Shogo Mikadono had been living a comfortable, carefree life up until high school. As the only child of the Mikadono group, a wealthy network of the Mikadono family and it’s friends and business partners, he’s been selected as the sole heir to the company and family name that his father, Kumagoro Mikadono, has dedicated his life to strengthening and expanding. Unfortunately, on the day of his ageing father’s death, when Shogo is finally given a taste of what’s written in the family patriarch’s will, it’s revealed that in order for the young heir to inherit his father’s very lucrative estate, he must undergo one final task; To enroll at a certain high school, fall in love with a dignified and agreeable classmate, and make her his fiancee, with whom he’ll be sharing untold riches on the day of their marital vows! It might not be the most romantic grounds for a proposal that anyone’s ever heard of… Still beats the idea of having to come together to repopulate the earth, when you get right down to it… But for a rich man to marry an attractive woman who’s only interested in business and money isn’t a new concept, and it certainly isn’t unheard of.

However, as is the unfortunate pattern of life, even the simplest plans must become complicated somewhere down the line. Not long after hearing about this stipulation, he’s confronted from just out of reach by a soft, reassuring voice that he won’t always be alone… That the owner of the voice is his long lost sister, who has every intention of marrying him and staying by his side forever. Wait, did I say soft and reassuring? Because I meant deeply concerning, as it turns out that his father did in fact father an illegitimate daughter who’s been separated from him since birth, and to make this revelation even more shocking is the fact that the girl with the voice is also going to his new school! Now, his attempts to pluck a bridal rose from a garden full of crazy weeds is being hampered by the fear that one of his sultry suitors may actually be his secret sister! This matrimonial minefield is made even harder to cross by the fact that with each step that moves him forward, he’s being confronted by red herrings that are only pretending to be his sister for their own ends. Can Shogo safely pick the woman of his dreams and collect his rightful inheritance, or is the only thing he’s bound to inherit a deformed child and a one way ticket to Alabama?

You know, the longer I do these reviews, the more likely I am to cross every single animation studio off of my list at some point. This time around, we’re talking about Studio Gokumi, a company that spun off from Gonzo in the early 2010’s. The name literally means Studio Group 5, which… I don’t know. I have no idea what that does, or even COULD mean on a larger scale. In any case, they haven’t done very much work, although I have seen two of their shows before, namely A Channel and Yuki Yuna is a Hero, two shows whose best qualities were their visual qualities. A Channel, like most of Gokumi’s early work, was low budget, but managed in such a way that it’s lack of funds could never hurt it in any noticeable way. Yuki Yuna, like most of Gokumi’s later work, was gorgeously animated with a lavish budget that the producers took full, appreciative advantage of. Between the two, Nakaimo is closer to A Channel, being one of the studio’s earliest projects, and it looks way better than it really needed to look, given the nature of the material.

True to form, Nakaimo looks perfectly fine. The visuals aren’t mind-blowing of world-challenging, but they’re more than serviceable enough to be above complaint. The animators were very clearly working with a tight budget, so the movement on screen is never exactly fluid, but the characters still move just as much as they need to to convey a sense of life. There are shortcuts taken, which is kind of inevitable in such a situation, as movement occasionally has to be limited to save some money, but it’s never prominent enough to bother even the most astute viewer. Not to mention, these shortcuts pay off with interest when the show DOES want to dazzle us with more impressive shots, such as one of the main characters swimming in beautifully animated water, or when they need to show us random CG effects like a can flying at someone’s head from off screen. I’ve said before that given the choice, I’d prefer a well-managed low budget over a lackadaisical high budget at least seven times out of ten, and Nakaimo easily delivers on what I wanted to see from it.

The artwork is also very pretty, with it’s only real flaw being certain shots where the background has an unnatural sort of heavenly shine to it. It doesn’t happen often, thankfully, but it’s irritating when it does. The backgrounds are fairly well drawn, and while most man-made backgrounds to have a surprising level of intricacy in their design and range of details, things like grass, trees and bushes do blur a bit when you look at them closely. The characters themselves are drawn to type, milking the most cliched archetypes of the ecchi genre dry, extending all the way to the teacher being a little girl. You’ve got the cosplaying loli, the pigtailed flat-chested tsundere, the overdressed goth-loli sweetheart girl, and of course Itsuke from Haruhi as the protagonist. It’s saving grace is that once you get past the clichés, the characters are still designed and drawn really well, although the constant blushing can get extremely annoying. The lighting and filtering effects are also utilized well, if not very often.

The soundtrack is a bit on the generic side, but it’s not bad by any means. It’s very pretty in it’s orchestration, but it’s also really repetitive, as any given track just loops around every few seconds or so. It does it’s job well enough, and you’ll hardly notice it, unless it’s doing the one thing about it that impressed me… Instead of playing off the little sister mystery as sexy or romantic, moments dealing with the mystery… AKA phone calls allegedly from the sister and certain off-color remarks tying into it… Are paired with music that actually manages to make the concept feel creepy or ominous, which is how it damn well should feel, so props for that. The opening theme, Choose Me Darling by StylipS, is your typical fast, catchy song from multiple harmonized female singers, but what makes it awesome is the percussion underneath it, which creates a pretty memorable beat. That, and i’m pretty sure a decent amount of the animation budget went into it, as it makes for a pretty awesome watch, and it goes out of it’s way to introduce the characters and several plot points that happen throughout the show.

The English dub was produced by Sentai Filmworks, and before I start doling out the praise… Of which I have plenty to go around… I’m going to have to go into some negatives, because Nakaimo’s dubbers made two huge mistakes. First of all, I was shocked to see that Steven Foster wasn’t on this dub. Yeah, he quit a while ago, but I’ve only ever seen lip-synching this bad under his direction. In his heyday, his response to the critics blasting him for his translation choices was to release dubs where he stayed true to the original Japanese right down to the letter, and stopped giving a fuck about lip flaps. These were his better dubs, so I’m kind of assuming the company figured out from him that they can do this to save some time and effort and still remain on peoples’ good sides. This purely speculative explanation, whether true or untrue, doesn’t excuse the final product, where characters talk while their mouths are closed and stop talking while their mouths are still open. It’s over-all a pretty sloppy job, but the other mistake is even worse.

See, there are several voice actors in the anime industry who have immediately distinctive voices. I like to bring these individuals up as… How can I put this gently… Target practice for beginner voice chasers. You don’t need much experience in voice chasing to recognize voices like Greg Ayres, Luci Christian, Monica Rial, Brittany Karbowski, J Michael Tatum or Hillary Haag, because while these are all fantastic actors, they can not disguise their voices for shit. This usually isn’t a problem, as you don’t need to be a chameleon to be a good actor, but Nakaimo presents a unique circumstance. The plot of the story revolves around finding out which member of the harem is Shogo’s little sister, and right in episode 1, we’re given a brief clip of the sister’s real, unfiltered voice. Sentai was clever enough to not credit this voice, but it uses the same actor as the eventually revealed sister character, and they used the most distinct-sounding voice actor they had. They could have used Emily Neves, who’s actually really good at disguising her voice, but nope! Even the most unseasoned of viewers can figure out the mystery as soon as the sister talks again.

For this reason and this reason alone, I almost want to recommend the Japanese track with subtitles, as the sub didn’t make this mistake, but if you did that, you’d be sacrificing what actually turns out to be a pretty awesome dub. I’ll admit that Clint Bickham is a bit awkward in the beginning, but he grows nicely into the character before long. Monica Rial and Brittany Karbowski play his two most prominent love interests, and of course, they’re more than reliable even with the worst material, which is good, because by the end of episode 1, they’ve respectively gushed to themselves over how puffy and cream-filled their boobs are and tried to badger Shogo into sticking his tongue into them through convoluted logic. I would not trust lines like this to any other actors, so thank god the director knew what material to drop in front of what actor. Most of the actors are newcomers and less-popular names, with the exception of veteran Tiffany Grant as the trio’s homeroom teacher, and while everyone does a pretty damn good job, none of them stand up enough to be brought up on the same platform as our three leads. If it wasn’t for the serious misstep I mentioned earlier, I’d tell you to skip the dub and watch it in Japanese… You know what? Screw it, just do that. Good acting isn’t worth spoilers.

Off the top of my head, I can pick out two genres and one trend that have dominated the anime landscape in recent years, earning an equal amount of ire from anything but the lowest common denominator of the anime viewing community. These genres are Harem and Moe, and the trend… One that many critics wish would just go away and die already… Is incest. Specifically little sister incest, because incest without focus apparently isn’t abrasive enough. The harem genre has been a mainstay for decades at this point, and in it’s trek through time, it’s become one of the laziest, samiest things imaginable. I mentioned earlier that the characters were drawn to type, and that’s because there are a lot of repetitive types to draw from. Moe hasn’t been around quite as long, but it’s become just as repetitive with it’s sexist characterizations and shameless melodramatic tragedy porn. These three elements are copied and pasted to death because they work… People flock to them, both here and especially in Japan, so nobody bothers changing it. That would be all well and good, if it wasn’t for the crushing feeling that people pushing out this material know damn well that they don’t have to try.

Well, this was more or less what I was expecting when I bought the series on DVD, but I was very quickly astounded to notice just how much this series DOES try. It puts forth genuine effort to be more than the some of it’s parts. If you haven’t had the mystery spoiled for you… Which means you’re probably watching the sub… It’s a shockingly good mystery, played out through a story that’s way more interesting than anybody should justifiably expect it to be. A character is introduced in episode 2 who’s supposed to be the show’s stand-in for one of the worst harem tropes imaginable, the ever insulting “Trap” character, and while I won’t tell you just what their deal is… It’ll be more satisfying that way… I can think of two reasons the character was introduced. The first I’ll get to later, but the second ultimately makes them my favorite character in the show. Instead of acting as a member of the harem, they exist to help Shogo unravel the mystery of his sister through their epic set of ninja investigation skills. This in turn adds a little more depth and attention to the plot, which can often be forgotten among the tons of fanservice.

The story has many twists and turns, and a handful of the characters do get individual arcs, which is a common enough way for a story like this to explore each member of the harem, but Nakaimo does it a little differently. While each arc ties into the fleshing out of an individual character, they also revolve around the mystery of his sister’s identity, with each one setting up what we’re supposed to believe is a new red herring for him and his gender-neutral ninja sidekick to discuss and solve. Each character with the exception of the student council president has their own backstory, their own tough circumstances, and their own reasons for getting tied into the mystery. What they don’t have, however, is individual reasons to pursue Shogo, because guess what? Half the harem don’t even really want him! Only three of the six girls compete over him, with the other three busy pursuing their own interests that he may or may not be relevant to. It’s a pretty sad commentary on the repetitive nature of the harem genre that THAT’s a breath of fresh air. Having said that, I liked these characters, underwritten as they may have been, and I genuinely cared what happened to them. Shuffle and Maken-Ki didn’t make me feel that way.

After all that praise, you’re probably expecting me to call Nakaimo a genre defying masterpiece, right? Oh God no. It may be one of the better products of it’s genre, but it’s still a product of it’s genre, and as such, it comes with a lot of the same trappings. When it comes to the writing that carries the series to it’s full run, coincidence is the rule, not the exception. It’s hard not to roll your eyes at how the different arcs incorporate themselves into the little sister theme, from a girl claiming to be his sister to promote her little sister maid cafe to the entire school thinking Shogo’s so awesome that calling him Big Brother becomes a trend. Even when the plot gets really interesting towards the climax, it doesn’t… DO… A climax, and very little is actually followed up on. Also, I should probably mention that there’s a ton of nudity in this anime. Not only that, but they go out of their way to show every female character named at some point… Well, thankfully, this excludes the little girl teacher. I generally separate nude scenes into categories of integral, incidental and forced, and while Nakaimo’s are all over the place, most of them feel forced. Hell, the other reason the gender-flip character exists is to guarantee maximum flesh output. Seriously, their excuse for casual nudism makes the chick from MGS who breathes through her skin seem legit.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re one of the special little snowflakes who gets triggered when they hear a work of fiction called ‘sexist,’ you might want to jump on over to one of my other works. “You can’t call a fictional work sexist, that’s stupid, it’s not real!” Yeah, well, there’s a reason the term pop culture has the word culture in it. The way you write people is a reflection of the way you view them, and the popularity of the work is a reflection of how accepted that mindset is. Nobody watches Coal Black without thinking “That’s racist.” On that note, there are several character constructs of the harem genre that I consider sexist, and while Nakaimo only hits a few of them, it’s still really bad. Girls holding onto a crush for well over ten years is sexist and unrealistic. Girls becoming obsessed over a boy over a misunderstanding that makes her think they’re betrothed is sexist and paints women as idiots. Girls being so thirsty for the D that they claim being a pedophile is better than being gay is… Well, I’ll give them this, at least it’s a new one. But it still ties into the harem genre’s age-old insistence that girls will obsessively want the self-insert male character, and through him, the lonely male viewer.

If there’s one area where this show actually did come close to impressing me, it’s with the actual little sister character. While the series begins on a note that some sexy, exploitative Imouto hijinks are about to go down, you find out by the end that while the plot line is wildly misguided, it does manage to follow a more scientific interpretation of incestuous feelings, ala the idea of Genetic Sexual Attraction. In a nutshell, it’s been more or less proven that when two blood siblings aren’t raised as siblings, they’re genetically predisposed to find each other attractive later in life, and yeah, Nakaimo does adhere to this, whether intentionally or not. Unfortunately, I don’t think the writers really know what they had with this material, because it’s an uncommon enough subject matter that it still deserves to be taken seriously, and some serious groundwork needs to be laid down before it can ever be approached with this level of ecchi kitsch. I won’t spoil how the series ends, obviously, but like with all of it’s other promising aspects, it winds up dropping this ball pretty hard. Like I said before, I do appreciate it for trying.

Nakaimo, My Sister is Among Them is available from Sentai Filmworks, and can generally be found on Blu-Ray and DVD at a very generous 30-40 dollar price range. The original light novel by Hajime Taguchi is not available stateside, and I’m kind of feeling like that’s a good thing, because it continues way longer than the anime, and some of the spoilers I’ve heard about the extended story have been pretty cringeworthy. The manga adaptation, illustrated by Mottun, is also not available stateside.

Despite it’s unfortunate history, harem anime don’t have to be bad. They can be great, just like any other genre. The difference is that all the good harem titles I can think of were high concept works that used the genre as a backdrop for a clear, ambitious plot that received most of the writer’s focus. A few good examples would be Chobits and some versions of Negima. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the same playing field as those titles, but for what it’s worth, Nakaimo DID vastly exceed my expectations. Of course, I was expecting it to be a 1/10 piece of filth, so that’s admittedly not saying much. It tried, and at the end of the day, that alone made me develop a soft spot for it. There was some genuine effort that went into making this title stand out among it’s genre, and while that effort might have ultimately been bogged down and silenced by the trends and clichés of the genre, it still makes enough of an impact to show what the genre CAN be. I enjoyed this show, I’d watch it again, and I’d even recommend it to a few people, but I’d be a bad critic if I didn’t judge it as a whole. I give Nakaimo: My Sister is Among Them a 4/10.

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