Manga Review – Ani-Imo

Ani-Imo Volume 1

Ani-Imo
兄が妹で妹が兄で。(Ani ga Imouto de Imouto ga Ani de.)
KURUMATANI Haruko
Shoujo – Gender-bender, romance, supernatural, smut, comedy
7 Volumes (complete)
Yen Press

Summary:

Youta is shocked to learn he and his “twin” sister Hikaru are not biological siblings. However, he is stunned even more when Hikaru kisses him and says she’s in love with him! As if that wasn’t confusing enough, Youta’s life gets even more complicated when he switches bodies with his now-aggressive “little sister”.

Review:

If nothing else, I have to give credit to a manga that takes a theme and runs with it.

Both body-switching and stepsibling love in Japanese fiction are pretty much “love ’em or hate ’em” tropes. The former always involves comedic misunderstandings and hijinks, and the latter often makes people queasy (and, in many locales, is illegal in real life).

So what does Kurumatani do? Combines them, adds a whole lot of sexual tension, and blatantly plays up all three aspects. Love under one roof. Secret identities. Puberty. Whether you think the whole premise of Ani-Imo is cute or creepy, the series never tries to disguise itself as anything but what it is. This is not a manga where you will be wondering, “Will they get together?” or even, “Will they get their bodies back?” but, “How much torture will Youta suffer before he breaks down and officially gets with Hikaru?” From putting on stockings to dealing with aggressive suitors, Youta tends to find himself in uncomfortable or downright weird situations. Hikaru then uses these opportunities to get closer to (or, more accurately, blackmail) Youta, and then the whole wheel of misfortune for Youta starts again.

Of course, as a gender-bender, the manga features quite a bit of humor, mostly at Youta’s expense. Sure, it’s funny that Youta keeps bathing blindfolded while his sister is extremely comfortable being naked, but the guy never really catches a break. (Much of it is due to his naivety.) Quite frankly, no one is going to read Ani-Imo solely or even primarily for the humor. Plenty of gender-bender manga are primarily comedies, but this is one centered on the risqué. Heck, even in a bonus feature, Kurumatani is revealed to be known as the “Sexual Harassment Manga-ka” and “Porn Terrorist” of Aria magazine. That should give you a clue.

In Ani-Imo‘s favor, Kurumatani adds a rather unique plot twist in the third volume. This forces side characters into main characters. Youta (and, to a lesser extent, Hikaru) then interact more with classmates Yurika and Kakeru. This is important since neither sibling has a lot of friends… or any really. The development allows the manga to expand its world a bit instead of just being all about the main pair. On the downside, the manga really should have been wrapped up by the fifth volume. The last two just drag and really don’t add much to the story. It’s some more forced drama, a quick time skip with little purpose, and relationship wrap-ups. I was so bored; I just wanted the manga to end.

Overall, though, what you see is what you get: Ani-Imo is a titillating body-swapping stepsibling love story. If this description grabs your attention, then you’ll probably like this manga. If the summary is a turn-off, then Ani-Imo is not going to make you like its plot devices. Really, I don’t know why I am making this review so long. You either are interested in Ani-Imo or not, and nothing inside is going to make you change your mind. I will say the manga is much less… how should I say, “messed up” than some of her other titles, as Kurumatani is no stranger to yandere characters.

It doesn’t help that the two leads’ swapped personalities are basically the usual dominant boy x naive, stubborn girl. Very few scenes deal with the struggle of being in someone’s body and having to hide the secret. Nobody questions why “Hikaru” is suddenly doing the chores or why she seems more spazzy. Ani-Imo focuses on Hikaru’s sudden aggressive pursuit of her brother, and she is quite blunt about her desire for Youta. If you like steamy scenes featuring a dominant male, Hikaru — in Youta’s body — is going to provide you with plenty of fuel. On the other hand, if you’re irritated by shoujo protagonists who are lacking in self-awareness and common sense, Youta also delivers in spades. The switch provides some subversion to the typical clichés, but neither are role models, and the body swapping makes them somewhat unrelatable. The two main supporting characters are less typical, especially Youta’s crush Yurika. Their personalities are usually reserved for side characters, but the third volume starts putting them more in the spotlight. I really like the dynamic between the four. I don’t know if the manga had to go on just to let Yurika and Kakeru to wrap up their stories though. The adults in the manga? Yeah… they’re even less of role models than the vampy teenagers.

This series is one of Kurumatani’s recent works. Despite being in the business for 10 years, her art has some major flaws. The most glaring issue I had with this series was Hikaru’s appearance. Many other reviewers have noted Hikaru looking like a chibi/loli, and it’s really hard to disagree. For me, the bigger issue is that Hikaru’s head looks like a bobblehead. Seriously, I don’t know how her head doesn’t just fall to the ground; her neck is so skinny. Yurika also suffers from a similar problem, but Hikaru just looks worse. She doesn’t look like a high school student. At times, it’s hard to believe the “twins” are the same age. Youta’s appearance is much better, almost realistic-looking in comparison. However, a lot of guys tend to look the same. Youta and the doctor have very little differences physically. Expressions also tend to be limited to smiling, crying, and blushing, making some of the art feel repetitive. The author makes heavy use of chibi characters, so the series definitely feels like a manga and not, say, a J-drama. If you want more of a realistic feel, this isn’t the series for you. Backgrounds are relatively simple, and the manga includes some partial nudity. (The bonus features show that Kurumatani really wanted to push the limits for a shoujo manga.) Artistically, neither Kurumatani nor this series is one of my favorites.

Translation:

Honorifics are used. Terms like “Onii-chan” are kept. Translator’s notes are provided at the end of each volume. Some phrases are a bit slangy for my taste, but that’s just me. I did think the translator changed in the last two volumes, but this wasn’t the case. Mayama was nicknamed “Virgin” for the other volumes, and suddenly he became “Cherry Boy”. Unless his nickname changed in the Japanese release? I doubt it. Anyways, there’s not a lot of hard-to-translate terms or sentences, so I really don’t have much to say.

Final Comments:

If you want to see the lead in a girl’s body be strung along by his scheming sister, then jump into the series. For everyone else, you can do better.

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8 Comments

  1. HijackedCat

    I love genderbender, my favorite has been Boku Girl so far (blame it being the right kind of ecchi for my tastes), and had no idea this had concluded already. Maybe because I didn’t get very into it myself XD;;
    I had no idea the mangaka was know for doing fucked up works haha
    I do agree her girls aren’t much to my aesthetic taste really, exactly for looking for a 8 year old with a an almost adult-looking teenager xD;

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      Yeah, let’s just say Kurumatani is not going for a cookie cutter shoujo in her other works either… in art or story.

      Reply
  2. The Fullmetal Narcissist

    I’ve gotta be honest, none of what you said here makes this manga sound impressive to me. I don’t know what kind of twisted obsession Japanese anime and manga fans have with little sister incest stories, or why they need so many skeevy escapist stories to sate them, but what I do know is that it’s been too big of a thing in recent years. The entire sub-genre can go die in a fire any day now.

    And for the record, “not blood related” doesn’t mean what they think it does. Whether or not two people are linked by blood, if you’re raised from childhood with someone as your sibling, than on a purely psychological level, you should be sexually desensitized to them. The family bond ultimately trumps whatever appeal the convenience of being under one roof might create.

    No. Just… No.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      There are a lot of good stepsibling love stories, but most of the best ones are of the “met in middle/high school” variety rather than “raised like real siblings” type. It’s more than a little strange that, like you said, you suddenly start seeing someone you’ve grown up with as a sibling as a potential lover. But there are a still a few of those I like. Not this one though.

      Reply
      1. The Fullmetal Narcissist

        Oddly enough, odds are actually higher for blood related siblings to fall in love, provided that they were raised apart and met later on in life. Thus, Koi Kaze is the only incest anime with an actually plausible plot.

        Reply
        1. Krystallina

          GSA is pretty interesting from a psychological perspective.

          Reply
  3. The Otaku Judge

    Romance with someone you consider to be a sister is weird enough without adding the fact that after the swap you would be kissing yourself.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      Not to mention Youta gets a direct view of all of himself several times…

      Reply

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