Sunday, May 9, 2010
Oniisama E is a bit of a difficult title for me to review. As manga legend Ikeda Riyoko's most famous work after Rose of Versailles, it's well-done, but very much a product of its time (or times- it's a 1991 adaptation of a manga from 1975)- especially towards the end. If it required less of a time commitment (like the 3 volume manga, which Tezuka Productions adapted into a 39 episode series- surprisingly, without making it feel like it's based on only 3 volumes), I would have been more forgiving, even though I kept the historical context in mind while watching it.
Oniisama E is the first anime series ever about a starry-eyed everygirl freshman entering a rarefied all-girls' academy and getting caught up in capital D Drama with the Special People at her school. (Admittedly, the drama in Oniisama E is more...intense than the drama found in later girls' school shows.) Like Lillian, Miator, Spica, Lulim, and Fujigaya, Seiran is a Catholic school, and like Lillian and the Ichigo-sha schools, the student body of Seiran virtually worships a small handful of "elite" students, known as the "Magnificent Three": Ichinomiya Fukiko (a.k.a. "Miya-sama"), an ojou-sama who acts as Student Body President and head of the Sorority, a group of esteemed (but not on the same cream-of-the-crop level as the "Magnificent Three"), highly-priviledged students that selects a small number of first-years to join them each year; the über-cool, athletic Orihara Kaoru ("Kaoru-no-Kimi"), who opposes the very existence of the Sorority and hates Fukiko; and Asaka Rei ("Hana no Saint-Juste"), a similarly cool, reclusive, pill-popping Oscar de Jarjeyes look-alike who has a lot of baggage from her past involving Fukiko. Poor Nanako doesn't know what she's getting into. ^^;;;
The Sorority invites Nanako to join them, even though she doesn't fit the "typical" Sorority member profile (rich, blue-blooded)- for reasons that only Fukiko knows. After Nanako joins the Sorority, she faces the scorn of students both within and outside of the Sorority who wonder why she got in. Nanako has a few allies from the outset: her friend and schoolmate Arikura Tomoko, who she knew before entering Seiran; Shinobu Mariko, another girl who was chosen for the Sorority, but still faces bullying from some students because of her father's profession; Kaoru, who, along with Tomoko, is probably the sanest person throughout most of the show; and Rei, who comes to care for Nanako (much, much XD ) more than she ever expected to.
Oniisama E is a soapy shoujo melodrama if there ever was one. The character designs are updated from their original manga incarnations, but they still retain their 70's sensibility. The entire show is permeated with Ikeda's well-known fetish for old European (particularly French) culture- like Fukiko's hairstyle, the random French references ("ma chèrie la poupée"; I laughed hard when Nanako told the Sorority that de Sade was her favorite author, without knowing what he actually wrote about), and the general tone of the story. It felt very much like the anime equivalent of reading a Gothic novel (or watching a Gothic-influenced Takarazuka show like Elisabeth). Since I like Gothic novels and shamelessly over-the-top shoujo melodrama, this worked for me. (An example: *Nanako tells Fukiko that she wants to leave the Sorority* *dramatic music plays as a dove crashes through a stained glass window and the pieces fall down in slow motion* *a flower petal-laden gust of wind blows through the room* *the camera slowly pans over Nanako and Fukiko as Nanako looks up while walking away from Fukiko as the wind continues to blow*)
Even though most of the show is entertainingly soapy "zOMG-angst!!!", being an early 90's anime with yuri (several of the girls get crushes on one another; Nanako and Rei even almost go on a date), you have the inevitable non-yuri friendly ending. (Teenage same sex crushes are just a passing phase that girls go through during that special, delicate adolescent phase of their lives. Unless they fall off a bridge....) I kept that in mind from the beginning (unless I'm mistaken- I'm pretty sure that Sailor Moon was the earliest anime and manga to portray a happy, functional yuri relationship with a happy ending), but it still wasn't a pleasant element to deal with. Add that to how much the "Nanako's stepbrother reconciles with his father as if he'd never done anything wrong"-arc stunk (if I were in Takehiko's shoes, I would have been like, "You bastard. You can rot in hell. I'm going to spread the word about how you treated me for 13 years and f-ck over your reputation." Guess I'm not as nice as Takehiko. :-) ), and the ending left a bitter aftertaste. At around the series' mid-point, I also stopped watching for a while because I was flabbergasted by the revelation that all of Fukiko's issues came from the STUPIDEST incident. (Even by this show's standards- really??)
My favorite arc was definitely the Sorority-abolishing arc- it was hugely satisfying and the high point of each character's development- even Fukiko became more sympathetic. If the story had ended there, I would have been a happy camper. :-) Despite the "meh" ending and a few of the earlier "relics" from this series, it was still, mostly, a pretty entertaining, soapy (and consequently, unintentionally funny) ride.
Story: Very mixed bag- but as good as it gets for yuri pre-Sailor Moon.
Overall: For most of it...B to B+. For the last few episodes...aughh. My low yuri expectations didn't bulletproof me enough. And why, Takehiko, why?? > <
I know someone (female, gay and out) for whom Oniisama E is one of her favorite series- so obviously, perspectives on this series can vary immensely. It's at least worth checking out an episode for the historic value. (Ikeda Riyoko had a huge early influence on shoujo and yuri manga.)