Image source: 『妹さえいればいい。』アニメ公式‏ ‏ on Twitter

As a junior high school and high school teacher, I probably shouldn’t be as surprised as I am by the rather course language used in A Sister’s All You Need. Yet, indeed I was. However, the more I thought about what I was hearing, the more I realized that I wasn’t really shocked by what I was hearing. Rather I was surprised by the willingness of the series to go there. I eventually realized the series was commenting on the nature of modern “adulthood” with great effect.

A Sister Is All You need is hard to describe, honestly. The series has some absolutely ridiculous moments—but not particularly unrealistic ones given the group being portrayed. While it’s true that a couple of the characters are teenagers, truthfully most of the cast are adults (if, from my vantage point at 34 years old, still very young ones). What they mostly all have in common in that they are writers or somehow connected to writers (working, perhaps, in the publishing industry). The central character is Hashima Itsuki, a famous light novel writer who became a successful writer in high school. Although he briefly attended university, he dropped out to focus on his writing. He has a obsession with younger sister characters which serves as primary theme of the series.

Image source: 『妹さえいればいい。』アニメ公式‏ ‏ on Twitter

In addition to his editor, Toki Kenjiro, who is only 26, Itsuki is surrounded by fairly young folks. This includes Itsuki’s friend and fellow author, Fuwa Haruto; Itsuki’s personal fangirl and successful high school novelist, Nayuta Kani; Itsuki’s younger brother, Chihiro; and his seemingly normal university friend and still current student Shirakawa Miyako. While Kenjiro does, indeed, feel more “my age,” the other characters feel considerably younger to me. And that’s because they are. At 16, Chihiro is the youngest, and Nayuta isn’t too much older at 18, but even Itsuki, Miyako, and Haruto’s 20 is a full generation behind me and they seem not much older than my own junior high school students.

I’m not one for a series that tends to trade too much on blatant sexualization or vulgarity, but surprisingly, the more I watched A Sister’s All You Need, the more I stopped thinking about it in such a way. What the series is actually about is that our modern conceptualization of childhood and adulthood. And what lays in between them is, at best, very hazy. Most of the time, however, hazy is a distinct understatement. We seem to have lost the ability to determine just where childhood ends and adulthood begins. For many of us—and I’m no exception—adolescence and “young” adulthood has seemed to drag on for years. 

Image source: 『妹さえいればいい。』アニメ公式‏ ‏ on Twitter

Itsuki is the perfect example. By many accounts, he is a terrible adult. He ignored his work in high school to become a famous and fairly wealthy author. And though he started university, he dropped out very quickly. His writing passion, and therefore ability, comes from his socially questionable obsession (romantic and sexual relationships with younger sisters) and the various games and figurines he collects. Yet, the subgroup of which he is part (and therefore serves) is significant enough to impart his work with extremely high sales. In addition, he appears to keep meticulous records. He seems serious about doing research for his work and keeps abreast of the “competition.” While he’s not perfect about meeting deadlines (for which my own editor at Anime Now!, Richard Eisenbeis, can certainly say I have, ahem, sympathy), he pays close attention to bills, taxes, and the law. 

Haruto and Nayuta are much the same. Haruto’s own “socially questionable” obsession is maid characters. He also was once an avid gamer. Yet he is so successful, he compares his current situation to that of his school days. While he works in a genre of which he is also a fan, sometimes it seems like his successful workload is “killing the dream.”

This feels very real to me as well. Sometimes people tell me “wow, it’s so cool you get to live in Japan and write about anime and cars and Japanese social issues and people PAY YOU FOR IT.” Yes, they do, and I love all of these things, but… It’s work. And sometimes, like Haruto, it I do not feel it’s very fun sometimes. Luckily, like Haruto, I recognize that when I do my best work, my passion flares up, and I remember why I love doing this. I could say the same about teaching, too.

Nayuta presents us with a sort of flipped version. At 18, the should-be-a-but-isn’t-high-school-student, she acts very childish. While her affections for Itsuki are absolutely real, she has taken his rejection as permission to act as childishly as possible. Her background is complicated. Terribly bulled in junior high school, she had receded from her youth. Becoming something of a shut-in. Like Itsuki, she has become a famous and successful novelist.

To me, I see Nayuta’s behavior has an attempt to reclaim a youth she had taken away from her. Both Itsuki and Nayuta make comments about her being clearly underage, a minor, and even a child, but they are only two years apart. If Nayuta’s age hadn’t been mentioned immediately, I would have thought she was much younger. Even younger than Chihiro. Itsuki does have feelings for Nayuta in turn, but he clearly understands she has serious issues and seems not to want to be involved with them.

Image source: 『妹さえいればいい。』アニメ公式‏ ‏ on Twitter

Miyako and Chihiro are the odd characters out. The seem normal. Miyako especially has basically no connection to fandom whatsoever. She became enamored of Itsuki’s passion during a class they shared, and she maintains feelings for him, but she doesn’t understand his world at all. Not only does she not really understand the oddities of the publishing industry (or understand the unique crazy that we writers must wallow in to be who we are), she definitely doesn’t understand his particular subgroup or their fandoms. She is, and would probably not object to being labeled as, a “mundane.” Miyako is not at all “socially questionable,” yet in many ways she seems the least fulfilled, and is certainly the least “successful.” She’s the most adult and yet the least established. 

Chihiro is an interesting character. Presented as Itsuki’s younger brother, he is attentive, soft-spoken, great at cooking and cleaning, and generally takes care of Itsuki and the others. By all accounts, if Chihiro were Itsuki’s little sister, there’s general agreement amongst the cast that Itsuki wouldn’t have his obsession. Of all the characters, Chihiro is probably the most “traditionally adult-like,” and yet Chihiro is also the youngest. Chihiro is also my favorite character, both based on what we know about Chihiro… and what I suspect is true about Chihiro, too.

What does it mean to be an adult? What does it mean that millennials, myself included, often talk about successfully “adulting” instead of “successfully being an adult?” And what about those like me who, no matter how old we get, just cannot think of ourselves as “adults” and will always see “adults” as people older than ourselves who represent all the things we rebelled against or disliked when we were younger? I’d say the cast of A Sister’s All You Need helps us look in the mirror and answer those questions.

All those benchmarks are gone, and I have as much in common with my students as I do with adults ten or fifteen years older than me… and I am the norm. Like Itsuki, I have jobs—but they are jobs tied heavily to my passion. Like Itsuki, I make stupid fandom purchases—and yet I always pay my taxes. I guess millennials have to accept, we may never be “adults,” we may always just be managing “to adult” instead. 

A Sister’s All You Need is simulcast on Crunchyroll and dubbed on FUNimation.

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