Yes, I'm reviewing DVD commentaries! Well, sort of. They claim to be character commentaries, i.e. the fictional characters watching their own adventures on DVD. However in fact they're Flash-animated mini-episodes that occasionally spend a small amount of time discussing the original episodes.
(For the rest of this review, incidentally, an "episode" will be one of the original 25-minute episodes as broadcast on TV and a "minisode" will be the Flash-animated mini-episode that's ostensibly an in-character commentary. I don't find it a particularly beautiful word, but I'm going to need to be able to distinguish between the two.)
In-character commentaries aren't a new thing, incidentally. They've been done with Scooby Doo, Despicable Me, The Muppets and the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha movies, among others. These are going further than most, though, in not just being a DVD soundtrack option. They're new minisodes. No plot and no action, admittedly. They're just dialogue. Lots of banter and jokes. These could almost have been radio plays. Flash-animated versions of the show's characters stand in front of a TV and occasionally turn it on to illustrate what they're currently arguing about. However we're talking about three hours of additional material, which is over 11 minutes each. (Shortest minisode: 9:50. Longest minisode: 15:26.) If they'd had opening and closing title sequences, they'd have run nearly a quarter of an hour on average. That's a lot of Oreimo and I enjoyed it all.
It's absolutely not canonical, mind you. It's pulverising the fourth wall as characters pick embarrassing holes in each other's subtext and complain that footage shouldn't count if it's from the drama CDs or the PSP Portable games. However it feels right. It's funny, it's making some interesting points and everyone's strictly in-character.
I should describe the original anime, though. Oreimo is an incest romantic comedy with Kyousuke (big brother) and Kirino (little sister). It's brilliant. I love the show. Well, I'm reviewing its DVD extras. However this is specifically Season 1, in which our heroes are fighting like cat and dog and the subtext is still buried deep enough that you could try to argue that it's deniable. (It's not, obviously. These minisodes get a lot of comedy out of demonstrating that, so for instance Kuroneko and Kirino are very funny in ep.9 when tearing each other to shreds by dissecting each other's on-screen actions.)
In addition, though, I'm genuinely interested by the text/subtext analysis. Both the show's subject matter and its tsundere characters are contributing to an unusual gulf between what people say and what they mean. What's under the surface is even more important than usual in this show and there's a lot to dig into. Pretty much any Kirino scene in the original works on at least two violently opposed levels, which is why I enjoyed seeing the viewpoint of the show's cast/creators. (All the best characters contain contradictions and Kirino's practically being torn apart by hers. That's true of most of the cast, come to think of it.) We also get character comparisons between Kirino and her mother (ep.11), the heroines of her eroge (ep.9) and even her father (ep.5). A gruff butch tsundere policeman? That's new. We learn about scenes that got cut (to the embarrassment of those who hadn't been going to be shown in a good light in them). We're even shown Sena's blink-and-you'll-miss it cameo from an early episode, which even on rewatching I'm not sure I'd have caught unaided.
It's also possible to get hints of the characters' true natures from their minisode interactions. Ep.4 suggests that Ayase's batting for both teams, I think, although to be honest I think we already knew that.
The animation is super-cheap, even if the production team's spending slightly more money on the later ones. However for comedy dialogue scenes, no problem. It works. It made me laugh. It also looks better than the similar Season 2 extras, because the characters aren't doing that spring-loaded nodding dog thing. Their body language is more natural. I think it's because here the episodes are on TV in the background, so the animators don't need to worry about the minisodes looking static. Season 2's extras ditched the TV, though, so presumably someone felt the Flash-animated characters had to move more to compensate. Hence the boinging.
It's insanely meta, obviously. It's like meta squared. Kirino interviews her voice actress in ep.2 and Kyousuke interviews his in ep.12. That was fascinating. They're on the on-screen TV, in live-action. We also get commentaries from the in-fiction fictional characters, viz. the heroines and villains of Stardust Witch Meruru (ep.7) and Maschera (ep.12). (Kirino is a massive fan of the former and Kuroneko of the latter.) To be honest, I'm not sure this works that well. It's a fun idea, but they're from a different fictional universe and they're just not as well developed or funny as the main cast. Both episodes got funnier later on, though.
I have some random unrelated information! This has nothing to do with minisodes, but instead real-life Oreimo games. Obviously the show's built in large part around Kirino's love of highly inappropriate adult computer games. There have been three official Oreimo visual novel games from Namco Bandai Games, released in 2011-2013 for the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3, but I recently learned about two more surprising Oreimo-related games.
The first is Siscalypse, the under-dressed under-age little sister fighting game that Kirino plays. This got turned into a real game! Kadokawa Contents Gate released it in 2011 as a browser game, although I believe the website's since been taken down. How often do fictional games get turned into real ones?
The other is even odder. Kirino is a playable character in the crossover fighting game Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, with her weapon being cosplay. I wouldn't mind playing this. Everyone in it is an anime character, e.g. The Irregular at Magic High School (Miyuki and Tatsuya), Black Bullet (Rentarou -- but not Enju???), Sword Art Online (Asuna and Kirito), etc. Obviously Kirino's just a schoolgirl who'd last about three seconds in a real fight, but in this game you can play her and beat up Akira from Virtua Fighter. This sounds hilarious.
Anyway, I really enjoyed these minisodes. They're funny and interesting. Occasionally they're even quite sweet. In some ways I prefer them to the Season 2 extras, even though the latter are probably better. The DVD commentary format gives them a bit of structure, while the characters aren't boinging. Just remember that these aren't proper DVD commentaries and so you won't be rewatching the original episodes, although the fragments we see did remind me how much those had been expressing non-verbally, through the characters' faces and body language.
They're not on my English-language DVDs, though. You'd need to buy the Japanese discs. Sorry.