Platonic Love Between Siblings

The front and back cover of Rito and Mikan.

The front and back cover of Rito and Mikan.

I’m glad I had a healthy relationship with my parents growing up because they hardly worried where I was when I was out. Granted, I lived in a small town, but they always knew who I was with and, surprisingly, about all the crazy things I did.

If there is one thing both the anime and manga series of To Love-ru (とらぶる) did well, it was produce stimulating content, not narratively stimulating content but rather salacious material. However, every so often the authors of To Love-ru found themselves presenting a plot that was unexpected and interesting. Such was the case with the second OVA (original video anime), Rito and Mikan (リトと美柑 Rito to Mikan), released with the limited edition fourteenth volume of the manga series. Granted, it still had the familiar risqué content of the franchise, but the focus of this OVA was less about showing off the female characters’ bodies than creating an interesting story. As such, the plot was loosely based off a chapter in the twelfth volume of the manga series that fleshed out the relationship between the protagonist and his younger sister. On top of this, the story had some wonderful comedic bits scattered throughout. This mainly came from the characters’ faces becoming super-deformed, which reminded me of the older Looney Tunes shorts.

It should come as no surprise to fans of the To Love-ru franchise that it appeals to a boy’s sense of sexual exploration. Because of this, many of the female characters’ bodies are presented in an idealized way. While I can understand why the younger male demographic enjoys this, being in an older demographic I can say with relative authority the number of times the female characters were depicted as scantily clad was a bit much. Therefore, it became tiresome reading each chapter of the manga series or watching episodes of the anime and OVA series. However, every so often the authors and producers surprised me by shifting the focus from the risqué aspects of the series to the narrative.

This isn’t common for the franchise, but when the focus was on the narrative it was a breath of fresh air. Speaking for myself, I can only stand a certain amount of full-figured women in little to no clothes in any anime series. Thus, when a series overemphasizes these aspects of the female characters, I feel it weakens the series as a whole. A good example of this is the anime series Love Live! The series had some wonderful musical pieces and to a degree a fun plot, but it seemed as though the production team put their effort into the design of the characters rather than creating a stronger narrative. To Love-ru is similar to Love Live! in that it often focused on the raunchy humor and female character designs as opposed to creating a strong narrative. However, Rito and Mikan demonstrated To Love-ru didn’t need sexual content to present an engaging story.

The mess that made Mikan run away from home.

The mess that made Mikan run away from home.

Where the previous OVA focused on a short and zesty story, Rito and Mikan presented audiences with a subdued adaptation of an insular chapter from the To Love-ru manga series. Where many other chapters of the source material focused on the foibles of the protagonist, Rito Yuki, here we saw how his younger sister, Mikan, was upset at how their lives had changed since the arrival of Rito’s self-proclaimed fiancé, Lala Satalin Deviluke. As such, the story dealt with how young siblings find a sort of dysfunctional solace in each other. Beyond this, though, the story examined how those dynamics change when the older sibling expands his or her social group. This was seen in the OVA in how Mikan was willing to tolerate Lala living in the Yuki household, but also in how Mikan had become fed up with Lala’s constant displays of affection towards Rito. Of course, this was one of the underlying themes of the franchise, but to see it in such clear-cut terms was fascinating to say the least. On top of this, there was a sense of jealousy on the part of Mikan because she perceived Rito placed more importance on his relationship with Lala than with herself.

While Mikan’s actions in the OVA could be seen as a sign of young rebellion, as Lala mentioned in the first act, it was more or less a chance for Mikan to release her frustration towards the other two characters. As with children, one way they tend to lash out is by threatening to run away. Yet, this threat actually gave us some insight into how much Rito and Mikan cared for each other. Consider it in these terms: because Mikan was still an elementary school student, it was clear why Rito became worried when she left the house without saying where she was going. Any older sibling who has responsibility for their younger siblings knows the stress this can cause. However, in Rito and Mikan this allowed viewers to examine how Rito and Mikan’s relationship had evolved over the years and see exactly what made them so close to each other. I admit there were other chapters in the manga series that explored their relationship much better, yet this was the first time in the animated content we saw this. Also, considering the particular chapter in the manga series this story was adapted from was no more than eighteen pages long, it left a lot of leeway for the production team to fill the narrative holes. This gave a unique perspective on Rito and Mikan’s relationship the authors of the manga series may have overlooked. That being said, however, a fair amount of the new content was still vivacious.

Although To Love-ru is a raunchy franchise, it still managed to find itself nestled in the comedy genre. Nonetheless, much of it was still sexual humor. Not that I don’t enjoy sexual humor, but Rito can only fall onto the female characters in compromising ways so many times before it becomes stale. Nevertheless, despite that sort of humor being present in Rito and Mikan, it was far less prevalent than other mediums the franchise has occupied. This didn’t make the OVA humorless, though, but instead it shifted the focus from risqué comedy to the facial expressions of the characters. With anime, the most common practice of bringing humor to the facial expressions is to super deform them—that is, artists round the face and accentuate the eyes, mouth, and ears—or as it’s commonly known, chibi the faces. All the same, the OVA took it one step further than just simplistic faces. Similar to the older Loony Tunes cartoons, when the characters in Rito and Mikan were startled, their eyes popped out of their sockets. For the most part this occurred with Rito, but it was still comical when it happened with the other characters. I haven’t seen this practice in modern animation in quite some time and seeing it here was a treat, especially as it helped emphasize the comedy in the first act.

I’m not opposed to To Love-ru using sexual humor or using the ideal female form for almost all the female characters. I do have my limits, though. Thankfully, Rito and Mikan chose not to focus too heavily on the spicy content and opted to create a narrative between the siblings Rito and Mikan. While the anime production team took some liberties when creating the narrative, they found a nice balance between the source material and original content. The humor was also much better suited for the risqué material and a nice throwback to older methods of expressing comedy in animation. Although this is a very minor point, the production team managed to wedge many of the female characters of the franchise into this OVA as well. While I felt this was unnecessary for the narrative the production team created, it was nice seeing those characters, even if it was only briefly. Despite the fact this OVA is difficult to find, I’m sure there are outlets that have copies for sale. If you are a fan of the To Love-ru franchise, this is definitely an OVA you’ll want to have in your collection.

Work Info
Title:
To Love-Ru Rito and Mikan (To Loveる –とらぶる– リトと美柑 To Love-Ru Rito to Mikan)
Under: XEBEC
Official Site: http://www.tbs.co.jp/anime/to-love-ru/  http://jumpsq.shueisha.co.jp/rensai/toloveru_d/index.html
More Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Love-Ru

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