So in spite of my own reputation, I actually seldom watch many pandering fanservice shows. I only have so much time, and I’m not a fan of shallow attachments to a work or its cast. Seeing as much of anime is character-driven if your characters are unlikable or a pile of cliches, I’ll feel like I’m wasting my time and will pop in something else. Then comes along Eromanga Sensei, a light novel adaptation from the same genius who brought you OreImo, Tsukasa Fushimi.
“Were they even trying?”
That’s the first thing that comes to your mind when the show opens up its premise to you for the first time.
Masamune Izumi is a typical Japanese teen who writes light novels, and he’s already a breakout newcomer who just ended a relatively successful series. His partner in crime is the enigmatic Eromanga Sensei, who supplies him with lewd art. Masamune is doing all he can to support his little not-related-by-blood stepsister Sagiri. Now imagine his surprise when he learns his perverted artist is his 12 year old little sister. Oh yeah and more girls enter the fray too. Namely, two more light novel authors finishing middle school! Publish it!
Right from the setup, everything about the story and its characters is contrived. Masamune is a pathetic doormat who simply gives his sister free reign to continue her NEET life, bending over backwards to make sure she doesn’t even have to leave her room. But don’t get too attached just yet, we have more girls to introduce. It just-so-happens Masamune’s light novel author rival Elf Yamada, a cute girl with a bad case of chuunibyou, has moved in next door. Of course Masamune and her hit it off well. Then introduce the mega LN author Muramasa Senju into the fray, who just-so-happens to have a particular “grudge” against Masamune. Finally throw in a bookstore girl and middle-school girl who loves “The D” with pointless subplots, and now you have a spicy sandwich of a garbage harem.
Honestly you forget where the show even started by the time you get to the end, abandoning one crudely assembled setup for the next. All plot events are purely designed for the next fanservice moment and to instate some form of stakes to be had, as puny as they are. Suddenly seeing a girl playing the piano nude. Sudden tournament arc with your job on the line. You would suppose that in spite of a garbage plot, you could at least have fun pointlessly arguing with the internet over best girl or who Masamune should end up with, but that too is denied.
But I love my little sister
There’s no investment to be had in any of the cast. You know Masamune is going to somehow end up with his little sister so there’s no need to care. From the first 3-5 episodes, Masamune more or less declares his love for Sagiri. The show’s over, that’s all folks. The rest of the episodes are essentially other girls falling for Masamune and him turning them all down. So no matter what flags appear and no matter what smidge of an endearing romance arc or trace of a love triangle appears, you know it is futile. Sagiri is the Calvinist elect in this travesty, predestined to win her big brother.
It’s only after about 10 episodes of developing every other girl’s romance, that we get a hastily done flashback episode to establish Sagiri’s paper-thin motivation. Then it’s a “non-ending episode” with a “fun” cameo, and the haughty expectation of a second season. The funny thing is, had Masamune not cashed in his chips so early, we might have had a passable harem on our hands revolving around Masamune’s life as an author. While still contrived, there’s a far more compelling case for Masamune to end up with Elf or Muramasa, but alas, no case to put Sagiri in the race and no chance of the other two winning.
Whatever! This show is garbage!
And yet there’s something so hilarious to it all…
It’s Bad So It’s Good
As many better bloggers have already covered, Eromanga Sensei is a pinnacle of filth, but I want to stab this from a different angle. I’ve sat through OniAi before and plenty of other bad or simply mediocre shows. So what makes this show, at least at time of writing, the perfect level and type of bad when you can argue much worse exists.
Let’s break it down. Why do we like The Room? There are certainly worse movies out there. In fact, I can head to the theater right now and watch The Emoji Movie, but I think I can go deeper under if I pop open Netflix. So what’s the exact composition of an ascended bad story?
I’d argue it’s an almost perfect comedic timing, not for the jokes, but for when we viewers groan in disgust. “Just when it can’t get worse, it does”. The writers play a game of chicken with you. They’re standing there with the nuclear launch codes. Your better sanity is begging, “Please don’t press the button”, and of course they do. Or perhaps you’re in a rut of bad luck, and you go, “well at least it isn’t raining”. Boom. Thunder. That’s pretty funny when you think about it.
The Humor of Attempting Humor
Somehow as a viewer, you ascend from audience member to slapstick victim. You’re playing a double role. You get to be part of the comedy that is watching this terrible show, and you’re laughing at the poor sap who has had the misfortune of sitting through it, also yourself. There’s a separation that happens where you remove yourself from yourself, and you sympathize with every frustration the viewer-you is experiencing. You knew this was a bad show going in, so you can easily snap out of the moment and enjoy the meta moment of a captive audience. But if this is the phenomenon, then why does it happen with some works more than others? Why Eromanga Sensei and not a competitor like OniAi?
You could let a bad joke hit the unwilling audience any time, but choose just the right moment and you get more than a bored sigh or people checking their phones, you get a painful reaction right when they least expect it. Above it all, the writers behind the bad joke are proudly standing behind it. Timing, playing with expectations, strong reactions, and delivery, those are actually the hallmarks of good comedy! And with its playbook of bad jokes, Eromanga Sensei manages to do all these for maximum “Why?” factor.
You think eight episodes in Sagiri will finally go outside to go to a festival in a fanservice-minded yukata in a scene with questionable romantic subtext, but surprise, she’s squarely still in her room while Masamune brings snacks to her room. At least you got the incestuous subtext!
This playing with expectation is at its finest though when Sagiri’s course of action shifts from overly-needy little girl in love with her brother to that of a twenty-something social degenerate obsessed with stealing the panties of one of her classmates, all in what’s supposed to culminate in the beginnings of an adorable first friendship. While an actually good story would set this moment of growth up completely differently, Fushimi is presenting this to the audience as exactly how a cute 12-year-old girl would act. “Don’t you think this is adorable? You can all go ‘awww!’ now!”
And here you as the viewer are sitting thinking, “Someone wrote that. Someone said this was good and is presenting it to me under the full conviction that I would like it” Once you look at all the circumstances that went into birthing that scene and you remember what you signed up for, a Tsukasa Fushimi incest light novel, it clicks. He WOULD do this. Like your one friend who is so obsessed with something he’d slam his wallet on the table and yell, “I’ll take 20!” if he catches a whiff of it. It’s in that moment you break into the meta humor, the humor surrounding the [failed] attempt at humor, and you can’t help but laugh, albeit a sort of embarrassed laugh, but a laugh nonetheless!
So yeah, Eromanga Sensei was bad, really bad, but when you make that cosmic leap outside and become the man behind the curtain watching the watcher, maybe, just maybe, it becomes a painfully hilarious experience. It’s an experience that delivers the worst jokes at the best places and best times with the straightest face, earnestly hoping you’d like it. When you can cause all that misery so well and better than the other bad shows on the market, maybe that makes you, in a way, funny.