「俺の友達が眼鏡を外すわけがない」 (Ore no Tomodachi ga Megane o Hazusu Wake ga Nai)
“My Friend Can’t Take Off Her Glasses”
Continuing on with expanding the show’s focus to the side-characters of the show, this week features Saori…without the glasses. This is a story of how one shy and proper girl attempts to find her own place in otaku culture, to break free from being an attachment to being truly part of a group of friends. Though I wished this episode had a better segue and had been expanded on more, it does touch on a lot of issues that ring true, even outside of otaku culture. This week’s episode wasn’t one for many laughs, but it definitely pointed out a story I’m sure many of us have found ourselves in.
If there’s one obvious theme in Oreimo, it’s the interaction that little sisters have with their older counterparts. While Kirino and Kyousuke deal with reviving a once strong relationship, Saori and her sister Kaori (Kuwashima Houko) try to build a relationship from the ground up…at least initially. Though Kaori initially shows interest in bonding with Saori, that excitement soon disappears in the face of AK-47 models and other hobbies. It seems that a large part of Kaori bringing Saori was to show her off to her otaku community, “Pretty Garden” (apparently a precursor group to some influential figures in Oreimo’s anime industry)–while that may not be the entire reason, the way that Kaori introduces her sister to the group is a bit unsettling. After all, the main reason why Saori came in the first place was to look forward to spending more time with the sister who was never there.
Thankfully there’s at least one person in that group that doesn’t view Saori as an attachment to her older sister. Ironically, it is Kanata (Rie Kugimiya), aka Kanakana-chan, who gives Saori the attention she badly deserves. It is she who introduces our cute imouto into the realm of otaku culture, and the one who also influences Saori’s mannerisms in the future. One has to think though, if Kanata is the older sister of who we think her to be, isn’t it weird that she wasn’t able to get her own little sister into otaku culture as well? I suppose not every conversion is successful. Despite that, Saori and Kanata seem to build a friendship even stronger than the ones that Kaori can form, and for awhile, everything is good. Saori can be comfortable with the group without seeking Kaori’s approval, even at the exclusion of Kaori herself.
Everything is fine, that is until one person decides to grow up. Granted, Kaori is pretty much a dick for leaving on such short notice, but the reality of the group’s structure still would sting the same, polite Kaori or not.
It’s a sad phenomenon to see how groups can fall apart or fragment because of the departure of one person. When friendships bond together due to one person bringing everyone in one place, it is highly likely that as soon as that linking friend leaves, the whole thing just melts. After all, friendship through friends–situational friendship you could call it–just doesn’t hold up to direct friendship. In the end, two of the three “friendships” Saori had formed turned into distant friendliness, while Kanata just didn’t have the time to hang out with her debut (I still wonder what manga debut she authored). While a sad case to witness, it rings all too true in the real world. Saori has every right to have a grudge against her sister, but her sister’s words do hold true–it is she who made the group, and as such she holds the power to break it away, since the bonds all centered around her after all. The chemistry that the group had without Kaori just wasn’t right, and as such, left our newly formed otaku sister alone once more.
But we know that Saori no longer has to live in that sort of loneliness anymore. Though she isn’t at the core of Kuroneko and Kirino’s friendship, the trio (including Kyousuke) definitely form a friendship with one another that they can individually value. While it’s slightly unsettling that Saori is inspired to one-up her sister by collecting her own group of friends, in the end her intentions are not that malicious–after all, she puts her heart into the group as much as she can, because these are her friends, and not auxiliary friends that she just happens to interact with. It was touching at the end when the two groups of friends met face to face, signifying a closure between the sisters. Saori has found the group of friends who will be hard-pressed to leave her, while Kaori finds solace that her sister has found friends for herself, instead of struggling to fit with an already complete group. All in all, it was a touching way to give a face to the person behind the glasses, as well as continue to weave the characters closer together.
From a purely isolated standpoint, the episode did itself justice, yet it could’ve done a better job spreading out the story. After all, what was the relationship between Saori and Kaori before this episode started? How did they manage to skip Saori’s growth spurt so quickly? What was Saori’s life like at school, or more generally outside of the otaku community? Although it was a well-executed story with a good message on auxiliary friendships, the emotional investment it could’ve had was limited by its isolated one episode format. In the interests of time it’s understandable, but perhaps previous episodes should’ve hinted more at Saori’s backstory rather than laying it all out in one fell swoop.
Ah well, all is good due to cosplay and a beautiful Saori. Next up, the focus returns back onto Kirino and the rivalry that she left behind in America, which caused everyone so much emotional tension and confusion. Will we see a fierce Kirino fight to keep her win? Will we see tan lolis? Probably. Until next week, until next Saturday!