Makoto, Ai and the OreImo Ending

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Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (Crunchyroll) has finally wrapped up with a series of OVAs. The consensus is clear, at least among English-speaking viewers: The Second Worst Harem Ending Ever.
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Not everyone agrees. Peter Payne praises the series’s “solid grounding in contemporary Japanese subculture” and applauds the Kuroneko breakup scene, saying that emotional anime scenes “deeply affect fans in ways that mainstream Hollywood could never do.”

Most fans, I think, prefer climactic scenes in which the hero does NOT make a girl cry by acting like a total jackass.

Still I suspect that the ending got a more positive reaction from Japanese fans because the hero’s actions reflect one of the most fundamental Japanese values: makoto. This is commonly translated as “sincerity” but there is much more too it than that. It also implies “integrity” and “unconditional loyalty.” The makoto element in anime is sometimes thrilling but it also can be offputting to non-Japanese viewers.

Westerners admire commitment and devotion, but only within certain rational limits. Devotion is great, but it should be to a worthy cause.

The Japanese view is that it is far nobler to die bravely fighting for a bad cause than to support a good cause halfheartedly. The cause doesn’t really matter; what matters is your total commitment. Some 19th-century writers went so far as to say that it is nobler to serve a bad master than a good one. One might obey a wise and just lord out of mere self-interest, but only a truly noble person would stay loyal to a lord who was stupid and capricious.

Viewed in that light Kyousuke’s behavior makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t matter whether the object of his affection is worthy of his love. What matters is that his devotion is so complete that he is willing to give up everything for it. This is makoto, and thus admirable even if crazy.

I think the ending of a romantic comedy is more satisfactory if it involves a different virtue: ai or “pure love.” For example Tomoyo in Cardcaptor Sakura is in position somewhat analogous to Kirino in OreImo: she loves someone whom she can’t have. Tomoyo might have devised a strategy to keep the object of her affection to herself. She’s at least as smart as Kirino and more devious, so she might well have pulled it off.

Instead Tomoyo chooses to work to ensure the happiness of the one she loves. This is ai and it leads to an ending that is poignant but heartwarming.