Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD - The Complete Series + OVA
Ema's father has just remarried, and she's very excited, because for the first time ever, she'll have siblings. She'll have thirteen of them, in fact – thirteen stepbrothers in a vast age range, and all of them appealing in their own ways. Naturally they start falling for Ema, but she's not quite sure what she's supposed to do. After all, she was looking for a family, not a boyfriend!
It is perhaps unsurprising that Brothers Conflict is based on a light novel which was also adapted into an otome game, given that it hits all of the reverse harem checkpoints in spades. (Not that all otome games are reverse harems, but it seems that most of the ones that get animated are.) Ema, our high school age protagonist, is sweet, unassuming, and totally out of her depth, giving her a bit of a blank slate personality. The love interests, who appear to range in age from their thirties to about ten years old, cover the complete spectrum of personality types from hyper-aggressive to super sweet to the one you highly suspect is gay. There's even a cute talking squirrel (who naturally has a hot human dream form) to round things out, so basically if you the viewer has a preference in reverse harem types, he's going to be in here. Add to that that virtually none of the guys call Ema by name (the better to allow the viewer to self-insert, my dear) and that the series ultimately doesn't settle on a particular romance route, and you've got a fairly cookie-cutter series.
That, however, doesn't detract from how much dumb fun it is. Less prone to second-hand embarrassment than some of its brethren while still maintaining just enough of a cringe factor for entertainment purposes, Brothers Conflict is the kind of silly series it's fun to just leave on or watch when you've had a bad day. However, it also has a surprisingly serious undertone if you're looking for it – you could absolutely read this show as being about the struggles of a teenage girl who has lived virtually alone for her entire life finally getting the family she desperately wanted, only to have that family try and turn her domestic dream into a romantic nightmare. While that may sound a bit melodramatic (and it is), it also offers the opportunity to look at the show on a different, more serious level. The glimpses we get of Ema's life prior to her father's marriage depict a very lonely life, as her father appears to have spent more time out of the house on business trips than actually raising his daughter. The idea that she could suddenly become a part of a caring family that all lives together and is willing to embrace her as a sister is highly appealing and even makes a stab at justifying the horrendous parenting (the newlyweds don't want kids around) that leads to her doing so, because honestly the oldest brothers look like more competent guardians than either parent. That this dream would then be derailed by several of the brothers aggressively pursuing Ema on a romantic level would absolutely throw her off and make her nervous, because she'd worry that rejecting them could cost her her new family.
While all of the brothers are options in the game, the anime keeps its focus on just a few of them actively trying to woo Ema. Even among these six, most of the action is given to triplets Natsume, Tsubaki, and Azusa, Subaru, Yusuke, and Futo. Of these, Yusuke often comes across as the most “viable” romance partner for the dual reasons that he knew (and liked) Ema as her classmate before she became his stepsister and that he seems to respect her wishes the most. On the opposite side of that spectrum is Futo, the obligatory pop star brother, whom even his family recognizes to be a total ass. Futo constantly pushes a toxic romance narrative onto Ema, telling her that she's “asking for it” and “knows she likes it” both in those precise terms and in myriad other ways. While all three of the triplets are also physically aggressive with her and Subaru's apparent earnestness still comes with some discomfiting moments, it's really Futo who is the biggest issue and ultimately the only one not really willing to listen to Ema when she tells him to back off. Kaname, the Buddhist monk brother, definitely also gets too handsy with her, but he largely comes off as more flirtatious and not serious, which is a (very minor) saving grace. In all honesty, the only one who seems to truly be looking out for Ema apart from her talking squirrel is Louis, who becomes her steadfast supporter, at least in part because he, too, can hear Juli the squirrel talking.
Just as there are hints that Ema has a personality beyond “hopelessly freaked out and flustered,” there are a lot of elements of Brothers Conflict that feel like hints at what we're missing in this adaptation. The continuity in terms of chronology is certainly one of them, as there's no set pace at which things progress in the show, making everything feel rushed and at least a little awkward. Likewise Iori and Hikaru feel very underdeveloped, not even really giving us a chance to figure out where they are in the age order or what they do outside the house. We never figure out what happened to the brothers' father (or even if there were multiple fathers), why their house appears to be an entire apartment building, or why Ema can hear Juli the squirrel in the first place. While this isn't a show that begs for extreme continuity, it still ends up feeling a little awkward.
The animation generally isn't great, with action scenes, such as Subaru's basketball game, being rendered in primarily still shots, but the character designs are attractive. Vocal casts are both good, but the subtitles read as somewhat stilted, as if they were a too-strict translation rather than one that looked to capture the feeling of the words, which is unfortunate. Extras include two holiday-themed OVAs (Christmas and Valentine's Day), the usual clean songs and trailers, and two episode commentaries, with the one for episode twelve being fairly entertaining as the actors try to explain the difference between harems and reverse harems.
On the whole, Brothers Conflict isn't a perfect reverse harem, but it is far better than you might expect. It can be campy, cringy fun or the tragic story of a girl who just wants a family and gets saddled with brothers who don't understand that concept as it relates to her depending on how you choose to view it, which does give it a bit of an edge. If you're a reverse harem fan and never got around to watching this one, it's worth checking out, if only to see how it manages to be both stories at the same time.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C-
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Can easily be viewed in two different ways, strong vocal casts.
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