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.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 23

This episode opens with a flashback to the lake incident before showing Mariko, back to school from the holiday, reciting Matthew Arnold's "Requiescat" in English class. I should clarify here that the summer holiday they took wasn't full-time summer vacation, just an extra-long weekend because of their school's founding anniversary.

Mariko and Kaoru both look towards Nanako's empty seat. Nanako is faking a fever to avoid going to school.

Fukiko approaches Tomoko and Mariko to ask about Nanako's absence, and gets the sick excuse from them. The contrast between the facade she's presenting to Nanako's friends and what she's capable of makes her blacked out face of doom creepier than normal here.
As Fukiko walks away, we see what at first looks like her remembering what happened at the lake, shot from a third person perspective as we saw it before. It turns out to be Nanako having a nightmare about it. She isn't physically ill, but she's clearly feeling what happened.

Tomoko brings her some cake after school, and they go down to the beach on Nanako's request. Tomoko is like "Oho, I figured you were faking it", and Nanako gives her an omamori she brought back from the trip as a souvenir.

Tomoko asks if something happened on the trip because of Fukiko asking after Nanako today. Nanako plays it off as a perfectly delightful trip, but Tomoko can tell something is amiss.
She doesn't press her about it, though, and they race each other along the beach.

When Nanako gets home, her mom lets her know she's got a call from Fukiko, since Fukiko is nothing if not persistent. Nanako has the least surprising look ever
and her mom is like "What's wrong?", but she's like "Nothing, I'll take it in my room." (If you're wondering why Nanako isn't busted here, it's because she told her mom her fever was lowering earlier in the day.)

Back in her room, she stares at her phone like it's a hissing cockroach before taking it. Fukiko asks her about how she's feeling. After Nanako lies that her fever's gone down, Fukiko is like
She then asks if Nanako stayed home because of what happened on the trip, and after Nanako says no, issues a very Fukiko "apology", complete with her recent penchant for rose destruction.
Fukiko also lets her know that at today's Sorority meeting, it was decided that the first-year Sorority members would basically serve as staff at her birthday party. In case you couldn't tell almost being drowned was traumatic for Nanako, this scene hammers it home pretty clearly.
As you can see, there's some train imagery here- the warning sound and lights used at train crossings, which cast a glow on both Nanako and Fukiko as they talk, presumably to symbolize the fact that Fukiko's a dangerous bitch. The slanted camera angles used here also underline the uneasiness in this scene.

Here I take a break to eat a kouign-amann from Crumble & Flake. It's so fucking good. (My girlfriend Amy: "It's like bread candy.")

To answer your question, gentle reader, about why Nanako doesn't just tell off Fukiko for being a horrible bitch: Fukiko frightens her, as evidenced by her physical reaction to interacting with her. Most crucially, I think, Fukiko also gaslit her in this scene and right after the near-drowning, making it seem like, contrary to how Nanako might have interpreted it, the near-drowning wasn't a violent assault, just a prank- or at least, that Fukiko has a story that can contradict anything Nanako says otherwise. "Why doesn't Nanako switch schools?" Easier said than done at this point in the school year and it would still unfairly punish her in a way. I'm not saying Nanako should stay at Seiran with all this bullshit, just why I can see why she reacts like she does.

Amy also adds "Oniisama E is like sad Glee with no music", what with the heightened-ness and the utter ineffectiveness of its adult authority figures. Oniisama E's writing is too consistent to be too similar to Glee, though.

The next day at a café, Mariko and Nanako are having tea and Mariko's like "So, what are you getting Our Lady and Savior Fukiko for her birthday?" Apparently getting Fukiko a great birthday present is to Sorority members what the Hunger Games are to the citizens of Panem.

Since Fukiko loves red roses, Mariko plans on buying her enough red roses to sink a ship.

Later, Nanako and Tomoko window-shop a fancy jewelry store. For once a brand is referenced in anime without its name being changed.
It is missing the "& Co.", but normally it would have its spelling changed to "Sniffany" or something like that. Tomoko is like "You're not thinking of buying Fukiko something from here, are you?" and Nanako's like "lol like I can afford it." Nanako pulls Tomoko behind a corner because the Sorority's Lady... I shit you not, Lady Medusa, is exiting the shop, clearly a regular patron who just bought Fukiko something there.

Nanako keeps looking for jewelry she can afford, and Tomoko suggests that instead of focusing on cost, she give a gift that only she could give, like her fabulous cookies. Nanako doesn't want to repeat what she gave Mariko, but hey, if it's good enough for her friend, it's good enough for the asshole who almost drowned her.

The next morning, Rei bring flowers to her mother's grave for the anniversary of her death.
Fukiko shows up with flowers and prays in front of the grave also,
and Rei gives us confirmation that after her mom died, the Ichinomiyas gave her her apartment and an allowance. She thanks Fukiko and Fukiko is like "No worries, it's nothing, we do share a father." It's an unusually pleasant, functional moment between them, and Fukiko invites Rei to come to her birthday party, for once with no ulterior motives.

Oniisama E being what it is, you know this party won't go off without a hitch, though. The scene transition music knows it, also.

At the party, Fukiko sits as guests present her with gifts one-by-one. There's even some kneeling, in case the queen-receiving-tribute aspect wasn't clear.
She gets a diamond necklace from Medusa and her favorite French perfume from someone else among her gifts, before Mariko demonstrates how serious she is about her gift idea, giving her eighteen hundred roses because she's turning eighteen.

Nanako is embarrassed by her homemade cookies and their lack of exorbitance. Nonetheless, Fukiko seems happy with them. I assume Maria-sama ga Miteru's Oyuki Konno had this scene in mind when she wrote the birthday gift scene in Maria-sama ga Miteru: Vacation of the Lambs--where Yumi had to give Sachiko's grandma a birthday gift in front of a party of rich assholes and pleased her with a simple gift, a song she sang.

Apparently this was just the Sorority-only portion of the party. More people are arriving in thirty minutes, and first-years are to prepare the reception room by then. After guests arrive, the first-years take up their positions hostessing and serving food and drinks.
I guess one could argue that my college dorm's traditions of A) each first-year serving a Senior at the Senior Banquet at the end of each school year, and B) rolling in the tea service for Friday tea once in the school year are similar to this, but I do think this is annoying in a way my dorm traditions weren't (owning that, yeah, I'm biased) because 1) my dorm traditions dictated that it was no biggie if a first-year declined to participate, and 2) it's a bit different to ask your kouhai in a school organization to help you with a school tradition vs a personal event. This event isn't some horrible trauma for the first-years, but how full of yourself do you have to be to be like "Yo freshmen, come to my house so you can staff my birthday party."

Takehiko and Takashi arrive, and Nanako, apparently not heeding Fukiko's desire for her to have no communication with Takehiko, walks right up to greet and thank them for hosting her and her friends at the university festival. When someone knocks into Nanako, causing her to spill a drink on Takehiko's suit, she starts trying to clean it with a handkerchief, causing Fukiko to glare and walk over to send her away for more drinks. It's kind of like Cinderella, if Cinderella's stepmother wanted the Prince and Cinderella was more interested in a chick. Apparently Takehiko showing up is a surprise, and he unwittingly gives Fukiko the most lesbian of flowers.
It would be sweet how moved she is by this gift if she weren't generally such a raging dick about her crush.

Nanako gets some more drinks and comes across Rei.
They exchange pleasantries, and Rei teases her a little (a good sign that, despite the failed confession, she still genuinely likes Nanako, since she otherwise only acts that way with Kaoru) before being swarmed by fangirls. They ask her to play a song for Fukiko and yell like Rei just promised each of them a car when she agrees.
Rei starts playing the piece Nanako remembers Fukiko playing at the villa, to the delight of everyone,
until Fukiko slashes the strings of Rei's violin with a knife before running upstairs to her room. A very alarmed and confused Rei follows, being like "Fukiko-sama!" Rei stands outside Fukiko's room asking why she acted like that, and Fukiko tells her she hates that piece, despite her regularly playing it.

Like I said, Rei can't win. Fukiko tells Rei she never really wanted her to come, and Rei starts crying.

Despite Takashi's game attempt at making the party still work, the guests leave, since there's no recovering from a party's hostess acting like a homicidal five year-old. Takashi offers Mariko a ride home and Takehiko starts to walk Nanako home, but Mariko has Nanako walk home with her. Rei walks alone, un-umbrella-ed in the rain, Nanako and Mariko find the events of the evening too shocking and weird to talk about,
and the lesson from Oniisama E, dear reader, is that birthdays always end horribly.

Fukiko also burns Nanako's cookies and Takehiko's flowers in a furnace, so I guess she's starting to get pissed at him as well for his culpability in... uh, pleasantly interacting with Nanako.

Next episode, Rei asks Takashi if there's a story behind Fukiko's actions, and we get the whole enchilada.