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.