Back when I was really intensely studying such things, the ideas of “soft power” and in particular “Cool Japan” were popular in the international political scene. The idea for those who don’t know is that by spreading one’s culture around to other countries and gaining a foothold there, it can have longer term positives as the perceptions of one’s country becomes positive as a result. You can see this in the present day in American movies being rushed into Chinese cinemas with added footage specially for that audience and to ease it past the censors there. Then, of course, there’s the repeated attempts to try to sell anime and manga to Western audiences over the years with mixed success in the case of Japan.
I personally have always had two specific criticisms of the idea of culture as a way to spread influence, and they can both be summed up nicely by Oreimo. The first is that the culture being exported has to maintain a level of popularity while being associated with the nation or origin. Pokemon, is probably the best example of that from an ongoing standpoint. The second criticism is that the worst aspects of that culture get ignored in the beginning but only emerge over time.
With the first point and how it ties to Oreimo, we have to start by attempting to follow the money. I think it’s fair to say that the early days of anime being shipped to the west was in the form of finding something that could be marketed to kids with all of the Japanese stuff taken out of it. A couple of waves followed where a base of bowdlerized children’s shows would spread slowly as more niche works failed to find an audience outside of Japan. With the advancement of technology making it possible to pretty much watch any anime series that has aired legally or illegally, that seems like an entirely different age.
Oreimo’s role in this story is that it represents that latest attempt to bring a niche title to international audiences with a public backer in Aniplex pushing it. The question that I’ve never seen answered on this series is the question of how popular Oreimo is with that audience to the extent that they will spend money on it. The discs are priced in such a way as to insure profit from their domestic audience is not affected. First of all, does the international audience create a profit for this series? Second, will a series with themes like Oreimo have the opposite effect and actually reflect poorly on Japan?
That second question hits more at what Oreimo is about. I think it can be interpreted as a series about a high school boy and his otaku sister that portrays darker aspects of otaku culture without any sort of controversy. This is after all a series that begins with Kirino pulling out a bunch of eroge from her closet to show to someone close to her for the first time. Needless to say, the export of eroge to the West is limited at best and mostly via piracy for the reason that it would not be above board in most countries. Add in heavy incest and lolicon tones throughout the later episodes of the series and the series becomes something that makes people very uncomfortable about the contents.
I think that it says a lot that something that goes out of its way to reduce its appeal to a wide audience is seen as the best way to make money from pushing Japanese culture to the outside. Is the implication that international audiences aren’t interested enough in titles like a Shin Sekai Yori or any other series that isn’t high concept a feature of the people who will pay money for it or of the culture itself?