Vrai, Mercedez, Chiaki, and special guest Diana begin their watchalong of the quintessential anime melodrama, Dear Brother!
Date Recorded: February 6th, 2022
Hosts: Vrai, Mercedez, and Chiaki
0:02:34 Epilepsy and content warnings
0:06:00 Licensing issues
0:10:51 Riyoko Ikeda
0:16:00 Diana’s anime origin story
0:18:52 The European boarding school phenomena
0:22:43 Nanako and Tomoko
0:36:18 Queer subtext (for its period)
0:38:08 Use of flower language
0:42:14 Sorority culture
0:49:55 Rich people are awful
0:52:31 Teenage drama
0:57:15 Also Henmi
CHIAKI: Hey Vrai, I’m not sure how we can talk a whole hour on this, much less spend multiple episodes on “Dear Sister.” I mean, Andy Samberg is funny, and it probably is the best and most memorable skit they’ve ever done, but…
VRAI: Chiaki, I think you watched the wrong show.
CHIAKI: Aw, shit!
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast and the beginning of our watchalong of the Riyoko Ikeda series Dear Brother. My name is Vrai Kaiser. I am the managing content editor at Anime Feminist. You can find the stuff I freelance on my Twitter @WriterVrai, or you can find the other podcast I cohost, that is on semi-hiatus for life reasons, @trashpod. Because this series is so much, we actually have three cohosts: Mercedez, Chiaki, and our very special guest, who will introduce herself last, I guess—you know, for the floor.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah! My name’s Mercedez. I am a staff editor here at Anime Feminist, as well as a light novel editor. I’ve made it, y’all! And I also freelance as a journalist for the Anime News Network. And… You know what? I think that’s it. You can find me at @pixelatedlenses on Twitter, where I talk about stuff and I show off my very good food.
CHIAKI: And I’m Chiaki Hirai, one of the editors for AniFem as well. I work as a journalist in my day job, but you can find me at @Chiaki747 or @AnimatedEmpress on Twitter. My main is locked, but more people follow me on there for some reason.
VRAI: And special guest, would you like to introduce yourself as our expert?
DIANA: Hi, I’m Diana. I’m on Twitter as @silencedrowns. And I am not actually from Anime Feminist, but I happen to know a lot of people there and I do love Riyoko Ikeda stuff. I am a hobby cosplayer and current wig commissioner. And I happen to have seen Dear Brother multiple times, which none of the Anime Feminist staff has, so hello, I am your expert. Nice to meet you.
CHIAKI: Thank you for being here.
VRAI: [Chuckles] We are extremely grateful for your guidance.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Very. Very.
VRAI: Thank you. Now, as mentioned, this is Dear Brother, which is Ikeda’s second-most famous work. A lot of you at home are probably slightly more familiar with the Rose of Versailles, maybe one of the single most influential shoujo manga ever penned.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh, this is the Rose of Versailles lady!
CHIAKI: That’s what I generally know her for.
VRAI: Yes, yes. Exactly that reaction!
MERCEDEZ: Look, y’all, I’ve never read it.
CHIAKI: Me neither.
MERCEDEZ: Does it have an anime? Sorry. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: I think so.
VRAI: It does. It does. Someday we’ll do that. Someday. Yes. And as a quick warning to everybody at home, I wanted to say off the top that if you’re watching along with us for this one, Dear Brother is known for getting into some extremely heavy content, and at least for the first seven episodes, which is what we watched today, it includes a lot of bullying of the main heroine as part of the plot, including some pretty serious suicide baiting, and also some issues with flashing lights, which, Diana, you were going to talk about more in specific.
DIANA: Yes. I happen to both love vintage anime and have photosensitive migraine, which is a very fun combination, let me tell you. And I will say, I don’t think the first seven episodes of Dear Brother are nearly as severe as episode 10, is one of the ones that I found much worse. I would compare the level of flashing lights in the earlier stuff to: if you’re fine watching Evangelion in a brightly lit room, you will be okay with this. There are some bits but I consider them pretty mild. It’s episode 10 that’s the one that you’re gonna want to watch for. I would also like to add as the expert that I think it’s worth knowing going in that the content warnings for this series are so much—like Berserk “so much,” except without the assault.
CHIAKI: Definitely, definitely a lot because I’m somebody that went through bullying throughout my childhood and I kind of went into this completely blind, so [it] was kind of a surprise for me hitting some of those story points.
MERCEDEZ: I definitely did not expect the level of bullying, because I didn’t do really a lot of research into this before I watched either because I wanted to expect… But it is definitely a bullying-forward show and quite brutal in its depiction without necessarily being gory, just very brutal in like… Oh, Nanako… Oh, you sweet child.
DIANA: Yeah. I would say that most of the content warnings in this series are more of the emotional stuff. I think it’s worth pointing out early on without specifics that there will be [a] content warning for drug use, which [in] the first seven episodes you do see the very beginning of, but there will be more of this content. And if that is something you cannot handle at all, you will need to be very careful with the series.
MERCEDEZ: Mm. That’s really good to know.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Noted.
VRAI: That is good to know. Now, generally, if this is your first time listening to one of our watchalongs, our format is that we have one person who is an expert, as you can tell, and the rest of the members of the podcast are experiencing the show for the first time. Our general policy, unless we try to give you some advance notice, like we just did or talk about it in vague terms, is that spoilers for anything we’ve watched for a given episode are fair game and we won’t mention—including our expert—anything that we haven’t come up on yet without getting you a heads-up. So, normally, we try to pick series that are available on streaming because then, if you want, you all can keep up with us.
In fact, that is kind of the reason that we are doing Dear Brother now rather than starting with something like Rose of Versailles or Lady Oscar… because last summer I was chatting with Daryl Surat of Discotek, who currently holds the Blu-ray license to Dear Brother, and he happened to mention to me that because Ikeda is sort of legendarily weird about licensing issues and extremely very personally involved with approvals and that kind of thing, they were only able to get the Dear Brother license for a short period of time. The number he mentioned to me was about a year, but I don’t know when that year is counted for. And so we decided that we really wanted to get on this because this is such—
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh, I gotta get that Blu-ray. I gotta get that Blu-ray!
VRAI: Yeah, yeah! You gotta get it now!
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh God, I gotta get it now!
VRAI: We are not being paid by Discotek. I just think this show’s really interesting, and I didn’t want to miss our chance to talk about it before it was no longer legally available because I have been waiting to watch this series since I noticed that Rightstuf had done a very, very limited thin-pack release of it almost, I think, a decade ago now, where just for years they had a single sad DVD of the second half of the series that taunted me. And that was very sad.
DIANA: Yeah, most of the Riyoko Ikeda shows, when they go out of print, you are going to have a devil of a time finding them secondhand because the sort of people who pick them up are not the sort of people who are going to want to resell them. I would say, if you have any interest in this series at all to the point you might consider getting it on Blu-ray, get it now! You can always resell it later, probably for a profit!
VRAI: And Discotek titles do go on sale pretty frequently.
MERCEDEZ: I’m opening Rightstuf after we finish recording.
CHIAKI: I think I got mine for like 20% off.
DIANA: [crosstalk] Yeah, I managed to get mine on sale.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] I’ll pay full price!
VRAI: Yeah, mine was, I think, about 25 bucks because they had it on an incredible sale.
DIANA: Yeah, I think that’s about what I paid for it.
MERCEDEZ: Look, for Mariko, any price. Any.
DIANA: Oh, Mariko!
VRAI: Amazing. So, for those of you who are listening to this without watching the show because you want to hear about it but maybe don’t want to experience the more dramatic and intense content firsthand, a very brief, potted summary is that this is the story of high schooler Misonoo Nanako, who is starting her very first year of high school at the prestigious Seiran Girls Academy. And all of this is framed through her writing letters to her “dear brother,” who is not actually her brother. He is a teacher at cram school that she asked if she could write letters to, and there is a whole thing with that.
But when she gets to the school, she learns that there is an elite and beautiful Sorority, who every year selects a number of prestigious girls within the school into that Sorority. And if accepted, then their world is opened up to this world of parties and influence and basically your life is made. And even though she had no desire to go for one of those spots, she somehow manages to find herself a newfound member of the Sorority, which makes her a target for a lot of the girls at the school. And that is the basic premise. Also, there is a lot of drama and fallout with the previous generation of her upperclassmen that she is trying to piece the pieces together of.
DIANA: There is so much drama. This series is peak drama.
VRAI: It is so much! Diana, would you be so kind as to give the folks at home a little bit of a snapshot picture of who Ikeda is and why her work is such a big deal? Or any of you, really. I feel like all of you know a bit about Ikeda.
DIANA: I can start out with a little bit. Riyoko Ikeda is a classic, classic manga author whose most famous works from the ‘70s are still pretty darn well known today. Back in 2019, I went to a convention in Italy, where her stuff has been especially popular, and the amount of stuff I saw with Lady Oscar on it was surprisingly high. I can’t think of anything that’s been that popular for that long. Her work is also particularly known not just for her beautiful artwork but for the fact that a lot of the themes that she chose to write on, she was one of the first authors to really go into them. And therefore, if you read her stuff or watch the animated adaptations, you get to kind of see the template that later shows were working off of. She really got in hardcore to things about peak drama of course, but also, she has a lot of themes about exploring gender roles in ways that seem almost eerily prescient from a modern perspective. If you watch Rose of Versailles and Dear Brother, suddenly Utena makes more sense.
VRAI: Yeah, so, to touch on Utena in specific, I’m going to continually remind myself not to belabor that point too much because neither Chiaki nor Mercedez have actually seen Utena. I keep trying to convince them, listeners.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Proudly. Proudly have not.
VRAI: Save your comments now.
MERCEDEZ: I want to correct things and say that I agreed and said I would. So you convinced me.
VRAI: It’s true. No, you’re right. You are not the problem. It’s me desperately trying to convince Chiaki to give up on her major Twitter joke of spitefully never having seen Utena.
CHIAKI: I’ve seen the first three episodes. Does that count?
VRAI: But yes, if you are watching at home and you have already seen Utena, you will notice things from the broader sense, like archetypal characters who are like “Ah, this person reminds me of Juri and this one is a bit like Nanami,” and to the very specific… The episode 1 basketball scene is pretty much recreated shot for shot from Dear Brother to Utena. So there is a lot of very deliberate homage in terms of this school system full of secrets and very high-intensity relationships. This show is kind of a key to understanding the influence and the shape of that later anime. Which is interesting because this is a manga from the ‘70s but not adapted into an anime until 1991.
DIANA: I would also like to add that the ‘70s manga, while it is not legally available in English, it is available in several other languages and it is both significantly shorter and, believe it or not, I feel it to be an entirely inferior version of what happened with the anime. By expanding the anime to such a much larger length, the story is given more room to breathe and you get to feel all of the emotional beats so much more. The manga is amazing, but it goes at such a breakneck speed that you can just read all the very few volumes in an afternoon and just sit there like, “Well, that was a lot of emotions.”
MERCEDEZ: That’s what I said about puberty, too. “Well, that was a lot of emotions.”
VRAI: There are some things I’ve heard about the differences in the ending between the manga and the anime that left me with a raised eyebrow, but we will not discuss that until such time as it is relevant.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Save the spoilies. [Chuckles]
VRAI: [Laughs] Yeah, and speaking of Ikeda in English, it is actually quite recent that any of her stuff has been out at all. We finally did get the Udon edition of Rose of Versailles. Although, snap that up because, again, Ikeda works tend to be out in English for short periods of time. And actually, my experience with Ikeda before this was almost exclusively with her short story Claudine, which is a short manga out through Seven Seas about a trans man named Claude, and it’s quite sympathetic for having come out in the ‘70s. It ends in tragedy and suicide because that was sort of the expectation of the thing, but it’s a very humanized portrait for the time when it was written, and it really stuck with me. I actually meant to ask all of you how much you’ve interfaced with classic shoujo, either Ikeda in specific or classic shoujo in general, before coming to this series.
MERCEDEZ: I’m gonna be real: not a lot.
DIANA: The story of how I found out about Ikeda is absolutely wild. So if you want to hear that, I can tell you.
VRAI: Tell us the thing.
DIANA: It includes encountering a volume of manga which I have found staff on Anime News Network speculating before that it might be mythical and never existed. Back in eighth grade, I picked up Utena, which, um… Please do not let your eighth graders watch Utena; hey are not ready for it. And I was a big fan. However, I also was in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my mother, who was a teacher, was sponsoring the anime club. This becomes relevant because one of her students, when I was getting into Utena, was like, “Oh! A family friend of mine”—I think it was her godfather—“worked hard on translating a manga that was really influential for Utena. Would you like to read it?” And therefore, that is how I got loaned a copy of the mythical Frederik Schodt Rose of Versailles volume 1 and 2, which until recently most people didn’t even know the second volume happened. And so, I was like 14, 15, reading that and that was one of my early favorite manga, and so, yeah, I grew up on Rose of Versailles, which is not very common for an English speaker.
MERCEDEZ: That’s pretty cool!
CHIAKI: Definitely a Bay Area story, given Fred’s uncle…
VRAI: That’s wild.
CHIAKI: [Chuckling] Friend’s uncle…
DIANA: I improved my skill at reading French specifically to read imported Rose of Versailles volumes.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] I love it.
VRAI: That’s dedication.
CHIAKI: I’m much less interesting, by the way.
VRAI: Nah, nah, nah.
CHIAKI: As far as my interest in Ikeda, I mean, she’s just part of the general manga culture. I know her name. I know that Rose of Versailles—BeruBara in Japanese—is super, super well known. Even my mom knows it, and she doesn’t even read manga for the most part and was like, “Oh, yeah, that person.” So, I know it by name but I never actually had the opportunity to read it. And the same goes for most classic shoujo for me. Never really had a major interest in it, but I did read Princess Knight, I do own Heart of Thomas, several other classic works, but mostly because I know them as classic works rather than in my own personal interest to read.
VRAI: That puts us in something of an interesting position for what I wanted to talk about next, because as somebody who is by no means an expert on classic shoujo but does have kind of an interest in it, at least the relatively small amounts of what was out in English… My partner introduced me to From Eroica with Love, which I love dearly.
DIANA: [crosstalk] Oh, yes! Hell yes!
VRAI: I’m so sad that you could never ever make it into an anime now, even if Aoike were to die. It’s way too outdated. [Laughs]
DIANA: Not to mention the legal issues with the character design. Once someone told me about that, I just lost it.
VRAI: Listen, Robert Plant is dead. It’s fine.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God.
VRAI: I also have Heart of Thomas and The Poe Clan, and I’ve read a bunch of Hagio’s stuff that’s out in English. And I keep pestering Seven Seas to translate Kaze to Ki no Uta. Please? Please, God, please. So what struck me with all of those, leading into Dear Brother, is how Dear Brother keeps up the tradition of early shoujo that deals particularly with controversial themes in general and with any kind of engaging with queerness in particular, is that it kind of needs to set it in either a completely European setting—stories like Heart of Thomas and Kaze to Ki no Uta love to take place in European boarding schools, so it’s an over-there kind of thing that you’re staring at as an outsider enjoying this very other, beautiful dream—or once we get into Dear Brother, it’s got a very European aesthetic for a lot of these characters and just the general style. So I wondered if you guys picked up on that kind of thing or had thoughts about it in general.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s very fascinating because this show sets itself in this really interesting liminal space of… it is definitely Japan; it’s very, very clearly Japan until you cross the boundary of the school. And then you go into this kind of other world that deals with sororities and these very Western, in particular obviously very English-influenced, aspects of culture. And it kind of creates a space where it’s all right for these certain power dynamics, these certain engagements with different power dynamics, these certain engagements with sexuality and identity and gender… It makes it okay to happen. Because if this was just Seiran Public School Number 5, oh…
MERCEDEZ: This would not be happening. This would not be happening. But because it’s this academy that has created and cultured this specific space, these young women and these girls are allowed to live this almost… you know, like they stepped into the fairy ring and got transported to another world kind of life—if they’re chosen to go through that, because you have Tomoko, who… Sis just in the cooking club. [Chuckles]
DIANA: I love Tomoko.
MERCEDEZ: I do too. She’s a great girl.
VRAI: Oh, poor Tomoko.
CHIAKI: Tomoko’s like the one normal kid, right?
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Tomoko’s just here to get an education.
CHIAKI: She’s there to remind the audience that everything here is just fucked up in some way or another.
MERCEDEZ: She’s a great foil to Mariko.
DIANA: She’s the one that you wish were your friend in real life.
VRAI: I do really appreciate Tomoko’s presence, because in general this show is… well, I’ve heard it pinpointed as one of the major precursors to the Class S genre in a modern sense before Maria-sama kind of re-kickstarted that subgenre. So I’m here for all of that, the deeply, deeply homoerotic longings. So into that! But I really enjoy that, also, you have the relationship between Nanako and Tomoko, which is just a more straightforward platonic friendship story. I like that it contains both of those, rather than…
MERCEDEZ: It makes the drama actually feel much more realistic, because it is kind of grounded in the fact that Nanako and Tomoko are these outsiders who did not grow up in the Seiran Academy kind of environment, did not grow up affluent. Nanako is very much a middle-class Japanese girl enjoying the economic boom. She’s… I think. Oh, no, maybe she’s not. My understanding… Who knows? We’re only seven episodes in, but she’s just kind of a normal girl. And Tomoko is just kind of a normal girl. I don’t think they’re gonna be normal girls in the end. But for right now, they’re just kind of chill. And it makes the moments… I’m thinking of when the kenzan incident happens, which is just so dramatic… It makes those moments feel really grounded in a weird way, even though they’re bigger-than-life drama.
CHIAKI: Can I just take a moment to say, if you’re watching the Blu-ray version, they call it the spiky frog?
MERCEDEZ: [Laughs] I literally yeeted my soul out of my body.
DIANA: I had to google what a spiky frog was, but luckily I came across a bunch of things saying “Spiky frog, ikebana,” and I’m like, “Oh, it’s that!”
CHIAKI: Yeah, I know what it is. I know what it is. But as far as anything you can translate it to, I know it’s the correct translation but you’re wrong.
MERCEDEZ: You would never call a kenzan a spiky frog. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: That is incredibly…
DIANA: Apparently if you’re trying to buy one online from English-speaking websites, they often are called that. Which I had no idea. I just knew it as the ikebana thing.
CHIAKI: No! Just call it a kenzan!
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] No! Kenzan, they did you dirty! They did you dirty, kenzan. You don’t deserve that, babe. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Okay, but my partner was losing her shit during that bit because she watched it with me. And that’s a fairly common tool in crafts like felting as well. So she was like, “Yeah, that’s gonna hurt your hand, but it’s not that big a deal.”
MERCEDEZ: No, no, no. I will say, as someone trained in Japanese flower arrangement, you drop a kenzan on it, yeah, that’s gonna actually happen because they’re sharp and they tend to be rusted. It is Tetanus Shot City.
CHIAKI: Oh yeah.
VRAI: Oh. Oh!
MERCEDEZ: Because they’re constantly in water when you do ikebana, right?
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Right.
MERCEDEZ: So, as someone who owns like eight of them, yeah. No, no, Nanako’s scream that we heard three times? That was not overreacting.
DIANA: I have one as well…
VRAI: Fair enough!
DIANA: And yeah, it is this old, rusty hunk of super sharp metal, and I am actually somewhat afraid of it—before this series!
MERCEDEZ: Nanako’s scream that we heard three times was so on point, because I was like, “Yeah, same.” If that kenzan, if that spiky frog got you, you’d certainly be spiked. Oh my god, spiky…
VRAI: That whole moment, it’s such a turning point of these first seven episodes, and it’s such a thing of… Okay, it’s a real thing, but also it’s deeply overdramatic in how many times we see that scene replayed, and also the screaming, and also there’s this stuff that I assume will continue to be woven through of feminine tools of violence and feminine violence in terms of emotional interactions in this girls’ space.
MERCEDEZ: Which I actually am looking forward to, because I like that Dear Brother heard the term “weaponized femininity” and was like, “What if it was an actual look?”
MERCEDEZ: “What if it was an actual spiky frog? What if we maybe give Mariko a knife one day!” I hope Mariko gets a knife.
CHIAKI: Oh no.
MERCEDEZ: [Snapping fingers with every word] Want some weaponized femininity from her!
CHIAKI: [Sighs] But I feel like some of that is also just a trick in the industry, right? You try to keep down costs in animation. Dear Brother’s animation is beautiful, by the way. Just everything about it, the look and feel is just so good, period. And…
DIANA: It is absolutely peak Dezaki, and I say this as a compliment. This is one of his masterworks.
CHIAKI: Mm-hm. But I noticed that a lot of the shots are repeated, a lot of the tricks of the trade are used to save on having to draw new scenes over and over again.
VRAI: Yeah, absolutely. For those at home who may not be aware, this was directed by Dezaki Osamu, who is a really, really big name in the second half of the 20th century as an anime director. He made Ashita no Joe. He did a lot of work on Lupin III and Astro Boy and just so many big titles… the back half of the Rose of Versailles anime. So it was a big deal for him to direct this. And yeah, watching this anime, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh my God! This is how you make limited resources and limited animation look really good and stylish!”
MERCEDEZ: When I compare to my other most recent watchalong, His and Her Circumstances [Editor’s Note: This will be released after the Dear Brother watchalong] where they also repeated a lot of… things… [Chuckles] If you’re going to have to repeat stills, this is what I want, these lush, beautiful… I didn’t mind hearing Nanako scream three times, though it was very jarring because it came out of nowhere and I was like, “Sis! Calm down. It’s just a spiky frog.”
VRAI: [Chuckles] No, no one in this series calms down ever. Everything is emotion.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] I love it. It’s so good.
DIANA: I think it’s worth telling people who might not have seen it that if you have ever seen a ‘90s anime aesthetic tweet, you have seen pictures from this series. Mariko is the number one anime aesthetic girl from Tumblr. She is inescapable. She is beautiful and a legend. But you have seen just pictures of her eyes or her hair blowing. She is everywhere. You watch this and you go, “Oh, that’s where all of these are from!”
VRAI: Do you all want to take a moment to talk about Mariko? Because the girl is a mess. And I don’t support her but I do love her!
MERCEDEZ: Yes, Mariko, queen!
CHIAKI: No, I think she’s a mess but I support her.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, I’m very…
VRAI: No, fair.
MERCEDEZ: I think Mariko can do no wrong. I think she’s perfect. I like her red thumbnails.
DIANA: [crosstalk] She is a troubled gay mess and I want nothing but the best for her.
MERCEDEZ: She constantly kabedons Nanako. Mariko was ahead of “kabedon” becoming a global term. This child, every time she sees Nanako, is like, “Nanako-chan! Sis, what’s up! Look at my red thumbnails. I’m so great.” I mean, just great. She yeets a girl at some point, almost. It’s just so good! Love Mariko. Number one stan.
DIANA: I feel like it doesn’t matter how many things she does technically wrong. It’s hard not to like her anyway because there’s just something about how she’s written and portrayed that makes you want better for her than what the series already gives her.
MERCEDEZ: Look, Mariko could murder someone and I would still be like, “She was probably justified.”
VRAI: I tweeted this, but I would like to put it out in audio format as well. I desperately hope that after this series became a thing that queer women in Japan started flagging with red thumbnails. I very hope.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] You mean like your truly is doing today?
DIANA: Seriously, though: the hair, the lips, everything. She is just the most aesthetic character of all time.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] She’s so good. That purple dress!
CHIAKI: The fact that she bites her lips to make them look redder?
MERCEDEZ: That’s queer culture.
VRAI: This series is obviously so steeped in girls staring sadly at each other. But Mariko is such a particular relatable, being closeted and queer in high school, where you make your really close best friend and you’re just going to friend so aggressively hard that, I don’t know, maybe I fall in love with you. I don’t know. Maybe you’ll just be so good at being friend and so supportive and… I don’t know.
CHIAKI: What if we were both girls and we held hands?
MERCEDEZ: And you can tell everybody is into Mariko. When Nanako describes her lips as lips moistened like glittering wet grapes, I was like, wow!
DIANA: This might be a good time to mention that back a long time ago when this was fansub only, there was an old guide for that I’d googled up that had a list of content warnings, and one of the content warnings was, and I quote directly, lesbianism.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. God, that’s great.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Content warning: lesbianism.
VRAI: I suppose it’s accurate. It’s an accurate statement.
MERCEDEZ: Between everything Mariko does and Rei popping the crunchiest Tic Tacs all the time… Every single time Rei pops them pills, it sounds like a Tic Tac bottle rattling one around. It’s good. It’s just good.
CHIAKI: By the way, by the way, as I said, I came into this series totally, absolutely, completely blind, right? Did not realize Rei was a girl—or, well, queer, genderqueer maybe, I don’t know, but biologically a woman. I did not realize that this was an all-girls school going in. I thought this was actually about a theater club in a school because of how fucking over the top it seemed, and I was proven extremely wrong as I watched the first and second episodes.
DIANA: I just want to congratulate Riyoko Ikeda for the galaxy-brain and correct decision, after writing Rose of Versailles, to go, “Wow, Oscar and André were great character designs. Let’s use them again!”
MERCEDEZ: Oh my gosh.
VRAI: I know, right?
MERCEDEZ: That’s funny.
VRAI: Yeah, because Kaoru and Rei are just Oscar and André!
MERCEDEZ: I’m not gonna lie. I thought Rei was a teacher because I was like, “What student owns a three-piece tuxedo?”
VRAI: This beautiful icon!
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] God!
DIANA: You ever see something and you just know that the creator designed an adult but then was like, “Oh, wait, this series is set in high school. They are conveniently now 17, wink-wink, because Rei…”
VRAI: I also am now extremely primed for Rei to die tragically, because if I just reach over and take Claudine off my shelf, I will tell you that Claude also looks exactly like Oscar and both of them die tragically. So Ikeda likes to kill her blondes!
MERCEDEZ: Rei’s not making it to episode 24. Rei gon’ die. Rei gon’ die. Yeah, Rei’s gonna die of, like, sadness and too many Tic Tacs. Rei’s gon’ die.
MERCEDEZ: Rei’s gon’ die!
VRAI: By the way, something I went down a Google rabbit hole about… you know, the poem that Rei is muttering to herself during the clocktower episode. I went to look it up, and obviously, the show then made me feel very sad for wasting my efforts because it went ahead and told us what the actual title of the poem was, which is… you know. But the author that she’s quoting is Paul Verlaine, who, for the purposes of this series, is a choice pick, because he was known as a prominent member of the Decadent movement. Ha-ha, joke goes here. But also, he was what was known as a Symbolist. So he was working at a time for poets where they had to work in abstract terms because they couldn’t talk about their subject matter directly, which is pretty apropos for a series dealing so intimately with queerness and also the anxieties of girl adolescence.
MERCEDEZ: I am just waiting. I’m waiting for Nanako to be like “Dear brother, today…” [Laughs] “I looked up ‘lesbian’ in the dictionary, and my picture was next to it.”
MERCEDEZ: “And hoo, let me tell you: what a revelation!” Oh my God. [Laughs] God, the symbolism. Just dripping!
VRAI: It’s so… As I was watching this, I was just left with the overpowering question for a reader in the ‘70s or a viewer in 1991: is it supposed to be any kind of twist that Rei is clearly deeply, deeply, deeply in love with the Sorority president Fukiko?
MERCEDEZ: I think so.
CHIAKI: I think in the ‘90s edition, probably. I’m not sure about the manga because I haven’t read it. But given how fast it is, is it?
DIANA: I’d say it’s pretty obvious that there is some sort of deep emotional connection, even if you’re not a modern viewer. There is something going on there.
MERCEDEZ: I think modernity in the conversations we have with queer culture and with, in specific, sapphic romance nowadays is literally a world apart. And I do think if I had read it at the time as an adult or even an older teen, it would have been something of a [Gasps] “Oh my gosh” kind of twist, whereas this time, I was like, “Oh. Okay. I get it. It’s gay.”
VRAI: I want to say it would be obvious, but then I remember the 1990s and the infamous story about the dubbing of Utena, and then I’m like, “Oh. No, maybe not.”
DIANA: [crosstalk] Oh, Lord!
MERCEDEZ: And if you think of a real-world example… I know she’s contentious these days for certain reasons, but if you think about Ellen, people in the ‘90s looked at her and were like, “Yeah, she’s straight.”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, this was a twist. This was a twist back then, for sure.
VRAI: You know what? That’s fair. This is a real Liberace situation!
DIANA: By the way, I think it’s worth pointing out, because the beginnings of it have started in the first seven episodes, that… I highly recommend everybody pay attention to specifically the flowers that get shown very prominently on screen and look up Japanese flower language, because there is a lot of symbolism about the relationships that are hidden via flowers where they expect you to know what a certain flower would symbolize in specifically Japanese flower language. I had to look that up and I was shocked how much I missed by not paying attention to that.
VRAI: Oh no. I’m really bad at Japanese flower language in specific.
DIANA: Google is your friend.
VRAI: It’s like I’m watching a Yamada series all over again.
MERCEDEZ: It’s interesting because some of the stuff are things that I got taught with ikebana. So, some of the flowers, I was like, “Oh! Oh! Okay.” Dang. Such a good series, ain’t it?
DIANA: This series is odd in that at the same time that it’s like, “I’ve heard of subtext and it’s for cowards,” it’s also like, “What? Stating things clearly when I can put them under 12 layers of symbolism? Who does that?” It’s just like, “Hello, would you like to have every single possible way of conveying emotion all at the same time?”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s really genuinely quite interesting. Gosh, it leans both ways too. And it’s— Oh my gosh.
DIANA: I’m trying not to make a joke there.
MERCEDEZ: Whatever. Whatever.
MERCEDEZ: And I guess, too, that’s the thing… Do anime right now still do that?
CHIAKI: I think especially flower language in Japan has been sort of a dying motif.
MERCEDEZ: Unless you’re Wonder Egg Priority.
VRAI: Yeah, unless you are specifically a Yamada anime or an anime influenced by Yamada Naoko.
CHIAKI: Yeah, I think it’s very much a “I read classic to modern postwar literature” levels of understanding Japanese culture rather than the more modern pop variants.
DIANA: This is really one of those series that—and I can back this up from my own experience—you’ll be able to get more and more out of it every time you watch it, because there’s just so many layers of things going on that you’re guaranteed to at least miss one thing because you’re focusing on something else.
VRAI: Yeah, it is clearly doing a lot at every single moment, which I appreciate. I was discussing with my partner why we were both getting really into this—even though when I was watching Glass Mask for the podcast, which I very much enjoyed for what it was and my partner very did not—was the difference between them. And I found that something about this series is just so skilled at balancing that level of melodrama, so that at least for me there was a level of remove from the distressing content where I could consume it without it feeling like it was being too emotionally battering, but also I felt genuinely invested in the character dynamics and where things were going, and it’s also just over the top and sumptuous and decadent enough that it feels like this beautiful, majestic, slightly camp roller coaster.
MERCEDEZ: Mm! I think that’s a really good point. And I think, too, it helps, because it brings in these kinds of things that… Like, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an anime use sororities.
DIANA: I kind of wonder what—
VRAI: Yeah, I was going to—
DIANA: I kind of wonder what kind of sorority the creators had encountered because this doesn’t sound like what… [Chuckles]
VRAI: This was actually my question. So Mercedez, you grew up in Texas?
MERCEDEZ: [In a Southern accent] I sure did. Born and raised.
VRAI: So, do you have experience with sorority culture? Because my understanding is it is quite different in the South, even compared to the rest of America.
MERCEDEZ: I should say, I grew up in Texas, went to school in Missouri, which we all know is just still part of the South. But I will also say as a clarification, black sororities are very different than white/European-descending people sororities. However, I had a lot of friends in college who were in sororities, and they are very… I think a lot of female friendships are telegraphed through sapphicism. I don’t think it’s necessarily sexualized, or is it always queer? No. But I think female friendships in sororities… And I say “female” here because sororities tend… I hope not maybe anymore, but tend to be cis women. The intensity of what you’re doing is very curious to me because I remember sororities… I went to school in a very small town in Missouri called Fulton. I went to Westminster College, and it’s a college in a town of about 10,000 at the time I was there. So, sororities would go around serenading men. They would go and sing on the lawn for the fraternity, which is weird. But there were also these bonds and “Sorority before all else” was this thing that you would see. And you can see that certainly in clubs in high schools in Texas. If you’re in certain all-gender groups, there’s this expectation that they’re before all else. But I think when you get to Southern sororities, you have this kind of sisterhood and the sisterhood trumps all else. If you’re not in the sisterhood, you’re kind of excluded by proxy. And I feel like that’s really what they’re drawing on: you’re part of this exclusive group and you are expected to endure certain things because that is what sisterhood is. Just me guessing: this is what’s gonna drive Mariko to do some sororicide, because it’s…
MERCEDEZ: Because it’s this tight-knit bond that you’re also paying for, which is what’s always curious. And in Dear Brother they’re not paying to be in this. The payment is you just dedicate every ounce of your time. Whereas in real life, the payment in a lot of sororities is you are fiscally dedicating a certain chunk of money to them.
VRAI: Yeah. Because, well, I did not pledge and I am not Southern, but I have done a little bit of reading over the years on sorority culture. And I found that connection very interesting in regards to Dear Brother, because my understanding of it is, particularly in the South, A, you are expected to pledge, is my understanding. And once you graduate, it seems like going to a job interview and having your interviewer say, “Oh, where did you pledge?” is pretty common, and that level of connectivity is kind of expected in a way that it is not in Northern states.
MERCEDEZ: Right. And now, I can speak to this from… When it comes to like the Divine Nine, which is what black fraternities and sororities… That’s collectively what the nine main ones are called. My understanding is that if you’re a Delta, which is a female sorority, there’s certain recognition and it connects you to this network; you become part of this family. And I think that’s universal, if you take ethnicity and race and background out of it, that you’re connected to this family across the country. And I was one of, like, the 10% of people that didn’t pledge. A lot of people at least pledged. They may not get in, but a lot of people at my college hung out at frat houses. I didn’t. I was never comfortable at them. I also really didn’t drink. So I wasn’t part of that culture. But it is this thought that you join this kind of elite society that connects you for the rest of your life.
DIANA: My mother is very white and went to school in California…
DIANA: But even just as of recently, she was asking me to drive her to a lunch meeting with her sorority sister, who was just casually the mayor of a local city, because she didn’t want to deal with the parking there, and I understand this. But yeah, she talks about her sorority sisters, and I’m just like, “Oh, my God. It’s been so long, and you still have all of these bonds.”
CHIAKI: Yeah. That’ll happen.
VRAI: Yeah. So it can be this really beautiful lifelong thing for a lot of people, and it really opens doors for you that you don’t get if you don’t have access to this thing. And as I understand, it is quite prohibitively expensive.
MERCEDEZ: And also, there’s also the bullying aspect, right? And we see this in Dear Brother. Hazing is a very real thing. And I think hazing typically gets ascribed to fraternities, because that’s usually who are reported on news stories. You know, you’ll see stories like “Student Dies from Being Forced to Drink 50 Kajillion Gallons of Water.” Which, you know, dangerous. Not making lighthearted remarks about that.
CHIAKI: I mean, if anything, that’s what’s caused hazing to go down in the last ten or so years.
MERCEDEZ: Right. But sororities also can be quite vicious in a way, in a very different, psychological way. I have memories of… I lived with a roommate who was in a sorority. And them joking about “We’re just gonna take their clothes from them and they’re gonna streak,” and I was like, “That’s horrible. That’s not funny.” There’s these different, varying kinds of bullying. I hope no one makes any one streak on this show. Please don’t do that to Nanako. [Chuckles] But it’s just these levels of… There’s bullying that’s kind of intrinsic, and you kind of just take that as part of being able to access this part of society at this age. And I hope that wears off. I hope there’s not 30- and 40-year-old women bullying each other. That’s not nice. [Chuckles] But also, I’m an outsider to that culture, right? I very deliberately had zero interest in Greek life. Still do. Still don’t have any interest.
CHIAKI: I am a little concerned about Nanako getting into the Sorority, because she herself made a good point that she very well should have failed that entrance exam. Yet she made it in, and it’s really a mystery why she was chosen to be admitted. I’m just curious. Are they keeping her around as the simple girl who’s sort of the Sorority’s pet? Or what’s going on? I’m scared to find out.
VRAI: I’m really fascinated by the class dynamics going in because obviously Nanako is the quote-unquote “normal” student who’s transferred in among all these not just rich but connected peers, to the point where the fact that she is adopted becomes a pretty major scandal, and the fact that Mariko is so connected to her father being disgraced as somebody who writes erotica, or the fact that that is part of the insults that she trades with Misaki, who is our sort of archetypal ojou character here. It’s very interesting that these girls’ selfhoods become so shackled to these influential men in their life, all while they’re trying to vie for this ostensibly female sisterhood system. It’s really interesting.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Nanako definitely feels like the kind of girl that they’re keeping around because she is curiously middle class. But the downside to that is rich people be mean, y’all.
MERCEDEZ: Like, Housewives of Seiran Academy. This is not gonna be nice to Nanako. They are going to eat this child up.
DIANA: I have to say, I went to school in an incredibly rich area despite not being rich myself, and wow, some of this really plays true to that specific experience of being the normal-income person at a school full of fabulously wealthy people.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh no, did you have a friend like Mariko?
DIANA: Very specific types of bullying. Ooh boy.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] Oh no.
VRAI: Oh no. Oh no!
MERCEDEZ: That’s very sad. I’m so sad for Nanako now!
DIANA: To the point of being bullied for not wearing the right brand of clothes because it makes you look poor, and then you actually manage to save up for one of those and wear it, and then they start bullying you again for trying to be better than you are. It’s wonderful.
MERCEDEZ: God, rich people.
DIANA: Rich people are crazy.
VRAI: Eat them. Eat the rich! Anyway…
VRAI: Okay, but a momentary shoutout to Kaoru and her speech about the bourgeois and her hatred of the sorority system.
MERCEDEZ: So good.
DIANA: I love Kaoru.
VRAI: It’s good!
DIANA: Kaoru is a class traitor, and that’s wonderful.
MERCEDEZ: Can we talk about when Kaoru takes the trash and said, “Trash should go in the trash bins,” and threw it! [Laughs] I was like, “Oh my god, Kaoru! Don’t hit another student with the trash!” It was so good! Aya deserved it.
VRAI: Or do!
MERCEDEZ: It was absolutely deserved. But when Kaoru said, “Trash should go in trash bins,” I was like, “Oh my God!” Kaoru doesn’t care.
CHIAKI: Just constantly, though.
VRAI: Not even a little bit.
CHIAKI: Just constantly, though. It’s like, “I can hear her just fine! If you come right next to me, you can hear her!”
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] Oh my God. And wasn’t that followed up with Kaoru also yeeting a student into the teacher?
DIANA: I think it’s interesting—
VRAI: I love that they set Rei up to be seemingly the princely sort of character, but in fact, she’s too busy swanning about in a constant state of near-collapse.
MERCEDEZ: It’s them Tic Tacs. She got those extra minty ones. It’s taking her down.
VRAI: It’s so much!
DIANA: Mariko and Kaoru both have no chill, but in absolutely very different ways. They are both just at 100% all the time, just in very different ways.
MERCEDEZ: It’s great.
DIANA: Meanwhile, Rei is just collapsing on the ground like, “Oh, this is normal for me.”
CHIAKI: I mean, I’ve been in high school. I was probably the Rei in high school, so that’s fair.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh no.
VRAI: [Chuckles ruefully] Oh no!
MERCEDEZ: Oh no!
CHIAKI: “Leave me. I’m dying… It’s fine…” [Laughs]
VRAI: I love that Rei exists in the same series where the major inciting incident for this three-episode fight arc is “You canceled plans with me this weekend. Our friendship is over!” And I say that jokingly, but it is really… I can’t remember who said it off-call, but it is really beautiful how this series manages to capture how big and world-ending emotions seem in high school.
MERCEDEZ: I think that was Diana.
DIANA: Yeah, I said that. This series, even if some of the stuff is so over the top, it still feels so true to what it feels like to be a high school girl, especially if you were a little bit of an outsider. Just by exaggerating the drama to ridiculous extents, it still manages to be true to the emotions.
MERCEDEZ: Alternatively, this is what it was like if you were in high school band. We just need to give Nanako a trombone.
CHIAKI: I mean, as I said, as I said, going into this series, I thought this was about a high school drama club like they’re all part of the drama club and they were like…
MERCEDEZ: Could you imagine?
DIANA: I mean, is it really not a drama club, just for their different definition of drama?
MERCEDEZ: These are the theater kids that got really into acting 24/7.
CHIAKI: Method actors, all of them.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my gosh, it’s so good. It’s so good. God, I love this series.
VRAI: We are coming up on the hour. Does anybody want to throw out some predictions for our next batch? Because clearly this is a show where everything happens so much.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, yeah, I’ve got a prediction. Okay, our next batch, I think Mariko’s gonna do sororicide. Sticking with that. Mariko’s gonna get a knife. She’s gonna be like that TikTok. She is gonna hurt somebody. She’s gonna go over the edge. It’s gonna be great. Beautiful. Love it.
VRAI: You will still support her.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, yeah. 100%. She can’t do no wrong.
CHIAKI: Of course. I mean, Mariko could just kill somebody and we’ll be fine.
MERCEDEZ: She could stab me and I would be like, “It’s cool. I deserved it, Mariko.”
CHIAKI: Probably, yeah.
CHIAKI: But with Chekhov’s gun, Rei’s own knives, I’m expecting something to happen with those, eventually, hopefully.
MERCEDEZ: Mm, mm, mm-hm, mm-hm!
VRAI: Ah. Her angsty throwing knives. Yes. Good, good.
MERCEDEZ: So good.
DIANA: That’s just such an incredible scene.
VRAI: It’s really good. It’s really… Mm. I would like Kaoru and Rei to kiss and they won’t, so that’s on me just setting my expectations ahead of time. But they did give me feelings.
CHIAKI: By the way, we really neglected to even mention Henmi, the brother, the titular character of this.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, yeah!
CHIAKI: I feel like there’s stuff brewing.
VRAI: Oh, yeah. Henmi’s out there.
CHIAKI: I mean, I feel like there is something brewing with him, something more…
VRAI: I have heard content warnings for incest given in this series, so I have to assume that actually he double-secret is related to Nanako. There we go. That’s my prediction.
MERCEDEZ: You know what? I’m going to take a step further: he’s Nanako’s actual father!
CHIAKI: [skeptically] Uh…
VRAI: That would be quite… No, I’m pretty sure he’s the slightly older boy from the opening flashback.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, wait, never mind. Okay. Okay, can’t get that buckwild.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] It would be wild. Would be wild.
MERCEDEZ: I would not put it past this, though.
VRAI: Would be quite the twist. I’ll give it that.
CHIAKI: Time travel.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. If Dear Brother introduces time travel in the last half, I’m gonna lose it.
DIANA: This series is so wild that I’ve just been sitting here laughing quietly with my hand over my mouth so that the mic doesn’t pick up what specifically I’m losing my mind over.
VRAI: Incredible. Good. Oh, oh, I can’t wait. Oh, that’s the best. You know what? It’s fun to be on the other side of that exchange.
DIANA: The next seven episodes are so much. I’m so excited for you all.
MERCEDEZ: I cannot wait.
CHIAKI: Let’s go.
VRAI: Yes! Which brings us into… Even though this is a 39-episode series, we are trying to keep it to a fairly tidy five podcasts, for our guest’s time and so that we can hopefully get it all out before maybe the license expires this summer? We don’t know. With that in mind, for our second episode, we will be watching episodes 8 through 15. And by the way, because I didn’t mention it at the top of the episode, if you don’t have the Blu-ray, Dear Brother can currently be watched for free with ads on RetroCrush, which is very cool. I believe it may also be on Crunchyroll. I haven’t checked.
DIANA: It’s also on Peacock, which if you happen to have a subscription to that for some reason, or if (I don’t know) you’re leeching access to it off of a parent’s cable TV subscription (wink-wonk), it is on there as well.
VRAI: Just as a “for instance.” But yes, if this does sound interesting to you at all, uh, the time to get the Blu-ray is now.
DIANA: I’d also like to mention that I am not at all blaming RetroCrush or anybody, but most of the uploads of it on the legal streaming site have a few mild issues with subtitle timing, especially around episode 8, if I remember correctly. So I do recommend the Blu-ray both for image quality and for… it fixed the problem with subtitle timing.
VRAI: Good to know. All right, well, thank you so much for joining us, AniFam. If you liked this episode, you can find more of what we do on www.animefeminist.com, where we have more content on the page and in your earbuds. Or if you really liked what we did here, consider tossing us a dollar on Patreon. Every little bit really does help us to continue to pay our contributors and our editors and to be able to do things like provide transcripts for these episodes, which we are really committed to doing.
And we also, by the way, now have a shop that you can visit at animefeminist.com/store, where you can find cool designs from two artists Nico Neeks and our very own Teri, who was around for our initial 2019 Indiegogo campaign, if you remember that. There is a lot of very cute merch on there, from coffee mugs to shirts to stickers. It is a lot of good stuff. You can also find us on social media. We are on Tumblr at animefeminist, and we are on Twitter @AnimeFeminist. Thank you so much for joining us, AniFam. And remember next time to live dramatically, possibly up in a clocktower.
CHIAKI: Throwing knives.
MERCEDEZ: With some Tic Tacs!