I was expecting this to be an ecchi series, something along the lines of Kiss x Sis. As any one of the fans of the game could have warned me I couldn't have been more wrong. This was a show that took a complex, layered and mature look into some very interesting topics and poked good-natured (yet biting) fun at the otaku universe.
The biggest problem I had with the series was Kirino. I never much cared for her, and even knowing that I really wasn't supposed to like her, it still wasn't always fun to watch her in action. Her abusive behavior towards Kyousuke was infuriating at times, but equally infuriating was the way he took it. By allowing his sister to act in the ways she did and still get her way, Kyou was doing her a disservice. It was all to serve a larger dramatic purpose, of course, but still a fly in the ointment for me.
On the other hand, the show certainly excelled in the development of the supporting cast. Manami was one of the more interesting osananjimi of recent anime - bolder than most and quite determined to get what she wanted, in a demure way. The visit to her family home was a delightful episode. Saori and Kuroneko were superb. They added a wonderful comedic element and a lot of heart to the series. Kuroneko's verbal sparring with Kirino was beautifully written - some of the snappiest and funniest dialogue of the year. I was originally a big Saori x Kyou shipper, but by the end I was full-on Kuroneko - and her "I'll call him something else soon enough" in the finale sounded like a declaration of intentions. Both girls were interesting twists on tropes - the ojou-sama as an otaku, and the goth girl. Kuroneko especially stood out as a premier reason to love the show - her snarky attitude, cuteness and heart of gold hidden under the dark exterior were irresistible.
I didn't necessarily love all the twists and turns of the plot - the segments covering Kirino's light novel and anime felt a little forced to me. The show was at its best when it stuck to the core story - the dysfunctional relationship between siblings. Due to the dualistic nature of the plot - headed towards one anime-original ending while still setting up another more true to the original version - that relationship became a big confusing at times. Too much stuff had to happen too quickly at the end in order to tie up one story and set up another. As a result Kirino's whipsaw changes of personality seemed a bit hard to believe.
In the end, though, I respect this show for tackling some really interesting stuff and not talking down to the audience. The nature of being an otaku was portrayed in all it's glory, warts and all. There was an overarching message of tolerance - accepting people for who they are and not trying to change them. But the series didn't ignore the fact that it's questionable whether a 14 year-old should be playing eroge in the first place. The painful family dynamics that Kyousuke dealt with weren't given a lot of explicit development, but their implicit impact was felt throughout the story. It's clear that being an afterthought in his own family shaped who Kyou is, to a large extent. I like the fact that the audience can infer all this from the behavior of the characters - that's good writing.
So now we wait for the "True End" - and I hope it isn't the incest route I surely expect it is. Even if that ends up being canon material (and I'm anime-only with this one so I don't know) it would still cheapen the overall series for me. I think the sibling relationship as it was explored in the TV episodes is more than interesting and complex enough without bringing incest into the picture. In a way, though, I suppose I understand - we do need to delve into why Kirino loves those games so much, and what was in the album. I'd just be happier seeing Kyousuke and Kuroneko happy together and Kirino slowly learning how to be a decent person. We'll all find out in the coming months.