Here’s to you, onee-chans of the world. (But not to you, hitozuma, MILFs or teachers over the age of 25. You’re not girls. You’re women.)
A Sister Complex
I have a sister complex.
…which is a strange thing for me to say, since I’m an only child. I’ve never had a sister. Most likely never will, considering my age. Still, from the time I was a wee little lad, I’ve always wished for the impossible: an older sister. I’ve always been fascinated by older girls. They always seemed like they had their shit together. They didn’t scream around and giggle obnoxiously like girls my age. They were elegant, graceful― not quite old enough to let their maternal instinct get the best of them and nag every person they saw on the street. That made them perfect.
It’s always slim pickings for those of us out there who like onee-chans. The imouto is one of anime’s most recognizable stock characters, but her older counterpart has no such luck. The onee-chan is often a side character, if she’s present at all― an older, “wiser” woman, generally mischievous, frequently alcoholic. An irreverent guardian spirit, watching over the protagonist as he pursues the girl of his dreams. Her availability as a romantic interest is far less certain than that of any imouto.
It’s an Older Woman Thing
Perhaps there’s a broader point to be made here about older women in anime, not just onee-chan characters. Older women are defined by their authority. Senpais may only be a year older than their kouhai, but that one-year gap is enough to claim authority. Teachers, mothers, neighborhood obasan― they all have authority. Often times, these characters are made more sympathetic by taking away their authority― think of the inept onee-chan (Takanashi Kozue/Takanashi Izumi, for example) or a teacher who doesn’t quite act like a teacher (too many to count.) Authority is the defining characteristic of older female characters. They are defined by the level of authority they wield over younger characters.
Perhaps that’s why onee-chan are very rarely the main heroine of any romance series. (Same goes for teachers, mothers, et cetera.) I can’t quite think of a (non-pornographic) anime series in which an onee-chan was the primary romantic interest. I think that if we compare works with older female heroines (senpais included) with works with younger or same-age heroines, we’ll find that the latter category is much larger.
Different Lives, Different Interests
Part of the issue, I think, is that onee-chans and mothers often have their “own lives”, invisible to the protagonist. Think about Takanashi’s sisters from Working!!. They all have jobs or go to college, only interacting with him at home, occasionally causing trouble for him at Wagnaria. He doesn’t quite deal with them on a day-to-day basis, the same way he deals with Inami or Popura or even Yachio. It’s the same story with other more romantically-driven series, as well. Protagonist goes to school and spends the majority of his day hanging out with his friends and girls his age. It’s only after school that he gets to see his onee-chan. It’s harder for her to even become a target of romantic interest, given that he’s not really with her the majority of the day. (Imoutos, especially ones that are romantically interested in the protagonist, often go to the same school as the protagonist. This trend is harder to replicate with onee-chan, who are almost inevitably all college-aged or older.)
None of this says anything about older women as objects of sexual attraction. There’s plenty of that, but again, I would still argue that they’re sexualized far less often than younger women. A topic for another day, perhaps― this article was mostly about how older women are frequently defined by the amount of control they wield over younger characters. It’s a shame, really― I wonder if there’s a way to get around such a characterization?
Some last remarks: I’ve noticed that I frequently prefer characters which are “mature” and “authoritative”, but not “old.” Naturally, I am unapologetically onee-chan-ha. When they don’t exist, I tend to like characters which strike a delicate balance between being assertive without being nagging (thus, osananajimi are out of the question. Osananajimi are terrible). Examples include Mizukoshi Saki from Natsuiro Kiseki, Kuhouin Murasaki from Kurenai and Amamiya Yuuko from ef.
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve closed comments blog-wide.
This is a cheap attempt to differentiate myself from all the other blogs out there. This is an attempt to both consolidate my own interactions with the community (which will be conducted exclusively via Twitter) and also offer you, dear readers, the opportunity to respond to me in full article format. Comments are often an inadequate way to spur real dialogue, and I would be much happier if you would write full posts about issues you truly care about. For those of you who use the comment box to show your support for me and my articles, thank you very much. You can continue to do so by simply telling me on Twitter, or by using the “like” button. I apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause. Perhaps you should tell me about it @Akirascuro on Twitter.