There’s a tricky balance involved in watching the dire stuff people fund specifically to make me suffer. To be frank, I don’t enjoy watching bad media. I am not at all a hatewatcher – I can enjoy something that’s truly exceptional in that way like The Room, but movies that are simply not good? Why not watch something good instead? I get very little pleasure out of watching other people’s failed projects; I’d much rather embrace the vast range of experiences possible through intentional, intelligent artistic choices, and could easily do without the simplistic, repetitive “lol that was incompetently conceived/executed” comic beat of hatewatching. I want to watch shows I can care about, shows that transport me to unique places, shows that teach me new things. Great media has so much to teach us, and we have so little time on this earth; why waste it on garbage that leaves us empty?
I don’t need to be validated as a smart media critic by riffing on garbage – and I absolutely do not believe that watching lots of garbage makes you a better critic. Creating a great work is difficult and requires distinct strengths; creating a bad work is easy, and most bad works are bad in ways that aren’t at all difficult to divine. Watching bad stuff will mostly just validate all your existing show preferences, it won’t actually make you grow as a critic or person.
This is also why I’m generally kinda suspicious of people who keep watching stuff they’re already not enjoying, methodically reporting that “yep, this week’s episode was still bad” all along the way. I don’t believe these people are actually learning anything more about “where a show goes wrong” – I think that it’s much more likely that if you’re not enjoying what a show is doing, you’re simply not the right audience for it, and thus you’re bashing your head against a wall in hopes of a change that will never come. If you hate a show’s protagonist in the first episode, the fact that this protagonist you hate is still the main character in episode ten, and thus you still hate the show, won’t teach anyone anything. Saying “I learn from trash” is a way of philosophically elevating a popcorn urge, and saying “this show I thought was bad is still bad” only reflects your obstinance, not anything about the show itself. On the whole, I watch enough bad shows for my work to “get the picture” – I don’t need to force myself to watch more bad things.
That said, the nature of my work means sometimes I have to watch some real garbage, and sometimes it is my readers who pay me to watch this garbage. I’m not going to outright refuse, but I also don’t want to encourage this trick, so I’m stuck in a Catch 22 of “how can I write a satisfying article about this work that also doesn’t compel anyone to buy any more of them.” In this case, my “solution” seems to be “write a treatise about my fundamental dislike of hatewatching, then see where we go from there.” And I guess we will!
So anyway, Kiss x Sis is basically just sub-softcore siscon porn, with a whole lot of panty shots and some rare glimpses of nudity. Narrative-wise, there’s basically nothing to dig into in this first episode – it’s a vehicle for validating a fetish, it doesn’t really have “characters” or “dialogue” in the conventional sense. Its characters are written as archetypes and portrayed as cliches, its drama exists only to provide structure for its fanservice beats, and its ultimate “goal” is to be naughty comfort food for people with a little sister fetish. It’d be silly to critique something that’s just trying to be porn as if it were trying to be a rewarding narrative, which leaves me to, er… I guess talk about how this show articulates the specifics of its particular fantasy?
As Genshiken once said, little sister fetishes are a fantasy for people who don’t actually have sisters. The appeal isn’t so much in “I sure wish I had an actual sister,” but more the specific kind of person a little sister represents. Part of this is the nostalgia-gaze that permeates so much of anime proper. Many anime shows present an idyllic fantasy of high school life, and segments of this first episode clearly lean on that, with the show actually lampshading the contrived nature of nostalgic tropes like a box lunch. Little sisters in anime inherently represent an idealized vision of the past, and if you’re already in love with the past, it doesn’t take much to turn that into a sexual thing.
The little sister fantasy isn’t just about nostalgia, though. Something it shares with many anime love interest archetypes is its nature as a “safe” love interest. One of the nice things about little sisters is that you don’t have to negotiate the many conversations normally necessary to become close with them – like with the childhood friend archetype, you’ve known them all your life, and thus they’re inherently emotionally close and easy to talk to. The fantasy of a little sister hinges on finding someone who’s already crossed all the difficult boundaries of emotional intimacy, meaning someone who’s intimidated by the thought of talking to girls or aggressively pursuing romance might find the concept of a sister as a lover comforting.
Finally, little sisters also almost categorically land in the “dependent I can protect” zone. Little sisters would make good Key heroines – they’re often characterized as people who are somewhat helpless outside of their home life, and thus need a man to take care of them. Anime is full of heroines who fall into this space, and with little sisters, their characterization often combines the “they need me” of a young girl with the “they’d take care of me” of a mom. Little sisters tend to be good at cooking food for their brothers, making sure their brothers remember to finish their homework, etc. It’s not hard to see why that’d be an appealing fantasy to a lot of socially anxious young men.
Kiss x Sis is on the whole a pretty tepid and thinly written production, but it does work hard to facilitate the appeal of its particular fantasy. The characterization of our main character Keita is one clear example. Keita consistently pushes back against his sisters’ advances in relatively feeble ways, but the fact that he resists at all helps somewhat dull the inherently exploitative nature of this premise. The actual real-life “problem” with this scenario is that preying on your younger siblings in a sexual way is abuse based in deeply unequal power dynamics. In our porn fantasies we tend to handwave that sort of stuff (which is fine! Being able to separate sexual fantasies from healthy real-life activity is pretty darn important), but having Keita be the defensive one, and the girls the aggressors, still helps lessen that underlying sense of exploitation.
Of course, the fantasy of the little sister isn’t necessarily all that compatible with the fantasy of the sexual aggressor. Kiss x Sis thus has to walk a difficult line of having Keita’s sisters continuously try to have sex with him while also coming off as demure little angels, girls embarrassed by the mere thought of a penis. There’s thus also plenty of counterbalancing infantilizing of the girls, like this “kiss the ouchie” moment that actually merges sexual aggression with nostalgic childishness. In every scene where the girls aren’t trying to jump Keita’s bones, they’re stressing over immature insecurities and working on juvenile schemes, the show working hard to make sure they still seem like relative innocents.
The show also bolsters this contradictory mix of sexual aggression and childishness by framing the sisters’ actions as a competition between them. They’re not grabbing Keita’s dick because they want to grab his dick, they’re grabbing it because the other sister kissed him first, and now they need to catch up. That framing allows the show to give the sisters an improbable air of bashfulness. They might be flipping up their panties at Keita, but that’s only because the other sister did it first, and now this sister is being pushed past her comfort zone in a way that further bolsters the fantasy. Through a combination of childish behavior and framing their actions as a theoretically unsexual sibling rivalry, Kiss x Sis is thus able to keep its love interests framed as “pure” and “innocent” in spite of constantly throwing themselves at Keita.
Aside from that, there’s really not much to talk about here. As I said, this show’s narrative values are basically nonexistent outside of its efficacy as porn, and the comedy is as routine as it comes. The show’s simplified world facilitates the narrowness of its focus, and the fact that outside characters ranging from Keita’s friends to his own parents approve of his incest further disarm the inherent sense of shame that accompanies lusting in a socially disapproved direction. It’s baffling to me that someone would watch this character-bereft and generally limp production over just going straight for porn, but there apparently is a market for “gestures towards my fetish, but only rarely crosses the line” media. To those people: yes, Kiss x Sis is indeed a property designed for people with a little sister fetish. It sucks in every way a narrative can, but it seems to know how to articulate its fantasy pretty well. I guess that’s what we’re here for.
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