Vrai, Mercedez, Chiaki, and special guest Diana continue their watchalong with episodes 8-15 of the quintessential anime melodrama, Dear Brother!
Date Recorded: February 20th, 2022
Hosts: Vrai, Mercedez, and Chiaki
0:01:50 Mariko apologia
0:02:45 Content and photosensitivity warnings
0:04:32 Nanako and Tomoko
0:07:37 More Mariko apologia
0:17:38 Where is this school?
0:21:00 Flower language
0:23:54 Rei and Kaoru
0:33:44 The lover suicide
0:36:51 Freudian psychology
0:41:00 Why was Nanako chosen
0:42:06 The memes
0:47:16 Dear Brother as an LGBT work in the ‘70s
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast, and part two of our Dear Brother watchalong. This week we covered episodes 8 through 15.
My name is Vrai Kaiser. I am the managing content editor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter @WriterVrai, where I post my freelancing work, or you can find the podcast I cohost @trashpod. And with me once again today are Chiaki, Mercedez, and our special guest Diana! If y’all want to introduce yourselves.
MERCEDEZ: Hello, everyone! My name is Mercedez, and I am the Black sorority member at this school. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Okay, I wasn’t supposed to laugh. I was supposed to have a very serious opening. I’m a staff editor at Anime Feminist. [Chuckles] And you can find me @pixelatedlenses on Twitter, where I am exactly this level of silly and dramatic.
DIANA: Hi, I’m Diana. I am @silencedrowns on Twitter. I am here as a special guest because this series has eaten my brain and I enjoyed it. I am here to say: I don’t care how much awful things she does, Mariko is wonderful anyway.
VRAI: We’re opening with the Mariko Defense Squad.
MERCEDEZ: She did nothing wrong.
CHIAKI: She did a lot of things wrong.
DIANA: She did—
VRAI: She did some things wrong, y’all. Like, I love her…
DIANA: She did so much wrong, but in a way that makes me love her anyway.
MERCEDEZ: I do not like… She did nothing wrong. My child is perfect.
MERCEDEZ: Nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing wrong.
CHIAKI: She tried to kidnap somebody!
MERCEDEZ: Who in high school did not have the desire to…?
VRAI: Okay, but you didn’t do it!
MERCEDEZ: Nor did I have the desire, but I’m just saying.
MERCEDEZ: I’m just saying Mariko is a victim here.
VRAI: [Chuckles] [A victim] of the poor press!
CHIAKI: The culprit is society. Yes, I realize.
MERCEDEZ: Exactly. See, Chiaki gets me.
CHIAKI: I’m being facetious.
VRAI: [through laughter] Oh, God!
MERCEDEZ: And I’m going to pretend that you’re not! [Chuckles]
VRAI: Okay, before we… [Laughs] Before we get into it proper, I do want to do what I suspect is going to be an ongoing segment for this series where I do updated content warnings for this batch of episodes. So, in addition to the ones we mentioned in the first episode, this batch of episodes comes with new content warnings for pseudo-incest (in that it’s sort of “nebulously defined longing” in the same way that all of the lesbianism in this series can only be vaguely defined), disordered eating, drug use, self-harm, and general ableism that I think we will drill down into as we go—oh, as well as a romanticized discussion of suicide. I think that covers everything.
And Diana, you wanted to do a quick update about the photosensitivity issues.
DIANA: Yes. The worst photosensitivity issues in the series, as far as I can remember, take place in this batch during episodes 10 and 11. There are scenes outside with lightning and thunder, and they can get pretty awful. However, it is entirely viable, as I just tested this week, to, whenever you see the outdoor night shots where it looks like it’s going to be storming, just look away and then only look at the screen when audio is being spoken to read the subtitles. You should be fine, especially if you do that in a brightly lit room. There is almost no simultaneous talking and flashing.
VRAI: That’s really good to know. Thank you.
DIANA: I did not want the migraine that might have given me.
MERCEDEZ: Ooh, fair.
VRAI: No! No, that sounds like it would be bad actually.
So, do we start with the first Disaster Lesbian who finishes up her arc? It turns out I guess we’re just handing off the torch of “extremely intense women who have feelings about Nanako” over the course of this show! So, let’s start with Mariko.
VRAI: I… Girl, please! There’s so much!
MERCEDEZ: There is a lot happening here. There are, as they say, layers.
CHIAKI: Layers, you say?
VRAI: Actually, I guess to start at the end, I was really heartened how… On the one hand, it is a little bit hilarious to me that after they manage to make up, it’s just kind of like, “And this arc is over, and it’s fine now and she’s perfectly incorporated into the friend group.” But on the other hand, I do also really, really enjoy that Mariko and Tomoko seem to have become friends specifically, because Mariko deserves friends in addition to her way-too-intense crush. That’s nice!
CHIAKI: I think she’s been ignored her entire life, right? She’s never had a real friend. And therefore, yeah, seeing her with Tomoko is a positive thing. And I don’t know how Nanako can choose to forgive her and continue to be friends with her. But hey, you know what? Okay, she’s mellowed out at the end. I’m kinda glad.
MERCEDEZ: I think it’s because Nanako sees the good in literally everyone and is just like, “If I friend them hard enough, I can help them.” But Nanako sweetie… Nanako sweetie, you can’t do that to everyone.
VRAI: It’s extremely Protagonist Syndrome, but I actually do kind of like that scene where Nanako has that breakthrough of “Oh, man. Other people have shit, too. I never thought about that,” because that’s so real as a teenager, that ongoing process of learning to empathize with other people. And in Nanako’s case, maybe she forgives more than a real person in Real would do…
DIANA: I was thinking… This whole thing, I’m thinking about back in high school how many people I forgave when I shouldn’t, and I was just like, “Yeah, this seems about right.” So, um…
CHIAKI: I don’t know. I still hold grudges from high school.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my gosh.
VRAI: I take it they know what they did.
CHIAKI: Oh, they threatened my dog death.
VRAI: Yeah, no, that’s fair.
DIANA: That is fair.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Okay, anyway. [Laughs]
MERCEDEZ: Fair, fair. And I think there is something still really charming about Nanako being so naive. She’s definitely wisening up to the ways of the world and the dynamics of her school life, but it is kind of nice that she’s just actually a really sweet girl who has a deep sense of justice and wasn’t scared by her friend who had a bit of a moment—because, once again, Mariko did nothing wrong.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Yeah, a little moment.
MERCEDEZ: Just had a bit of an emotional… let’s call it disruption.
VRAI: Where she threatened to enact a murder-suicide…
MERCEDEZ: She didn’t want Nanako going out while it was raining! She didn’t want [her] to catch a cold!
CHIAKI: Let’s dial this back a bit. Let’s dial this back a bit. When did this start? She first realizes she’s angry at Nanako when she finds out she went to the movies with Tomoko.
MERCEDEZ: Fair, because she didn’t get invited.
CHIAKI: Yeah, and then goes home and rips up the cloth that she bought for home ec for her.
MERCEDEZ: Fair, because it has a bad memory attached to it. [Chuckles]
DIANA: I just have to say, I really wish they had gone a little more realistic with the sound effect of ripping cloth because it is such a nice noise! I feel cheated out of the actual noise.
CHIAKI: Oh, God.
MERCEDEZ: It sounded like Mariko was ripping some Dollar Tree gift wrap. It was really funny!
VRAI: And then in the most important moment of all—I think we can agree—Mariko does flip over a fully loaded table, despite being maybe 80 pounds soaking wet.
MERCEDEZ: I got up out of my desk chair—
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] And starving!
MERCEDEZ: I got up out of my desk chair like I was at the Super Bowl. [Chuckles] It was like, “Yes! Let this child flip tables!”
VRAI: I gotta say, there is a really good article on Okazu [Editor’s Note: linked article includes late-series spoilers] that I’ll include in the show notes where Erica Friedman did kind of a survey of the influence of Freudian thought and psychoanalysis generally on the yuri genre, and she namedrops Dear Brother specifically.
But boy, was I thinking about that when we got into stuff about Mariko’s… He’s not just disgraced as a pornographer; he’s an absent father. And she’s angry at her mom for not disciplining her. And I was like, “Ikeda, are you having thoughts about this girl’s unnatural desires and her lack of reliable parental figures? Are you just exploring that as a thought experiment?”
MERCEDEZ: And I mean obviously, okay, Mariko did do a little bad because she’s hurting. She’s hurting a lot.
VRAI: Genuinely I do feel a lot of empathy for her. But…
CHIAKI: [Hesitantly] Yeah…
MERCEDEZ: Does it excuse what she did? [reluctantly] I guess not.
MERCEDEZ: But yeah, there is a lot of empathy because she is at base a teenager who’s just really, really hurting and has no structure in her life. Her mother, who… I don’t know, I’m still not fully convinced it was her mother. At one point I was like, “Is this just a maid that her absent father pays to take care of her?” because they do not have a mother–daughter relationship. She has a mother who just pleases her. And her birthday was really sad, because ain’t nobody coming to that birthday at the Rose Room.
VRAI: [Moans sympathetically]
DIANA: It just absolutely hurts to see that scene.
MERCEDEZ: Mariko’s mother got a string quartet! [Chuckles]
VRAI: I will say, my partner has apparently been in Nanako’s position, and it is the most uncomfortable thing in the entire world where you get invited to a birthday party where you learn when you arrive that no one else was invited.
MERCEDEZ: Oh yeah, there’s nothing like that.
DIANA: That’s happened to me before. It is not fun.
MERCEDEZ: Bonus points, though: you get a real good goodie bag.
VRAI: So, and then Mariko decides to stop eating, which is extremely teenage.
MERCEDEZ: And this is one of those moments where it kind of made me flashback to teaching in Japan, because as a high school teacher I witnessed a lot of disordered eating. I witnessed students who would be like… I’d be like, “What did you have for breakfast? I had a bagel and a smoothie and cereal.” And they would be like, “I had natto and kimchi.” And I would be like, “You had… Pardon me, child who needs nutrients to grow?”
CHIAKI: Natto and kimchi is good.
MERCEDEZ: It is, but if you’re already eating very little, it’s not a lot for a growing body. I’m not gonna diss kimchi. I’ll diss natto. But it’s just one of those things of… You know, in summertime especially, you would see young female students on these crash diets, and of course, it would result in… at summer meetings or rallies for end of the year, at least one of them would pass out because they hadn’t had enough food.
Whereas I feel like it was often based on image, Mariko’s just on a hunger strike. And she is not gonna eat until Nanako says something.
CHIAKI: And the fact that she doesn’t even tell Nanako that she’s doing this…
VRAI: Is so much! Girl…
MERCEDEZ: She’s so ride or die.
DIANA: It feels so emotionally accurate, though, in a way. I don’t know. Not that necessarily everybody has done that, but the kind of big feelings that she’s having, yes, that is what being a teenager can feel like sometimes, just the smallest things making you feel like this is the end of the world.
VRAI: And I get the logic, even, of “If she really cared about me, she’ll notice that I look unwell and she’ll ask about it, and then she’ll have to talk to me.”
DIANA: My heart just breaks at the point where Nanako stops calling her and Mariko’s just sitting by the phone going, “Oh, I wish you had called me just one more time!” And I’m like, “Oh, baby. Baby, please!”
MERCEDEZ: That was perhaps the saddest thing: was when the phone rings once, and then she’s like, “Please, just one more time.” And you’re like, “Oh, no, that phone ain’t ringing again. That phone is absolutely not ringing again.” And it’s just brutal. It’s just really, really brutal, because you want it so badly, just one more time.
VRAI: Mm-hm. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on with food in this stretch of episodes in general, like food as a communal event, food as a healthy bonding thing. On the one hand, they have some pretty bullshit standard diet culture stuff for Nanako, but Tomoko is always really happy and well-adjusted and eats her food.
MERCEDEZ: Though I will say Tomoko did bust out the “Don’t you think we’re a little too much?” Girl!
VRAI: Girl. Please. No! But yeah, Mariko attempts to bring Nanako lunch when they’re fighting. She stops eating because that’s the way they interface together, and—
MERCEDEZ: She just leaves the lunch on the bleachers!
DIANA: [sadly] That’s not gonna work!
VRAI: She’s not gonna notice!
MERCEDEZ: So sad. [Chuckles]
VRAI: [Groans] Or the picnic basket that Nanako makes for Rei later on, too. That kind of thing, of food as caring, is so… They’re really building it in, starting with the cooking club stuff. It’s interesting because of how much this show also leans into these girls trying to form themselves to aspirational images, impossible images of femininity.
So, on the one hand, I feel really bad for Kaoru and I understand where she’s coming from. On the other hand, I do kind of half-expect her to suggest that I start doing yoga for my depression.
MERCEDEZ: Kaoru is very much so the person who, if Kaoru had a Twitter, would be like, “Have you drank eight glasses of water today?”
CHIAKI: I’m calling Kaoru the Pocari Sweat commercial of this series.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God! [Chuckles] Prince Pocari.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. Yeah, Kaoru definitely comes off like, you know, working it out, being an athlete’s gonna help. You gotta YOLO through the pain.
VRAI: It makes sense to me that she’s clearly come so close to dying so she’s like, “I’m going to appreciate every second of my life.” I assume she’s been told that she will die young. So she gets angry at other people who she thinks of as not disabled who aren’t appreciating what they have, because they are not sick like she is. And she is also a teenager who is learning to empathy, but also… Please? Ah!
CHIAKI: I can kind of see Kaoru’s mentality, though, because that is definitely a way people will respond to finding out, “Yeah, you’re probably not going to live long. You better do some exercise to keep your health up.” Generally, people who find out… this is for people who are older, but in their 30s and 40s, like, “Oh, yeah. You should actually start taking walks and not be so sedentary,” and then suddenly people are running marathons because they’re just like, “I just don’t want my heart to fail.” That really happens, technically.
VRAI: Oh, yeah. No, I fully understand that. I think she just gets judgy of other people because she’s angry about what’s happened to her, and also she’s a teenager.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. I just have to ask: where is the adult in this situation? [Chuckles] Because…
VRAI: Uh… No.
CHIAKI: The adult is the teacher who’s saying, “We had been digging in silence perhaps an hour and a half when the dog began to bark loudly.”
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. Between that and the scene where they’re talking about someone cutting the wheat with a scythe, I was just like…
CHIAKI: There’s all the adults.
VRAI: The Europe-ness of this section went up to 12. Yes, we are still technically in Japan, but it seems as though these students study nothing but European literature and history?
MERCEDEZ: And French. And German. At one point, I think someone was speaking in German. Or maybe that was French.
VRAI: It was French.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Sorry to all Western Europeans. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah, Rei speaks in French on and off, and lived on a French street, apparently.
DIANA: Her French is surprisingly not as terrible as you would expect for an anime. I’m impressed.
CHIAKI: Also, just so you know, it’s the apartment building is a French name. I think it was like La-mah-ser… mah-sell or something [Editor’s Note: Chiaki is reaching for “Marseille,” which is not the actual name of the building].
VRAI: Right, it’s the star building or something to that effect.
MERCEDEZ: It is the most French school—not French school—the most European school that these kids found in the city. And it is funny to an almost-takes-you-out-of-it degree, but this stuff could not happen at a Japanese public school! It kind of has to be this setting. It kind of adds to the drama! It’s very good.
CHIAKI: You know what I noticed, though? Nanako’s parents are aesthetically very Japanese looking. Her mom and dad both dress… not super traditional Japanese, but they dress in what in the time would be considered a typical Japanese dad, Japanese mom kind of look.
MERCEDEZ: Because her mom is almost always in a kimono.
DIANA: There’s some episodes where you feel like it’s all just super European, and then you get reminded that, oh, this actually is in Japan when you see Nanako’s mom.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s… What did Dee say in the work Slack? “This is the story of an average Japanese teenager who got isekai’d into a soap opera.”
MERCEDEZ: God. I want to know what the title of this one is.
VRAI: What’s interesting to me is, in addition to Nanako’s parents, there’s a lot of Japanese culture centered around Fukiko, too, which is interesting to me.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. Fukiko.
DIANA: [crosstalk] Oh, Fukiko.
VRAI: Yeah… Because when they’re doing the study session, Tomoko and Nanako talk about Shakespeare and they’re talking about Western lit, but during the study section, Fukiko specifically drills Nanako on Japanese poems and Ame-no-Kaguyama and the works of Ōtomo no Yakamochi—the “sonnet of spring” specifically.
And also, Diana, I would love if you could talk more about flower symbolism. I couldn’t tell if the flowers on Fukiko’s dress are meant to be chrysanthemums?
DIANA: They are chrysanthemums, yes.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, that’s interesting, because that’s… Ooh! Okay.
DIANA: Red chrysanthemums. Sometimes they’re red; sometimes they’re white. And it actually does tend to say something about how you should read the scene, depending on the color of the chrysanthemums on her skirt. And this will continue later into the series, so I would recommend keeping track of that.
MERCEDEZ: That’s really interesting.
DIANA: Also, later on, the flowers that Rei and Nanako have, those are sweet peas, and… oof!
VRAI: Right, because red sweet peas in ikebana language are for death, right?
DIANA: The colors of the sweet peas… It is not a particularly happy thing. If I remember correctly from the last time I had to look it up, it’s both innocence and also heartbreak.
VRAI: Right. Oh, for listeners at home, just to clarify, chrysanthemums are used as a symbol of the Japanese imperial family.
MERCEDEZ: I find it interesting because they’re never yellow. They’re always any color but yellow.
CHIAKI: Typically, purple for the royal family. Just putting it out there.
MERCEDEZ: Also, Fukiko has some hydrangeas going on, and that’s a sign. Mm.
CHIAKI: Mm-hm, mm-hm.
MERCEDEZ: Mm. Okay, sis.
VRAI: Explain for the listeners at home.
MERCEDEZ: So, hydrangeas can often be seen as a flower of pride, which is interesting when you consider that hydrangeas are actually kind of a fussy flower to grow. Hydrangeas change their color based on the acidity of the soil. So different acidity, different hydrangea colors. It’s a very common sight in Japan, especially during the rainy season, but they’re kind of a fickle flower in that way, because if you want a certain color, you really have to cultivate things very specifically—for all hydrangeas, regardless of where you live. But as a flower of pride, it kind of fits Fukiko, especially seeing how she treats her—dun-dun-dun!—sister later this episode.
VRAI: Rei was the first siscon. You’re welcome for that cursed thought!
CHIAKI: [Sighs deeply]
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God.
MERCEDEZ: Could’ve gone my entire life without ever having that thought, but now it’s just gonna live rent free. Just gonna live rent free.
VRAI: [Chuckles with satisfaction]
DIANA: [crosstalk] Thank you. Thank you for that one.
CHIAKI: “My Little Sister Can’t Be This Edgy.”
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. That’s a spinoff.
DIANA: This hurt.
VRAI: I spent a lot of this stretch of episodes wondering, “So, are we not meant to understand that Rei is chronically ill like Kaoru is and she’s just slowly neglecting herself to death?” Is that a distinction we are meant to draw?
MERCEDEZ: It felt like you were supposed to just draw the conclusion that Rei is just sick, but not a sick that you should have empathy for.
VRAI: Yeah. Boy, there’s a lot going on with ableism in this. Boy!
DIANA: Rei just refusing… I feel like it’s also just a thing with Rei being obviously quite mentally ill and just taking that out on everything about her surroundings and the way that she treats herself. There’s some stuff going on there.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yes. Yes, the stuff is where her sister is her domme and a bad domme.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I don’t like this dynamic. Someone safeword.
CHIAKI: I’m wondering if… Well, I guess Fukiko kinda understands the dynamic, huh. She’d have to at this point.
MERCEDEZ: I think it’s very evident by the end of… Oh God, what episode was it? All these episodes blend together in the most glorious way. When she basically is like… Oh, I think it’s episode 13. I think when Rei and Fukiko have that confrontation, it became evident to me. I was like, oh, she understands.
DIANA: Heck, this whole thing with leaving Rei under the tree, knowing that she was going to just stand there in the rain forever. That was just one of the most spectacularly cruel things.
VRAI: Listen, I would also not be jazzed if my sister was very romantically obsessed with me. Fair enough. But also, maybe you don’t try to passively kill her.
MERCEDEZ: Well, and that just feels like something maybe you talk out. Maybe you order pizza and you sit down and say, “Hey. Noticed you got a crush on me. It’s a lot. Let’s get therapy together.” You don’t leave your sister out in the rain! [Chuckles]
VRAI: To move into a lonely apartment with no electricity?
CHIAKI: And just mirrors.
VRAI: There was a line that I flagged up in like episode 8 that I have to assume is going to come around, because… boy, do I not like Fukiko right now, but I’ve watched this kind of show before and I have to assume we’re going to come around at the end of the show where she’s actually also very sad. She has some kind of line in episode 8 to Misaki, the ojou character, about “Don’t become a victim of your own manipulations,” and I’m just gonna flag that up right now as it’s going to come back in an ironic way.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, yeah, that’s gonna come back for sure. That’s a boomerang. Just waiting for it to come back.
CHIAKI: You know, Rei’s apartment is empty. Their fridge has nothing but expired frozen pizzas. My assessment is that Rei is a gamer.
MERCEDEZ: Rei’s just got Totino’s and no dreams. [Chuckles, then groans sadly]
VRAI: You know what? Well, Totino’s are the food of lesbians, so that does track.
MERCEDEZ: That explains a lot about me.
DIANA: Not to be too rude or anything here, but looking at Rei’s fridge and things, I’m just thinking, “Oh, no. This poor child has been living off of nothing but depression meals for God knows how long.”
MERCEDEZ: And it’s interesting because Rei is someone you should clearly so much sympathize with because they are using medicinal drugs as a way of coping, but in an unironic way Rei is still a character that today people have a lot of trouble sympathizing with, even in modern media.
DIANA: Yeah, it’s true.
MERCEDEZ: No one likes a character who is doing drugs but is not sympathetic in the right ways, whereas I look at Rei and I’m like, “Oh, my God, somebody please help this child! They are struggling.”
VRAI: Yeah, I’m fascinated with the depiction of the drugs because I know… Part of it may be down to Japan and the much higher taboo around drug usage, but I think part of that confusion I had with whether she has chronic illness or whether we’re meant to understand that she could be healthy if she’d just try and do some yoga, is a lot of what she takes are sedatives and pain pills and what sound like over-the-counter type things or things that would be used to ease pain.
So, how much of this is admonishing her for not doing healthy exercise things as opposed to relying on pills and all of that folded-in stuff? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to that. I’m just talking aloud.
DIANA: I don’t know. I find it difficult to do anything but feel just empathy and sorrow for Rei for having been obviously left behind by everybody and for being so obviously hurting that, despite all of the love, Rei can only focus on the hatred.
VRAI: Although I really feel for Kaoru, too, because she loves her!
DIANA: [crosstalk] Oh, God, yes.
VRAI: She does, and she’s angry because… She has her own health issues and obviously that is playing into it. But also, I can really sympathize with how scary it must be when you love someone and you’re doing everything to try and help them and it seems like the person you love doesn’t want to live and you aren’t worth continuing to live to them, apparently. That must be so hard!
DIANA: [crosstalk] It really must.
MERCEDEZ: Well, and I will say that’s the one thing that Dear Brother really hits on the head: the weird uneasy liminality of being a teenager dealing with having a friend who is just suicidal in a very… not in the kind of D.A.R.E. dangerous way of “They’re gonna jump!”, but in the way of they just don’t really like existing and existing is very hard for them, and having to confront [that], yeah, one day they might be gone.
And I think that’s a very real teenage thing that hasn’t really changed. It’s a very scary hard-to-know-what-to-do thing, especially when you yourself are also a teenager trying to figure out these very big existential questions while dealing with your own health.
Because Rei is someone who’s very much so in this constant liminal state of kind of almost unexisting. I think about that scene where Kaoru and Rei are talking to each other and Kaoru is just like, “Hey, throw the volleyball back down.” And the staging on it looking like Rei’s about to jump, and it turns out like they end up just kind of sitting, falling, half-sitting on the banister.
Rei is… Oh, protect Rei! You know what? Rei never did anything wrong. Forget Mariko; Rei didn’t do anything wrong.
CHIAKI: Thank you!
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Rei’s just hurting.
DIANA: Rei deserves—
MERCEDEZ: The real listeners know that I’m still here for Mariko, though.
DIANA: So many of this cast is just full of people who deserve better than what they have. They’re surrounded by all of this opulence, but what they really kind of need emotionally they’re lacking in, and by this point in the series I think it’s starting to feel like you’re seeing that the sheer splendid opulence of Sorority and the school are starting to feel a little bit more like a prison in some ways.
VRAI: All of the imagery from what I assume must have been purposeful… I keep trying to keep up with the literary references and, boy, am I not catching them all, but y’all, I’m trying, at home! The “Lady of Shalott” imagery in Rei’s dream hurt me in my heart.
DIANA: [sadly] Mm-hm.
VRAI: Which, for those of you who may or may not know, that’s an Alfred Tennyson poem from 1833 about a woman who weaves a loom, and she looks into a mirror and she’s all alone in this tower. And eventually she climbs down from the tower, gets in a boat filled with flowers, and when she floats beautifully into town, she’s dead when people finally encounter her.
MERCEDEZ: [sadly] Mm… Rei’s not making it through this series, are they?
CHIAKI: [skeptically] Mm…
MERCEDEZ: Oh no! [Chuckles sadly] So sad.
CHIAKI: I’d say “they’re here for a good time, not a long time,” but also—
VRAI: They’re not having a good time!
CHIAKI: They’re not having a good time!
MERCEDEZ: Not a good time at all. Not a good time at all. Though I will say, y’all, Rei put all their points into dexterity, because the way they were handling that knife during that scene? Ooh, geez!
MERCEDEZ: Oh no.
VRAI: So, does anybody want…? I have to assume we will be getting other renditions of the whole lover-suicide thing. Who’s got…? Who wants…? How would we…? Somebody.
VRAI: What happened there?
MERCEDEZ: It was actually a quite tragic scene, wasn’t it?
DIANA: I’m tapping out on this one… I can’t—
VRAI: Because of the spoilers!
DIANA: You will find out more about this, and I cannot tell you anything about how I feel about this without ruining it because I have more knowledge than you.
VRAI: Uh-huh. Yeah, no, I’ve watched an anime. This is so fractiously told that we will absolutely be getting another point-of-view that retextualizes it completely. But, like, ow!
MERCEDEZ: Big ow.
DIANA: I think that the end of every episode, where Nanako says, “Dear brother, the tears just won’t stop!” and I’m like, yes, that’s the audience watching this. We’re all just crying inside constantly.
VRAI: Mm-hm. And poor Rei is so genuinely not well. I would buy if this show wanted to turn it around on me and be like, “She had a psychotic episode and was a danger to herself and her sister,” because the clock tower scene just happened.
MERCEDEZ: It’s interesting because that scene very much so felt like someone who’s just hurting a lot, like someone who was hurting a lot had… and I don’t like the phrase “mental break.” It feels quite ableist to me and I don’t know a better term.
VRAI: Well, when I say “psychotic break,” I mean in the genuine medical sense!
MERCEDEZ: Right. Yeah, okay. Yeah, psychotic break. It hurts so much because you can sense… And I mean there is the fact that there is this pseudo-incestual layer to it, but Rei just really also very clearly loves their sibling and just really clearly wants their sibling to maybe like them and maybe pay a little bit attention.
And it’s just really sad because the yearning in Rei’s voice during that scene… Which, I just have to say, RetroCrush did not set the scene up well, because in the description of the episode, they do say that “Tormented, Rei retreats to the clock tower and takes too much drugs.”
VRAI: I suppose it’s not inaccurate…
DIANA: Like, that isn’t necessarily wrong, but…
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] First of all, RetroCrush, don’t give away the spoiler in the description. Second of all, that takes away a lot of nuance from, I think, what’s happening.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] “Too much drugs.”
VRAI: Going back to the Freud business, another thing that I… I’m not mad about it because this series is so old, but I am kind of fascinated by the sort of thing that tends to crop up in depictions of lesbian characters in older works where they are somehow confused or gone wrong or traumatized so that they are confusing sisterly affection with romantic affection. And I will be interested to see what the series does with that idea because it’s clearly stepping in that arena. And yuri has never stopped. Stop, yuri.
MERCEDEZ: And it’s always interesting to me because, y’all, I don’t have a sibling, but I’m gonna assume that this is just not something that happens.
VRAI: As someone with siblings, no!
MERCEDEZ: It’s the most baffling trope to me because I just… yeah.
VRAI: I get it insofar as I think it appeals to single children, where you have the fantasy of somebody who’s known you your whole life and is kind of duty-bound to always be close to you in theory. And I see where it comes from. But stop.
CHIAKI: But also, as an only child myself, no.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I mean, for real. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah! Yep, yep, yep. Yeah. To a certain extent, I would have some theoretical sympathy for Fukiko if she wasn’t, again, trying to kill her sister!
CHIAKI: [Hums nervously]
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, Fukiko’s not a nice sibling.
DIANA: Fukiko needs help. Everybody needs help!
CHIAKI: Everyone needs help. [Chuckles]
DIANA: Dear Brother but with everybody managing to go to therapy would be a very different series.
CHIAKI: We talk about drug use in Dear Brother with Rei, but can we also talk about the fact that all the girls are just drinking alcohol?
MERCEDEZ: They gettin’ slizzered! [Chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah, there’s so much alcohol!
DIANA: I think it’s interesting that the alcohol use almost always seems to be tied to the sort of scene where the girls are just trying to prove “Look, I am an adult. This is me being an adult.” And then it’s… [stutters briefly] Cut off me just going “The-the-the-buh-buh.” I’m sorry. My brain.
VRAI: No, no, no, I see what you mean, yeah.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s quite interesting. And I think the first time I really noticed it was, I think, when Nanako goes over to Mariko’s house and she’s like, “Oh, do you want some tea with brandy?” I was like…
CHIAKI: I can make you a Café Royale. Like, no!
MERCEDEZ: It’s like, what?! You all are children!
VRAI: It would be one thing to have a glass of wine at dinner. Again, very traipsing in European-ness. But yeah, the brandy, though!
DIANA: Please do not.
MERCEDEZ: Mariko should’ve just been like, “You want a hot toddy, kid?”
MERCEDEZ: It’s a lot! It’s a lot, but it is kind of playing into that “We are not young girls. We are young women and we are adults,” because alcohol is a marker of maturity. But also, none of these kids… Nah, none of these kids should be hitting the bottle. Uh-uh.
VRAI: Yeah, I have to wonder if Fukiko was drunk in that last scene that we watched in this batch, because that scene is so interesting.
DIANA: When Fukiko lets down any of the barriers, it is intense.
VRAI: Mm-hm. First of all, she hands over a lily, which I felt triumphant about because the term “yuri” was not coined until the early 2000s. But look, it’s a yonic flower. It’s a yonic flower, and here it is. And it is here associated with the work.
But yeah, that very interesting central mystery of “Why was Nanako chosen for the Sorority?” was… It’s one of those things where so much weird, intense stuff had happened, I’d almost forgotten about that. And now it’s a thing again.
MERCEDEZ: But it’s interesting because I feel like it’s such an Occam’s razor thing with why Nanako was probably chosen. It’s just that she’s a curious kid. She’s kind of hard to puzzle out in a way because Nanako is so benign that she is extraordinary in how normal she is.
CHIAKI: See, I watch The Blacklist on Netflix, and my thought is she has a past.
VRAI: [Laughs] That’s just James Spader tainting your brain with expectations.
VRAI: And his whole extremely fucky energy. My God, that man. Anyway, James Spader would be right at home in that kind of show.
DIANA: Entirely unrelated to any of this: did anybody else catch those few moments in this batch where you get to one or two of the scenes that are on every Tumblr aesthetic and you’re like, “Oh, it’s that shot!”
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yes.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Yes.
MERCEDEZ: There was a shot of—
VRAI: Yes, Mariko [audio cuts out] with some trees.
MERCEDEZ: There was a shot of Fukiko’s eyes that I was like, “Oh, I’ve seen that! I’ve seen that on the aesthetic blogs.”
CHIAKI: I’m still—
DIANA: There’s a closeup of Mariko’s eye that is the most popular aesthetic, and I was just like, “Oh, yes, here it is in context.” And Mariko in the bathtub, I have seen that scene with so many fake subtitles all over the internet.
MERCEDEZ: I personally think it’s really sad that Mariko suplexing a table is not more of a thing in the culture because that’s a good… That should be a reaction GIF. [Chuckles]
VRAI: This is a truly, incredibly memeable series, and I feel like some of them have perpetrated due to some hard work. Thank you, Steve Jones. I can’t wait till I see the context for “Be strong.” It’s gonna be beautiful, I’m sure.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Wait, wait. Wait a moment. Wait a moment. Is the series with that?
CHIAKI: Yeah, that’s what I’m waiting for!
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, it is!
DIANA: [crosstalk] Sure is!
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God! [Laughs] Oh my God, I didn’t realize that. Oh my God. I didn’t realize that.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] I mean, it’s fine. It’s fine because more people have known “Be strong” than the number of people who have watched the series.
VRAI: Absolutely, because it wasn’t available!
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. I am so hype. Is this also the one with the pigeon thing?
VRAI: No, that’s a different series. That’s another sentai series.
DIANA: [crosstalk] No, that’s an entirely different series.
MERCEDEZ: Dang it!
VRAI: Er, robot series.
MERCEDEZ: Okay, I’ll take the “Be strong.” I’ll take “Be strong.” Oh my God. Y’all.
DIANA: This is the most popular—
CHIAKI: The “Be strong” thing is…! Go ahead. Go ahead.
DIANA: This is the most popular series that almost nobody in the English-speaking community has seen.
CHIAKI: Yeah. I mean, the only reason why I’m watching it? “Be strong.”
MERCEDEZ: I’m so excited to get to that. Oh my God. [Chuckles]
VRAI: But then we’ll have to remember that Henmi exists again, and I don’t… Eh.
CHIAKI: I’m okay with that.
VRAI: [crosstalk] He’s out there.
CHIAKI: I’m okay with that.
VRAI: Eh. Eh. He’s fine.
VRAI: What haven’t we got a chance…? I want a shoutout to that scene where Nanako is being the most early ‘90s protagonist where she’s thinking about what good friends Kaoru and Rei seem like they are as the camera pans over them embracing naked. Which, of course, “Skinship is necessary to get her temperature back up” is, I assume, the Perfectly Reasonable Explanation for that.
And to the show’s credit, it’s like, “No, it seems like they have a really different relationship from me and Tomoko. I don’t know. Maybe it’s like destiny or something.” And I’m just over here like, “They seem like such good friends.”
MERCEDEZ: Oh, poor Nanako. [Chuckles]
VRAI: I am really touched, actually, by Nanako and Rei’s relationship. It’s very sweet.
MERCEDEZ: I kind of hope they date.
MERCEDEZ: I kind of hope they date. I think Rei deserves to be happy. Out of all the characters in this series, they deserve some happiness. [Chuckles] Please!
VRAI: I mean, very into the fact that we have the dandy character and the butch character dating each other. That does warm my heart.
MERCEDEZ: Mm. That’s good stuff.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I don’t know. I’m tracking as we go along how much the show is able to go up to the line in dealing with its queerness. And actually, kudos to it for being more overt about the positive relationships in Rei’s life versus where it continues to be deliberately muddy, I think, in terms of her very fucked-up devotion to Fukiko and where that came from and… Yeah.
DIANA: Speaking of that, one of the things I found interesting in this batch is that you can see the turning point for Mariko after the incredibly intense and messed-up stuff with Nanako when Kaoru starts doing something, when Kaoru starts talking with Mariko, and you’re just like, “Oh, okay. Mariko is now seeing what a healthy crush looks like. We got this.”
VRAI: Yeah! I’m so happy for her!
MERCEDEZ: That’s the beta ship. For sure. God, that’s such a good… That’s so good! Gosh!
VRAI: Oh, yeah. When Kaoru offered to help her study, I was like, “Yes! Yes, girl, you deserve this!”
MERCEDEZ: Mariko’s excitement about a healthy relationship was so refreshing, because girl needs a… Oh, she was so happy to study. So wonderful.
VRAI: And even the lover-suicide stuff I gave… I know this anime was made in the ‘90s, but as a ‘70s thing goes, that’s such a ‘70s “We’re trying to sneak in some positivity under the radar,” like, ah, they died, and then Nanako’s like, “Well, but they sounded like they were so happy and they loved each other so much,” and I’m like, “Oh. Oh, we’re trying to shift the… Aw.” I don’t know. It made me weirdly nostalgic. Which is fucked up, probably.
CHIAKI: Hey, it’s what I do all the time, right? With other tropes.
DIANA: I feel like a lot of this really does need to be taken in context. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with appreciating something that by modern standards has a lot of issues but in the context of its time was revolutionary.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Absolutely.
DIANA: And that’s how I feel about a lot of the things in this series.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s especially [interesting] as something that is time-shifted twice over for us as modern viewers: you know, a ‘70s manga made into a ‘90s anime watched in 2022. It’s really interesting.
MERCEDEZ: But I think it’s exactly that. And I think that there’s certainly critique to be made of tropes that at the time were still harmful, but I think sometimes it is all right to say this really meant a lot to people and acknowledge that it had a certain effect, and also say, “Ooh! Very fraught. There’s some problems here.” But I think a lot of the stuff I consumed as a teenager in high school… Like, I was really into Rent.
VRAI: [Laughs] Same. Same hat.
MERCEDEZ: And Rent, now from a 2022 perspective and from me as a 29-year-old, I’m like, “Oh, no, this is not… This is just not.” But to High School Me, it meant a lot because I didn’t have a lot of gay friends. I didn’t have a lot of queer friends. I didn’t have lesbian friends or trans friends. So it was kind of my first exposure to what life as not being straight could be like.
And like I said, very fraught, I think, now. But I also think it’s all right to like things that maybe don’t age well or have a degree of fraughtness but that also encourage you to be a better version of you or be a more earnest, true version of you, who you always were. Yeah.
VRAI: No, no, I think that’s nice. And I think this is something that we often come back to on the podcast with shoujo, right, where it seems like sometimes older shounen ages better than older shoujo. I think we talked about this a lot way back towards the beginning of this podcast when we covered Fushigi Yugi—which, boy, that may have aged worse than this series in some ways.
But it’s that thing of: okay, you can go back and watch old shounen and it doesn’t have stuff that leaps immediately out as an outdated thought, because it never tried in the first place. So, do we laud it for leaving discussion of these things out altogether versus shoujo, which is trying to be on the cutting edge and then immediately ages itself?
Chiaki, you were saying.
CHIAKI: I mean, when you look at One Piece, if anything, it’s gotten worse as time goes on.
DIANA: [Hums in recognition]
VRAI: True, true. True, true. You’re right.
VRAI: I guess I’m thinking of the really old Fist of the North Star stuff, where there is one female character.
DIANA: I love vintage sci-fi so much, so I’m just sitting here thinking about all the series where I’m like, “I love these girls. Please treat them better.” I don’t know. It makes me wish I didn’t like vintage sci-fi so much.
VRAI: It’s tough. And I don’t always want to deal with those outdated things, but it makes me feel a little bit protective when people bag harder on a show that at least tried. You know, there’s something to be said for that.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
DIANA: I feel like in this case, it might be just more of a thing about intent versus execution. I’m much more willing to give things leeway if you can tell that they were really done with the best possible intentions at the time.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, and I think it helps in Dear Brother’s case, for the sake of its longevity, that it’s so heightened. We’ve talked a lot about how relatable some of these emotions are—or to how it felt at the time—but also, also, Mariko flips a table and stops eating for five days and Rei carries daggers around and throws them at people.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And let’s be real: those aren’t great attributes. Those aren’t great at all.
VRAI: It gets so extra.
CHIAKI: Mercedez, you defend Mariko. I’m going to defend Rei. I think everyone should carry a couple of knives in their breast pocket.
DIANA: Especially if they’re such pretty knives.
MERCEDEZ: They’re good knives.
CHIAKI: They’re good knives.
MERCEDEZ: They’re good knives. You know what? That’s fair, that’s fair. I think I only go so hard for Mariko because I remember feeling very strongly in high school. And y’all, I don’t know if it’s good to say that I think I see some of myself in Mariko—my past self.
VRAI: Psh, I absolutely see my past self in Mariko. You’re good!
DIANA: Oh, same!
MERCEDEZ: I want to clarify—
CHIAKI: Oh, I absolutely see myself in Rei, so…
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I want to clarify: past self. Much more chill person now.
MERCEDEZ: Ah, it’s good stuff. God, I love anime.
VRAI: It’s good. And I am coming around to… Last time I said, “Maybe you should get this series if you’re kind of interested.” Now, I’m just gonna go ahead and say you should buy this series. You should go out and you should buy it.
MERCEDEZ: Oh yeah.
CHIAKI: It don’t stop.
DIANA: I keep tweeting that I’m like… If you think you can handle the content, get this; it is a masterpiece. You will not regret it, provided you can handle that the content warning level is set somewhere in between Utena and Berserk.
VRAI: Yep, that’s accurate!
VRAI: God, I can’t wait to get to the end of this series and someday make y’all watch Utena. Oh! The delight! The delight! Because, my God, I just can’t help but see Ikuhara sitting in the corner, taking notes.
DIANA: Oh, you haven’t even gotten to some of the parts that Utena very clearly cribbed from. And I say that with love.
MERCEDEZ: I will say, after watching like 15 episodes of this, I kinda can see why people like Utena. I don’t really know anything about it other than someone’s got pink hair; there’s a lot of roses; I think someone turns into a car at some point.
CHIAKI: That’s what I know.
VRAI: You’re not wrong.
MERCEDEZ: I can understand why people would find that appealing.
VRAI: Word. That’s a tantalizing glimpse of the future.
Let’s see. Is there anything that we haven’t covered over the course of this batch that y’all wanted to talk about?
CHIAKI: I’m wondering if Nanako’s slowly getting absorbed into this world.
DIANA: I think it’s interesting that this batch leaves off with Nanako admitting to that other girl whose name I am blanking on because I have issues…
DIANA: Thank you. ADHD time.
CHIAKI: It’s fine.
DIANA: But yeah, when she ends up saying, “Actually, I don’t really like the Sorority all that much,” it’s like Nanako both giving into the way that things feel but also being willing to admit that, no, some of this is in fact deeply screwed up.
VRAI: Uh-huh. Oh yeah, we didn’t even get into the whole expulsion plot and all of the stuff tied up into “It’s your fault for getting sick.”
MERCEDEZ: I was just about to say, that was such a brutal scene of “You can mail me your resignation within a week.”
VRAI: Oh my God.
MERCEDEZ: Sis got sick! And the fact that Nanako stands up for her? [Chuckles] It does nothing. It’s just like…
VRAI: Nanako’s a good girl!
DIANA: Nanako is such a good girl.
CHIAKI: It does nothing in the sense that Nanako didn’t get expelled herself, which is probably a testament to her more than anything.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Aw, gosh.
VRAI: I think where I’m settling with Fukiko right now on my future predictions is “self-loathing lesbian who is trying to conform to heteronormativity but is also really basking in this whole ‘lording over a society of young maidens’ thing while she can.”
CHIAKI: If we’re doing predictions, I’m saying Nanako is a cousin of Fukiko and Rei. That’s my quid in the pot.
MERCEDEZ: I’m gonna say: next arc, sororicide is gonna happen.
CHIAKI: Oh, damn.
MERCEDEZ: There’s just some flags. I’m like, I don’t know if Fukiko making it to the end. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: I really don’t! I really don’t.
VRAI: You think this is all just going down in a shower of blood?
DIANA: My prediction is that sometime by the end of this series, y’all are going to cry.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, as if I already haven’t?
CHIAKI: It’ll take a lot for me to cry. I don’t cry for anything.
VRAI: It’s true. She didn’t cry at the end of Princess Tutu.
DIANA: Oh, dang.
MERCEDEZ: Blasphemy! [Chuckles] That show ends so beautifully, though!
VRAI: She’s hardcore.
CHIAKI: We’re emotionally dead. So, good luck!
MERCEDEZ: Oh no!
VRAI: I will cry. I enjoy crying. It’s good.
MERCEDEZ: Feels so good.
VRAI: Although I may not cry. I tell you, I am the stereotype of the person on T who now has a harder time crying at things, so we’ll see. Do your best, Dear Brother!
DIANA: I can’t say anything about how intense I find this series. But it is going to be a lot.
MERCEDEZ: I also want to lay down: I’m pretty sure Nanako’s adopted. We about to find that out this next arc.
VRAI: You know what? Good guess, good guess.
MERCEDEZ: I don’t think those are her real parents at all.
VRAI: Nice. Yes, I approve of this. All right.
MERCEDEZ: Gonna make it real sad.
VRAI: I think, on that note, you’re going to get your wish, if I understand anything.
MERCEDEZ: Oh no!
VRAI: That will wrap us up on episode 2 of our Dear Brother watchalong. Thank you so much for joining us, listeners and readers of the transcript at home. If you are following along with us, next time we will be doing episodes 16 through 23, because I was informed 24 and 25 need to be watched together by Diana.
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