A few years ago, I started to read Bakuman, a brilliant manga series that follows a young writer/artist duo trying to make their way into the manga and anime industry. It’s a great story, and one I really recommend, if only because it illustrates how much work actually goes into the panels we skim through. All of the mental and physical processes, the highs and the lows, and all the time wasted, are weaved into a fun comedic story that will resonate with anyone who has ever created anything (which is all of us, frankly). And yet, while Bakuman cleverly illuminates that particular world for us, it also casts a bit of a shadow on shows like Eromanga Sensei. The latter is certainly a cute series, no doubt about that, following the lives of another writer/artist duo tackling the world of light novels. However, it never quite takes the time to explore that unique world fully, instead choosing to pursue to an all-too-familiar romance story that sadly dilutes, rather than dramatises, its central premise.
The show is actually adapted from a light novel series itself by Tsukasa Fushimi, and illustrated by Hiro Kanzaki, and, in many ways, I want to separate my review from that particular work. Just as Bakuman was a manga introspectively exploring the creation of manga, I feel that a light novel about light novels is quite a neat idea, and it probably brings out some interesting perspectives. However, even if that is the case, much of that is lost in its translation to anime; I guess, in a sense, it was always destined to be.
As I mentioned, the story explores the lives of a light novel writer, Masamune Izumi, a 15-year old high school student, and his mysterious illustrator partner, ’Eromanga Sensei,’ who has a flair for erotic depictions of his characters. The catch is that, early in the show, it’s revealed that Eromanga Sensei is none other than Masamune’s 12-year old sister, Sagiri, who has mostly stayed locked up in her room since she was adopted into Masamune’s family at a young age. What follows is an undoubtedly adorable and light-hearted set of episodes, as Masamune attempts to not only build the bond between him and his socially anxious sister (perhaps not always in the most comfortable way), but also to establish themselves as a prodigy light novel writer and artist pairing.
Off to the side, we get a handful of energetic supporting characters, the most noticeable being Elf Yamada, a popular 14-year old light novel author, and Megumi Jinno, a classmate of Sagiri’s. Megumi is a whirlwind of energy and sexual promiscuity, so no further comment needed, but Elf actually captures the main issue I have with this show. She’s ever confident of her own abilities, having sold millions of light novels, and she quickly grows to see Masamune as a rival, at one point challenging him to a personal writing competition to be Sagiri’s partner. These moments are really quite intriguing, and they use the creative process to drive the drama and reveal the mindsets of the characters to us. But they also seem oddly rare in this show, which seems all too eager to explore the erotic side of things over anything else.
Now, that might seem like a really silly observation for a series called Eromanga Sensei - it’s clear in the title what the show is trying to lean towards. But I think about shows such as Food Wars, which had its fair share of fan-service to say the least, but still took plenty of time to explore the world of cooking in every episode. Crucially, unlike this show, Food Wars never allowed its central motif to become a backdrop to a rather common romance story, and that’s what is disappointing for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cute tale, with plenty of humour and energy, but it’s not something that seems at all remarkable despite having a rather nuanced concept at its core.
That all said, it is a very nice show to look at. A-1 Pictures have done a superb job of bringing the light novel to life, and using a gentle colour palette to give everything a far more innocent tone than it has figuratively. More than this, it’s really playful in the way it animates some scenes, and isn’t afraid to drop the more literal style for comic effect or exaggeration. All of this gives is a very fun vibe, and it does stress that this is a show of two-halves; you can certainly enjoy it for its aesthetics in and of themselves, as I did.
Of course, fan-service is the order of the day here, and I’m relieved to say that its more tasteful than it could have been. Yes, we are still exploring that topic around young teens, but the sexuality of the show is heavily suggestive rather than literal in these first few episodes (we’re not getting any Food Wars moments, and that is saying something). That said, this side of the show is also very clear cut - you’ll either be fine with it, or you really won’t, and it’s something that will totally undermine your enjoyment of it if you fall into the latter.
On reflection, Eromanga Sensei Part 1 is something that feels a little bit like a light novel; it’s interspersed with moments that, like illustrations, really drew my attention back in and gave me a brief glimpse of the world Masamune and Sagiri are trying to conquer. However, six episodes in, it's apparent that it also wants to show something I’ve already seen before in plenty of other shows; a romantic bond between adopted siblings, and a ton of jealousy and drama from their harem-esque supporting cast. I do hope I’m wrong, and I will review the next few episodes to be sure, but it seems that this show is far more interested in frolicking in the erotic than showing us something new and nuanced about the medium it's based on.