A Sister’s All You Need

Itsuki Hashima is the 20 year old author of a series of successful illustrated novels, having published his first novel when he was only 15. However, while on the surface he appears to be the image of a successful prodigy, his personal life is deeply fraught: having never forgiven his father for remarrying after his mother’s death, Itsuki is estranged from his family – with the sole exception of his younger step-sibling Chihiro. The fact that Itsuki grew up as an only-child has also imbued him with an obsessive longing for a younger sister; an obsession which, while fetishistic in its dimensions, also embodies the void of loneliness at the core of his life. Working from home, Itsuki lives a somewhat solitary existence punctuated only by the visits of his friends: Nayuta Kani, an apparently uninhibited 18 year old author who is even more prodigiously successful than Itsuki, but who was saved from the life of a social recluse when she read his debut novel; Miyako Shirakawa, 20 years old, a former university classmate of Itsuki’s who works as a fashion adviser, and who also harbours romantic feelings for him; Haruto Fuwa, a contemporary of Itsuko and author who is highly successful commercially because he carefully replicates pop culture trends in his books; and Kenjiro Toki, Itsuki’s editor who, despite outward appearances of frustration with and even hostility toward Itsuki, deeply cares about his work and success. Within the small bubble of this friendship group, various rivalries and tensions play out as each person tries to give voice to their dreams and ambitions. Itsuki and Haruto embody the clash between creative passion and cynical opportunism. Nayuta and Miyako are not only rivals for Itsuki’s affections, but also symbolise the clash of personalities that can nonetheless sometimes lead to friendship. Kenjiro and Chihiro are the outsiders who nonetheless care for the insiders and make their reality more bearable, despite often being taken for granted themselves. And looming over them all are the pressures and demands of Japan’s notoriously fickle pop culture, from the spectre of ever-pressing deadlines to the constant expectation that they will come up with something fresh and new while always meeting the fans’ demands…

Based on a series of illustrated novels by Yomi Hirasaka and Kantoku, “A Sister’s All You Need” was produced by animation studio Silver Link and aired on Japanese television from October to December 2017. Animated in a conventional style that combines hand-drawn and CGI techniques with manga-esque character designs, “A Sister’s All You Need” is at once an exposition of the fetish sub-strain of Japanese pop-culture, as well as an ironic and unsentimental examination of the reality of being a creator in Japan’s commercialised and success-driven entertainment industry. The former is illustrated through the anarchic exchanges between Itsuki and Nayuta, in which her romantic pursuit of him expresses itself through the interplay of his little sister fetish over/against her nudity fetish; and also in the character of a tax accountant named Ashley Ono, who dresses in a Lolita style and enjoys forcing her clients to divulge their various fetish interests. The latter is symbolised in the constant clash between Itsuki and Kenjiro over deadlines and his ideas for new projects, as well as in the creative tensions between Itsuki and an illustrator named Kaiko, who is given the job of adapting Itsuki’s work into manga form. But beneath all the fetish-driven humour and the clash of temperaments lie moments of genuinely moving insight, such as Haruto’s realisation of the hopelessness of his attraction for Miyako, or Itsuki’s own admission of his feelings for Nayuta – and the reasons why he can’t act upon them. Whether or not these moments, in combination with the narrative’s stark depiction of Japan’s pop-culture industry, will be enough to overcome what for many might be the absurd or even distasteful fetish elements, will be a matter of personal taste; nonetheless, “A Sister’s All You Need” is attention-grabbing viewing, whose underlying insights into the dark side of Japanese – and the anime/manga subculture’s – social psychology are perhaps worth exploring.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.