtaro Morikubo (X in Mega Man X series, Shikamaru in Naruto), who does an okay job at being both conflicted with his inner feelings while also coming off as slightly cavalier in some moments. Iku is performed by Mai Nakahara (Teru in Saki, Juvia in Fairy Tail), who delivers a nice amount of confusion & embarrassment over the whole situation, but her high-pitched voice does sometimes come off as a little too grating in some moments. Finally, Kusunoki & Yano are voiced by Tomoko Kawakami & Kousuke Toriumi, respectively, who both deliver performances that match their characters well. Really, this is all about the Yuki twins, so it's only natural that the actors of note is so small & seems so minor in comparison to everything. It's not badly performed, but this is much more about the story than it is about who voices who & how well.

As I've mentioned before, shoujo incest is as far away a genre that I'd normally watch as possible; in fact, I only watched this because Susumu Ueda did the score. Therefore, I must say that I was surprised with Boku wa Imouto ni Koi wo Suru: Secret Sweethearts - Kono Koi wa Himitsu. The subject matter is out & out something that people generally won't touch with a ten-meter pole, myself included, but the way it was handled here did seem to be as graceful as it possibly could be done without becoming nothing but smut. Now I can't guarantee that about the manga, which I've read is a little bit more explicit in some ways when it comes to personal desires & whatnot, so maybe the OVA is in fact a better way of handling this story, or at least the first third of it. Unfortunately, there is no English translation for this OVA, fan or official, but it does enough visually to make it easy to follow & understand without subtitles. The manga is fully fan translated, so I could always go in that direction, but who knows if I'll actually follow through on it. This OVA may have gotten me curious about how the story continues on, but it is still the story of a teenage boy who wants to bang his younger twin sister. That might just be too much for me.

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