• remind me tomorrow
  • remind me next week
  • never remind me
Subscribe to the ANN Newsletter • Wake up every Sunday to a curated list of ANN's most interesting posts of the week. read more

This Week in Anime
Does Dear Brother Still Hold Up?

by Monique Thomas & Steve Jones,

The Rose of Versailles manga creator Riyoko Ikeda and anime adaptation director Osamu Dezaki are together again in for the shojo soap opera classic Dear Brother. Lush still shots and shifting floods of emotion characterize this anime long unavailable in English until now. But what does a series like Dear Brother offer a modern audience?

This series is streaming on RetroCrush!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

picks up phone
--Oh. Hey, Steve! How nice of you to call.
Hey Nicky. Hope I'm not bothering you. I was just bored and doing my usual thing, you know. Staring at the TV, waiting for Retrocrush to finally publish Dear Brother for streaming. They announced it in August. I'm sure it'll be aaaaany day now. I'm sure.
Ah yes, known in Japanese as Oniisama e, the 1991 adaption of Riyoko Ikeda 1970's manga Dear Brother is, like it's manga, a beloved and influential classic that has been totally evading the western landscape for quite some time. I got to see a bit of it from the short-lived Anime Sols release, but it disappeared as quickly as it appeared. For me, as an English speaker much is shrouded in mystery about this famous drama. Just hearing about it makes me feels like I'm a child eavesdropping on my parents again.
Oh would you look at that! They just published it! That sure is convenient, because otherwise I don't know how we were going to write the rest of this column. Thanks, RetroCrush!

And seriously, thank you RetroCrush for putting this back into the English-speaking anime sphere. I was lucky enough to pick up the Anime Sols set while it was still available, and it's since jumped to one of my favorite series of all time. The more people who can finally watch this in all of its melodramatic splendor, the better! And now in 720p!
Almost thirty years is never too late to jump on this classic! Though, since the whole thing is 39 episodes and that would be quite long for a column, we're only going to be covering the first six.
And because six episodes of Dear Brother is equivalent to 39 episodes of your average anime, we are certainly not going to be wanting for things to talk about. I guess we can start with the immediately obvious, which is that this is a quasi-reunion of the creative minds behind the classic Rose of Versailles. That too was a manga by Riyoko Ikeda, adapted (in part) into an anime by director Osamu Dezaki. Dear Brother is a later manga by Ikeda, and a later anime from Dezaki. Both are a little older, a little wiser, but just as keen on that good ol' shoujo drama.
And it definitely carries a lot of both artist's particular hallmarks. Even Lady Oscar cares to show up to the party, despite the fact that this show actually takes place in Modern Day Japan and NOT Historical France.
You'd be forgiven for the confusion! Western aesthetics permeate the entire production, and Dear Brother eventually also covers a lot of surprisingly similar thematic material. Granted, no countries are being revolutionized here, but you wouldn't know it from the heightened emotional state of literally every scene in this show. And nobody does it like Dezaki. Look at how he transforms the act of throwing an umbrella on the ground into a world-shattering declaration of psychological warfare. He is in his element here, and it's glorious.

These petty squabbles between HIGHSCHOOL GIRLS are being portrayed with the CORRECT amount of weight for what being a teen girl is like, even if it's a total fantasy there's a lot of truth to the heightened drama of adolescence. Our heroine, Nanako is a young lady who enrolls in a what seems like a prestigious all-girl school, and ends up totally wrapped up in a whirlwind of class-politics. as she gets pulled into the school's revered Sorority, despite being ordinary. All the while, she details these teen trials to a mysterious pen-pal who she refers to as her "Brother".
It's a deceptively mundane premise (girl goes to new school) elevated by the storytelling, characters, and presentation. Nanako is the nice-to-a-fault everywoman who acts as a necessary, counterbalance to the larger-than-life figures she meets at Seiran, especially three seniors who all the other girls worship. The best of whom is Saint-Just. Just saying.

And yes, she looks like Lady Oscar AND is nick-named after another figure from the French Revolution. Don't ask me, ask Ikeda.
Also a pretty latent, figure if you ask me. Real name, Rei Asaka is the first bit of school royalty we're introduced to. A quiet and stoic figure nicknamed " The flowers of Saint-Just" by the other girls after the romantic, artistic, and tragic Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, who many also dubbed the Angel of Death. (Nope! Not foreboding at all!) Nanako has a fated encounter with her on the train to school and literally and figuratively falls for her. (Yes, her. Some people are just tall and very gentlemanly.)

This series is full of these little poignancies, it's gonna be really difficult to truly capture them despite most of them being Dezaki Postcards Shots. This isn't even the first 5 minutes.
Yeah, Nanako's florid asides in her internal monologues/letters to her "brother" definitely add yet another appropriately overwrought adolescent layer to these circumstances. It rules.
It feels like peeking at a teen girls diary because there's a privacy to it but it's also a plea for guidance to navigate what is essentially the cruel world of adulthood with no way of actually being able to help. The first present-day shot we get of Nanako, she happens to prick her finger on a red corsage pendant. Symbolizing, the pains of becoming an adult. Even the opening is about how life is balanced with love and happiness as well as many emotional pains contained in bowls. The color red becomes a very important symbol of female maturity throughout the series.
Also, on a very literal level, a lot of these girls are just out for blood. One of the students leading the fight against that impulse, however, is "Prince" Kaoru, a cool older student who got held back into Nanako's class due to health issues. She's a heartthrob, both because all the girls have a crush on her, and because she suffers from Anime Heart Disease. She also plays basketball, and please don't confuse her for another aspiring prince anime tomboy who is definitely not at all inspired by her.

I think out of the three royal figures, Kaoru might be my favorite simply because she has the gall to actually speak out against all the crap that goes on even if it means willing to THROW DOWN, also possibly Kunihiko Ikuhara's Favorite. Definitely, the most traditionally noble.
She's great! I also love that her fashion sense is perhaps the only vestigial remnant of the manga's 1970s origins. Which brings us to the third of Seiran's Big Three: the icy matriarch of the Sorority house and the scariest character in the show, Fukiko Ichinomiya.
That is the face of someone who has DEFINITELY killed a man in cold blood without even batting an eye.
I don't think she'd even have to lift a finger. She's already turned the Sorority rush into a Darwinian exercise meant to forge you into the perfect high society lady, or kill you in the process.
Out of 150 students in the whole school, only 15 are chosen for the Sorority and the exclusivity makes these girls dying for even a chance of getting in. They're rabid animals. One such determined girl is Mariko Shinobu, who befriends Nanako in a way that is extremely pushy and overly familiar, even pushing Nanako away from her long time best friend, Tomoko, and also the only average person around. The other is Aya Misaki, who thinks herself a shoe-in but her hot headed demeanor causes her to lose her nomination. She instantly becoming jealous of Nanako and uses her social power to make her life hell.
Both these girls suck and I love them so much. Mariko especially. She's so manically needy and transparently manipulative, but Nanako is too nice to say no to her. Well, most of the time.
Mariko is basically our introduction to someone so desperate for approval that she's twisted by it, even casually. She's not always necessarily a bad friend and sticks up for Nanako but she also encourages the toxic attitudes presented in the show, is possessive, and portrays a lack of boundaries. It's also deeply implied that she's a lesbian, though, pretty much everyone is a lesbian in this show.
That's putting it lightly. Dear Brother is hella, hella gay, and these introductory episodes have barely scratched the surface of that. Mariko also gets some INCREDIBLE material later on in the show, so even if you're annoyed by her right now, stick with it. Trust me. #MarikoDidNothingWrong
Even if she does all of that, I can't really think of her as the villain. Because this is a drama, everyone seems to have some sort of deep-secret fucked up reasoning for doing things and the school is merely a stage in where they act them out on each other.
Yep pretty much! I still love Mariko. Even though this scene breaks my heart, I totally get that insecurity that drives her to do so.

And I extend that same affection to Misaki! She's the closest evolutionary ancestor we have to Utena's Nanami, so how can I not love her? She even has the same exact posse of girls who follow her around and do her bidding.
She's basically what Nanami would actually be like if Nanami was actually smart. Minus the brother complex.
And minus the cow transformation—but only for these six episodes. I mean, I don't want to spoil anything.
I think part of it is we see how supportive and normal her friendship with Tamako is even if it's tragic when we also see them get torn apart, caught in the storm.

Yeah, Tomoko's a real one and a true friend. Even with all that's going on, you get the sense that they'll weather it together in the end. And more importantly, she's got some of the best stink-faces in the whole show.
All things considered, Dear Brother has a fairly tight cast of major players, but we've already gotten some meaty glimpses into their relationships past and present. Especially with the Big Three. I love how immediately obvious it is that Fukiko and Kaoru despise each other's guts.

Need we remind everyone: this woman is capable of murder.
There's definitely something going on between the Big Three that we're not exactly privy to but we see a lot of glimpses of. Saint-Just seems unable to stand up to Miya, harboring some sort of past-heartbreak and becoming a drug addict. Kaoru tries hard to snap her out of her depressive state it but it's always to no-avail.
I do really like that you can tell Kaoru and Saint-Just care about each other. Their personalities just clash in explosive ways. And Saint-Just being 24/7 high on drugs probably doesn't help either. Meanwhile, whatever's going on between Saint-Just and Fukiko is totally fricked and that's the messy shoujo melodrama I am HERE for.

Love to casually knock a flower-arrangement tool onto a person's hand. Just for funsies.
Take a look at THOSE, red roses. Oof.
Dear Brother is NOT here to play around.
Everyone else just turns the other way about this cruelty, except for Kaoru and surprisingly Nanako, which draws her even more ire. Also note the deep red flowers, on Fukiko's skirt, emphasizing her maturity but also her brutality.
You'd think Nanako acting like an insufferable goody two-shoes might wear thin, but the show handles her really deftly! By way of her internal monologues, we actually get to hear her self-doubt and hesitation. She tells us about her fear of growing up, of being selfish. It's poignant stuff, and it makes her a really well-rounded character.
I think it's also understandable given how badly she's treated, and how it's very clear that all the adults have their secrets too, many of the girls are from wealthy backgrounds and therefore have high-expectations, the Sorority is a mirror of that, so when an average person like Nanako gets invited, sabotaged, and still makes it despite all the other worthy candidates, it feels like there's something much bigger is in play. We also haven't touched on the mystery of Mr. Brother.
What do you mean, it's so simple.

And by that I mean it's convoluted in a kind of beautifully eldritch (and thoroughly shoujo) way. Henmi here is the guy Nanako calls "brother" and writes her letters to. He was a teacher at her cram school that she wanted to keep in touch with. He's also her father's child from a previous marriage. So in a way, he is also actually her step-brother, kinda. But she doesn't know that. She just calls him brother anyway—totally normal and by coincidence. Y'all got that?
I do like how they make it clear that she feels a connection and that it isn't romantic or inappropriate in any way, as many shoujo stories tend to play out, though, I'm sure there's room for that still with other characters. He also does seem like a genuinely good dude who cares and wants Nanako to become a proper adult. But it also doesn't make the fact that literally EVERY ADULT in this series is just cheating and secret keeping liars okay. To be an adult is to accept that kind of cruelty.
All adults are Bastards, and that's why we really mean it when we say that Ikuhara cribbed the hell out of Dear Brother. In a good way! Seriously, if you love Utena, you owe it to yourself to check Dear Brother out. It's arguably the single most important influence on the show, and at the very least, you'll have fun catching all the little homages that were thrown into Utena.

Though if things get so bad for Nanako why can't she just leave the Sorority? Uhh, well she can't.
Look I'm not gonna argue with Fukiko either. Godspeed, Nanako. Hope you have your will and testament ready.

At this point in the show, Nanako has lost her best friend, is stuck in a Sorority that may or may not be a cult, is being bullied by 80% of the academy, and can't confide in anybody about it. Sorry that episode 6 is such a bummer, but we can only cover so much!
We end these episodes, like many important moments in Nanako's life, drenched in rain. Every bit of happiness has to be tinged by a little sadness. But will Nanako be able to weather the storm? It's been pretty wild being able to view these episodes but it's immediately super-engrossing.
I'm actually a little upset that RetroCrush doesn't translate the next episode previews. You really don't miss much, but the last thing Nanako says, in every episode, is "brother...the tears...they just won't stop." And that, friends, is the perpetual Dear Brother Mood. On the bright side, Saint-Just has a knife next episode, and trust me when I say that's more than enough reason to press on.
Someone get that away from her, preferably Kaoru.
It's fiiiiiiine.
Anyways, thanks for talkin' about this Steve, I wish we could cover more but I guess that's better than not being able to cover anything at all! If you love classic anime, make sure to catch this one before it's gone again folks!
Oh thanks for joining me and letting me talk your ear off about this show! It's a special one. It takes no half measures, it whips ass, and I love it dearly. It's the one anime I own a cel from. Can't really add much more than that. Please watch it! If you don't, I will know, and I will personally send Misaki to your house.
Images you see before you die:

discuss this in the forum (13 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

This Week in Anime homepage / archives