What They Say:
Seiran Girl’s High School’s sorority is the most prestigious social group on campus. When Nanako gets invited to join, it seems like a dream come true. But she will soon discover the cost of popularity…
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this release gives us the original Japanese language only in stereo and encoded at 256kbps. The series is one that’s pretty much dialogue based with nothing in what you would call the action area, but what it does is to use the music to create some bigger moments that come across well here. It pretty much goes big and full when some of these kick in and it definitely makes for a more engaging presentation because of it. The dialogue side of it is pretty much your standard forward soundstage mix where it’s largely center channel based for a lot of it but it all comes across in a very clean and clear way. It’s not a big mix but with what it wants to do, there’s plenty to like here and it’s free of problems like dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 1991, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This set contains thirteen episodes that are spread across two discs with six on the first and seven on the second. Animated by Tezuka Productions, the show has a pretty good look and is one that operates like a lot of older Tezuka adaptations in that it definitely feels like it’s manga lifted onto the screen in a lot of ways. t has that kind of classic coloring to it that gives it a soft but welcome look that helps to create the mood well. The transfer captures the look of the series well as there’s a good bit of detail to the hand drawn animation and the style of the layering which really gives it a distinctive feeling. The colors are good and there’s little in the way of noise throughout it, though the film grain is apparent. There’s little in the way of cross coloration to be had but there is some line noise in a number of sequences during some of the panning sequences. It’s not detrimental by any stretch of the imagination, but it is noticeable at times.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized keepcase that goes for a simple but decent approach. the front cover gives us the English logo across the top in a simple font of purple against while while the rest of the cover is shaded purple across it. The center is where all the good stuff is as we get a stained glass window piece with Nanako running through it in her standard outfit with a big smile that’s really appealing. The set number and episodes included are listed clearly along the bottom as well. The back cover goes with the same purple background and lays things out in blocks. The top provides a few shots from the show while the center has four blocks where it breaks down the episodes for each disc in two of them, the cast in the third and the main staff in the fourth. Add in a few shots along the bottom with a minor technical grid that doesn’t list enough information and you get about what you’d expect from a crowdfunded release. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works a simple but similarly decent approach where it has a split screen style to it done up in the full frame mode. The left side uses either the shade of maroon on the first disc or green on the second where we get the navigation selections, which is minimal since it’s just the show itself and the supporter credits to delve into. The first disc gives us a good look at Nanako along the right while second disc puts her together with Rei in a bit of a darker piece. The layout is easy to navigate since there’s not much here and it’s all serviceable and functional without any problems.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the three volume manga series Oniisama e… from Riyoko Ikeda that ran in 1975, Dear Brother is a thirty-nine episode series that was broadcast back in 1991. The series is one that has been sought after for years with the way it deals with so many situations in a harsh and truthful way but with a lot of style and atmosphere. Ikeda’s have had such a hard time making their way from Japan to here and finding an audience that each time something does land, you have to really savor it. With Rose of Versailles having made its way here last year and now this, it’s definitely great to finally get these kinds of properties, even if it’s decades after their first broadcast. Dear Brother is definitely different than Rose of Versailles to be sure, but you can see a lot of the style carrying over here and that adds to the appeal.
The series revolves primarily around Nanako Misonoh, a new freshman at the quite sought after Seiran High School for girls. With a lot of hope for fun and great times, she’s going there with her best friend from middle school, Tomoko, with plans to get involved in baking and other cooking classes as the two of them share a passion for that. Unfortunately for Nanako, she finds herself caught up in some bigger things from nearly the first moment she’s on campus as she gets pulled aside by Mariko, a dark haired freshman beauty herself, who pretty much forces herself on her as Nanako’s new best friend. So much so that over the first half of this set or so, we see numerous situations where Mariko comes between Nanako and Tomoko and creates a rift and fight that really puts the two girls through their paces. What makes it easier to happen is that as the girls learn about the Sorority system within the school with the elite of them being members and drawing in new candidates each year, Nanako herself finds that she’s become a candidate and can’t understand why as there’s nothing special about her.
And just being nominated sets so many other girls against her in a big way with all kinds of verbal bullying and even some physical as well, which truly makes it a dangerous situation for Nanako. Being pushed into these new areas that she wasn’t seeking or even thinking of creates a distance with Tomoko that Mariko, who is also nominated, uses to create a bigger wedge between them. Nanako also finds that Mariko is definitely a strong personality. While being drawn in by her a bit at the start, and with her looks, we see a good bit of how Mariko operates and she’s truly difficult to watch, but that’s because she has some serious issues going on at home that surface over it. While she does her best to make Nanako her friend, it gets really bad when she practically locks her in her own room in order to make her stay for a sleepover. There’s a spiraling out of control that goes on between the two over this set that’s fascinating and sad at the same time because you just want her to get help, but you also cringe at some of the honest and natural reactions Nanako has in just trying to stay away from her. Which in turn just makes Mariko worse.
While Nanako struggles with this storyline, there’s also the fact that she’s learning some of what it means to be in the Sorority, though she does try to get out of it at times because of everything that’s going on. The head of it, an upperclassman named Miya, has the kind of classic beauty that you’d expect out of this kind of show and its original time it was set in as she’s cool, refined and kind of distant. She’s intent on bringing Nanako in for reasons that are left unknown but she makes it clear that she wants her to be a part of it and will defend her in every way possible from any problems. What helps to reinforce that there may be a good reason for Miya’s interest in her is that Nanako’s family life is not the norm for the time as her parents were divorced and she has an older non-blood related brother that’s a teacher that she writes to and talks about her life to have a connection with. The details of this family dynamic with who is related to who and what their lives are like is left to the side, but there are some pretty intriguing hints about it along the way. Nanako’s home life is good and we see a good relationship between her and her brother the few times they meet in person, and we get a good look at the kind of respectful and close relationship that she forges with him through the writing.
With some difficult material definitely in play already, it goes the extra mile when it comes to using the character of Rei. While she’s very masculine looking in a lot of ways, she’s a dark soul who is struggling with so many things as she has a deep love that’s being rejected, enough so that we see that she’s been suicidal and comes across as still being that. Nanako has an idolization of Rei that starts early and the more that she knows about her, the more that Nanako wants to help and do something for her. Rei’s a difficult character to get a handle on in some ways because of the kind of brooding and flighty aspect, which is also balanced by her relationship with Kaoru, a young woman who also plays a kind of male role that is struggling with an illness that kept her out of most of her previous year of middle school. Nanako gets caught up in so many different things, drawn in without trying to be, that watching her cope with it is interesting but so much of it is just her being bounced around without really establishing herself. She’s forced to react and react to everything.
Dear Brother paints us a pretty grim series overall and there’s a lot to like and hate about it. With so many series from the last decade or two, and a lot of others earlier than that as well, definitely don’t play in these kinds of things. While we have young women with problems from time to time, I can’t remember any that featured suicidal characters or some of the other deep struggles being dealt with throughout this set. That makes this all the more engaging, even if it does get a bit melodramatic at times, because you know that there are real things at stake. Nanako isn’t just a cipher that we see the show through but rather someone whose emotions we follow as she has to deal with all these other variables. While she went into Seiran looking to have a good year, make new friends and spend time with Tomoko doing what they love, she’s just forced into more and more drama and can’t seem to escape it for reasons unknown.
While I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Ikeda’s works, they are a bit of an acquired taste both in style and pacing and the overall presentation of it. Dear Brother often feels like manga come to life with the way it structures things and it keeps to a very 70’s anime vibe with its designs and the style of how the animation is done with the backgrounds, the layering and the color design. Even when this landed in 1991 it would have stand out as not being like other shows and it does so even more now. But those differences are appealing since it usually feels like we’re in a sea of shows of similar style and quality but without any real challenges. Dear Brother is all challenges, all dark and difficult situations and so much in the way that can provide true engagement for the viewer. There’s a whole lot to like here, but it can be a difficult watch because of the material itself. It’s a rare anime that goes to the dark places and wants to explore it.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Anime Sols
Release Date: July 29th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.