Vrai, Mercedez, Chiaki, and special guest Diana finally find out what exactly Fukiko’s Deal is and talk about how the leftist protests of the 1960s may have influenced the series.
Date Recorded: April 22nd, 2022
Hosts: Vrai, Mercedez, Chiaki
0:03:08 Content warnings
0:06:10 Fukiko’s damage
0:11:45 Rei is baby
0:13:42 Is Hemni real?
0:16:38 Nanako and the illegal kiss
0:20:19 Sapphic/queer elements
0:23:02 Mariko and her dad
0:28:12 One good man
0:30:15 Influence from ‘70s student protests
0:36:21 Masculinity vs feminine power structure
0:40:04 The snow scene
0:49:39 Nanako as protagonist
0:53:55 Box cutters vs knives
0:56:00 Final thoughts
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast and our watchalong of Dear Brother. This is part 4 of five parts. We watched episodes 24 to 31.
And my name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m the managing content editor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter @WriterVrai, where I am battling off horrible life things by getting really invested in danmei. Uh… [speaks quickly] How are you guys doing?
MERCEDEZ: Well, I exist.
CHIAKI: Congratulations! [Claps hands in applause]
VRAI: [through chuckles] Congratulations!
DIANA: Woo! I am piling my emotions into sewing—again.
VRAI: Yay! You guys have to do… You have to do… I know it’s been a minute, but you have to do your intros!
MERCEDEZ: Oh, I sure did say I exist and not say, hi, my name’s Mercedez and I exist. I am an editor here at Anime Feminist as well as a light novel editor for Seven Seas and an anime reviewer and critic. And… Ooh! I can say I also work on adult eroge.
VRAI: [congratulatory] Hey!
MERCEDEZ: Why did I almost just say my age and location? [Chuckles] I’m here and I like this show. It’s great.
VRAI: Chiaki, how about you?
CHIAKI: Yeah, so this is Chiaki Hirai. Yeah, one of the editors for AniFem. I am going through it. Going through a lot. I will say that some of the themes of today’s episode will be very prescient for me. [Laughs]
VRAI: That’s a theme of this recording.
VRAI: How about you, Diana? How’s it going?
DIANA: Hi, I am Diana. I am not from AniFem, but I am a cosplayer and wig stylist. And I love Dear Brother, as we all know. I have been hanging in there a lot better than usual with a wonderful little temporary downturn while I watched part of these episodes! [Chuckles] I am on Twitter at @silencedrowns, where the content is currently me losing my mind over sewing.
VRAI: Sounds like cosplay life.
DIANA: Oh yeah.
CHIAKI: Yeah, a good thing to lose your mind over.
MERCEDEZ: Is it too late for me to say I’m @pixelatedlenses on Twitter, because I didn’t? Whoops.
VRAI: It’s fine.
CHIAKI: No, go follow Mercedez.
MERCEDEZ: Don’t perceive me maybe. Who knows?
CHIAKI: No, no, no.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, no, no, you know what? Perceive me, perceive me. I want to be…
CHIAKI: Absolutely be perceived.
VRAI: All right, so, as has become traditional for these watchalong episodes, we begin with an update to our content warning list. Y’all may remember last time that we had some end-of-episode content warnings for this batch of episodes because they get kind of intense, but in case you skipped that and haven’t watched the episodes yet or are listening to these without watching or whatever the reason, this batch of episodes includes additional content warnings for self-harm (visual and auditory), three separate attempted suicides, and several instances of flashing lights and photosensitivity, which, Diana, you could be more specific about.
DIANA: Sure can! In episode 25, after Rei bursts down the door, there is a lot of lightning. I was fine. I just thought it was worth warning a little bit about. But in episode 31, my notes for the episode says, “Welcome to Eye Scramble City.” [Chuckles] There’s a scene where a bulb on the wall breaks, and it is incredibly intense strobing to the point that some of the rest of the people who are not plagued with light sensitivity issues like I am even complained about this scene. It is luckily very brief and there is no talking over it, so what I would recommend, if you get headaches or whatever from that, is once the light bulb breaks, close your eyes so that you are mostly seeing your lashes and wait for the flashing to stop.
VRAI: I love that you are here to provide this very special help.
CHIAKI: One thing I will say that I noticed… I’m not sure if they were on the other discs in the Blu-ray set but the last disc of the Blu-ray does have a specific epilepsy, flashing lights warning. So, they do include that for that.
VRAI: Does it? I didn’t notice.
CHIAKI: It was right at the beginning when you boot up the disc, not before the actual episode, but it is there on the disc when you load it up.
VRAI: I got ya. I must have missed it because I had it in my sleeping PS4, where we were partly through the episodes at that point.
MERCEDEZ: I’m gonna tell ya: RetroCrush don’t warn ya.
CHIAKI: Oh yeah, no.
DIANA: [crosstalk] No, they don’t!
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] They don’t tell ya jack!
MERCEDEZ: Maybe RetroCrush should put a little something in the caption. You got space.
CHIAKI: A lot of these companies could do a lot with their pre-show warnings.
MERCEDEZ: I mean, have a cute Nanako pop up and be like, “Hey, y’all! You got light sensitivity? This episode’s gonna be rough!”
CHIAKI: Unfortunately, this show predates Pokémon, so they don’t do that.
VRAI: [Sighs] That really was the watershed, wasn’t it?
DIANA: God damn you, Pikachu.
VRAI: [defensive] It was Porygon.
DIANA: It was Pikachu attacking! Porygon is innocent. I will die on this hill.
MERCEDEZ: Speaking of people who aren’t innocent, every single girl in this cast? Fraught.
VRAI: I feel— So—
MERCEDEZ: Okay, maybe not Nanako.
VRAI: [crosstalk] So, we spent the last three episodes talking around it, so now we gotta talk about Fukiko, because I guess we know what her damage is now.
MERCEDEZ: Christ on a crispy cracker!
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. When it was revealed, I was like, “Sis!” Now look, I have had my heart broken. And I think, like many a queer person, I’ve liked someone incredibly straight. I’ve never decided I’m going to ruin everybody’s lives because of love.
VRAI: Those backstory episodes were a trip for me, because I feel like the character type that Fukiko is, I think, supposed to come across as is a character type that I like really well: these people who hold themselves to this kind of ingrained, taught sense of societal dignity and end up, in trying to chase that and gain that approval, destroying themselves from the inside out. You know, I like Franziska von Karma, I like Lieutenant Oscar, I like Jin Guangyao.
But this ends up on crumbling foundations because she knew him for a week! I would have been on board for this if it had been an entire summer even, because that’s a fairly standard trope of intense young summer love. It was a week! It was a week and then he didn’t come to her recital. I’m sorry, I can’t emotionally invest in this for the amount of damage she does!
MERCEDEZ: I was just gonna say I don’t know if I would have been on board because sis was 12. I don’t know what y’all were doing at 12…
MERCEDEZ: But me at 12… Here’s what I was interested in at 12: Sesshomaru, my husband; Johnny Bravo, my American husband. That was pretty much it. [Chuckles] Oh, and probably Pokémon. I’m still interested in that. But she was 12… Did no one say to this 12-year-old, like, “Sweetie? Yeah, we all have crushes. It’s all right. This isn’t the end.” Instead, he doesn’t show up and Fukiko chooses violence! [Chuckles]
VRAI: Over and over again.
DIANA: I feel like this entire series is also just an episode in why you should get your kids therapy sometimes.
DIANA: You have emotions. Please learn to cope with them more healthily than whatever the hell that is, Fukiko.
CHIAKI: And I get that you can be 12 and maybe you do have a crush on somebody, but the dude’s in college!
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, that felt fraught.
CHIAKI: When you’re 12 years old and you see a college student, you know what you see? A person that’s like the same age as your parents at that point.
MERCEDEZ: Like, Henmi’s done taxes. Fukiko don’t know nothing about taxes.
VRAI: I will actually defend Fukiko’s honor here a little, in that when I was 12, before coming to accept that I really am not into cis men in any way, I found myself crushing a lot on much older guys because I had much older brothers the same way that Fukiko does. And so, they’re like this safe and unattainable figure that makes you feel safe, and you look at that feeling and you label it as “Ah, this is what that thing called being in love that I’ve heard so much about is called.”
So, I can understand, sort of, how it goes along with her character in terms of the amount of importance she places on these abstract ideals of nobility and refinement and grand love or whatever. It’s just that the details of the story are some bullshit. [Chuckles]
VRAI: It’s so— And I’m just mad because they put it so late in the anime that at that point you’ve put so much on “What is this girl’s deal? It has to be something big because we foreshadowed it so heavily.”
MERCEDEZ: It did feel… There was a point where I was watching and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I think I had to pause because I was like, “Are you serious that this is what it is?” Like, [chuckles] Fukiko! Child! Please!
VRAI: I was really and truly expecting some “Strawberry Wine” shit, if anybody else cares about old country songs.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. You gotta commend Fukiko, though, for fully leaning into this, as this is what’s going to define her entire life. She’s committed to the bit, and Fukiko’s not letting go of this.
Also, I mean, who knows? By the end of this, she might be letting go of life. It’s anyone’s game now. This is like Survivor but set in a high school! I’m not implying that people die on Survivor. [Chuckles] But it’s just… you know.
VRAI: Do you know something I don’t?
MERCEDEZ: Who knows how this is gonna go? At least she committed to it. But it is kind of wild that this… This is it, Fukiko? You got a little mad and a little sad?
DIANA: But those flashbacks with Rei, my God.
VRAI: Oh, Rei is baby. Protect her!
MERCEDEZ: Jesus Christ! I… [Chuckles] Wow! Whoo! The treatment of Rei… I do love Baby Rei a lot, y’all. I love that Baby Rei looks like discount Howl Jenkins from Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s so good. It’s so good! Oh, Baby Rei is so good.
VRAI: I did end up wondering… and the anime doesn’t really bother to elucidate and I don’t know if the manga doesn’t either or if it just got left out. Rei, did you know you were related or did you find that out later and then decide, “Fuck it! I’m committed now!”
MERCEDEZ: I’m gonna say, for the drama, found it out later and was like, “Well, I’m in too deep now.” Though wouldn’t it be—
VRAI: That sounds like a Rei thing.
MERCEDEZ: Wouldn’t it be so sad if Rei never… and was just like, “Oh, I’ve known from the beginning. I’m just gonna keep going at it!” Like, oh, Rei, that’s so sad! So sad! It’s also incestuous but it’s a little sad, too, to have all those feelings, and your sister treats you so bad, Rei. Like, forget any implications; your sister sucks!
DIANA: Underneath it all, you can just see so deeply how much Rei just wants someone, anyone to really appreciate her, and she set herself with this unattainable target. And it’s blinding her in the future to people who actually frickin’ care.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Dang, it sure is gon’ be sad that Rei probably never gonna get… Rei’s never— Probably, who knows? Who knows? We have a whole arc and I’m so scared. [Chuckles]
VRAI: [Laughs] It is interesting how Rei’s extremely poorly bad devotion to Fukiko ends up sort of, kind of dovetailing into the larger thing going on with men in the series. Like, is Henmi even a real person at this point, or is he just the platonic ideal of safe man crush?
DIANA: I’m going with the second. I’ve always thought that. When I was watching the scene, I was just like, “Okay, I can kind of see this because, look, this is just a safe guy. This is any man. This is a man who you can trust pretty much to not be a horrible predator. Good job.”
VRAI: What if an adult man wasn’t shitty?
MERCEDEZ: What a concept.
DIANA: In a shoujo anime?
CHIAKI: Yeah, I don’t trust him still. The amount of non-character he is just makes me wary.
MERCEDEZ: He feels like a collection of TV Tropes greatest hits, stuffed into a human being like a sad sausage. I’m just like, he’s safe, I guess. But where’s the spice, Henmi? Ooh, is it going to come in the final arc? I don’t know!
VRAI: You say that, but I sat through Glass Mask, so you know what? I’ll take it.
MERCEDEZ: Oh no! [Chuckles]
DIANA: Oh, dear. [Chuckles]
VRAI: The love interest in that is very much not a safe and respectable guy acting appropriate towards teenage girls.
MERCEDEZ: You know what? I’ll take Henmi then, because he’s pretty okay.
DIANA: He’s like vanilla pudding of a man.
MERCEDEZ: Pop a Nilla Wafer on him. I give him that.
VRAI: It’s just he’s such a void, it really does start to feel intentional at a certain point. He is this faceless figure in Fukiko’s life and Nanako’s life and, I’m guessing, Kaoru’s at this point, it’s been pretty heavily implied. Sometimes we see him sitting and typing at that thesis he’s never going to finish, but he doesn’t really seem to have much personality or goals of his own. He exists to be this sort of fantasy figure in these young women’s life, which I think is kind of interesting, honestly.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I was just about to say I think it’s actually interesting to see a man put in that position, because they’re having these really vivid lives. Henmi is kind of the equivalent of, in a high school production, whoever makes the tree for the background.
MERCEDEZ: That’s Henmi. He’s a real good tree. He’s a deciduous, probably. We stan.
CHIAKI: You know, you need that tree in that play. It’s not the same without him.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah! If that tree is gone, there’s a void. And he is filling this really interesting position as these young women go about popping off, catching these teenage hands constantly.
VRAI: I feel so bad for tiny teenage lesbian Nanako, who just keeps trying to insist that “No! No, he’s really just my penpal! I have a crush on your sister! You could be solving two problems at once.”
MERCEDEZ: When Fukiko… First of all, that scene of putting the lipstick on was a lot. But when she pushes her down and kisses her, I was like, “Oh, gee! Oh, God! Oh, Christ! Oh, no!” [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: I was…
DIANA: I was doing some research, and apparently that is the episode that got this series canceled off the air in two countries.
VRAI: No, tell me more.
DIANA: Yeah. Apparently both… I think it was France and Italy started airing this, but then episode 25 happened and both countries were just like, “Nope, that’s too much!”
MERCEDEZ: Well, sacre bleu!
DIANA: “We are drawing the line here.”
MERCEDEZ: That’s a lot, France! Really, France? That was what made…? That? That point? Really?
CHIAKI: I mean, I would expect France getting more angry at how bastardized their culture has been throughout the series, but I guess that was it.
I was personally honored to finally get to see a historic piece of anime history, that is, the censored kiss, which later on was caught by hit show Ex-Arm. I mean, it just—
DIANA: [excited and scandalized] Oh!
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. Dear Brother absolutely walked so Ex-Arm could fly!
CHIAKI: I understand that people attribute—
DIANA: Ex-Arm? Fly? Don’t you mean, like, sinking into the toilet? [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: No, I meant “flow.” I meant “flew.”
CHIAKI: [Chuckles] “Flow.” Yeah, I know that they say Ikuhara took a lot for Utena from this show, but honestly, I think the real cultural impact was Ex-Arm.
MERCEDEZ: Gosh, you know what? It’s really all about the Dear Brother to Ex-Arm pipeline.
VRAI: [deadpan] Y’all are really onto something.
MERCEDEZ: We are.
VRAI: I do need to know more about this censor bar, though. What is happening? Because the scene with Rei like two minutes later is not censored. What happened? Were the masters damaged?
MERCEDEZ: [Laughs] The censor bar was so funny, right? Because it happens with Fukiko, and it’s like they’re about to Pokevolve. The light is so bright that you’re just like, “What?” And then it fades. But you’re right. With Rei… Rei just gets to full-on… I guess it’s because Rei was delirious and it’s different when you’re having a… Well, but they were both having psychological reactions! Never mind.
VRAI: It might also be that Fukiko is femme…
DIANA: Ooh, yeah.
VRAI: … and Rei is butch—er, dandy.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Rei’s kind of androgynous, right? So it’s safe. But Fukiko, like, oh, no, you can tell! She’s a cis woman!
CHIAKI: [sassy] Absolutely a lesbian can’t do that.
VRAI: That was so wild to me. I had to sit down and think after watching that scene.
MERCEDEZ: It was a lot. ‘Twas a lot.
VRAI: That scene is so horny! Like, oh my God!
MERCEDEZ: I’m telling you, the lipstick… From the moment that that rouge went on, I was like, “Oh. Oh my! Oh goodness!”
VRAI: It was like I was watching Single White Female again. Derogatory.
VRAI: Every mention of that movie is derogatory.
MERCEDEZ: It really heightens the kind of… And what I will say is it’s interesting because the really sapphic elements of this feel very true to how it feels to be a high schooler who’s queer. I don’t know how unintentional it is that everyone is just incredibly chaotically sapphic at the school, except for Tomoko.
VRAI: The one heterosexual friend.
MERCEDEZ: I’ll say Tomoko’s kind of… She strikes me as bi-leaning. She was kind of like, [cutely] “Oh, it’s so nice to be up close to…” [Returns to normal voice] Was it Kaoru she was kind of up close, or was it…? No, no, it was Rei.
CHIAKI: No, no. Rei, Rei.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Tomoko was kind of like, “Oh! Okay…” So, our bi queen.
But it all has this really frenetic energy that I think happens when you are sapphic in high school that I kinda actually like. You know, I’m going to actually change that. Rather than sapphic, I’m gonna say it’s queer. It’s a very queer energy because I have to imagine that this happens for people across the spectrum, of this really heightened drama to everything.
I mean, of course, you know, I will say as a queer person I was not carrying around a box cutter, like half the cast is, in high school. But I did have very intense feelings.
VRAI: Yeah, I keep going back and forth because I think this stretch of episodes really highlights how Dear Brother is kind of constrained by when it was made and the other stuff that was being made at the same time, where you can have expressions of sapphic desire, queer desire, but it comes back to “All right, but deep down, they really have these real driving desires for this man.”
And I think Dear Brother is playing around with that with it being this very vacuous, idealized idea of A Man and becoming heteronormative when you leave school. But there is still that element of “All right, y’all. Y’all are having fun, but eventually the Class S period is going to end.”
MERCEDEZ: Right, especially with that home ec teacher. She is pushing! “You need to know how to sew a button for your husband!”
DIANA: [sad] Kaoru…
CHIAKI: You know what, though? Kaoru is never going to give that up, and I am just proud, I am happy, and I encourage her fully.
MERCEDEZ: Kaoru having the embroidery hoop and fabric in her mouth [chuckles] when they were supposed to be embroidering flowers was so funny to me. Oh, it’s so good.
DIANA: I’m the one on this who actually does do embroidery for a hobby, so when I tell you I was howling, please take it from that point of view.
MERCEDEZ: That’s funny. That’s funny.
VRAI: It’s good.
Oh my God, the subplot with Mariko and her dad was definitely a “Ah, this is written in the ‘70s, all right” kind of moment. On the one hand, there’s some good stuff in there, like about “Teenagers, it’s good to care about yourself and to value yourself,” and that’s nice. And there’s some stuff going on here with men going from faceless, scary figures to having faces when he is not a shit for a single, solitary moment.
But also, I really hate that whole “How can you expect other people to love you if you don’t love yourself?” Never tell that to a depressed person. Don’t do it!
DIANA: I was watching that and I was just like, “Okay, but at this exact moment, maybe Mariko can have little-A arson as a treat.”
MERCEDEZ: When Mariko brought those three long tapered candles to the curtain, I was like, “Please, let her light it up. Let her light it up. Let her!” [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: I just didn’t want her to burn the house down while Nanako and Tomoko were there with her. That was my only real complaint there. I was like, no, just let them leave first? Don’t try to burn them with them.
MERCEDEZ: Tomoko sure did come in clutch with the indoor slippers. [Chuckles] Just was tapping all that fire out.
VRAI: Because she’s the best.
MERCEDEZ: She wasn’t gonna let it get too buckwild.
VRAI: Also, Mariko’s dad isn’t not shit now, dammit, because he showed up one time!
MERCEDEZ: I was gonna say, I don’t know if that gets him out the penalty box. He showed up once. Once.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] He showed up once, and… I don’t know. I still don’t like him because his whole spiel was “Yeah, go ahead and burn down the house, but…” No! No! Don’t excuse your daughter when she tries to commit arson. I understand that Mariko deserves a little arson as a treat, but as a father, no, you don’t say that!
DIANA: Yeah, you don’t let your kids burn it down, as much as, as the audience, we can be a little bit cheering for her to burn, baby, burn.
VRAI: Also, “Go ahead and burn down the house that I don’t live in anymore. It’s just your mother’s now because I left”!
MERCEDEZ: He literally did say like, “I don’t care. I ain’t gotta pay child support. Burn it down!” Sir, that’s not nice.
VRAI: Also, while we’re at it, I don’t care that he came in clutch as a support for this episode. I still don’t trust Takashi. Fuck that guy.
MERCEDEZ: I kinda… He gave Mariko a hot dog, though.
CHIAKI: A hot dog with soup.
CHIAKI: Who the fuck does that? Who the fuck eats soup and hot dogs at the same time?
MERCEDEZ: I mean, it could—
CHIAKI: A monster!
DIANA: That does not sound appetizing at all.
MERCEDEZ: I mean, maybe it was like some corn chowder and it was cold and…
CHIAKI: With a hot dog?
MERCEDEZ: Okay, you know what? The moment I did say that, I immediately was like, oh, Chiaki, call me out on this one because…
CHIAKI: It could be chicken noodle, it could be broccoli cheddar, it can be anything, but with a hot dog?
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, okay. You got a point.
DIANA: I love hot dog soup, my favorite recipe that doesn’t exist and tastes nasty.
MERCEDEZ: He… He does… He’s kind of coming around. He might be the one decent… The hot dog soup, okay, that does lose him some points.
VRAI: He is at least treating her like a child as he’s helping her out here, so he loses sus points from last time.
MERCEDEZ: He saved her from, you know, leaving the plot.
MERCEDEZ: I mean, Mari… Which, okay, I do have to say, the way that the scene is set up and calls back to the box cutter is really… I mean, it’s a very difficult scene because, like, the obvious, but it’s really well done, because she’s kind of looking and then you hear the click of the box cutter and then Mariko does what she does and gets pulled back, and that scream… Oh, I was like, “Oh, my heart! This poor child.”
And I mean, you know… Ooh, yeah, I would be… You know what? I probably wouldn’t feel great if I did get hot dog and soup after all that, though. That probably wouldn’t… Okay, maybe he’s not that great of a dude. He’s trying.
CHIAKI: Just a hot dog is fine.
MERCEDEZ: The soup really does…
CHIAKI: Just the soup? Fine.
VRAI: But I’ll give him credit. I thought it was a weirdly drawn soda.
MERCEDEZ: [Laughs] I could see that! I could see it as a weirdly drawn soda. That’s funny.
CHIAKI: What if it was a warm coffee? It’s cold out. It’s a warm coffee and a hot dog. Okay. Soup. All right, sorry, I’m just obsessing over this, but…
MERCEDEZ: He seems like—
VRAI: It’s fine. We’ll never solve the mystery of the soup.
MERCEDEZ: He seems like the only… decent… You know what? No, there actually is one good man in this show, and it’s the English teacher.
CHIAKI: No, he’s worthless!
MERCEDEZ: He provides some of my favorite lines.
CHIAKI: That’s true.
MERCEDEZ: He provides some of the best lines.
VRAI: I hope that actor came in and did all of his lines in one recording session and, just, they sprinkled them throughout, because it does make me laugh.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah, he’s the good man. He’s the only good man.
VRAI: Probably Takashi is genuinely meant to be an okay dude and I’m just mapping Utena backwards, but I still don’t trust him.
MERCEDEZ: Fair. And you know what? We do have quite a few more episodes to go. It is anyone’s game at this point. Like, Henmi could turn out to be horrible.
CHIAKI: And I mean, going back to Takeshi [sic], he was kind of gaslighting Fukiko, back a few episodes. It’s like, “Hey, you know, that Nanako girl was hanging out with Henmi, my friend. They know each other, huh. Ha-ha-ha.”
MERCEDEZ: I forgot that.
CHIAKI: So, I feel like there’s moments where… Is he doing things on purpose? Does he know what’s going on or does he even care? At worst, he’s trying to be manipulative or bad, which I don’t think is necessarily the case, but he’s also incredibly dense to everything that’s going on around him. Understandably, they’re dense about things that are surrounding a bunch of high school girls that are like ten years under his age.
MERCEDEZ: Not enough hot dogs or soup in the world to save you from that, Takashi.
VRAI: It’s definitely going to come down to: are we meant to take him as malicious, or is he meant to be a foil to Rei at the end of these episodes, where she has decided to team up on the petition because she thinks it’ll be better for Fukiko in the long run? It definitely feels like we’re heading into endgame with the “abolish the Sorority” stuff.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, yeah.
DIANA: I was cheering for that.
MERCEDEZ: It got intense, too, didn’t it? [Chuckles] Like, ooh! Hoo!
DIANA: Nanako’s like, “I never thought I could do this!” And I’m like, “Yeah, but you can be a class traitor. It’s fun and easy!”
VRAI: Yeah, this was so… The manga was written in ’75, like I keep bringing up, and this was so fascinating to me in terms of the manga’s relationship to the Japanese student protests in ‘68 and ‘69, which I need to read up more on, because I really only know the basic basics. But it was a lot of movements—leftist movements and some right-wing fuckers—coalesced in these couple of years, protesting all manner of things from… against US occupation in Okinawa to anti–Vietnam War protests to just general communists and Marxist-leaning folks or to more individualist-leaning protesters. And it’s a really interesting time period, and there feels like there’s echoes of it in this microcosm with the Sorority subplot and the classism elements there.
MERCEDEZ: Right. Well, and, I think, you know, considering… How soon, how early in the ‘70s was Dear Brother written or released?
VRAI: All three volumes ran over the course of ‘75, from March to September or something.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, that is interesting, and I hadn’t really thought about that kind of connection to the university protests and all of that that was happening.
CHIAKI: I’ll definitely say it’s something that’s come after the movements, and the movements were a major impact on Japanese society. So, it need not be necessarily immediately after the protests, but within a 20-year range of them, definitely a lot of people went through it and knew what happened throughout.
VRAI: Yeah, I have to assume it was very much in the air and impacting culture for years and years after. Look at how many works for how many years saw the effects of Vietnam in the U.S.
MERCEDEZ: Right. Well, it would definitely make sense in terms of universities because, to draw a parallel, American universities are still constructed in very specific ways, with office buildings, all of the official buildings on campus being places where it is very specifically structured that students cannot gather and protest effectively. So yeah, it would absolutely make sense that people creating would still kind of be haunted by those very recent events at that time. It’s interesting.
VRAI: Yeah. And the fact that it ends up being a power struggle of sort of structural collectivists versus individually chosen collectivists, I guess, is where… I’m not entirely sure what I’m saying about it, but, you know, the ossified system versus these kinds of individually chosen groups that have formed with the petition seekers. Something there.
MERCEDEZ: One of the things that really caught me during the initial scene where Kaoru decides to seize the means of control from Fukiko is one of the students in the crowd shouts like, “Yeah, I don’t want these few people controlling everything that happens at this school.”
And what came to me was I was like, is this the first time anyone’s ever at Seiran decided to…? Because how long has the Sorority been around? And nobody has ever… Is this a first? And clearly it is the first time that anyone’s really spoken up. Buckwild, because I, too—
CHIAKI: In 90 years.
MERCEDEZ: I, too, would be like, “You know what? Maybe 30 of my classmates shouldn’t be in charge of me.”
DIANA: I feel like maybe people had been unhappy with it to themselves but they would never have dared to say it in front of the Sorority members.
VRAI: And it’s also possible there were small-scale protests, because they note that the first couple people who quit the Sorority, Fukiko mentions they’re not only expelled; there will be no record of them having ever joined, so…
MERCEDEZ: Ah, yeah. Fully expunged.
CHIAKI: Going off of Japanese culture, as well, you just don’t make waves, right? And so, it took considerable courage and a break of norms for Kaoru to just stand up during the middle of a school assembly where everyone is present and say, “Hey, maybe you shouldn’t be in charge.”
VRAI: Yeah. And I think it’s especially notable, once we come to this arc, those chrysanthemums you have on Fukiko’s school uniform form the symbol of the Japanese Empire and the Emperor. Loaded symbolism!
MERCEDEZ: Yeah… Sis just… She’s having a big ol’ bad time.
DIANA: And it’s very interesting, this whole arc, that you start seeing parallels of things that a lot of us can relate to, such as the way that a lot of people react to “Maybe we should distribute power more evenly” in absolute horror because they’re interpreting that not as “Maybe I shouldn’t be having unfair advantages” but as “Taking away my unfair advantages is unfair to me.”
VRAI: Right. It’s the old capitalist myth of “You have to continue propping up the system because…” What’s that Futurama joke? “Yeah, but maybe someday I’ll be one of them. And then people like me better watch out.”
VRAI: I did have an interesting discussion with my partner while we were watching, that in isolation, outside of these grander allegorical things, it does sort of unintentionally end up doing this thing where, because… We hear about the real-world power that the Sorority wields, and Kaoru mentions that it’s about making these women desirable, sort of implying that it’s about making them marketable as marriage material and as wives rather than as individuals.
But at the same time, because we don’t necessarily see all of this outside the school or the school board and those more insidious power structures, it ends up being these very masculine characters dismantling the one sphere of power that the most femme-coded characters have, which I think is incidental and unintentional, but it’s kind of interesting, you know?
MERCEDEZ: Mm. I like that!
DIANA: Yeah, that’s interesting.
VRAI: Which is kind of when I became… I still don’t know that I sympathize with Fukiko [because]… I’ve already laid that out. But it’s when I started finding her abstractly interesting in terms of—intellectually—how she gets backed into a corner because she can be incredibly cruel but she is also trying to wield these tools of power that are meant to be given to her as a traditional woman, that are at odds with the new feminism, the new modernism.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because I would definitely say I don’t feel bad for Fukiko, but what I do feel is this kind of sadness because she is someone who is very aware of what it is to be a woman and to be a young woman and to also be beautiful and expected to uphold a certain standard. In a way it has kind of trapped her in a cycle of just doing harm to others and brutalizing the people around her but also brutalizing herself. And I kind of feel pity for Fukiko because, I don’t know, that’s such a zero-sum game.
DIANA: I’m with you on that one. I do not like her as a person, but I do feel really terrible about some of the situations that have pushed her into this position where she feels like she has to be horrible to people.
MERCEDEZ: You have to wonder what a Fukiko who maybe had had a little bit more flexibility in her social world… you almost wonder, what would that young woman be like? I like to think she wouldn’t be as cruel. But also, there are some cases where people make a choice.
I mean, there is a part of me that’s like, “I don’t know how much I want to hold her accountable because she is a product of society and she’s a kid, ultimately,” but I’m also like, “Ooh, Fukiko, you’re definitely like 18 or close to it and you’re making some bad choices, Fukiko. I think we do know right from wrong.”
VRAI: Yeah, what holds me back is that she holds the most power relative to literally every other female character in the cast.
MERCEDEZ: Also, she has attempted a drowning and she definitely harmed her sister. So, like, ooh, Fukiko, you made some really bad decisions, sis, but I do feel pity for ya!
DIANA: The scene in the snow is almost unforgivable.
VRAI: It’s pretty rough. I can intellectualize to an extent: either (A) she didn’t think she’d actually do it because “Ah, this will just prove that everybody abandons me,” or (B) she thought she wanted to die because she’s 13 or whatever and then chickened out. But also, it’s pretty unforgivable!
MERCEDEZ: I was gonna say, because she definitely… Did I interpret it wrong or did Fukiko do it for Rei? Did she use that straight razor? And then was she like, “Oh, no, my sister! We gotta get her to a hospital!” and then later gaslight her about it?
VRAI: I think that’s a very plausible interpretation.
MERCEDEZ: Okay, because that’s how I read it. It was like Fukiko did— And especially in light of Fukiko just… I mean, Fukiko straight-up does place a lot of trust in Rei and is about to leap, and Rei pulls her back, and really, honestly, y’all, I did think Fukiko was about to leave in this arc and I’m really not sure about the next one.
But I did interpret it as like Fukiko actually did the harm. Her sister was just face down in the snow, and Fukiko was like, “Oh, I can’t do this,” called for help, and then later on, as they’re older, is like, “Well, Rei doesn’t really remember. You did this to yourself, Rei,” which was just buckwild. And if that’s not right, that’s just my interpretation, but it did make me think, oh, she’s gone past the point of no return, at least for right now.
CHIAKI: I mean, her actions result directly in essentially ruining Rei’s life.
CHIAKI: Even beyond the trauma of what happened in the snow, after that incident, the family’s like, “Mm, maybe we shouldn’t have Rei in the family here with us. We’re gonna put Rei in her own little apartment to live alone after surviving that.” Which is like, why would you do that, first of all? But her actions have set in motion the entire process of isolating Rei and fucking her up.
MERCEDEZ: It’s not good. It’s not kind.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s rough. Because I can think— The fact… Okay, this is just for me, the theater nerd, but the fact that Fukiko’s backstory includes an extended homage to The Glass Menagerie did murder me in my sleep.
MERCEDEZ: Was that when Fukiko was talking about her glass ornaments and she was like, “A maid broke one, so I shattered them all!” Was that this?
VRAI: Uh-huh. Yeah.
DIANA: That was so much.
VRAI: I think that’s very interesting, that kind of character motivation to be like, “In order to avoid the pain of unexpected loss and the terror of fragility, I’ll just destroy everything myself.” I find that very compelling in a character. But then, like you say, she has effectively killed Rei by setting this all in motion and using her relative privilege to the other female characters in the series to disadvantage and hurt them.
MERCEDEZ: And it would be different with Rei if Fukiko actually showed who I think she has the potential to be as a character? But instead, with Rei, Fukiko just constantly doubles down. Fukiko would not let someone bring soup to Rei because she was like, “No. My sister must suffer. She doesn’t get any Campbell’s.”
DIANA: It feels very just like “If people start actually believing that what I did is not right, then I’m going to have to actually take responsibility. And I do not think I can do that.”
VRAI: Yeah. And I feel like the version of Fukiko who is able to come back from where she’s at is Misaki, who I really liked in these episodes! It’s like, “Ooh, yes, this is my daughter Nanami! Yep, here she is!”
CHIAKI: See, I didn’t feel like she deserved what she got.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh, she got off easy.
VRAI: I don’t know. I’m a sucker maybe.
MERCEDEZ: Should she have been box-cuttered? No.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, okay!
VRAI: No, no!
CHIAKI: [doubtful] Um…
MERCEDEZ: Okay! [Chuckles] I was gonna say I don’t think violence is good in school, maybe? I did like the scene… The scene where it closes up on her face is really good. There’s some really borderline almost grotesque emotion, which I would have, too, if my fellow classmate got me with a box cutter.
I feel like she kind of got off easy. And maybe to some degree, I think you’re maybe supposed to be left with this feeling of a little dissatisfaction, because I think sometimes that’s how things actually resolve in real life. But I was like, did she deserve to be box-cuttered? No, but maybe she should have had to do a little more apologizing or something?
VRAI: I don’t know. I really liked the scenes of her and Mariko as foils and her “I’m a sad sack,” and so she walked into the ocean as she left her dog!
MERCEDEZ: I was just about to say, you know what? Actually, the punishment maybe was she walked into the ocean, which is not good punishment; she probably needed some help. But she came back and that’s okay. So you know what? Maybe she’s suffered enough actually.
VRAI: Yeah, I guess my takeaway from it was not that everything is fixed and she’s best buddies with everyone now, but we’ve acknowledged that she knows that she was an asshole and that she went too far, and also, that probably she shouldn’t try to kill herself and we have realized that she is having shitty teen emotional pain, too. And that’s beautiful.
DIANA: There was something that I found really powerful about how you realize near the end of that arc that she and Mariko have been after each other so long because one of them has to be on top, and they realize, “Actually, we have a lot more in common than we have to fight about.” And you can see just this uneven shift of “Oh God, we have both made some mistakes.”
VRAI: Hear me out. What if they kissed?
MERCEDEZ: Ooh, yeah! That turned me into the gay Kool-Aid Man just now. Oh yeah!
MERCEDEZ: Oh yeah! Yeah!
CHIAKI: [hesitant] I mean, I guess…
VRAI: Rivals to lovers!
MERCEDEZ: Yes! Friends to lovers, love it! Enemies to friends to lovers. Mm. It’s the spice of life.
DIANA: I’m pretty sure I have read that fanfic somewhere.
CHIAKI: I classified it as “from rivals to enemies to rivals to lovers.”
VRAI: That seems right.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. I mean, it is nice that they do actually have this resolution because it’s hard to think back to Mariko at the beginning and how mean she was to Tomoko, but she was also very much so like this at the beginning. She also… Did she use a box cutter back then? This child’s been really into the box cutter. Point aside…
CHIAKI: I feel like the box cutter was a recent development.
MERCEDEZ: Okay, because what did…? I know she threatened Nanako. Oh, she was just like, “Oh, I’ma do myself in.”
VRAI: She bit her, is what happened in those early episodes.
MERCEDEZ: The queerest of attacks to do in a heated moment. [Chuckles] But it is nice that actually Mariko is kind of the pathway to Aya getting redemption because I do think there is something to be said about [how] these girls are undergoing a lot of stress. And so, I do want them to all have a path to redemption. Even Fukiko. And definitely the girls that… tried to push Nanako off of a rusty rooftop!
VRAI: [aghast] No, that was…!
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God!
CHIAKI: Who were they?!
DIANA: And then Nanako just—
CHIAKI: I know they’ve existed for all this time, but they were just like background characters that suddenly come out!
MERCEDEZ: One was Lady Mona Lisa.
CHIAKI: I know but she’s basically a background character, and then suddenly she’s like, “Well, what if we took over?”
MERCEDEZ: I mean, it’s those quiet ones you gotta watch out for.
VRAI: You named one of them Borgia! What did you think was happening?
DIANA: And then Nanako just instantly forgiving, like “Okay, yes, they tried to kill me, but I can see where they were coming from.” Baby girl, no! Maybe this one time you should allow yourself to be angry at someone who hurt you, because they just literally tried to kill you.
MERCEDEZ: She is too nice for her own good.
DIANA: Sweet baby, no.
CHIAKI: I’m not a fan of calling the police, but that was one of those moments where I’m like, maybe you should call the police. Maybe you should get a restraining order because it feels like this is necessary at this point.
VRAI: I’ve been enjoying Nanako’s protagonist so much, because I feel like she is naïve at times when the plot needs her to be but she’s also been increasingly assertive this run of episodes and just sweet. And she’s so good! She’s a really well-written character!
DIANA: [fond] Isn’t she?
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] I really quite enjoy her. Nanako best girl.
DIANA: [crosstalk] I love her. She’s so sweet and kind, and that’s actually a good thing in this series and not something to be broken down.
MERCEDEZ: I really want her to live to the end, but y’all, I don’t know. I don’t know!
VRAI: You don’t know about anybody at this point.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] I think she’s gonna live. Nanako’s gonna live. Come on. Everyone else…
VRAI: She is the protagonist.
MERCEDEZ: That means nothing. [Chuckles] Protagonist armor does not exist in this show, I’m almost 100— She might live but her heart’s gon’ be inexplicably broken.
VRAI: [Groans sadly] I mean, since her first love is going to die!
MERCEDEZ: Oh yeah. Yeah, Kao— Rei— [Chuckles] I almost said Kaoru. God, I hope Kaoru doesn’t die. Rei might as well have been waving a white flag at various points. Just…
VRAI: I love her so much. She’s not okay!
MERCEDEZ: She’s not okay at all.
MERCEDEZ: Maybe… Can we make some predictions? Because I do have one for Rei, for sure.
VRAI: Yes, do it, because the show ends next time, so it’s our last chance to throw weird shit at the wall.
MERCEDEZ: I think that Rei is gonna die in Nanako’s arms and it’s going to be a very poetic scene, and there’s gonna be lilies in the— No, it’s too early for lilies. It’s gonna be roses. There’s gonna be roses…
VRAI: I don’t know, there’s been a lot of lilies in this show.
MERCEDEZ: That’s true, but I want a sweet flower. There’s gonna be pink roses, and Nanako’s gonna be like, “Rei! Don’t go!” and Rei’s gonna be like, “Nanako, you have to continue on. I believe in you.” And it’s just gonna be so good. It’s gonna be so good. And the music is… Ooh, maybe it’ll be a leitmotif of the opening, but really sad! Oh, yeah.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, yeah, because Rei ain’t making it, y’all. Rei… I don’t know how. Rei’s not making it out of the series. Heck, maybe Kaoru isn’t making it out either. I don’t know. All of the handsome—
VRAI: She has a serious anime disease! [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: I mean, that time that Kaoru coughed up blood, that was a red flag. Literally. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Rei goes to people’s houses and then just randomly falls over and is like, “Don’t worry, that happens sometimes.”
DIANA: Okay, but I have really, really low blood pressure, just as a baseline, and every time I stand up I fall over and I’m just… Rei’s just like “Don’t worry about me. This happens sometimes,” falling on the ground. And I’m like, okay, but I have done that about three times this week. This is a mood.
CHIAKI: Yeah. And as somebody who is chronically sick sometimes with not debilitating but still inconvenient body weakness issues, yeah. Like, oh, sometimes that happens. You just vibe.
VRAI: Fair enough!
MERCEDEZ: That is true.
CHIAKI: Anyway, my prediction here is Sorority House is gonna burn down and there’s gonna be at least two people inside.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, shit!
CHIAKI: That is mine. I am betting Fukiko and, I don’t know, Kaoru—no, probably Rei—are just gonna fucking burn. It’s gonna be poetic. That is my prediction.
MERCEDEZ: I mean, talk about This Girl Is on Fire.
DIANA: [Chuckles knowingly]
VRAI: [Murmurs in a rising, then falling pitch]
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles painfully] But with tears!
VRAI: All right, my upsetting prediction is that now that Mariko’s shit dad is out of the picture, we know that she might not be able to go to school anymore, so she’s going to be pressured to marry into a rich family, which will end up being Takeshi [sic], and she’s going to hate it. And I want— Yeah, because the ‘70s: upsetting!
MERCEDEZ: That is upsetting.
MERCEDEZ: You did preface that with “upsetting” and you followed through.
VRAI: I aim to… please? That’s the wrong word.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Displease.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God, I can’t wait to see the ending of this. It’s gonna be so good!
CHIAKI: Oh, one thing I just wanted to mention that just came across my mind. Can I just mention that…? It is weird that Mariko gets suspended for stabbing somebody at school with a box cutter. You can have a box cutter because you might need it for school stuff, right?
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, cut the box.
CHIAKI: Maybe? But Rei shows up to school with fucking knives in her pocket and throws it at Misaki’s friends to keep them from burning the petitions, but nobody called her out on that. She’s fucking armed and threw them at other students and—
MERCEDEZ: Rei didn’t make someone bleed. [Chuckles]
DIANA: I think it is everybody allowing Rei to just be aesthetically perfect and…
MERCEDEZ: Rei does look like the person who would carry daggers, huh?
VRAI: Yeah. They can’t—
DIANA: Rei gets an “I can do what I want” license because, look at me, I am the coolest thing to ever cool. And I’m just like, yeah, you know what? Let Rei have daggers. It’s fine!
CHIAKI: I guess!
MERCEDEZ: You do have a good point though, Chiaki, because both are against school rules probably.
VRAI: [Chuckles] Probably.
CHIAKI: I mean, stabbing somebody with a box cutter: illegal. Bringing weapons to a school? Probably illegal.
MERCEDEZ: It’s kinda like how when you go through TSA they’re like, “Four ounces of liquid? Uh-uh! Signature baseball bat and/or knife with blade less than three inches? Come on in!” It’s like a messed-up Price Is Right.
DIANA: [crosstalk] Metal knitting needles. I was on a flight once with my family where my mother got a pair of dull manicure scissors that could barely cut anything confiscated, and they let me take 12-inch-long metal knitting needles.
VRAI: Can’t use those for stabbing nobody.
MERCEDEZ: You could use ‘em to ruin a petition, though.
VRAI: I suppose it’s time to bring this in for a landing. Anything we want to touch on in the last minute here before I wrap us up?
DIANA: This series hurts. I love it so much.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. I really—
VRAI: Yeah, this is your episodely reminder to go out and buy the Blu-ray before it’s out of print, which I don’t know when that’ll be.
MERCEDEZ: I gotta do that. I gotta go on Rightstuf.
VRAI: Do the thing. Do the thing. They’re good Blu-rays. They’re nice.
DIANA: They really are, although I will like to mention, if we haven’t, just as a periodic reminder that if you get one of the older things where they still have the mistakes, make sure before it goes out of print that you check if any of the discs have cracked, because there was that problem with some of them.
VRAI: Yeah, disc 2 specifically was coming cracked to some people. So, check for that.
CHIAKI: I should check for that.
VRAI: You should check for that.
DIANA: I leave mine not fully closed because I am afraid of disc 2 cracking error.
[A disc case opens]
VRAI: It’s a concern. Checking live on air.
CHIAKI: My disc is fine!
VRAI: All right!
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Whew!
VRAI: [Laughs] All right. Well, I think that wraps us up for this one. Next time, we will be finishing the series and I hope I will be crying tears. I love to cry tears at anime.
CHIAKI: Still not crying.
VRAI: I believe in you.
DIANA: Oh, man. I’m left—
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Stay strong.
VRAI: I will finally get to hear “Be strong”! Oh, I’m excited.
CHIAKI: Oh yeah. I guess that is the final…
VRAI: Oh, I’m so excited.
DIANA: [sad] Be strong!
VRAI: Can’t wait to finally have context for the meme!
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MERCEDEZ: Bring your box cutter. [Chuckles]
[Several seconds of silence, followed by stray mouse clicks]