So what’s the deal with brocon and siscon in anime?
Disclaimer: I’ve tried my best to tread lightly on many topics throughout this post. If you are headhunting in search of charged words or semantics in regard to mature themes, then you are missing the point. Take my words as opinion, observation and as a forum for discussion, and not to further a hidden agenda.
It’s no secret that one of the current trends in anime is widespread moeblob. Chalk it up to a combination of evolving art styles and public appeal. Another interesting trend, at least within the past few years, is the abundance of brocon or siscon as main features of recent series. Here, I don’t just mean minor subtext like in True Tears or Gundam SEED. I’m talking about series that present relationships between siblings, not necessarily blood-related, as a main theme.
Cousins aren’t applicable here; I’m not knowledgeable on the societal norms of many areas of the world, but I’m aware that these sort of relationships are much more common around the world and less “taboo” than your run-of-the-mill sibling relationship. These things are often cited throughout history and are somewhat common in anime without drawing serious objections from outside characters (Kazuma x Ayano in Kaze no Stigma, Elis x Hiroki in Canvas 2, etc.). Again, I’m mainly concerned with series that play on brocon/siscon as a central theme to the plot (or lack thereof).
Incest themes are nothing new to anime. Heck, they aren’t anything new to fiction, period. But when you make an animated feature of a story, many other cues get outfitted into the mix: plot, visual cues, audio cues, vocal interpretations — in general, you have more leeway with a certain theme to present in a number of different ways.
When I started getting interested in anime, one of the liberating things about it was how it basically hurled an entirely new culture at me. Though I started with just watching dubbed English versions on local television, I eventually began to favor watching titles in their original Japanese dialogue. This, of course, meant reading subtitles.
One thing about having to read subtitles is that more often that not, you get a more direct translation of the dialogue’s intent. This was especially true back in the 90s since an overwhelming majority of subtitled series were fansubbed. An added result of subtitles was a lightening of censorship. Companies that did localization, like Nelvena, often had to alter the content to more closely fit the societal norms of their area or shoehorn the series into a market that the original product was not meant for. So when I started watching Card Captor Sakura (the original Japanese version), I was definitely surprised by the ambiguous, open-ended relationship between Yukito and Touya, who are merely best friends in the English version but share an extreme closeness more typical of lovers in the Japanese version. A few more instances of culture shock presented themselves, but I also began to notice that in general the Japanese were much more comfortable presenting what we would call societal taboos in the west, one of these themes being incest. Angel Sanctuary was probably my first concrete introduction to it as a theme within anime, and certainly not the last.
What I find interesting is how the attitude towards incestuous themes has lightened over the years, to the point where it’s used as an extremely common comedic device. My experience with brocon/siscon series isn’t all-encompassing, but it sure seemed like it was used more earnestly in the first half of the 2000s and earlier. Series like Angel Sanctuary, Boku wa Imouto ni Koi o Suru, and Koi Kaze all had heavy dramas circling the brother-sister relationship, even touching on other mature themes like violence and rape. On the lighter side of things, even Onegai Twins had a deal of drama despite its branding as a romantic comedy. I would be hesitant to use the terms ‘brocon’ or ‘siscon’ to describe any of them, since there are oversimplified and oversexualized connotations for the two, which is something that does not describe the aforementioned series. There are real longings as far as the romantic aspects go for them, and the topic is treated with reserve and respect.
But what about today? A look at OreImo shows some striking differences. The series, whose title roughly translates to “My Little Sister Can’t be This Cute,” revolves around the relationship between Kousaka and his younger sister, Kirino, who seems to hate Kousaka’s guts for absolutely no reason. Turns out that Kirino is a closet otaku with a particular liking for visual novels that roleplay a male chasing after a relationship with a younger sister. I mean, the setup itself seems kinda comedic in nature already, so there’s plenty of laughs to be had. The comedy stems from the fact that Kirino absolutely hates Kyosuke’s guts but enjoys playing these games, even forcing her brother to play them to share her otaku-ism with somebody (her parents would flip out, and her friends are popular and judgmental, so they’re out). I won’t deny that OreImo has its share of drama, especially as the series comes to close in the later novels. But honestly, the entire series is based on the tension of whether or not Kirino and Kyousuke actually have feelings for each other and are using these taboo forms of media as surrogates.
OreImo is somewhat extreme as it’s almost a complete parody of brocon/siscon, especially when you consider that many such series do come from visual novels. Still, other series have popped up recently that seem to have a lot less substance drama-wise. Kiss x Sis, OniAi and NakaImo are all considered heavy on brocon, but they are also harem series. Kiss x Sis involves Keita and his two older step sisters, then a host of other girls to add to harem. OniAi is like Kiss x Sis, only with a single blood-related younger sister living in a house with her brother and a bunch of other harem members. NakaImo puts a little twist on the situation like Onegai Twins; the main character, Shogo, must find someone at his school to marry so that he can inherit his family business, but he also has the burden of knowing that one of the girls in his large, willing harem is his father’s illegitimate daughter.
These harem series don’t take themselves very seriously, and the relationships between brother and sister aren’t explored in the same depth as more drama-heavy series; the relationships mainly serve as a catalyst for laughs. I’d even venture to say that I should just add the “blood relative” to my lists in building an anime harem, because at this rate, it’s becoming common enough to do so.
A common trait between both the drama- and comedy-heavy ends, however, is the way that series usually end. I can’t recall a series that gave a definitive acknowledgment of an incestuous relationship that continued well after the end of the story. Most of them are either ongoing or ambiguous, with the storytellers not actually taking a particular stand. I’m not sure if this is to avoid backlash on moral/societal grounds, or if it’s the open-ended scenario that typically plagues romance series, harem in particular.
So what exactly is so appealing about brocon/siscon in anime? Personally, I love them, both as a serious form of drama and as an elephant in the room. On the serious side, it’s just another form of “forbidden love” that is intriguing, particularly because it’s more or less accepted internationally as a social taboo. Infidelity, it would seem, is common enough to be less interesting as something incestuous. On the humor side … heck, anything that drives the laughs (if that’s the purpose) is great! The advantage of using something like brocon/siscon is that you can easily weave back and forth between the two sides like in Onegai Twins. Serious to comedic in a heartbeat, in seamless fashion.
Argue over Freud or Westermarck all you want. All I know is that personally, living in a western society, there’s so much squick in this genre that I would only feel comfortable watching most of these series by myself or with close friends. There’s still that stigma where “you are what you eat” that some people, myself included, just can’t shake, and understandably so. Regardless, good media is good media, and I’m no more a siscon at the end of OreImo than I am an executioner with a god complex after watching Death Note. So if you’re sidestepping this genre due to an implied social stigma, you’re definitely missing out on some great entertainment.
Not sure of your comfort level, but want to give these things a whirl? For drama, try Myself; Yourself. There’s some subtle brother-sister relationship undertones going on during the story, and it receives a few episodes of detail, but it’s not at the forefront. So consider it a good way to test the waters on whether you can stomach the seriousness of the theme. For humor, I’d recommend NakaImo, since it’s fanservice-y enough to just make you laugh at the main character and his situation. For less service and more squick, go with OreImo.
There’s plenty of this stuff to go around, and even more coming up. OreImo will finally finished next anime season, with its animated ending coinciding with the release of the last novel. So if this is your cup of tea, or you’re interested in hurling yourself into this vacuum of awkwardness, there’s plenty to look forward to.