I have skirted around the fringes of Eromanga Sensei a couple of times for fanservice debate articles, but have never written a full review. After a rewatch, thanks to the Blu-ray releases, I thought it was time to tackle this controversial series, which has such a bad reputation despite being quite entertaining.
I suspect a lot of the criticism for Eromanga Sensei comes from people who haven’t bothered to watch the whole thing. If that’s not the case, I can’t think why just about every explanation of the series describes it as a fanservice-heavy anime about incest, when in fact the fanservice is pretty average for an anime with a cast of characters skewed towards the female, and the incest doesn’t actually happen. Before I talk about what this series is really about, I suppose I’ll have to tackle all those tedious criticisms.
Firstly, in all fairness I have to acknowledge that the ages of the characters makes the fanservice uncomfortable to watch for a Western audience, but I won’t get into the rights and wrongs of that here because I’ll be going over a lot of old ground. Take a look at the fanservice debates section of the blog for more about that. But what fanservice there is here is mild, with no actual nudity beyond things like skimpy swimsuits, and the 15 certificate for the Blu-rays seems fair to me. You’ll find much more explicit anime series than this, and lots of them, so it seems odd to single out Eromanga Sensei for that reason. I think that only happens because it’s paired with a hint of incest, and this really is extremely mild. Main characters Masumune and Sagiri have barely met when the series starts, and are not blood relatives. In fact they have been thrown together through tragedy, and much of the element of attraction is a blurring of the lines of trying to be a family despite not really knowing each other, and the confused emotions that creates for what are basically two strangers living together. What the critics tend not to mention is that absolutely nothing happens with that aspect of the series beyond the two of them acknowledging their (frankly confused) feelings for each other, and Masumune as a result failing to be particularly interested in the other girls in his life who want a relationship with him. In fact, Sagiri is an archetypal tsundere girl, reacting violently to Masumune any time she thinks his mind might be wandering onto lewd thoughts. He rarely even gets to see to her in person.
And that brings us on to what this series is really about, because Sagiri is a shut in girl, terrified to go out of her room. Over the series she slowly, and very gently, develops a couple of friendships and gains the confidence to at least allow a few people into her room, and make it to the front door of the house. This is about friends helping somebody, almost by accident, to overcome a horribly debilitating mental illness, and the series does a great job with that. Sagiri is never forced to fight her issues at anything other than her own pace, and the progress is gradual, but what this series desperately needs is a second season to make it clear what the whole point is for the hard of thinking who clearly didn’t get what this was about, or didn’t care because they were too busy jumping on bandwagons and foaming at the mouth about the mild fanservice.
There is also a very real prospect of a different relationship for Masumune, with his neighbour Elf (a nickname, of course). They are both authors, around the same age, and Elf is a great character, hugely confident, competitive, precocious, and very entertaining to watch. For a lot of the episodes she is actually the main female character, with the writers hampered as to what they can do with Sagiri, who is stuck in her room and has limited interactions. There is also another female writer called Muramasa, who I couldn’t warm to as a character, and her serious nature gets boring quickly, although she shares an important backstory with the others, which is of central importance to the series: they have all been inspired by each other’s work in some way. This is a story of kids who wanted to be writers (or an artist) and were driven to achieve great things by their excitement with each other’s creativity. You have to accept a lot of coincidences as the series unfolds, particularly the hidden backstory of Masumune and Sagiri, but actually let’s try to tackle that because it illustrates where this series becomes so frustrating at times.
So I want to focus on one particular episode, the eleventh out of twelve. It’s an absolutely magnificent 25 minutes of television, filling in Masumune and Sagiri’s past, when Masumune was an aspiring writer putting his work on a blog, and Sagiri was his first fan. Neither of them have any idea of their past connection. Sagiri starts doing some drawings for him, and from there they keep driving each other on to greater heights of achievement, a central theme of the series. It’s a bit unfortunate that she becomes obsessed with lewd art, but that’s at least explained by her mother’s career, and the work Sagiri caught glimpses of. Anyway, the reason I say this is such a frustrating series is that this wonderful episode, which is hugely inspirational and quite emotional, is followed by a silly comedy episode where Sagiri tries to get Elf and Muramasa to play twister in swimsuits, and then a big discussion about how the girls don’t know what male anatomy really looks like. That might make my defence of the series earlier sound weak, but that is by far the worst episode of the series and is the exception rather than the rule in terms of edgy content. It’s just so disappointing that the season had to end like that, and the way it veers between episodes with some genuine emotional content and that kind of provocative nonsense is exasperating. But tonal shifts are commonplace in anime, so once again I see no particular reason for Eromanga Sensei to be demonised in the way it tends to be.
If fanservice offends you then steer clear. That’s nothing unique to Eromanga Sensei. You’ll have to steer clear of most anime series that have a largely female cast of characters. But if you can stomach some mild fanservice then you might just want to ignore the critics and give this one a go. You might be pleasantly surprised when you realise that incest isn’t actually the story here at all. It’s about talented young people who inspire each other to achieve amazing things, and one mentally ill girl whose friends are well on the road to healing her. RP