Synopsis: When 16-year-old Nanako Misonoo enters the prestigious all-girls Seiran Academy, she believes a bright future awaits her. Instead, the unlucky girl finds herself dragged into a web of deceit, misery, and jealousy. On top of that, she is chosen as the newest inductee of the Sorority, an elite group whose members are the envy of the entire school. Having none of the grace, wealth, or talent of the other members, Nanako quickly draws the ire of her jealous classmates—especially the fierce Aya Misaki.
To cope with her increasingly difficult school life, Nanako recalls her days through letters to her former teacher, Takehiko Henmi, whom she affectionately calls “onii-sama” (big brother). She also finds comfort with her four closest friends: her childhood friend Tomoko Arikura, the sociable but erratic Mariko Shinobu, the troubled musician Rei Asaka, and the athletic tomboy Kaoru Orihara.
An impassioned drama about the hardships of bullying, Oniisama e… chronicles a young girl’s harsh life at her new school, as she endures cruel rumours, heartless classmates, and countless social trials.
First off, I don’t really like that last paragraph of the synopsis. Yeah, bullying plays a major role in this anime (especially in the early portions), but the synopsis kind of implies that this is mainly about bullying, and there’s so much more to Oniisama e… than that.
In case you’re wondering, the English title of this anime is Brother, Dear Brother, and it refers to the letters that the lead character, Nanako, sends to her pen pal/”brother”. I should mention right off the bat that Oniisama e… isn’t a pure yuri anime. There’s a het romance that eventually plays a major role in the story, as well as other instances of some of the girls fancying boys, so despite some similarities to yuri anime that followed such as Strawberry Panic, this show might elicit some groans from the diehard yuri faithful, and I’m sure the word “bait” will probably be used. However, that doesn’t mean this anime is low on yuri content, and compared to a show like MariMite, I’d say that Oniisama e… still comes out ahead in that regard, but more on that later.
Riyoko Ikeda is the mind behind Oniisama e…, and it that name sounds familiar to you, it’s because she’s also the person behind The Rose of Versailles, so that alone should be a good indicator that viewers are in good hands. On paper, this anime doesn’t seem all that different from other yuri(ish) anime, but it all comes down to execution, and that’s where I feel like this show separates itself a bit from similar anime.
Oniisama e… reminds me a lot of a soap opera, and that’s thanks to an incredible amount of drama throughout its thirty-nine episodes, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For the most part, I either didn’t feel like things were too melodramatic for me, or I simply enjoyed those chaotic moments too much to mind. I’m sure plenty of other people will feel differently about that, but for me, all of this interpersonal drama was fascinating to watch, and it seemed like there was always something happening to keep the story interesting and entertaining.
Truth be told, there were times during Strawberry Panic and MariMite that I was kind of bored. The stories of those two anime sometimes sludged along slowly, involved situations that were either uninteresting or underdeveloped, and it felt like much of what you were watching wouldn’t ultimately matter all that much. I don’t think any of that was the case with Oniisama e…. Situations that might feel rather commonplace were made more interesting, and I think that the entire setting and some of these situations were more relatable than what you’d find in similar anime like the previously mentioned Strawberry Panic and MariMite, even if they were sensationalized a bit.
Long story short, the story in Oniisama e… doesn’t break ground or do anything that hasn’t already been done a million times, yet this is a roller coaster of emotions that simply gives you many good reasons to care about all of these characters. So no matter who the focus was on, the compelling characters of this anime made sure that the story remained interesting and meaningful~
I liked that time is taken to tell the stories of all of the main characters, and it certainly helps that they all have their own major issues that they’re trying to work through. Underdeveloped characters are no stranger to yuri anime, but that’s not really a problem here. Once again, let’s compare this to Strawberry Panic. In SP, the two main couples get the lion’s share of the character development, and while you can add Yaya to the mix, what about Tamao? Or Chikaru? Or even Miyuki? Yeah, there are definitely more characters in SP, but I’m not a big fan of these girls just getting what little narrative scraps are leftover. Meanwhile, Oniisama e… characters like Mariko, Kaoru, and Rei are given their moments to shine, and at certain times, they almost feel like the main character themselves.
Here’s where I’m expected to talk about Nanako, the actual main protagonist, and while I definitely liked her, I’d rather talk about Mariko right now. Mariko was a really interesting character, and not just because she goes full yandere mode and threatens to kill Nanako (and herself) if Nanako doesn’t spend the night at her house. Early on, you get the impression that Mariko might be romantically interested in Nanako, but after her Yuno Gasai moment, their relationship changes to more of a standard friendship (weird as it is to say that). Later on, Mariko does end up crushing on another girl, so prepare for a little bit of romance. Oh, and did I mention that Mariko takes a blade and goes ham on another character? It was pretty awesome. I went back and forth between liking and disliking Mariko as a person, but as a character, I can’t deny that she’s pretty great.
Nanako and her clique were enjoyable, but it was the other girls that contributed even more to the drama, especially Fukiko, Kaoru, and Rei. It takes a little bit of time to really understand what’s going on with these three, but thanks to them, the story gets considerably heavier, not to mention a lot more complex. It was cool to see not one but two bifauxnen characters, Kaoru and Rei. A lot of the time, yuri anime will just provide one character like this, so having two was a welcome change. It also makes these girls prime targets for the affection of other girls, and in that regard, they do pretty well. Now’s the time to talk about how this anime may end up breaking your heart.
Earlier I mentioned how this is pretty much yuri bait, and while we see some real yuri romance vibes and girls having legitimate crushes on other girls, none of these potential yuri relationships gets a happy ending. In fact, one of the girls who was involved in a pairing actually ends up marrying a guy and having a baby, so you go from thinking that these two girls might become an item, to having those dreams blow up in your face. It wouldn’t be so bad if this was an isolated incident and another pairing fared better, but how do you have several yuri pairings, and not a single one of them ends up together in the end? That’s just wrong, and I expect plenty of disappointed/angry yuri fans to hate this anime as a result. It’s a shame that of all of the positive things that could be said of this anime, it’s the yuri bait card that will get played most often and ultimately be this anime’s legacy to a lot of people. Personally, I was disappointed, for sure, but since some girls really did have romantic feelings for another girl, I don’t think Oniisama e… should be treated quite as harshly as something like Hibike! Euphonium.
Moving on, I’ve already mentioned drama several times, and the synopsis mentions bullying, but the story involves other serious topics as well. Suicide is a topic that comes up several times in this series, and there are a staggering FIVE different characters that either attempt it or seriously consider it, with one character actually going through with it, so that should let you know that this anime goes all-in on the drama. In addition to that one character taking their own life, not all of the other characters live to see the end, and because I don’t want to spoil things, I’ll just leave it at that.
Of course, this anime can’t avoid the character stereotypes, but the drama was so over-the-top that I didn’t even really care. To me, it always felt like there was more to these characters than similar character types from other yuri/yuri-ish anime, so while Nagisa and Nanako seem similar enough, I thought that Nanako (and many of her cast mates) felt more like living, breathing people and less like your typical female stereotypes.
Something I really enjoyed was hearing Nanako’s narration. Nanako would often write letters to her “brother” where she’d explain many of the things going on in her life, and this was done through her narrating the contents of those letters. It was a clever touch that helped me understand her perspective a little better, and I think it added some added depth to her character. Instead of having to guess what she was thinking, she’d just say it outright in the letters, which makes the story easier to understand.
Another thing I really enjoyed was how much seemingly all of the characters were connected. In some form or fashion, almost all of them have a meaningful relationship with each other (for better or worse), so with all of this drama occurring, other characters were sometimes affected by what would happen to another character.
As nice as all of the character development was, this anime will live or die by how viewers react to the yuri bait-and-switch, and to many people, no amount of drama or well-constructed characters can make up for that. Still, I think the characters were pretty great, despite the mess that this anime created on the yuri front.
Despite being nearly thirty years old, I really like the art style used in this anime. The animation is fine, but it’s the art and character designs of this anime that I love, and compared to present-day anime, this just seems more artistic to me. A lot of the credit has to go to influential director Osamu Dezaki, who did a really great job here. There are countless shots that have a flair for the dramatic, and those pastel-chalked freeze frame shots that he popularized are used very extensively, and then on top of that, there are tons of repeat cuts that further accentuate these dramatic moments. I wasn’t really a fan of the repeat cuts, but the art in those freeze-frame shots was gorgeous, so I didn’t mind those too much. Anyway, you can tell a lot of care went into storyboarding and planning, and I’d say that all these different elements come together to make Oniisama e… look better than you might expect for such an old anime.
This was long before the moe movement, so “cute” is definitely not a word I’d use to describe the look of this show, and I like that. You’re not going to mistake any of these teenagers for young children, so teenagers generally look like how you’d imagine teenagers look, sans a super lanky character like Rei. This anime has a more adult vibe than a lot of other yuri or yuri-ish shows, and that comes across in the visuals. So this may be an old anime, but I think it still has an alluring look that I enjoyed a great deal, and it lives up to the term “classic”.
As for the music, it didn’t quite stand out to me like the art did (I am a more visual person, after all), yet it still manages to stand out, especially during the more dramatic moments that happen fairly often. Like the visuals, there’s an air of elegance to the music, and that ends up being a perfect fit for an anime such as this. Me talking about it is okay, but it’s better if you listen for yourself~
Overall, I was really surprised by how much I ended up liking Oniisama e…. Before Strawberry Panic or even Revolutionary Girl Utena, this anime set the groundwork for yuri anime that followed, and whatever your favorite yuri anime may be, there’s a pretty good chance that it was influenced a great deal by this one. For that reason alone, I’d recommend Oniisama e… to yuri fans, but it’s the compelling story that really drew me in and made me care about all of these characters so much.
That said, it all comes back to the yuri in this one. On their own, the yuri moments are pretty satisfying, but the het romance is bound to be a deal-breaker to many. Seemingly for the sake of drama, all of the potential yuri couples just dissolve, and that’s a pretty terrible way to have your anime be remembered. Story-wise, it all makes sense, but you have to ask yourself if things had to be like this. However, if you can manage to overlook this unfortunate series of events, I think this is an excellent anime that’s bound to be adored by all of the shoujo fans.
+ Really entertaining character-driven drama
+ Fully fleshed-out characters that it’s easy to get attached to
+ Doesn’t come off as pretentious as some other classic yuri anime (e.g., MariMite)
– Despite its reputation as a yuri anime, a few of the girls eventually show romantic interest in guys
– Might be too melodramatic for some people
– At 39 episodes, it’s on the lengthy side (like this review :P)