Well, it’s time to discuss this Dezaki directed anime adaptation of Riyoko Ikeda’s Girl’s Love manga from years ago. You know, pretty much the same crew and creator combination as the second half of Rose of Versailles a decade and some change before it. This was a watch that I enjoyed weeks on end, in not a bad way considering that this show is 39 episodes, on Jon Spencer’s discord server every other Friday for the past who knows how long with Jon himself, K, Moya, and a couple others who aren’t bloggers. We did pass along some jokes and observations here and there about the cast and show itself, but I think all of us had a good time. For me, it hit really hard at the end. This is part one of my own write up of Dear Brother. This will be the review portion, which I will spoil by saying that I loved it over all. The more personal writing coming from the series itself will be tomorrow.
Dear Brother is a series that takes place at an elite all-girl’s high school named Seiren Academy. Entering her first year of high school with her energetic friend Tomoko, Nanako Misonoo’s life changes in ways she never expects and it’s all beyond her control. At this school, there are three brilliant and attractive figures which the general student body is enamored with called the Magnificent Three. Those being Prince Kaoru who is the very tall, masculine, and endlessly charismatic star basketball player, the mysterious Saint-Just or Rei Asaka who is very aloof, attractive, and loves to play the piano, and lastly there is the ever intelligent, attractive, and controlling Fukiko Ichinomiya that is head of the sorority at school. It’s the sorority that causes endless amounts of drama. With Mariko forcing her friendship with Nanako, all the pieces set in place.
To me, the best part of Dear Brother is how the plot explains itself. I already described almost every single important plot point or element in the story in the last paragraph. You know, other than two things and it just works because the character writing is generally solid. The story just follows the school year with all sorts of events happening and the characters interacting with each event. I feel like this could be easily called or at least argued to be called a slice of life anime because of this fact. The drama from the weight of the sorority carries a lot of tension because of how much pressure they put on Seiren Academy with the groups own sense of entitlement and elitism. It causes trouble in the classroom with Nanako since she was a chosen person along with her new friend Mariko, it causes pressure on Nanako’s relationship with Tomoko as Tomoko feels left out at first, and it strains the relationship with the Magnificent Three until it eventually reaks.
So, what parts did I leave out? Well, Dear Brother is called Dear Brother because it revolves around the letters Nanako sends to her supposed older brother. Ok, the show isn’t subtle about this but Nanako calls this person her older brother and it eventually turns out to be true. Other characters discuss this fact earlier on so that’s not a spoiler. The other thing is how this show is centered on different sorts of triangles of people. The first is obviously the Magnicent Three with Fukiko having a very oppressed relationship with Rei who is Fukiko’s half-sister while Kaoru is the outsider and the most mature/fair/good person of the group trying to keep Rei happy and alive. Kaoru has a lot of experience on why she sees everything in such an adult manner. The second one is Nanako as the innocent (and somewhat idiotic) girl that is everyone in the show’s morality pet like Rei is, Mariko who is very much like Fukiko only lesser in her jealous, and Tomoko at the even headed outsider with very good and adult advice because Tomoko is best girl. The two groups also collide through the sorority and how they meet up.
That undying tension between the sorority members, people who want to be sorority members, the three in each group clashing with each other in complicated ways, and the threes attacking and interacting with each other causes an endless amount of complicated drama. It’s a very slow-moving series that is set and built up with the OMG powerful drama hits you in the face and it works to create a very powerful formula that draws the watcher in every episode to see what kind of tension can happen next. The tension is very real as well. Ok, some of it is ridiculous because it involves the throwing of school kids in earlier episodes. But there are actual life-threatening pieces of drama that come from pettiness and hate and that in itself is realistic.
In the end, the drama lessens itself in a way that works natural for the story presented in one of the most soul crushing (at least for me) ways. It’s a story that seemingly resolves itself through a lot more thoughtfulness after discovering how horrible some characters act towards each other. That mainly comes from the absolving of the sorority itself which symbolized all the tension in the first place. Dear Brother is not a subtle show at all, but it feels natural regardless. It’s very easy to understand why characters are the way they are in ways that make sense. A lot of these characters are heavily flawed with back stories that can be cliché but clichés happen for a reason sometimes. Besides, if something is executed well enough then it doesn’t matter if it’s been done before or not. The world in the show can be a lot smaller then we all realize sometimes and Dear Brother embodies that to a T but in a good way. This is also a very queer show with gay drama and love that never lands completely either sadly. Well, that’s the early 90’s I suppose.
One of the shows strengths, and sometimes weakness, is how remarkably efficient Dear Brother is in terms of art and animation. This is Dezaki we are talking about and he is a master at limited animation. The art and shot direction literally changes the scope of the show. I really like the show’s character designs especially since half of them feel like they came out of Rose of Versailles and those are good character designs. You know, even if they look 10 years old then they actually are, which I guess is like a lot of live action school dramas. There is a good joining here that creates a good tone of the show. The art is very gothic and stunning. At a lot of moments, it is possible to forget that Dear Brother takes place in the late 80’s and early 90’s without seeing a train, people driving around in cars or walking on side walks, or actual working telephones that characters talk to each other. There is plenty of Dezaki 3-peats and stock footage along the way as well. When movement happens, it means something. Something traumatic, something happy, or whatever is in between. That’s how refined and touched up the series is.
Dear Brother is a such an excellent and classic show. Definitely a solid for me which led me to buying it on blu-ray. Watching it was truly a charming ordeal because it is so cool watching yet another classic piece of anime history and seeing that it’s good. If anything, Dear Brother’s adaptation must have changed or influenced a lot of the anime landscape of 90’s anime because of its influence during that time period including Utena, Gundam Wing, and who knows what else. Heck, the name Rei Asaka is telling me that Hideaki Anno must have used her name on purpose in Eva to create two characters. Besides some issues with some of its points of view and understanding somewhere which can be a problem or for some people, it’s length and the pacing of its episode sometimes, but the experience is good, sad, happy, and whatever it needs to be. In genera land very human. I couldn’t help but recommend this series. It’s on Retrocrush right now and has a blu-ray available on rightstuf right now. Thanks for reading and can’t wait to talk about Dear Brother in more detail in the post you will read tomorrow!