Sister Princess vol. 1
Chad Clayton rates it:
One of the most complex and hard-to-define relationships between human beings is the one between siblings. Few other relationships can waver so erratically between love, hate, friendship, indifference, rivalry, bitterness, violence, loyalty, protectiveness, and an entire host of other emotional states. It’s something that great thinkers, doctors, and storytellers have contemplated and explored throughout all time. This fact makes Sister Princess, an already terribly boring harem show, all the more disgusting. Sister Princess relentlessly seeks to cheapen this complex relationship by presenting the ideal brother-sister relationship as one wherein the sisters are little dolls whose only objective in life is to appease their brother – and, in some cases, make sexual innuendoes and/or flirt with him. It tries to apply harem-show romance conventions to the brother-sister relationship. That’s a pretty reprehensible thing to do, but then, this show is pretty reprehensible.
Sister Princess‘s story, if you can call it that, begins when apparent whiz-kid Wataru fails his college entrance exam, because his answers were misaligned. He then goes home, only to immediately receive an invitation to attend some college he’s never heard of, a funded bank account, and an unceremonious kick out of the house to attend said college on some amusement-park island called Promised Island. When Wataru arrives on this island, he conveniently discovers that he has 12 sisters. Now, he either has to get to know his “sisters” while fighting off his obvious attraction to some of them, or find a way to get off the island and away from this nonsense altogether.
Of course, Sister Princess does try to justify its own existence by dropping some really heavy-handed hints that Wataru and the sisters are actually involved in some science experiment, game, or practical joke rather than an honest-to-goodness family reunion, but this doesn’t feel like a plot so much as it does an excuse to dump Wataru and all these little girls together on an island. It also seems to be setting up the eventual revelation that Wataru and the girls aren’t related by blood after all. I’m fairly sure this is coming, because even without the aforementioned hints to the contrary, there’s something completely unfeasible that 13 people, none of whom look anything alike or knew of each other prior to coming to the island, are all related by blood. Unless Sister Princess suddenly convinces me beyond reasonable doubt that these kids are all related, I’m going to assume they aren’t, and that the whole incestual romance angle is just a lame gimmick that this show shamelessly tries to play up. Man, they must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel if they’re releasing shows that coyly try to advocate incest. What’s next, cute little harem shows that advocate biastophilia? Vorarephilia? Necrophilia?
That’s about all there is to say about the story. Nothing else of interest or lasting impact happens on this disc. Sister Princess is apparently trying to be a cross between a harem show and a quiet, idyllic slice-of-life show. They sure got the harem part right, but Sister Princess is failing pretty miserably at the slice-of-life bit. In order to work, slice of life requires interesting characters and the ability to find humor, wonder, and importance in everyday things. Sister Princess has neither of these; it’s simply a boring show about boring people doing boring things. For instance, Wataru and youngest sister Hinako spend an entire episode wandering around shopping for just the right teddy bear. A better show would have made this episode cute and sweet, or at least given it some well-earned sentiment. In Sister Princess, it’s tedious and stultifying, with an embarrassing conclusion.
The characters in Sister Princess are similarly uninteresting. For a whiz-kid who can supposedly pass college entrance exams without trouble, Wataru sure is an idiot. He doesn’t appear to have the common sense God gave the average prune, let alone any real problem-solving skills. The only evidence we have that Wataru isn’t dumber than a bag of hammers is because the show says he isn’t – much like the only evidence that Wataru is related to his sisters is that the show says he is. As you might also expect, Wataru is also completely spineless. He would rather try to ditch his new home and newfound “sisters” completely than stand up to them and tell them to leave him alone once in awhile. Yeah, these girls sure got stuck with a real winner for an older brother. Wonder what they’ll do if something happens that requires him to stand up for them?
Not that the show is any kinder to the sisters. Sister Princess employs what I like to call “buffet table characterization.” Instead of developing well-considered characters that will play off each other well, Sister Princess just tosses out 12 random characters with different appearances and quirks, so that the viewers can instantly pick out the character they like best. The show puts forth quite a selection; there’s a girl-next-door, a detective, a little kid, an inventor, an occultist, the list goes on and on. Hilariously, though, they all have the same basic personality: sweet, gentle, and doting on Wataru. All twelve girls may look different, have different interests, and even act slightly differently, but when it comes down to it, they’re all essentially the same basic character. They also all refer to Wataru with different pet names. Brother, Big Brother, and such are acceptable. Bro-Bro is kinda cute coming from a little kid. Brother Dear, Brother Dearest, Brother MINE? What does an aneurysm feel like? I think this show might have given me one…
Sister Princess is one of the creepiest shows I’ve watched in a long time, primarily because of the characterizations of the sisters. If the sisters’ fondness of Wataru came off as an even remotely normal human relationship, the show wouldn’t be nearly so spooky. However, these girls seem to base their entire personal identity around their relationship with Wataru. They’re there to serve him, protect him, play with him, and be with him. They’d never do anything to hurt or offend him. He’s all they really need and want. This sort of garbage is creepy enough when it’s played for comedy (as it was in Angel Tales, however unsuccessfully), but in Sister Princess, it’s apparently an ideal to aspire to. Never mind that the level of obsession these girls show towards Wataru would be considered a legitimate symptom of mental illness in many places; Sister Princess is convinced that sisters doting on brothers 24/7 is preferable to healthy, realistic sibling relationships, which involve nasty things such as rivalry, competition, and even fighting! And hey, according to this show, making sexual innuendoes and flirting with someone you’re supposedly related to is A-OK!
Another creepy aspect about this show is its soulless idealism. Everyone in this show is overbearingly nice and gentle, but there’s absolutely zero feeling of genuine warmth or feeling behind this niceness. None of the girls behave or speak like real people; they’re only capable of acting in the most cute, polite, or ingratiating ways possible in the given situation. Wataru seems incapable of any emotions other than aw-shucks earnestness and heavy-hearted resignation. The supporting characters only act according to their character type. All this completely robs Sister Princess of the humanity necessary to make slice-of-life or relationship stories work. The emotions the characters show feel dishonest, if not fraudulent. Where are the little rivalries between siblings or spats between housemates? Where are the ulterior motives that all people have? Where’s the characters’ deep-seated concern for each other? Where is the show’s ability to, for even one moment, convince me that these characters truly feel a single word of the crap they’re spouting? I can’t answer that, and I’m not sure Sister Princess can either.
On the aesthetic side of things, Sister Princess is really dodgy. The show’s art looks good in places, but the animation is inconsistent and frequently shifts between “passable” and “ugly.” The animation studio also cuts a lot of corners in the animation; the show reuses tons of footage (one shot gets used up to five times in one episode), and I can think of at least two instances where animation is reused, with new animation very obviously laid over the old footage so the repetition of the footage isn’t quite so obvious. I don’t know what this show’s budget was, but they’re already in trouble if they’re reusing this much footage this early in the show. The character designs are somewhat well-done, if a bit creepy. The girls all look like perfect china-doll children, most of whom are dressed in doll clothing – very formal, frilly, foo-foo clothing that really isn’t very well-suited to everyday wear. There’s something gruesomely off-putting about characters that look better suited to a display shelf than a real-world situation.
Sister Princess may have wanted to be a feel-good slice-of-life show with just a bit of outre romance, but it comes off as shameless fodder for people who think mindless devotion and soulless kindness are the ideal feminine traits. I literally can’t think of a single positive thing to say about this show; I can’t even say that it put forth an honest effort to be funny or interesting to anyone other than the aforementioned group. So what’s one to do if they want a nice, light, slice-of-life show? Azumanga Daioh, another show also in current release by ADV, comes to mind. Azumanga may also have market-friendly teenage girls for characters and an eager-to-please demeanor, but it also succeeds in every area in which Sister Princess fails: it’s a light, entertaining feel-good show that doesn’t get crushed under a ton of spooky baggage. It doesn’t exploit harem-show formulas, it doesn’t make suggestions towards aberrant romance, and it has some understanding of what real friendship is really like. There’s something real about it. The only thing that’s real about Sister Princess is the fact that it’s hollow, phony, and in extremely poor taste.
Added: Monday, October 18, 2004
Related Link: ADV Films