Yosuga no Sora Review (NSFW/TW)

Title: Yosuga no Sora / In Solitude, Where We Are Least Alone
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Romance, drama
Year of release: 2010

NSFW/TW: This review contains discussion of the show’s explicitly portrayed sexual scenes, and a discussion on the morality of incestuous (sibling-sibling) relationships based upon the show’s discussion. This review keeps an open mind with regards to such activities, and while I do not ask the same of you, there will be some discussion surrounding the topics. All characters within the show are aged 17-18. Some included pictures are sexually suggestive.

I’d like to be able to be one of those reviewers that can write a chatty piece, but I am well aware my style is more dictatorial. That’s a problem right now, because with Yosuga no Sora, I want to have a conversation. In fact, I think it’s vitally important that we listen to each other and get to the heart of the matter of this show, because this show can throw all its worth away if you’ve already made up your mind before going in.

For most of its run, Yosuga no Sora is the kind of anime that’s worth at least a few talking points. This type of visual novel isn’t new, where the players take on a role of a male character and choose select, important choices that push them on routes towards different female characters romantically and sexually. Yosuga no Sora’s anime is no walk-in-the-park for fans of the genre; see, visual novel anime adaptions will either amalgamate different character’s routes, or follow one rather strictly – here, the show spends about 3-4 episodes with main-character Haruka’s day-to-day life throughout a route, and then backtracks to a moment that a major decision was cast to see how the other decision leads to another girl. This omnibus format works really well for the series, and every little moment in the routes are suddenly very appreciated – but that first arc may feel a little underwhelming at first.

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If you’re aware of the anime, you’re almost certainly in-the-know that that isn’t the key defining feature. More broadly than just inn anime adaptions of visual novels, Yosuga no Sora stands out like a sore thumb in the televised anime for its racy, salacious sex scenes and lack of censorship. Even moreso than just a bit of boob, Yosuga no Sora shows Haruka getting it on in lots of way. The kinky teens even get it on in rather public locations (round the back of a hut at the festival – that’s the one the takes the cake, I think). The series’ sharp direction, pretty art and strong animation permeates throughout the entire show, too, not just in these sex scenes or vice versa, which means that these meta-shockingly salacious sex scenes are actually well embedded in Yosuga no Sora’s entire philosophy. It’s hard to ignore the occasional CGI crowd, and it feels counter-productive during ecchi scenes like out-of-focus boob bounces or the couple of non-sex-scene panty shots, but on the whole, the sexuality of loneliness is well represented.

As one would expect, so many characters being potentially interested in Haruka is a point of contention. In fact, the opening episode, whereby Haruka and his twin sister, Sora, move back to the country side following their parent’s death is welcoming serenity until it’s dirtied by cheap inner monologues from on-looking girls (that are, clearly stated by their designs, romantic interests) about how attractive or nice he is. This opening episode gives the allusion of every route, but the experience is cheap, low-effort fanservice. Key moments build Haruka’s character, however, and the usually ‘blank slate’ protagonist actually comes across very well in moments such as a very charming scene where he is merely talking about his day to his sister (who is still not enrolled at his school due to apathy), describing his friends for her or trying to make ends meet without their parents. The atmosphere of Yosuga no Sora is very immediate, defining the countryside isolation and otherworldly feeling that Sora is pelted with, and how Haruka adapts to help his sister cope – their sibling relationship is well written, and it humanises him a great deal.

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As the show begins going into character routes, the writing tightens up significantly. We initially follow Kazuha’s arc, which centres on a mostly understated development of her familial drama, but it’s more important to focus on how the other girls stop acting like romantic interests when it’s somebody else’s turn – it feels so much less cheap. Haruka pursues a relationship with the girls out of his own volition and actions, and it is important to stress that his active participation is not only refreshing due to many other series’ soppy male leads, but is refreshing as relationship forming is not an ultimate goal of each girl’s arc; put simply, the trauma continues beyond that point. Romance is not a magic solution or a reward for the solution, like it so often is. It is usually not much longer until they sort it out, but it’s refreshing that relationship development is something that Yosuga no Sora continues to write, while continuing a dramatic arc to juxtapose climaxes. When the sex scenes come, they are shared between lovers, and it makes the scenes as cathartic as they are sexual. Bonus points for the show managing the relationship development even in these sequences, often intercepting sex scenes amongst the epilogue’s wrap-up, so the scenes never feel too in-service of the audience’s libido. Sometimes, the sheer courage of the place the pair are canoodling in is developed to feel like the pair’s budding romance are leading them to new, exciting sexual endavours. Local shrine maiden Akira’s arc, centring on her responsibilities and loneliness, takes place next, and interestingly after a timeskip back two episodes; after Akira’s arc, the show timeskips back another 5 episodes to divulge some key backstory for Haruka while developing Nao’s arc about her childhood friendship with him. I should really stress that none of these arcs are the material of masterpieces, but they’re understandable and believable (which is not a statement you can always say!), and Haruka really participates as a good person.

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And then we come to the final arc. The incest arc. I said it. The dirty word. Is it so dirty? The show sets up a societal understanding (like our own) that instinctively answers so, at least, which makes the season’s final – and thus, dramatically most important – arc, centred on an incestuous relationship that Haruka and Sora equally pursue, such an intriguing adventure.

Now, it’s important to reiterate how important Sora is throughout many of the prior arcs. Scattered throughout are scenes of her sitting at home, alone, and you realise how often Haruka’s choices are resulting in harming Sora, and because of the strong familial bond that the pair clearly share from minute 0, it builds a great deal of sympathy for each character. Sora is indeed jealous, but throughout the first two arcs, it merely comes across as selfish overprotectedness because she has no other friends. A key moment in Nao’s arc is gaining Sora’s approval, and unexpectedly, Sora, eventually, gives that approval. Jealous, immature, maybe, but she has a kind side beyond it. And in the final three episodes, Haruka finds out how deep her love goes – as, sadly for the girl he was dating, he can’t think of anything but his sister.

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A big problem with incest in anime is that few give the topic the seriousness it deserves; all too many conveniently write it out as step-siblingship, or ignore any of the consequences, comically or otherwise. Yosuga no Sora’s well-cemented dramatic tone takes a nuanced, almost objective, look at the reality of incest, and is underpinned by the fact that the two characters share a well-written sibling bond that evolves. Which brings me to another issue many fall into: poorly handled psychoanalysis that hand-waves reasons for the sibling-sibling attraction, belittling or patronising the characters at best and making grand psychological sweeps of judgement that it cannot contain the fallout of at worst. I thought the show would fall into this pitfall, as during one of the more promiscuous moments that Sora performs on Haruka, she tells him that they ‘aren’t normal brother and sister’; colour me impressed, then, when the show makes a surprisingly deep personal analysis of why Haruka feels the way he does, and during an argument as Haruka decides this cannot go on, the ‘reproduction’ issue is even laid bare in a brilliantly written climatic argument. Sora and Haruka grow so much through their relationship, moulding their strained sibling relationship beyond, and the 3 episode finale contains an exceptional amount of well-realised drama. The one pitfall the plot does fall into is the link between a brief separation period and attraction, as well as the link between their parents’ dying and dependency, but as Haruka argues, in one of the most tense scenarios in the whole season, it becomes clear he’s well aware of it and does not use it as an excuse.

But, is it right? Is incest fine? Is it fair to watch? I want to have a conversation about this, because the show, equally, wants to have a conversation. An amusing moment near the beginning of Sora’s arc shows Haruka reading about historical, incestuous, royal relationships, and ruminating on that, but he doesn’t really come to a conclusion. As their relationship is forced out into the open (in a scene that is as true to the show’s roots as any), a mixture of responses are had by the cast in understated, but difficult tones, as they grapple at the closest reasonable feeling. Begrudgingly, one girl gives the closest thing to the series’ ultimate take – that, even if it is hard to support, there is nothing wrong with loving one another consensually. Yosuga no Sora makes no apologies for its romance, but it fits its story so well into the social backdrop that the answer is by no means one you should take with you. How do you feel about it now, it begs? There really is no conclusion to the incest argument here – no happy ending that changes the world for good, and no tragic finale retrofit as social commentary. You need to be able to have this difficult, possibly pained, and even perspective-shattering conversation with Yosuga no Sora, but, unless you are squicked out before it even starts storytelling, the climax won’t criticise you for any answer. And with dramatic stakes so well realised and characters so attune to the internal logic of the conflict, it’s certainly a story worth experiencing. 

ynsverdict

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