Sunday, March 16, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E ( a.k.a. Dear Brother ) episode 1

Since I first watched this show four years ago, something I never expected happened- Viki licensed it for streaming- and then something I never expected even more happened- Anime Sols licensed it for streaming and a DVD release. Here is Viki's page for it, and here is Anime Sols' page. If you want the third/last box set for this series- or all three box sets- you should pledge your support for it now, since Anime Sols is funding this series' DVD release in a Kickstarter-like way.

Oniisama E is the first yuri-heavy TV series. It premiered in 1991, based on a manga by Rose of Versailles creator Ikeda Riyoko that ran in Margaret magazine in 1975. Now that it's been four years, I feel like taking the odyssey through the soapiness and knife-throwing and sparkliness that this series is known for again. I'm not sure how much I have to say about it, but I want to write my impressions while re-watching it. Not every re-review will be as long and detailed as this one, but here's what I have for this episode.

Being the first series starring an everygirl attending a fancy-dance girls' school brimming with lily-scented drama, this episode opens... not with its protagonist Nanako's perspective, but an introduction by someone else. This introduction sets up a mystery that will run parallel to the weird stuff that happens in Nanako's school life until we find out how much the two areas of her life are intertwoven.

One thing I really like about Oniisama E is how consistently well-rendered its characters are. I appreciate it more now that I can watch this series without the graininess of the VHS-ripped fansubs. The fact that this series was animated in the days of pre-digital animation and the amount of realism and detail the character designs have make the consistently on-model visuals of this show extra-impressive.

As I've noted with the Ace wo Nerae! (Aim for the Ace!) movie, Dezuka Osamu, this series' director seems to like using a similar soundtrack across his shoujo projects- Oniisama E and Ace wo Nerae! both sound a lot like Rose of Versailles. Even though one is a historical drama, one is a school drama, and one is a sports drama, the Dezuka shoujo signature soundtrack fits all of them well, I guess because of their other stylistic similarities, like the pretty watercolor stills. 

After the flashback introduction, we meet Nanako, poor innocent lamb, getting ready for her first day at Seiran Girls' School. 
Since I'm a former private school kid who thought school uniforms were boring instead of cute to wear back in the day, my inner 15 year-old was like, "Man, she lucked out," when Nanako was like, "Mom, Seiran doesn't make its students wear uniforms."
It's a nice detail in this show since it allows us to see the characters in a wider rotation of outfits, even though it makes them harder to cosplay. (Rei and Fukiko are the easiest to cosplay and be immediately recognizable as, I think.) Anyway, yeah, it's kind of refreshing that this series seems to think uniforms are boring too.

After we meet Nanako's parents who are full of secrets, Nanako runs off to school, meets with her best friend Tomoko, and we get a flashback about her family.
A lot happened when Nanako was five.

Nanako runs into a tall, dapper-looking girl named Rei, who saves Nanako from...uh...not getting off a bus quickly, in a kind of hilarious and wonderfully directed sequence.
In case you couldn't tell from my prolific recapping of this moment, I ship Nanako and Rei. Just don't forget that one of them dies and she isn't the protagonist.

Once we're at school, we meet Mariko, who isn't sketchy at all.
And shoujo Jesus Kaoru.
(Speaking sincerely, Kaoru is pretty great.)

And Fukiko, who wants to make everyone her bitch.
Like every other character above freshman age, she looks like she's in her twenties. She is the head of the Sorority, which is like an evil Yamayurikai. Kaoru openly hates the Sorority, but it's okay because so many girls lust after her that she's the only student Fukiko can't mess with. Rei has as many admirers as Kaoru,
but she is easier for Fukiko to manipulate for reasons I shouldn't spoil.
I like that Rei makes these girls swoon by being a flamboyant weirdo in a sharp suit. Rei's weirdness is what I like most about her, even though it's because she has issues.

And Kaoru is just super-cool. (She's playing basketball in the screenshot above.)

Later, Nanako sees Rei walking in the rain and has a babyqueer moment in her head.

Then some ominous interaction between these two.

Then a conversation between Takehiko, the guy who narrated the opening scene, and his friend whose name I forget, which will make more sense later.

Then we see Nanako readying for bed while narrating the letter she plans to write to Takehiko about her first day of school. Cue the ending theme, whose imagery, like the opening theme's, reinforces the point of this series being Nanako's coming of age.

And there you have the first episode of the first yuri anime series. If you have enjoyed anything set at a girls' school, any Girl Prince/Girly Girl couples, or just want to check out some darker shoujo, you should watch this. Just keep some tissues handy for the seventies-ness ahead.


Anonymous said...

Great retro-review! I really need to sit down and watch more of this series.

"The fact that this series was animated in the days of hand-drawn animation"

Just a minor complaint--most anime these days is *still* mostly hand-drawn, in pencils, the same way as the pre-digital era. The only difference is that anime before 1999 mostly used painted cels for the final coloring of the cleaned-up pencils (which were photocopied onto the acetate cels). These days, instead of photocopying pencils onto clear cels for painting, we now scan them and they are colored by the colorists on a computer in a manner not dissimilar to painting, but more forgiving for human error (undo button!) and without the required drying time.

So the process overall has not changed that much, although there is an increasing use of CG modelwork in anime (sometimes retraced to hide the fact when more front and center, but frequently relied on more for inanimate objects like machines and musical instruments, and for background crowds and such) that will likely continue until it can replace the hand-drawn character work outright in a mostly convincing manner, as it has in stuff like Arpeggio of Blue Steel and the upcoming Knights of Sidonia. Only time will tell if fans will call foul on this or not.

But for now CG anime is the exception to the rule...most character art is still "hand-drawn". If anything, the advent of HDTV has pushed for less skimping on character linework detail, and the digital coloring has allowed for the exploration of color palettes and gradients not very plausible in painted cel work.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Anon- Thank you! =) Even though this series is very seventies in some not-entirely-good ways, it is very good and worth watching.

And thanks for catching that! I know that most anime is still penciled out by by hand before being scanned and colored on computers, but didn't phrase it that well when I meant the entire process was done without the aid of a computer, so it should be "traditional" or "pre-digital" rather than "hand-drawn." I didn't know that about Arpeggio of Blue Steel or Knights of Sidonia, though, and do find that aspect of their production interesting, even though I'm curmudgeonly and don't want anime to be completely CG-ed.

Liz said...

I've been reading your blog for a while and I just wanted to say keep up the great work. Dear Brother is one of my all time favorite Yuri series and I love your in depth look at it!

Katherine Hanson said...

@Liz- Thank you so much! I'm glad you like my blog and this recap. =)

Jolly Jumper said...

*Dezaki Osamu 出﨑 統