I never actually thought I’d ever write a review like this, but here I am today, reviewing Osamu Dezaki’s masterful anime based on Riyoko Ikeda’s manga, Oniisama E, translated for an English-speaking audience on physical media. It’s nothing short of a miracle.
Today we speak of the first ever release of Dear Brother on DVD in English.
The story, about “average” girl Nanako, who is caught up in the affairs of her school’s brightest and most influential, is fraught with emotional highs and lows I’ve never seen in any other school life drama. Nanako finds herself surrounded by people so powerful and so eccentric, it makes the Yamayurikai look pretty much like the normal girls they are.
This first box set covers the intense and often depressing or shocking first thirteen episodes. Issues are dealt with that modern-day dramas merely handwave. Depression, obsession, suicide, drug use…and that’s just Rei. The casual, institutional and individual emotional sadism we see in the first third of the story is breathtaking and heart breaking. The plot offers up unhealthy helpings of manipulation and bullying, but it’s tempered with some pointed socio-political commentary as well.
Like Dezaki’s other masterwork, Rose of Versailles, I can only take Dear Brother in small doses and need a lot of One Piece to wash it down with, or it’s too bitter a pill to swallow. This is Drama with a capital D. And it hurts. Much like GUNJO, you’re walking a knife bridge with Dear Brother and the tension never really lets up. I’m tense when watching any and every episode. I know, I make it sound so appealing, right? But it’s worth it.
The translation is good enough to completely ignore – which is exactly what I want out of a translation. It should be there to facilitate my understanding, not clash with it.
But what really stands out to me is the animation. Yes, the characters styles are dated (and yes, I far far prefer them to the current character design trends) but the backgrounds, wow. Remember, when you looks at Miya-sama’s hair, or the smears on a chalkboard, or the way cloth is rendered – all that was done by hand. Every shadow, every seam was inked by someone without help of software. Every once in a while, I’m standing at Mandarake in Nakano and a cel from this series is for sale, and I stare at knowing I will never pay the price to own it, but wanting to oh so badly. (I’ve already got a Drama CD fetish, I’m not going near cels.)
Art – 8
Story – 9
Characters – 10
Yuri – 3
Service – 4 Of a different sort, with the Beautiful Ones far, far more beautiful than high school students are in the real world.
Overall – 9
With a combination of tightly wound story-telling, unforgettable characters and timeless art, Dear Brother is, IMHO, a pinnacle of shoujo anime, a classic that I’m very proud to have helped bring to DVD.