Reviewby Rose Bridges,
Dear Brother Episodes 1-13 Streaming
Nanako Misonoo is an average teenage girl who manages to get into high school at the elite Seiran Academy, an all-girls' school filled with much wealthier students from prestigious backgrounds. She's not sure what to expect except that she'll be joined by her childhood best friend Tomoko, and seems to immediately make a new friend in the dramatic Mariko. Yet soon after entering the academy, Nanako finds herself unexpectedly put forth as a candidate for the Sorority, an elite society of the academy's most talented and pedigreed students, headed by the noble Fukiko or "Miya-sama," one of the academy's "Magnificent Three" of most popular students. Nanako is excited, if confused, by the new opportunity, but with it comes unwanted drama—including bullying by the jilted mean girl Aya and her friends, and tension with Tomoko. She also finds herself drawn closer to the other two of the Magnificent Three, the boyish and straightforward "Prince Kaoru" and the mysterious, troubled Rei "Saint-Just." As her Sorority membership transforms her life, Nanako chronicles her life in letters to her former tutor, whom she calls her "dear brother."
Dear Brother is probably one of the most anticipated releases among RetroCrush's various license rescues. Its pedigree is almost as prestigious as the elite Sorority Members of Seiran Academy: It was directed by the influential and distinctive Osamu Dezaki, based on an original manga by Riyoko Ikeda, who heavily influenced shoujo manga as we know it today. Dezaki had previously adapted Ikeda's landmark manga Rose of Versailles into an anime. Even beyond those big names, Dear Brother is important in its own right. Anyone familiar with shoujo of the past 30 years can see its lineage just from how its "fish-out-of-water everygirl thrust into rich kids' school full of splendor and danger" has become such a stock plot of the genre, in everything from Hana Yori Dango to Revolutionary Girl Utena. Even popular shoujo parody Ouran High School Host Club is basically a riff on this concept—and echoes Dear Brother aesthetically in more than a few ways.
Of course, this is not an uncommon plot in Western high school dramas, either. And so the familiarity of many of its early plot beats for viewers—especially, but not exclusively, regular anime fans—will make its initial episodes feel a bit slow-going. Much of the series' first third focuses on Seiran's resident Regina George, Aya Misaki, tormenting Nanako and, to a lesser extent, Mariko for being accepted into the Sorority instead of her. The Sorority sees Aya's behavior as just further cementing that they made the right decision, but that doesn't make Nanako's life any easier as Aya goes to increasingly great lengths to get her kicked out or, failing that, just make her life a living hell as long as she remains in the Sorority. Episode 3 in particular relies on a particularly cliché—and squirm-inducing—mechanization where Aya calls Nanako's mother to tell her that a Sorority party has been postponed for three hours, ensuring that Nanako will arrive late and miss her chance for an admission interview. Of course, Nanako manages to get a chance anyway, but watching her happily and obliviously dig into brunch with Tomoko (not a Sorority candidate, an issue that will get lots of play as the story goes on) while Mariko searches for her desperately will tug on your heartstrings something fierce.
Essentially, the early episodes of Dear Brother will be a bit of a slog if you're not a fan of misunderstanding-driven drama. There's a similar story later of Mariko trying to drive a wedge between Nanako and Tomoko that will leave you screaming at the screen to just talk to each other, already! Thankfully, these Mean Girls style shenanigans aren't all that's going on here, and it's the hints of something more that make Dear Brother worth it from the get-go. The key to those are in the drama among the mysterious Magnificent Three: particularly Rei, or "Saint-Juste," whom it's increasingly clear is going to play a bigger role in Nanako's life than any of them could have expected.
The "princely" older girls who are popular and beloved in girls' schools are a yuri cliché for a reason, and earlier works that pointed toward the genre like Dear Brother are a part of that. While at this point it's still in the build-up stage, it's clear there's something going on between several of these girls; Nanako even seems to realize this in episode 13, as she wonders if there can be something between girls that is "more than" friendship. In addition, her own feelings toward Rei seem to be deepening episode by episode. But even aside from these potential romantic arcs, Dear Brother is clearly juggling some issues that go beyond typical high school drama. Fukiko, Kaoru and especially Rei have serious issues, and we've already gotten quite a bit of them—particularly Rei's drug use—but set up in such a way that we can tell they're all just beginning. I can't wait to see how these chickens come home to roost, even if I have a feeling it's going to end in tears. What's already evident is just why these girls are so drawn to the initially bland-seeming Nanako. Her sweetness, and removal from the craziness of their elite high-society world, gives these troubled young ladies a respite. I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop about why Nanako in particular was singled out so early, but I can easily see why they see her as an anchor for their stormy lives.
Another reason that this anime works so well is the gorgeous aesthetics. What makes for elaborately detailed spreads in manga isn't always the same as what works best for creating fluid animation. (For example, see Sailor Moon Crystal.) Yet Dezaki is a master at translating Ikeda's lush artwork, especially her character designs, to the screen. It's obvious that he's worked with her before, but he might do it even more masterfully here than with Rose of Versailles. I particularly love the way that during pivotal moments, the show freeze-frames to show a watercolor or pencil-sketched version of the scene. Aided in this is the delicate musical score, which glides back and forth between elegant classical music (sometimes diegetic, as a lot of these girls play piano) and nostalgic music-box lullabies. It symbolizes the way so many of these girls are simultaneously eager to grow up, and yet mired in their pasts. Taken together, it all gives this elegant, novel-esque tale a very storybook feel, a perfect merging of its original print medium and current film one.
Dear Brother isn't without its dated moments, but overall this is a classic that has more than stood the test of time. It's not just for those of us who love to plumb the depths of anime history and geek out over credits and influences. There's plenty of excitement in this melodramatic and heartfelt storyline to keep the attention of modern viewers, even if it can take some time to get there. Anyone who has been to high school should see a bit of themselves in the tales of fraught friendships and first romance. And if you have any love for the shoujo or yuri genres, Dear Brother is a must-see. Your current favorites just wouldn't be the same without it.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A
+ Influential classic with its paws all over modern shoujo and yuri anime; looks and sounds breathtaking; fascinating characters who clearly have complicated journeys ahead of them
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