Brother Dear Brother
Misonoo Nanako is a professor's daughter looking forward to her first day of school at the prestigious Seiran Academy, a girl's only school that caters to the rich, or in her case, those with high test scores. She soon finds that the school is polarized by three popular and talented individuals, known as the Magnificent Three, and known by their nicknames: "Kaoru no Kimi", a boyish, but talented sports player named after a character in The Tale of Genji, "Saint-Juste", a flamboyant pianist named for a French Revolutionary character, and "Miya-sama", the president of the Seiran Sorority, an elite group of the most beautiful and talented girls of the school.
Though Nanako doesn't intend to make waves as a student at this school, when she is tabbed to be a member of the Sorority, the brutal politics that run beneath the surface of the school's sophisticated veneer soon threaten to pull Nanako's life into chaos. Nanako's world becomes one where she is unsure of her friends, her enemies, and her very identity ... and the only way she can vent her emotions is through her correspondence letters to a man she calls her "Dear Brother".
Brother, Dear Brother is fairly little-known in the United States, and it's no wonder - the subject matter (the at-times cruel machinations of high-school age girls) is treated frankly and maybe a bit too blatantly for the weak of heart. Even the hijinks of Hana Yori Dango pale compared to what Nanako has to deal with daily at this school. From classmates with obsessions and addictions to the constant accusations of family wrongdoings to beatings and intentional "accidents", it's almost too much for a girl just out of junior high to handle. And Nanako does an admirable job of keeping her chin up and not dignifying the insults spewed at her with replies. She simply just happens to be a girl caught up in circumstances she hardly understands, and her rich, but petty classmates simply won't put up with her showing them what honor truly is.
Nanako, of course, has her allies. Shinobu is a girl with a past she wishes to forget - and a philandering pervert of a father that has led her to forever mistrust men. Sensing a kindred spirit in Nanako, she latches on as her line of defense (whether Nanako wants it or not). And Kaoru no Kimi consistently shows that she is more interested in doing the right thing than bowing to the urges of an increasingly elitist and pushy Sorority. (Even if she can't crack an egg right.)
Good characterization is important for such a character-driven story, and so far, it has been consistently good. Though some may accuse Nanako of being a bit of a doormat (something I've heard more than once), it should be realized that she is only a freshman in high school, and one who hasn't really had to deal with much hardship, unlike many of the more noticeable characters, like Shinobu and Saint-Juste.
Another asset to Brother, Dear Brother is the beautiful animation, which, though obviously 80s in setting and design, holds up well. Ikeda Riyoko's art is faithfully rendered, and considering it's fairly old, it still manages to portray the story and characters quite well, right down to Shinobu's mannerism of biting her lip to make herself look pouty.
One possible drawback to newcomers watching this series may be the music. Much of the series' songs are enka (traditional Japanese ballads), which might be a bit slow and plaintive for Western ears. (It's not commonly used in recent anime for precisely that reason.) The classical soundtrack is appropriate for the genre and setting, if a tad melodramatic at times.
Maybe the one thing deterring many anime fans from seeking out this series, other than the slightly dated setting, is the reputation it has for having lesbian overtones. One should consider that in Japanese culture, it isn't uncommon for a girl's school student (or any female high school student for that matter) to have a "crush" on an attractive and popular older female student (an "oneesama" if you will). The absence of male peers will only make this more likely. So it wouldn't be surprising for Shinobu, for example, to develop a crush on Kaoru no Kimi, or for her friendship with Nanako to be a bit more clingy and possessive than most Western friendships. Considering the character's (and at times, the anime's) heavy anti-male stance, this could be contrued as advocating female homosexuality. Whether it is or isn't the case (which I certainly won't speculate on until I've finished this series), it will certainly weed out those who find such behavior against their moral values. Which is sad, because this is one of the more intense and emotionally wrenching anime dramas out there.
If you can find a copy of Brother, Dear Brother, by all means, watch it for yourself and see if you like it. If anything, it takes a truly serious look at girl's school that is so often glossed over in the more common dating simulations and sex comedies that are out there. It certainly isn't Galaxy Fraulein Yuna, and anime as a medium is better for it.
A classic in the making, though I want to finish this series before giving that last star. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Due to depictions of drug addiction, perceptible lesbian undertones, violence with intent to maim, and general intensity, I wouldn't recommend this series for the faint of heart, the impatient, or the conservative. Generally, I would say mature teenagers and up would be able to appreciate this series. If anything, don't come into this expecting Marmalade Boy or Fushigi Yuugi.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source (TechnoGirls)
Review Status: Partial (8/39)
Brother Dear Brother © 1991 NHK / NEP / Riyoko Ikeda Productions / Tezuka Productions
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