Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai 14: There are dark horses and there are supporting characters
Sadly, Ruri is one of the latter, no matter how much she tries.
It was from this OP, and by extension this particular episode, that I felt that Ruri seemed more like a replacement for Kirino, not an alternative.
They’re not exactly the same thing. More on this later.
Now, I’d argue that the most important part of a character is his/her ability to engage the audience on an emotional level. They must move the audience and allow the audience to move with them.
Mami and Kyouko of Puella Magi Madoka Magica spring to mind. I imagine that few were left uninfluenced by their story arcs.
Secondary, but no less important, is their connection and interaction with other characters.
Because our perception of a character is influenced by how other characters view him/her – I doubt there’s an anime in which the protagonist is entirely alone.
Kirino happens to have both characteristics in spades.
While she certainly isn’t the most divisive character in anime history, there’s no denying that audience reactions towards her hover near the ends of the spectrum.
She’s both intensely loved and hated. In either case, she becomes memorable.
And she interacts with the other characters easily and with chemistry.
Even in the moments where she mistreats/abuses Kyousuke, Kirino retains a connection to him.
Her detractors may say that no younger sister would/should/could do that to an older brother, but by saying so they unintentionally acknowledge that the connection has been made – they can see Kirino and Kyousuke as siblings.
There is of course a third characteristic of a character: fanservice.
It certainly is appreciated, but it isn’t going to make a character particularly memorable when any Eroge/Hentai side-character can pull the same thing.
Unless of course the anime is deliberately aiming for it, and does it well. Azusa Nakano’s moeness is definitely unforgettable. But I digress.
Ruri does have a solid fanbase to rival that of Kirino’s, which shows that she has successfully connected with the audience, at least as much as Kirino has.
And she can connect with other characters in ways Kirino cannot.
Ultimately, everyone remembers Episode 09, where Kirino spent her day on Eroge while Ruri took care of her younger sister.
This was the high point – the point at which people started taking notice of her. At that moment, people began to think of her as an alternative to Kirino; Kyousuke did give her a call and things might have progressed it weren’t for certain loud interruptions.
Unfortunately, from that point on Ruri began to suffer from what has been termed as “FF7 Syndrome”.
Eager to capitalize on newfound popularity, more emphasis in the form of more screentime (and a manga spin-off) was placed on her. Shoddy, rushed, emphasis.
This scene, long the source material and inspiration for an entire wave of doujinshi, felt incredibly stale and forced.
Their interactions don’t cause me to go “they look so cute together” or anything of the sort, unlike the main couple of a certain Yaoi anime.
It isn’t exactly a comfort that unlike Sekai-Ichi, Ruri and Kyousuke don’t force themselves into a relationship with so little chemistry. It’s realistic, yes, but only because the lack of chemistry was due to poor direction and scripting.
It was a missed emotional moment in which their relationship could have grown rather beautifully.
Which brings us at last to why I feel that Ruri is now more of a replacement than an alternative.
It’s obvious that Kyousuke misses Kirino. There is a part missing from his life, something that Kirino filled. It does not necessarily have to be that of romantic fulfillment; it could be a need for simple emotional involvement.
Now that Kirino is gone, Ruri has the opportunity to fill that gap. But instead of being the defrosting ice queen that we expected and wanted, Ruri turned out to be a poor imitation of Kirino.
From her impassioned defence of her visual novel, to her outburst when confronting Sena; from her feigned disdain towards Kyousuke to her attempts at getting Kyousuke to acknowledge her calling him ‘Nii-san’, Ruri appears to be trying to set herself up as another imouto.
Possibly ‘Kirino-lite’, as it were; in an attempt to appeal to what she sees as Kyousuke’s siscon tendencies.
But this wasn’t what I wanted.
Admittedly, I’m a Kirino fan. So my perception of Ruri may not be entirely objective. But I do know that back when I saw Episode 09, I was rooting for Ruri too.
Because now that Ruri has time alone with Kyousuke, I expected her to show the side she’d been hiding all along. The side of her that sews plushies for her sister, the side that blushes when she’s surprised by a phone call.
The side that accompanies her cosplaying, otaku persona so well. The side in which she is her own person, where she is a whole different personality from Kirino. Where she isn’t a mere replacement for the missing imouto, but an alternative to her.
Of course, all the events that transpired were according to the light novels, so they can’t be changed much. But I felt that the Ruri of the extra episodes isn’t the same Ruri of the original series.
Maybe it’s just me, and no offense to Hanazawa Kana, but it felt as if she wasn’t voicing her with the same depth. Perhaps she just couldn’t slip back into the role again.
Ruri was always written to be a supporting character. Right from the start she was a foil to Kirino, to draw out Kirino’s character and personality.
For this reason, she cannot be a dark horse and outshine Kirino, and can only remain as a supporting character.
Her fans may not realise this, but even when they praise Ruri, they often measure her in terms of Kirino: “Kuroneko is more <insert adjective here> than Kirino!”, they say. Ruri is always going to be tied to Kirino, because that was how her character was originally written.
I’m not sure how Ruri will fare in her spin-off manga series.
Kirino has always been the driving force of the plot. Even her absence itself sets events in motion.
But I’m hoping they’ll manage to revitalize and establish Ruri as a standalone character. She certainly deserves it.