That moment when you discover that your sister can read kanji...
My Little Sister Can Read Kanji takes place in Japan at the beginning of the 23rd century. In this version of Japan, the so-called "moe" craze has turned into what is considered orthodox literary style. Japan has abandoned the use of outdated and difficult-to-read kanji in favor of entirely using hiragana. Gin Imose, an aspiring teen author, is given the chance to meet his idol and renowned writer Gai Odaira. Joining him is his little sister Kuroha, who has taught herself how to read kanji and enjoys reading 21st century literature. Little does Gin know, this meeting would set off a chain of events that might change his perspective on literature...forever.
Parts 1 -3 Impressions:
Frankly, I had little idea what I was getting myself into one way or another when I began reading My Little Sister Can Read Kanji. There's a certain insanity to what I've read so far that you might see hints of in the premise, but if you have yet to read the series it's hard to fully imagine the energy with which the series gleefully imagines a world in which the more pervy side of Japanese literature has become the norm. Much like the cult-classic movie Idiocracy, My Little Sister Can Read Kanji imagines a future society completely warped in a way that seems completely bizarre to 21st century readers. And in this regard, it does quite well. Modern day Japanese series that feature brother-sister relationships such as My Little Sister Can't Possibly Be This Cute! are taken to an extreme by 23rd century literature, and the popularization of such series has led to a number of absurd societal changes, ranging from museum exhibits of 21st century otaku to a long line of two-dimensional prime ministers.
This comedy is played out throughout the book primarily through the interactions of Gin and Kuroha. Kuroha, as someone who can read kanji and despises the so-called orthodox literature patterns of 23rd century Japan, frequently is disgusted by the media. On the other hand, Gin idolizes orthodox literature and strives to create a book of the same literary style. While the book is narrated by Gin, his obliviousness to the sensibilities of his 21st century viewers is a sort of dramatic irony emphasized by Kuroha's straight man reactions to Gin's beliefs.
My Little Sister Can Read Kanji revels in its ability to continually escalate the psychosis of the 23rd century with each passing page. In particular, famed author Gai Odaira, Gin's idol, takes the cake. Odaira is a man in his 70's whose literature is always about protagonists with ten-year old sisters. As odd as this sounds, his obsession with his little sister characters and the fact that the male protagonist of his books are always the same age as he is when he writes them push beyond the boundaries of regular creepiness. Every time a new disturbing revelation about Odaira is revealed, Gin's acceptance of it as a way for Odaira to produce extraordinary literature followed by Kuroha's absolute disgust is hysterical.
Put most simply, the beginning of My Little Sister Can Read Kanji chooses to emphasize a particular element of Japanese pop culture and push it up to eleven. While I would say that most of the book is less a lampooning of this particular brand of otaku subculture and more of a straight-up absurd comedy, it is definitely good at what it does. Of course, if you want to avoid the creepiness of some aspects of this idea, then this series might not be for you. However, regardless of whether you enjoy such series or are looking for a decent mocking of them, My Little Sister Can Read Kanji might be worth trying out.
Parts 4 - 8 (Volume 1 end) Impressions:
Following the introductory portion of My Little Sister Can Read Kanji, Gin and crew are suddenly dropped into the 21st century. In the process of time travelling, Odaira is turned into a 10 year old girl. If these two things feel like an escalation of the hyperactiveness of the first portion of the volume, then you already should have a decent idea of how things go from here on out. Fortunately for Gin and company, they are teleported near the home of Yuzu, who conveniently is part of a rich family and allows the group to stay with her while her parents are out of town.
From here on a few more layers of jokes are added to My Little Sister Can Read Kanji's arsenal. For one, Gin's general idiocy soars to new heights as he blunders around in the decidedly less moe 21st century. Additionally, as he develops feelings for Yuzu he begins to act even more irrationally when trying to help her. As it turns out, Yuzu once had an older brother who was very into moe things, although he has passed away. In order to help her feel better, Gin helps her search for a boob mouse pad in Akihabara and even gets into a loud debate with a high school literature club president about the merits of fan service. Both of these examples really help categorize the two sort of categories for general hilarity of the story in most of the second half of the volume: Gin's general behavior and his cultural misunderstandings due to difference in time periods.
Because the story is mostly told from Gin's perspective, needless to say the narration is not particularly reliable. However, it isn't like the story is trying to trick the readers. Rather, there's quite a bit of dramatic irony as it is blatantly apparent when and where Gin is wrong. Of course, it's not just Gin that kept me on my feet. The ever-energetic Odaira-sensei, now in 10 year old girl form, has not had his pervy old man senses dulled. Both he and Gin have quite a few mishaps in the 21st century, especially considering their status as orthodox literary buffs in their present era. The expansion of the humor established in the early portions of the volume worked well and had me cringing the whole time. There are moments in the book where the scenario was creepy enough to be uncomfortable, but often when this would happen My Little Sister Can Read Kanji would then proceed to go a step further and push thing to the absurdly humorous.
While I felt even in the first parts that My Little Sister Can Read Kanji was not just a simple satire on modern day moe/otaku culture, the truth about it is more complex. In many ways it feels like a regular comedy, but the dramatic irony of Gin's perspective on the general culture surrounding moe can sometimes make it feel like a satire. Even further down the rabbit hole, the series doesn't really set out to prove that the way Gin sees things is wrong either, which then makes it a satire of satire about moe. In the end, your perspective might be different depending on your take of the book, but this ambiguity makes for a surprisingly varying interpretive story. Combined with the humor, I found myself surprisingly engaged with this volume despite my general avoidance of similar series. Even if you aren't usually a fan of this style of story, My Little Sister Can Read Kanji might still have appeal, but if you're already a fan then I definitely recommend this one.
My Little Sister Can Read Kanji Vol. 1 is being published by J-Novel Club digitally on their subscription service, and will be available for purchase as a whole digitally afterward. Authored by Takashi Kajii the series is now complete in Japan with 5 volumes published by HJ Bunko.
Total Parts Currently Out: 7
Author: Takashi Kajii
Translator: Samuel Pinansky
Editor: Emily Sorensen
Publisher: J-Novel Club