Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 25

The last three episodes, the Fukiko's birthday arc, were basically set-up for the events of this episode, in which a lot of what Nanako doesn't know is made plain to her.

The episode begins with Fukiko's recollection to Rei of how they first met when they were 11 and 10, as we saw in episode 19. This time, as we see Rei sitting in the clocktower remembering that discussion, we get her perspective of that day. Despite the disturbing "Ah, that's where this unhealthy relationship started" aspect of the scene, it's kind of adorable to see how the characters dressed as kids. I like that despite Rei's mom favoring very conservative traditional women's clothing (you'll see in a later episode flashback that it wasn't just her wanting to project the right image with the Ichinomiyas, who no doubt saw her as a fallen woman- she liked wearing the kimono and haori combo in general), she was apparently cool with her daughter butching out.

My girlfriend Amy adds that her takeaway from these characters dressing pretty much exactly the same way as children is that people don't change. Or at least that it fits the theme of these characters being stuck in the past- that it's like a girly Great Gatsby, with a bunch of characters who know each other stuck in the past, with Nanako as the interloper who observes it all.

When Rei meets Fukiko, Fukiko is like "You're the housekeeper's child, aren't you?" and interrupts Rei's explanation to complain about being seated at the worst seat at a friend's birthday party, which she stormed out of because she has always found a reason to ruin birthdays. Thumbs up for Rei's reaction.

Fukiko is like "Promise you won't tell anyone you saw me like this!" A worried servant comes out looking for Fukiko, and Fukiko acts queenly.

And we see the beginning of a pattern.

Like Fukiko's flashback butterflies, Rei's flashback rose petals follow her back to the present day.

Rei ponders what she knows about Fukiko and that summer, continuing to needlessly beat herself up for her earlier ignorance. I guess she did indeed take my advice and go the fuck outside, but holing herself up in the school clock tower so she can be alone with herself and all the fears and shitty memories bubbling in her mind kind of misses the spirit of what she needs right now, if not the letter.

Nanako finds Rei, telling her she was worried about her not being at home or attending classes. Rei, I guess finding the idea of someone caring about her well-being alien, is like "Was there something important you wanted to talk to me about?" Nanako says no, so Rei is like "Okay, see you", and Nanako is like "Whoah, wait, you shouldn't leave the door unlocked like you did for your apartment." Rei loses her in Seiran's labyrinthine architecture, and Borgia and Vampanella come across her. (I know I've beaten to death how much I love the Sorority seniors' names, but I really do.)

As they tell Nanako Fukiko wants to see her at the sorority house, Rei listens while lighting a cigarette nearby. When they say Fukiko wants Nanako there at 8:00 tonight, Rei chimes in from a window above them,
and I wish the camera had followed Rei instead of Nanako earlier so we could see how she got up there in the split second when she lost Nanako. Vampanella is like "She can go home and come back", and Rei jumps down from the window to argue the logistics of that with them. They're like "Butt out" and tell Nanako that Fukiko said it's an important Sorority matter only she can take care of. So she sure is going. After Vampanella and Mona Lisa leave, Nanako turns to Rei, but Rei kind of hilariously sprints away now that her window hiding place is no good.

A shot of Fukiko arranging flowers in the sorority house, then embroidery time in home ec class, where Kaoru is as excited about it as I would be.
Later, Nanako tells Mariko that she can't make their movie plans with Tomoko because of Fukiko's request, even though it's the movie's last screening. Even Mariko is like "???" at Fukiko's request.

In an unusual interaction, Rei approaches Tomoko, asking for information about Nanako's relationship with Takehiko. Despite Tomoko's previous nonchalance towards Rei, Rei's ever-present charm seems to work in her favor.

Having obtained her information, Rei goes to where Kaoru is practicing basketball, and asks if she knows Takehiko tutored Nanako in cram school. Rei does nothing to insinuate anything romantic in Nanako's relationship with Takehiko- she just notes the pen pal and asking-someone-to-be-her-brother arrangement is the kind of thing she could see Nanako doing. She's still curious about Kaoru's reaction, but Kaoru gives the expected response.
Because she isn't obsessive and paranoid like Fukiko, I don't think Kaoru suspects anything romantic. The forced nonchalance of her response seems like it's her pretending she doesn't care about news of Takehiko, rather than pretending she isn't jealous of Nanako as a rival or anything like that. Rei is like "Ha, yeah, probably better you don't consider this your business", and Kaoru is like "Rei!" as she walks away.

Nanako narrates that she decided to see the movie with Tomoko and Mariko anyway. Sadly, she isn't blowing off Fukiko, she's just going to leave the movie early.

Rei continues her sleuthing by going to Takehiko's apartment. Unfortunately, her constant pill-popping makes her fall down, but she reassures Takehiko that she's fine because, uh, this happens so often. She decides not to ask any questions, though, for a reason that is very her, given how much she loves Fukiko's pride and facade of invulnerability.

Normally, I would be against revealing someone's crush, but given how Fukiko has treated other people based on it, I wouldn't oppose it being done here, especially since Takehiko could probably stop her mistreatment of others based on it.

Nanako arrives at the sorority house and heads to Fukiko's private office there, at the end of a suitably Rococo hallway.

Once inside, Nanako is struck by Fukiko's lipstick being red instead of her usual pink, as well as the vanity in the room. Cue Fukiko's version of seduction.

In her seduction voice, she pats next to her on the couch, asking Nanako to sit down. Nanako sits on the far side of the couch. Fukiko moves closer and puts her hand on Nanako's. Like Rei, Fukiko seems to have cribbed her pick-up lines from Love Vibes.

Fukiko now shifts to the Girl Friends approach by putting makeup on Nanako -- the red lipstick she's wearing, specifically. Clearly she didn't read rule 1 of this Autostraddle article. Though I guess she would probably still figure Nanako would be thrilled to look more like her.


she ruins the mood. Fukiko very much operates in the Class S "Queer behavior is dandy now, but men are our definite endgame" headspace.

As I've mentioned before, Fukiko is 5,789,340 times harder to read than her sister. Rei behaves the way she does because of how her mom died and her remaining family treating her like a dirty little secret, and her sexual orientation strongly reads as gay, what with her clear interest in the ladies and lack of interest in dudes. Fukiko's reasons for behaving the way she does can only be inferred- or I guess you could say they invite more interpretation- and likewise with her sexual orientation. Her queer behavior towards Rei and Nanako is driven by a desire to manipulate them more than anything else. I've half-joked to Amy that the difference between how Seiran's students approach Rei and Kaoru vs Fukiko is that they want to do Rei and Kaoru while they want to be Fukiko. But Fukiko is so confident in her seduction abilities here that I'm like, "Has she done this successfully before? Or does she just think she's so awesome, anyone would be happy to dump their crush for a night of sex and weird doll comparisons with her? Does the fact that this is her go-to tactic for trying to manipulate Nanako indicate she actually does like women? Especially since Rei later easily guesses what Fukiko's doing, like it's happened before?" Later in the show, if I remember correctly, she's pretty dismissive of the feelings for other women Rei clearly has, but going by her behavior, it could just be internalized homophobia, like with the speech screencapped above? Like I said, it isn't as clear-cut as Rei (or Nanako IMO, but Rei makes more sense as a foil), but some questions to consider if you have the time to sit on a couch overthinking the characters of Oniisama E like I do.

Anyway, while trying to stammer that she told Fukiko what was actually going on, Nanako runs away, but Fukiko catches her and makes her approach more blatant.

She kisses Nanako's ear and pushes her onto the couch before Rei bursts in. Rei doesn't do much to improve the situation beyond that, ranting about Fukiko damaging her pride and dignity by doing this, sigh, I usually like you Rei, but shut up, that isn't what matters here. And of course there's thunder for dramatic effect- the power goes out because of it. Rei finally reveals the meat of her message- that Nanako being admitted to the Sorority was just part of Fukiko's plan to make her worship her and thus forget about Takehiko. Nanako is naturally shocked, but Rei starts lamenting Fukiko's precious pride being compromised, seriously, shut up about that. Fukiko denies it and expects Nanako to take her side, because of course she's full of herself enough to think Nanako will take her side at this point. Nanako and Rei don't say anything, so Fukiko leaves.

Despite not having seen the ear kiss, Rei is like "Which ear did she put her precious lips on?" and kisses the earlobe Fukiko kissed. I feel awful for Nanako, for only getting a kiss from the girl she likes because said girl wants an indirect kiss with someone else.

Nanako walks home without an umbrella in the rain, pondering what she learned about how she got into the Sorority.

Back in the clock tower, Rei pops a handful of pills and laments doing something that further "hurt" Fukiko. For her part, being driven, Fukiko laments that her love isn't a secret anymore.

Fukiko and Rei's actions this episode could be titled "How to use your issues as an excuse for acting like a selfish fuckwad and ignoring other people's bodily autonomy."

Back home, Nanako decides she should quit the Sorority, and Tomoko calls to tell her about the part of the movie she missed. Tomoko eventually catches on that Nanako is depressed, and Nanako thanks her for asking how she's doing.

Fukiko returns to her villa and heads straight to The Room. Now that she feels like the sacred-ness of her feelings for Takehiko has been breached, she starts destroying everything there, because she's an all-or-nothing kind of gal.

The next episode will involve Rei and Fukiko hashing out what happened the day they tried to commit suicide together years ago.

Manga Review (plus some rambling on what I am watching): Akuma no Riddle volume 2

Volume 1 introduced Tokaku, an assassin, Haru, her target, and the other members of their, haha, high school assassin class, who all want to kill Haru. Volume 2 finishes establishing the rules of this series, showing us that the incentive for the assassins to kill Haru is that whoever succeeds will be granted pretty much anything she wants.

First up is Otoya, the serial killer who wants legal immunity for life and pretends she wants to be Haru's friend like Tokaku to get her to let down her guard. Unlike in the anime, here Haru isn't knocked out and tied up by Otoya. On one hand, I missed seeing Haru kick Otoya and manage to get away despite being tied up. On the other hand, I'm glad she didn't get stripped here. She uses the same method as in the anime to neutralize Otoya as a threat, but comes to the knowledge she needs for it differently. In the anime, there's some set-up for it, while in the manga, Haru turns out to have the knowledge about what to use when she's running from Otoya. It feels more deus ex machina-ish that Haru happens to find what she needs right when she needs it without knowing it's there (and I liked the karma of Otoya's initial "weapon" being used against her in the anime), but I like the idea of Haru having ways to do what helps her in this situation memorized for self-defense. In either version, Haru's reaction to Otoya makes her more interesting. Otoya obviously isn't likable, or someone you're supposed to like, but she is effectively creepy. We also get mention of Chitaru's motivation for being in Class Black, which isn't Haru, and mention of Haru's most plot-relevant ability.

The next assassin is Kaminaga, who I remember as the least interesting assassin. Her backstory is being an orphan who is part of some kind of assassin group fronted by nuns. It's an amusingly pulpy backstory, but Kaminaga herself is still very forgettable. She wishes to be able to quit being an assassin, but why she has to kill Haru to make it come true doesn't fully make sense. She has apparently always sucked horribly at her job and it looks like no one in her group except her dead mentor ever liked or believed in her, so why would her group keep using her for assassination assignments? Why is she here?

Haru continues to be squirrelly about her past to Tokaku, and we see a little more of it. After each assassin fails, she gets transferred out, and their teacher Mizorogi-sensei, who is there to be the cheerfully oblivious grownup in a story about teenagers, is sad and bewildered by it. Cue the first portion of Haruki's arc, which is one of the two best assassin arcs.

On the yuri front, Hitsugi and Chitaru get appropriately cast as Romeo and Juliet in their school's play, and Hitsugi is very obviously into Chitaru while Chitaru doesn't get it yet. Haruki spells out Haru and Tokaku's similarity to Romeo and Juliet to Tokaku, and Tokaku is only annoyed because she strongly values free will and doesn't see herself as someone bound by fate. Those values are going to be a huuuuge source of angst for her later. This bit of foreshadowing wasn't in the anime, and I think makes for better plotting.

This volume is the meat of the story kicking in. We get the same pluses compared to the anime as volume 1, with the additional plus of the foreshadowing mentioned above, some new pluses and minuses from Otoya's arc, and Kaminaga's still a lame character. Another plus compared to the anime is the fight scenes here aren't hampered by budget.

If you like the Akuma no Riddle anime to this point, you will probably like this volume. If you haven't seen the anime, it's still silly, fight-y, yuri-ish entertainment, with continued finger-crossing from me that its ending won't suck.

Bonus note:
Here's what I'm watching from what's airing.

Yuri Kuma Arashi: AGH. Most recent episode, AUGH. Best of the season so far, but AUGH. My girlfriend and I are sad about the most recent episode's ending because we really liked you-know-what-I-mean-if-you-are-watching, like anyone else with a soul.

Yona of the Dawn: Still a compelling fantasy-adventure. Also almost over, ugh. I know there's a lot more manga material, so even though I can just read the manga for more (and I plan to read it regardless), second season, please.

Maria the Virgin Witch: Also compelling fantasy. I'm scared for Maria right now despite the most recent episode's Disney-like happy resolution for [spoiler], since [spoiler] is such a sociopath. One more episode, ugh.

Death Parade: Jesus Christ, why didn't I try this show sooner? I hadn't started it at all before this past Saturday, and I finished catching up Sunday. (Being stuck at home sick helped, but still.) If you like Jigoku Shoujo, you will probably enjoy this show, too. I described it to a friend who also just got into it as a great mixture of sweet and soul-crushing tragedy. lol

Go! Princess Precure: Still pretty much the same pluses and minuses as initially, just with a new magical girl.

I still need to try Shirobako, since everyone and their grandma loves it, and I need to try Rolling Girls, since it seems like it could be fun.

Manga Review: Akuma no Riddle volume 1

If you read my writing on the Akuma no Riddle anime, here, here, and here, you might remember that I started out apathetic, warmed up to it, then was irritated by its ending's hand-waviness and failure to deliver as much yuri as its marketing promised. The Akuma no Riddle manga, which is three volumes long so far and still running in Newtype, has been licensed by Seven Seas. Its first volume is due for release in English this October. I obviously can't vouch for how the manga will end, but so far, it's an improvement on the story we got from the anime.

Azuma Tokaku, our butchy lead, has mad assassin skills, but hasn't actually killed anyone. She is sent by the, uh, assassin school, where she is the top student, to Class Black, a class in a normal high school composed of twelve assassins and one target. Class Black's assassins quickly figure out who the target is: the only aggressively nice one out of all of them. After getting to know said target, who is conveniently a cute girl named Haru, Tokaku decides to defect to her side.

So... the manga really doesn't move as quickly as the anime, but I actually think it's for the better. It ends before Tokaku attends the meeting where all the assassins are briefed on the rules of how they can target Haru, which happens in episode 2 of the anime. The payoff is Tokaku, having just protected Haru from one of the assassins, Isuke, telling Haru she will protect her rather than carry out her assignment. This happens after a volume of their getting to know each other while their classmates get some characterization- Haru and Tokaku still get the lion's share, befitting their status as leads, but the side characters get more than they got at this point in the anime, which I appreciate. For example, at the tea party where Isuke tells Haru she has two dads, we get the flashback to how one of her dads adopted her after rescuing her from an abusive home, which provides some nuance to her character. When Chitaru and Hitsugi meet Haru and Tokaku, we also see how they met, which helps establish why they have the dynamic they do. I still enjoyed the bulk of the anime, but I like that the manga doesn't reserve development for every character who isn't Haru and Tokaku for their respective arc, shortly before they leave. The manga has the luxury of more room to breathe, without feeling slow.

The art does what it's supposed to. It isn't going to win any awards, but it's clean, consistent, and easy to follow. The anime adapted the manga's art style closely.

Yuri so far is Tokaku's obvious desire to protect and attraction to Haru that she has a hard time explaining, and the beginnings of the Hitsugi x Chitaru pairing.

Btw, most Japanophiles know "haru" means "spring", but the kanji for Haru's name is the kanji used for "to clear up" or "to be sunny", which fits given how she reminds Tokaku of sunny places. I'll add that if you're learning Japanese and looking for manga with a lot of furigana to practice reading, this series is an option if you want something aimed at an older audience than shoujo and shounen. The bonus pages don't have furigana, but the story does.

In short- this series still isn't high art, its premise is still ludicrous, but it's entertaining and better executed in this medium than in its animated form. Admittedly I benefit from knowing there's some calculated reason for Haru's friendly behavior (though she does genuinely like Tokaku) and she can defend herself better than she has in this volume, though this volume still indicates that there's more to her than people assume. It might be foolish of me to hope for this series to correct the flaws that most hurt the anime in my eyes, but I would love to see more titles that feature blatantly lady-loving female characters in a story that isn't strictly school romance or slice-of-life (which is one of my many reasons for enjoying Yuri Kuma Arashi), so here's hoping for better than what we got from the anime.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 24

After the obligatory previous episode flashback, we see Rei sitting on the beach as the sun rises, wondering why Fukiko loathes the song she played.

Nanako calls Rei's apartment from a payphone (oho, how quaint) on the way to school, only catching the train because Tomoko points out she'll be late if she doesn't move it. Nanako called before and never got an answer, so she figures out that Rei never returned home last night. She notes that she is rather scared of the insulated little world Fukiko and Rei are in, from what little she knows of it.

Despite catching the train, Nanako and Tomoko miss the bus, and I remember how much of a bitch Japanese high school commutes can be. (I did some study abroad there in high school.)

Pulling his car out of his university's parking lot, Takashi sees Rei, and she gets in the car. She plays a CD with the song Fukiko hates, stirring my nostalgia as a 24-year-old old person. Takashi is then like "So, uh, I guess yesterday's still bothering you." Rei explains that she figures he might know something about why Fukiko acted the way she did, and they go to the ocean so they can enjoy the salty sea air while Takashi explains his version of the most awkward backstory ever.

Six years ago, Takehiko visited the Ichinomiya summer villa for a week. The Ichinomiyas had their usual end-of-summer party coming up after he left, so he said he would be back for it. Fukiko began practicing the now-hated violin piece with gusto.

Interesting use of the blacked-out face effect for Fukiko here. It's normally used when she has some malevolent intent -- though it was used on Rei when she tried to fulfill her and Fukiko's double suicide pact with imaginary Fukiko. You also may have noticed it, less prominently, on Rei in the music box screenshot above -- there, the blacked out faces serve to make them more doll-like, befitting the imagery around them. Regardless of the context in which blacked out faces are used on Fukiko and Rei, they serve to underline their respective unhealthy obsessions. In the case of the screenshot right above, the beginning of Fukiko's obsession with Takehiko.

Anyway, Fukiko did a fantastic job playing the piece at the party and her audience wanted an encore, but Takehiko wasn't there since he had to take care of an emergency, so no more violin.
The title of this episode is the English word "Encore", spelled in katakana. It's clearly symbolic of the fact that Fukiko refusing an encore after playing that one song wasn't her ending her mini-concert before others wanted her to. It was her refusing to let the damn thing ever really end, continuing to practice in secret with the fantasy of getting the ending for her concert that she really wanted.

Takashi just now mentions that he never heard Fukiko play that song after the party. Rei notes that she's seen Fukiko play it loads of times since then... but never with other people around.

Rei asks if Takehiko ever came back to the villa. Takashi says nope and connects the dots regarding Fukiko's obsession. Arriving home, Takashi sees Fukiko arranging red and white roses in a vase. Demonstrating amazing subtlety, he mentions that he and Rei chatted about that summer six years ago and Takehiko. Fukiko cuts a red rose in half and is like "WHOOPS, THIS ROSE IS RUINING THIS BOUQUET, THIS ENTIRE BOUQUET IS NO GOOD NOW" and tosses it in a trash can.
Then she leaves, and Takashi is like
Back in her room, a trembling Fukiko puts her hands, bleeding from the rose thorns, together and is pissed at Rei for what just happened. It was unwise of Takashi to make it obvious that Rei was involved in his realization about that summer.

Meanwhile, poor Rei is talking to The Doll as a stand-in for Fukiko, apologizing for not knowing her feelings about the song. Even more than usual, she needs to get out of her apartment and go outside.
Speaking completely seriously and not in an "I'm trying to be witty and snarky" way, if I knew someone like Rei, I would tell her to go the fuck outside, albeit in a more gently worded way. I guess that is what Nanako has been trying to do, though there should be more people trying to genuinely help Rei (as opposed to backhanded help like Fukiko) than just Nanako. (And Kaoru, albeit in a different way than Nanako.) Rei has made some progress over the course of the series--like attending her exams and playing for the basketball team again--but every time she takes a step forward, Fukiko lashes out and Rei is set back again to varying extents. Overall, Rei is better than she was at the beginning of the series, but this scene was still painful to watch.

Still in her room, Fukiko reminisces about that summer, and we finally get her full take on it. Takashi first introduced Takehiko to her when they were vacationing at the villa. Fukiko was taken with Takehiko right away, even moreso when he saved her hat from a waterfall.
Present-day Fukiko recites Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 while remembering spending time with Takehiko.
Guess which one that is.

Takehiko read the poem every time she requested it, took her rowing on the lake, took her to a cabin to shelter her from the rain, and let her have his book since he thought she just really liked the sonnets when she memorized Sonnet 18.
I can see how, given her initial taken-ness with him and the setting they were in, Fukiko had the reactions she did at the time. (Though obviously, thank god Takehiko considered her nothing more than his friend's little sister.) The day she learned he wasn't staying longer than a week, she made him pinky-promise that he would come back for the party, and we cut back to the Fukiko we know.
In another "subtle" bit of symbolism, Fukiko seems to imagine the butterflies that were fluttering around when she met Takehiko in her room when she's thinking about that day.

My girlfriend Amy adds an excellent observation, which she's typing here: Fukiko's story is fascinating because she's a teenager looking back on when she was twelve the way you normally see some adults look back on their teen and childhood years, making her feel older than she is, in a way. Teens usually want to distance themselves from their younger selves, but in this case the sense of heightened reality in the story shifts the dichotomy from "adult and child" to "teen and... younger teen" and that makes the story feel more like it's for mature readers.

We see Nanako go to Rei's apartment to check up on her. The Doll and the violin CD are on the bedroom floor, and Nanako plays the CD in the stereo nearby. She recognizes the song, and finds this behind her.
Fukiko unplugs the stereo and, breathing heavily, asks if Nanako visits the apartment often. Nanako answers honestly that she came several times when Rei was sick, and Fukiko is like "I told you not to see her!" If Fukiko were more astute regarding Nanako, she would know that letting Nanako spend as much time as she wants with Rei would beautifully complement her designs on keeping Nanako away from Takehiko.

Later outside, Nanako can clearly tell that Fukiko's issues with her aren't just about her visiting Rei, and that the song has to do with it.

Later while being driven, Fukiko ponders what a tragedy that day was
and we flash back to her being fussed over by her maids before the concert, before she runs into Takashi and he tells her Takehiko can't make it. Cue concert.
After the song and cries of "Encore!" and bouquets of red roses given to her, Fukiko tosses away her bouquets, beginning her habit of taking her feelings out on roses. She runs off, telling her maids not to follow her.

She tries to drown herself in the lake, but floats up and cries on the dock. Back in the present, we see that she views what happened that day as a betrayal, despite her still wanting Takehiko and seeing that time before the concert as the happiest of her life. She is then like


So, um, yup. That was a backstory. When I first watched this, I was like "What the fuck, what a stupid thing to try to drown yourself over." It is still a picayune reason for attempting to drown oneself, but I guess... in the larger context of Fukiko's making-a-mountain-out-of-a-molehill behavior, it's in character. And what Amy said above, regarding what seems to be the intent of this plot point.

Between what we've seen regarding Fukiko's obsession with Takehiko and her willingness to commit suicide with Rei when they were younger... yeah, her time with her crush aside, she hasn't been happy in a long time. Rei's issues can be easily explained by the way her mom died (which I won't spoil) and the fact that her remaining family treats her like an embarrassing secret. Fukiko is harder to quickly explain because she has grown up taken care of way more than Rei. Clearly because of Rei's existence, which she knew about before the events of that summer, she knew her dad had a mistress, the same reason Mariko acted out until Nanako was like "Holy shit, your behavior." And from what I remember, despite numerous scenes taking place in Fukiko's home, we never see either of her parents, unlike Nanako's very involved parents and Mariko's mom who's trying to provide the most stable family she can for her daughter. So... I assume her latching onto Takehiko's willingness to spend time with her may have been caused by loneliness related to that. If I think about it, I can see reason for her behavior, however overblown and destructive.

On that delightful note, next time on Oniisama E, Fukiko will try to seduce Nanako away from her non-relationship with Takehiko and Rei will come upon it. Nanako just can't win.