Vrai, Mercedez, Chiaki, and special guest Diana check in on the kids one last time, grit their teeth through some tragic lesbians, and give a warm send-off to this powerful classic.
Date Recorded: May 6th, 2022
Hosts: Vrai, Mercedez, Chiaki
0:01:45 Did you cry?
0:02:19 Content warnings
0:03:18 Rei’s fate
0:12:51 Suicide in culture and media
0:16:32 Contrast against Kaoru’s fate
0:21:37 The pronoun game
0:22:48 Mariko’s thumbnails
0:30:38 Fukiko is normal now
0:32:28 Kaoru’s mastectomy
0:41:06 The curse of classic shoujo
0:46:54 Dear Brother’s historic value
0:51:04 A bunch of AO3 talk
0:53:55 Buy it before it’s too late
0:55:17 Final thoughts
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. This is our final watchalong episode of Dear Brother. My name is Vrai Kaiser. You can find me on Twitter @WriterVrai, where I despair about danmei right now. And today I am once again joined for a last and feels-full time by Mercedez, Chiaki, and our very special guest Diana.
DIANA: Hi! [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: I’m Chiaki Hirai, one of the editors for AniFem. You can find me at @Chiaki747 or @AnimatedEmpress on Twitter. But who knows how long I’ll be on there. They’re both locked. Just send me a follow request. I’ll probably say yes to both unless you look like a bot. If I don’t accept you, you look like a bot.
MERCEDEZ: I guess I’ll go next. So, hi, my name is Mercedez. I am also an editor at Anime Feminist, and I am also a light novel editor for Seven Seas. You can find me on Twitter @pixelatedlenses, where I am talking about work and crying over Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song.
CHIAKI: That’s such a good show!
MERCEDEZ: It’s really good. It’s really good! Fills me with emotion.
DIANA: Hi, I’m Diana. I’m on Twitter as @silencedrowns. And I am not from AniFem, but I am here to cry.
CHIAKI: Just so we’re clear, just so we’re clear… So, did all y’all cry?
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh, multiple times. [Laughs]
DIANA: A lot.
MERCEDEZ: Did you cry, Chiaki?
CHIAKI: No, of course not.
MERCEDEZ: Aw! [Chuckles]
VRAI: Oh, God. It’s okay. It’s okay, this time I’m with you, although I think I might have gotten a little bit misty. But there were no tears.
MERCEDEZ: I distinctly cried at three different points.
MERCEDEZ: It’s a real good, moving watch.
VRAI: All right, before we get into the last stretch here and sum up thoughts about the whole series at the end, we’re doing one last roundup of content warnings. This time there will be discussion, pretty extensively, of suicide, suicidal ideation, terminal and chronic illness, ableism, heteronormativity, Bury Your Gays, and an age-gap relationship between, roughly, a 16-year-old and a 22-year-old, ish. And were there any more epilepsy warnings that we needed to hit this time, Diana?
DIANA: I didn’t notice anything particularly terrible. If you’ve been fine with everything other than the broken lightbulb, you’ll be fine for this. It’s just nothing new, more occasional bits of “Oh, I didn’t quite enjoy that,” but nothing that actually had me terrified like that lightbulb did.
VRAI: Mm. Gotcha.
So Rei’s dead, huh?
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God! Oh my God!
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] We all knew this was coming.
MERCEDEZ: Y’all. Episode 33 comes around and I said out loud to myself, “Oh, no. This is the episode where Rei’s gonna die, for sure, no question.”
CHIAKI: How many death flags did they set up?
DIANA: And oh, do I have some flower symbolism pain to add to everybody.
VRAI: Yes, good, give us.
MERCEDEZ: Give it.
DIANA: The flower that Rei ends up buying for Nanako is a sweet pea, which symbolizes goodbye but particularly a bittersweet one. And I also found a source that it’s sometimes used for happiness and that occasionally in Japan it’s given as a gift for couples about to start a new life together.
MERCEDEZ: [horrified] Oh!
VRAI: That’s fucked up.
CHIAKI: [Laughs] I love it.
DIANA: [crosstalk] So, yeah. My note at the end has all of that and then says, “So basically I hate this show LMAO.”
CHIAKI: Like, no, I don’t hate the show for killing Rei off. That’s kind of been my assumption, the working assumption of what’s going to happen, right? It’s just the way they did it that really shocks me.
VRAI: Yeah, we’re gonna have to dig into this because… So, first of all, first layer, we are now getting into the stuff from the end of the series, which I think will impact a lot of what I have to say about it, where there’s a lot of big divergences from the manga as I understand.
MERCEDEZ: Mm, okay.
VRAI: Because in the manga, as far as I know from, of course, reading secondhand (dear listeners and/or readers, please start putting Dear Brother in the suggestion box for the Seven Seas monthly localization surveys), Rei very explicitly kills herself by overdose in the manga.
MERCEDEZ: Oh shit! [Chuckles] Oh shit!
CHIAKI: That’s a spoiler!
DIANA: [crosstalk] There’s another big change, I think, from the manga that I know about, that I think makes the anime a significantly stronger series, which is that in the manga, very explicitly, Rei and Fukiko do not know that they’re full-blooded siblings. The fact in the anime that they both know and are trying to hide it from the other, I think, makes the relationship much better and more interesting than it would have been otherwise.
CHIAKI: Huh, no kidding.
VRAI: Yeah, that is interesting. So, one of our contributors, actually, Caitlin Donovan, did some interesting meta-writing about the anime version of Rei’s death and about how if you look at it from a modern lens a lot of Rei’s actions seem like things that we do recognize as the behaviors of suicidal people, like: cleaning, seeming like they’re doing briefly better, making plans, sort of getting their life in order, as it were.
And yet, at the same time there’s this element where it feels strongly like executive meddling that the anime has to be like, “Oh, no, she died by a tragic accident. Definitely,” whereas I think that there is a credible argument to be made that she had maybe been planning suicide and that she did throw herself off that bridge, but it was like an impulse move.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because I kind of sat with that thought of it being like a suicide of impulsivity, because you hear all these facts about bridges and how often barriers are the way to save people who may have ideation. And, you know, no judgment to anyone who does. I am someone myself who, because of my own mental illnesses, live routinely with ideation. But barriers are something that often put that wall between the impulsivity.
And it is interesting to read it much more like Rei was doing good and then just something about walking across that crossway and then Rei’s gone. Because there’s something that didn’t sit right with me about “Ah, it’s definitely an accident,” because I’m like, “You know, what a cheap way to get rid of this character.” I don’t know. Also, they made her bounce against the train, which just really… Fuck. What, was Rei in Space Jam or something? [Chuckles] It just really bothered me! It just really bothered me, because Rei has struggled with suicidality.
DIANA: One of the takes I’ve heard a lot that is actually, I think, my favorite is very similar to that, that in this particular take on it, Rei did not actually want to kill herself but has been living with so much of the ideation and other things that when the flowers go overboard, she just jumps to try and get the flowers thinking, “Oh, I need to get them,” but because she’s just had so little regard for her own life that the “Hey, maybe this is going to hurt me” is just broken for good.
CHIAKI: That’s a good reading. I would understand that.
DIANA: We’ll never really know, but I think that’s one of the more emotionally powerful ones. I think it’s very valid to read this as pretty much anything on the spectrum because it is very deliberately vague. I think it must have been an authorial and directorial choice to leave it with this absolute ambiguity where you could make an equally strong argument for or against.
CHIAKI: And for me, I didn’t really read this as a suicide and that’s what infuriates me about Rei’s death, which is, you know, she’s made so many different changes to her life. And I know that there’s the concept of, oh, returning things that you owe and kind of tidying up your life before you go as a way that recognizes suicidality, but at the same time, Rei had food in the fucking fridge. That fridge was stocked! That is a character development right there.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because nonbinary sis did guzzle that bottle of water right in front of the fridge.
VRAI: [sad] She did!
CHIAKI: And so, all the language that I got leading up to that jump felt like Rei was renewed and was ready to begin but just The Forces That Be needed to have them killed. It felt like “We need this for the drama” kind of thing.
MERCEDEZ: And I’ll say even, it grimly made me think of those 1950s, mid-century novels about cautionary lesbianism.
DIANA: Oh my God!
MERCEDEZ: Like Sarah loves Jane, but then Jane gets cancer because she’s queer and you can’t have that.
And Rei is in love. Rei is a person in love and Nanako is in love with Rei, and it’s so beautiful and it’s so good. And Rei kinda gets punished for it. And so does Nanako because Nanako sits there until it’s dark, waiting for Rei and is just like, “It’s all right. Maybe Rei was busy. Maybe something happened with them.” And I don’t know, it sits wrong with me that… I don’t know. I just feel like Rei got done dirty.
VRAI: I think it is both true that it’s an open scene where I think that the director and the boarding do a lot to leave ambiguity there such that you can have these really interesting interpretations… My partner and I were actually talking, and they pointed out that it’s very close to almost being what we know the series to do when we’re viewing Nanako’s reconstruction of an event, where it’s largely in these dramatized screencaps. And I think that it’s almost really powerful where it’s almost framed as Nanako thinking about Rei’s death and “Ah, well, she must have just slipped and…” but we’ll never know.
But I think because we see Rei through the quote-unquote “objective” cam in motion from a third-person POV, it kind of slips on that point. I swear this is “Look, they told us we cannot explicitly depict suicide in this anime in 1991, and we have to work within that.”
And yet at the same time, yeah, I agree that when you just watch it casually, it reads as an accident of fate and tragedy, and that kind of sucks because the way this manga is built up as a tragedy—and we’ll talk about this more, I think, with Kaoru—at least when Rei kills herself more directly and explicitly, it’s fitting in with these themes that she felt like she wasn’t needed and she wasn’t wanted, and it ties to other things other than “She can’t be happy with Nanako because there are no happy queers.” You know?
CHIAKI: Can I just make a quick note? In ‘91, it’s a little early, maybe, still to depict suicide in Japanese media, at least on the TV. But I feel like at that point I would see some shows that went close to there. I remember distinctly when I was growing up in the early ‘90s watching a J-drama graphically depicting suicide for one of those sappy romance kind of things. And that stuck with me forever. I think, you know, it’s one of those scars. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: But I think Japanese media was willing to go there if they wanted to, is all I’ll say.
VRAI: Nah, fair.
MERCEDEZ: And I’ll say, too, because I’m gonna be thinking about this for a long time, I think what ultimately bothers me thinking about what everyone said is… And I don’t… Listener, please roll with me on this thought because I don’t know what I’m gonna say is gonna get what I’m trying to get across.
There is some license in the manga’s take on Rei dying by suicide that gets taken away here because Rei has had no license in this entire show. Her life has not been— I’m sorry, their life has not been their own. And it just hurts so much that Rei can’t even have a smidgen of happiness as a treat, just gets it yanked away. And this final moment of their 17 years of existence… it’s not even their own. Rei was just trying to grab the flowers. And like I said, they kind of get punished for that.
Not to say that a death by suicide is anyone’s choice. I think suicide and suicidality are often… you know, they come in an often painful string of events, a painful course of events that have led the person in question to feel like this is the option of “I don’t know how much more I can bear, how long I can tread water.” But there’s something really tragic to me that Rei just has no license even in the end.
VRAI: Yeah, it feels cheaper if it’s an accident because then it’s like some Joss Whedon Tara bullshit, as opposed to… Like, suicide is not a choice, like you said. I think that’s a beautiful way to put it. But at least you feel the cumulative events up to that point from everything in the series.
MERCEDEZ: Right. And there would have been something fraught if Rei had died by suicide, too. There’s something fraught still in that, that Rei just can’t be allowed to be happy, maybe, or that Rei can’t be given healing through love and through someone loving Rei enough that Rei can maybe start loving themselves again.
But there is just something so brutal about… Rei dies without any… basically dies without consent, which I mean, I suppose we all do. But we all know that death is going to come. That is a part of human… that’s part of existence, but Rei doesn’t even get a say-so in their own death. It just kind of gets snatched from them, right as they’re going to a date. And it’s just… mm.
DIANA: I hate this show.
DIANA: I’ve watched it like six times. I hate it.
VRAI: Yeah, and I think the other double whammy that makes it feel really mean and cruel by the time you get to the end is that in the manga Kaoru also dies.
VRAI: She did not magically get better from her cancer!
DIANA: I actually think that the anime left it kind of vague as to exactly how much longer is she going to live.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah, because during that marriage scene, it does zoom in on Kaoru and she’s like, “For as long as I live, I’ll keep these vows,” and you’re kind of like, “Ooh, okay. Well…”
CHIAKI: I mean, five years, right? And at the point when they get to the baby, she’s been going for three years.
CHIAKI: So she has two years to get out of the woods.
VRAI: I think it’s the same thing as the ambiguity of Rei’s death, where if you are just reading it from a comfortable, casual viewership question, it leads you to “All right, Rei’s death was an accident, and we have dead sapphics and the heteronormative couple got better and look, they are the happy new start.” Because that’s the closing image of new life and Nanako’s met someone new and “Look, infant!”
I think, absolutely, you can read it as “Well, we don’t know.” But it’s not explicit such that it leaves that door open to “Straight marriage will in fact save you to a happy ending.”
MERCEDEZ: Guess I’m gon’ die. [Chuckles]
DIANA: I will say basically that a giant amount of the fandom likes to just ignore the ending because “Ha-ha-ha, no.”
MERCEDEZ: The Babies Ever After just really… The de-yassification of Kaoru is just so brutal.
DIANA: [crosstalk] It’s so bad!
MERCEDEZ: I was like, “Really? This?”
CHIAKI: Yeah. I mean, especially after so much of her character was “I am never getting married. Fuck this. And I am terrible at traditional feminine things.” And then the final cut-to is “Oh, by the way, Kaoru is now absolutely a woman.”
MERCEDEZ: I mean, bring back the Kaoru that cracked an egg so badly. Bring back the Kaoru with the embroidery hoop in the mouth!
MERCEDEZ: That’s what I want. Instead we got—
DIANA: [crosstalk] Tradwife Kaoru.
MERCEDEZ: —very uncomfortable, I mean, bad age gap. And look, I’ll say, I like Tamora Pierce, and as an American author, she likes age-gap, a lot. But this one, I was just like, “Mm…” I was like, “I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all. Uh-uh. Uh-uh.”
VRAI: Honestly, by then I didn’t even have the energy to get… By that point, after Rei died, I was just so dragging myself to the end of the series, I didn’t even have the energy to be like, “Yo, Henmi, you’re a creep actually.”
MERCEDEZ: It wasn’t good. Wasn’t good. Be strong, my ass!
DIANA: Be strong to survive watching the end of this series.
CHIAKI: “Be strong!” Man, I love that meme.
VRAI: It’s a great meme!
MERCEDEZ: It’s a good meme.
VRAI: It’s a good meme!
DIANA: I was listening last time to everyone saying, “Oh, I can’t wait to find out what the context is,” and I’m just sitting here like, “The context sucks. It’s not gonna really matter.”
VRAI: [Chuckles] The context is that a shit man decided to be a father for the first time in 13 years!
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, speaking of Henmi—
VRAI: Oh, one more thing before we get into Henmi. I have seen some folks pairing raw images from the manga of another thing that’s just a “Why?” change from the anime, is that Kaoru was still wearing pants post-wedding and I think also even at the wedding? It was raw, so, you know. But yes, Kaoru is still wearing pants. Let her wear pants!
CHIAKI: Just a decent pair of pants!
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yeah, Kaoru got married and was like skirts only. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Don’t put her in a pencil skirt at the airport now that she’s a woman!
DIANA: I just love how the series is just beautifully done queer tragedy and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Okay, but yes, now we have to have almost everybody end up straight to be happy.” Except Mariko, who gets to be a lesbian in a cute little apartment eating pastries, and good for her.
MERCEDEZ: But I do want to say Mariko’s sadness when they’re heading to Germany and Mariko’s like, “It’s a beautiful city! And they have sausages!” I was like, “Oh my God!”
MERCEDEZ: I was like, “Mariko, sweetie, I’m so sorry that you had to watch your girlfriend get married and just go full het. I’m so sorry!” When she said “sausages,” I did start crying because I was just like, “This is the saddest thing,” and I think anyone who’s queer maybe has been there at that moment of “Oh, no! I’m losing them!”
VRAI: This is a very relevant thing to point out because, Chiaki, you and Mercedez both were watching the RetroCrush version, right?
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] No, I watched the Blu-ray.
VRAI: Oh, right, you got the Blu-ray.
CHIAKI: I pull screenshots from the RetroCrush version, so I do switch once in a while.
VRAI: Gotcha. The subtitles are slightly different, as we’ve discussed in past. The pronouns for Nanako’s last lines in the Blu-ray release are neutral. She uses “they” pronouns. And the RetroCrush one uses “he,” which I don’t love.
DIANA: No, I don’t love it either.
CHIAKI: And, just speaking on context, because I’m watching it in Japanese and I barely ever read the subtitles, yes, it’s very ambiguous as well.
VRAI: I thought so. I thought it was, as we lovingly like to call it in this house, playing the pronoun game.
CHIAKI: No, that’s just speaking Japanese.
VRAI: Oh, yeah. No, I assumed that it was… You know, you don’t have to have a have a subject pronoun, but also it conveniently allows you to skirt the line of the fact that Nanako is a lesbian!
MERCEDEZ: I mean, look, nobody in the history of ever has ever painted their thumbnail red and been straight.
VRAI: [Chuckles] I think we can all agree.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] The thumbnail only? Come on.
VRAI: [Chuckles] Okay, Mariko’s last… the image where she’s painted her pinky nail and her thumbnail, and a million terrible jokes!
MERCEDEZ: I didn’t think of that! I did not even think of any of them, but they all flooded my mind just now. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Good for you, girl! Anyway, Henmi—
CHIAKI: But you know what?
CHIAKI: You know, Mariko, poor Mariko. She’s gonna be a crazy cat lady, isn’t she?
VRAI: No, I don’t want…!
MERCEDEZ: With a knife!
CHIAKI: I mean, she’s living with her mom and she’s like, “Together forever! This is gonna be our life!” and I’m like, “Aw, honey, you’re gonna adopt like five cats, and then it’s gonna be ten cats…”
VRAI: Oh, no! No, I don’t want— Look, I love cats, but no! Get Mariko a girlfriend!
CHIAKI: 20 cats…
MERCEDEZ: Cats just keep increasing.
VRAI: We can’t— Okay, we have to stop putting off talking about Henmi now. Sorry!
MERCEDEZ: I mean, here was my initial thought when the news broke of Henmi being Nanako’s stepbrother. I was like, can you imagine, can you fucking imagine that weeks after the love of your teenage life, you get the news that this dude is related to you, and nobody decided to tell you because… I don’t know, hands-in-the-air emoji. I would be like, “You know, life is really kicking me right now.”
DIANA: I would flip my shit.
MERCEDEZ: Honestly, Nanako needed to get angrier. Like, sis. Go left for once.
VRAI: No, no, because she’s handling her grief by never being mad at anybody because then something bad might happen to them.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles mournfully]
VRAI: Listen, I appreciate that this show wanted to do a “He can’t see without his glasses” moment, but I really wish that she could have been there when Rei died somehow. Like, fuck off!
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I would just be mad.
VRAI: I will say it gets points for… I couldn’t stop thinking, you know, if this were a more recent anime, we would have had to do the “Well, he’s not technically blood related” shit.
DIANA: Oh my God, no!
VRAI: Yeah, yeah, see? See? Small blessings.
DIANA: Yeah, when I first watched it… I’ve watched enough slightly dubious anime because you get what you can when you are a millennial who wants to watch queer anime and a lot of it is very bad, that I was just like, “Oh, please tell me she doesn’t hook up with him. Please tell me.” And then they didn’t, and I was like, “Oh, thank God.”
VRAI: This very season, we had an anime that opened with “Oh, well, I guess he’s not my…” Man, fuck A Couple of Cuckoos. I did not enjoy that. We should cut this, but…
MERCEDEZ: Look, I gotta review it! I gotta review it, so I enjoy it far less, Vrai!
VRAI: No, that’s fair, you’re suffering much more than me. I only had to watch one episode. This is a diversion. I’m sorry!
CHIAKI: I’m blissfully ignorant of this season’s anime, so…
MERCEDEZ: And I didn’t even ask to review it; it got assigned to me!
MERCEDEZ: I was like, “Did I make Lynzee mad?” [Chuckles]
VRAI: [Chuckles] You like romcoms, right?
MERCEDEZ: Oh, fuck me for saying that. I should have never… I should have kept my opinions to myself, been like, “I hate romcoms. Hate ‘em!” Couple Of Cuckoos…
VRAI: The whole thing with Kaoru and Henmi is the big moment in the series where… I think for the most part it has done such a good job of making the pace feel natural and like obviously this is the amount of time we should be spending with these characters, and then you hit this bit and I’m like, “Oh, this is from a three-volume manga, huh.”
DIANA: Going through the manga is whiplash, because it really is only three volumes and a lot of the stuff that everybody praises in the anime just straight-up wasn’t in the manga. So, when you read it, it feels like you’re just getting kicked in the chest repeatedly for no goddamn reason. I love it, Give Rei Back Her Bell-Bottoms 2022, but…
MERCEDEZ: This arc definitely felt like it was… I was like, oh, this manga did not have a lot of meat on the bones compared to this 39-episode show.
DIANA: One of the only cases where a series added filler and I think it was infinitely for the best.
VRAI: Because in the manga, you can almost see how… You know, 20 episodes ago we had that mysterious bit of foreshadowing where Kaoru is thinking about some faceless dude that is on her mind. And then a couple chapters later that comes up again, but it’s been 20 episodes, so I’m like, I would rather know more about Kaoru and Rei’s friendship. We don’t know how they know each other. Supposedly they’re childhood friends. What’s happening?
CHIAKI: Turns out.
VRAI: I didn’t request that.
CHIAKI: [Sighs] I don’t think any of us did. I’m just kind of glad, like, okay, Takeshi’s [sic] not a bad guy after all. Maybe I was wrong.
VRAI: I’m shocked!
CHIAKI: I was wrong.
VRAI: Earnestly shocked!
CHIAKI: Only thing he did wrong was that he had a blowtorch and he was trying to change a spark plug in his car. Who does that?
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] Someone who doesn’t know how to fix cars in the least.
VRAI: By the end, we had resorted to a Tomoda situation in our house.
VRAI: We’re like, oh, so this is Henmi’s boyfriend and they live together, and once his wife tragically dies they’ll have great cover!
DIANA: Oh, no!
MERCEDEZ: That’s really funny. Oh my God. Yeah, because Kaoru was for sure… not gonna make it.
DIANA: I feel like the fact that I know that this is how it goes in the manga almost makes me hate this a tiny bit less, because knowing how it is in the manga, it’s very like, “Okay, I am dying. I will cling to whatever chance I have for any kind of what society tells me is happiness. Oh, well. I’m just not quite ready to give up yet.”
VRAI: Yeah, it’s still fraught, but at least it on a narrative structural level works as a tragic foil to Rei in terms of the fact that they have these tragically short lives and the happiness they’re able to get out of them, which I think… it doesn’t make Rei not a tragic queer character, but it takes the sting out of it a little because it’s also about these other things, you know?
DIANA: For the record about that, I think one of the strongest scenes in this entire garbage plotline, in the anime anyway, is Fukiko breaking down and screaming at Kaoru, like “You have even just five more years. How dare you waste it?” That really hurt, but in the kind of good way that I enjoy because apparently I hate myself as well.
VRAI: No, no, that was good feels. That was a return to good feels. It’s strong and character based, and I feel like I know something about Fukiko.
CHIAKI: Also kind of traditional to this show at this point, I guess, is: Fukiko’s arc is over, so now she’s normal! She’s saying good things!
MERCEDEZ: She’s just a normal human being. On a horse.
CHIAKI: Yeah, she’s just saying sensible things!
VRAI: Beautiful tradition.
MERCEDEZ: When Fukiko rode in on her horse and went to sit on a rock, I was like, that’s what normal people do, not literally everything Fukiko has done until now. Because I remember I—
VRAI: Like Chiaki said, her arc is over now, so now she has been demoted to supporting player.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, she no longer wants to drown people.
MERCEDEZ: She just goes and sits on a rock and she’s like, “Rei, if you were capable of loving a man—like I am—how would you feel?”
MERCEDEZ: Like, okay, Fukiko, weird question to ask the dead ghost of your sister, but… okay. [Chuckles] Okay.
DIANA: There’s some bits about the end of her arc that feel very… not to be overly crude here, but feels very “Okay, the dog finally caught the car bumper. Now what?”
VRAI: [Chuckles] I mean, it’s sappy as hell, but like the scene between Fukiko and Kaoru, I did kind of like her dream vision of Rei where it’s like “No, that was a teenage crush that you had. You will find another person you’re in love with.” That is the kind of adolescent mood that the series is so good at. But boy, the cancer, huh?
CHIAKI: [unintelligible due to crosstalk]
DIANA: I wrote down as possible trigger warnings that we might need one for medical misogyny specifically, because as somebody who has suffered some rather permanent damage due to medical misogyny, the parts where they just keep talking to literally everybody except for Kaoru for her own good just… it sends the bad feeling up my spine and makes me want to scream.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, I know Kaoru’s parents are a non-entity in this, but he’s not even rel— Mm!
MERCEDEZ: [knowing] Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
MERCEDEZ: Kaoru was really interesting because I couldn’t help but… especially with the mastectomy scars, I couldn’t really help but draw this comparison to… Do y’all remember when the world lost their mind over Angelina Jolie getting a mastectomy?
DIANA: Oh, God, yes!
CHIAKI: [curious] Oh, that happened.
MERCEDEZ: And people were like, “It’s the end of womanhood. If you don’t have titties, how can we tell what gender you are?” And it really made me think. I was like, “This is just… Kaoru’s getting done dirty!” No one will talk to her about her own body, the body that she’s inhabiting that has a sickness. And I was just like, “What next? We gon’ tell Kaoru she ain’t a woman?”
VRAI: I mean, I feel like that’s implicit in the scene she has with Nanako, where she opens her shirt and there’s this black mass because… I don’t know, you don’t want to show titties, but you could draw a nipple-less titty, and it would feel less dehumanizing.
DIANA: It feels like reading Black Jack all over again.
MERCEDEZ: Is there titties in that? [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] I mean, that’s a series of all time, Black Jack, but…
DIANA: No, but there is an early trans guy character who is otherwise treated well except the reason that he is now a man is because he had to have a hysterectomy.
CHIAKI: Yeah, yeah, that does happen.
CHIAKI: It does happen.
DIANA: He tried, for the ‘60s, and failed really hard because the ‘60s.
VRAI: It’s like I’m reading MW all over again.
MERCEDEZ: Wow. [Chuckles] I gotta recover from that. But it is quite dehumanizing that Kaoru could not even… Like, Kaoru is still the gender she identifies as. And that’s what made me think of Angelina Jolie, because there was all this conversation at the time when Angelina Jolie had announced that she was getting a double mastectomy and people were like, “Is this the end of her womanhood? Is she no longer going to be beautiful?” And she did it because she has a genetic predisposition to certain forms of cancer that affect breast tissue and she just wanted to mitigate that risk so she could continue to exist.
And everyone was just up in arms. I mean, you would have thought the President got shot, the way people were reacting. And instead, it was just a woman who was like, “My breasts don’t define me.” And it was just really… I don’t know.
Once again, I feel for Kaoru. And I guess she gets her womanhood back because she’s still capable of marriage? It just… [Groans painfully]
CHIAKI: Mercedez, just so we’re clear, though, I think some people care about her boobs more than the President. Just to put it out there.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I mean… yeah, I mean… Yeah, fair, fair.
CHIAKI: But I feel like Kaoru’s whole character throughout not just this arc but this entire series is couched on “Why is she so manly? Why is she so non-traditionally not femme?” And I feel like it leads up to answering this question by saying, “Oh. Because she had cancer and she had to chop off a boob.” Like she’s gonna die of cancer and she decided I’m not going to be a woman anymore and that’s the entire basis of her being super masculine on everything.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, no, I definitely think that subtext is there. And even in the scene where she talks to Nanako, it’s like… From a societal point of view, like you said, Mercedez, this is still very much a thing of cultural misogyny, so I understand why Kaoru has a lot of angst about it, especially as a teenager.
But by this point, after Rei’s death, Nanako is coping by being supernaturally empathetic, so with her in that role, it almost feels like she should be the one to say “But no, you’re you” or “You’re still beautiful,” and instead she just breaks down crying like “Oh, you have lost your womanhood!” and I’m like, “Okay, show!”
MERCEDEZ: And you’re like, “Nanako, swerve out of TERF City, baby girl! Get back over to the right lane, Nanako!”
MERCEDEZ: Look, if I had lost my tall, androgynous partner, yeah, I would be bent out of shape, too. I would be weeping and… you know, cool. However, Nanako, child!
VRAI: Oh, yeah, I don’t blame her. It’s just another one of those weird structural choices that defines this last stretch.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Like Nanako had some very strong opinions about womanhood suddenly. Okay, whoo, okay.
VRAI: For the first time!
MERCEDEZ: Maybe she should go get on the horse that Fukiko rode and go to that rock and sit with that.
CHIAKI: Pick up the violin. Pick up the violin a bit.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, get your (how do you pronounce them?) jodhpurs? The fancy hip pants. Get those.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] Oh, what a trip. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: [Sighs] What a mess.
VRAI: What a mess. Also, just to be petty, it doesn’t make sense for the doctor to be telling Henmi about Kaoru’s surgery chances and her survival from it and then also to have the naked reveal scene on the riverbank with Tanabata and all that fun stuff. He already knows, apparently!
MERCEDEZ: Look, that doctor… Maybe that doctor was like, “Henmi, I gotta let you know. I gotta let you know this is the kind of woman you’re gonna get. Here’s a preview.” It’s just fucked. It’s just fucked and I don’t like it. [Groans]
DIANA: Can I mention the absolute pettiest thought I have about the kimono reveal thing?
VRAI: Go on.
DIANA: I am a costumer, and I am someone who loves just clothing as a concept throughout all cultures. You show me an outfit, and I will just be fascinated by how it works. Which is why, since I know what it’s like to put on a yukata, a scene where you just dramatically rip off the entire yukata in a single dramatic motion without even bothering to screw with the obi or whatever, it just drove me up a wall. I’m just screaming inside, “Fabric does not do that.” I am sitting here watching a truly horrific heteronormative scene, and I am mad the fabric is not doing the thing correctly.
MERCEDEZ: Alternative: Kaoru’s yukata was made out of paper.
CHIAKI: No, no, no, no, no. No, no, she put it on like she would a courtesan. She was planning it all along.
MERCEDEZ: She knew it was gonna like a sexy reveal kind of thing! Except it wasn’t sexy; it was just—
VRAI: [crosstalk] You know what? I’d almost buy that terrible…
MERCEDEZ: I mean, this is the same character that, once again… embroidery hoop in the mouth.
VRAI: It’s true. Somebody had to help her put that on.
MERCEDEZ: It’s just… I did like that she wore Rei’s number.
DIANA: Oh God, yeah. Yeah, that’s one of the moments I cried.
MERCEDEZ: That was sweet.
VRAI: I really wish we could have ditched all of this in favor of learning more about Kaoru and Rei because they are sweet and I want to know about this apparently very pivotal relationship.
DIANA: [deadpan] No, we need more gender roles.
VRAI: No, you’re right. That’s on me. That’s on me. [Sighs]
DIANA: [Sighs] Loving vintage anime is pain sometimes.
VRAI: Sometimes. Well, and I feel like this one is so interesting in that it really is pretty strong for about three-quarters of it. It holds up really shockingly well. And I feel like, especially, people bag on older shoujo a lot because… I think I brought this up in another episode, the question of: is it worse to not try at all and then those old shounen become classics because they didn’t try, or be old shoujo that tried and then aged kind of badly?
But really, a lot of the stuff about class and Nanako trying to navigate stuff and gender roles and her feelings for Rei, it’s all really good, strong stuff. And then you hit this ending and it’s like, oh! Oh, no!
MERCEDEZ: Because I liked that it tried. I definitely think I would like shows to try more, even if they fumble. But after Rei dies, there did come a point where I whispered to myself, “What is going on?” Because Rei dies and the show leans into, like, “Did you know…? Gender?”
MERCEDEZ: And what I have learned, because this is really the first retro series that I’ve ever watched all the way through that I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed… I’m realizing it is a product of its time, to a great degree. I do like that it tried, though.
VRAI: Yeah, on the whole, even with the fact that it really faceplants at the end here and I was basically dragging myself through the last six episodes, I really, really love this show. The stuff that it does well is so strong and beautiful. The art is gorgeous, the voice acting’s really good, the music is so evocative. Hot damn, I’m angry more people have not watched this because, again, comparing it to shounen shows that get more credit, Evangelion also falls apart a lot in the last fourth.
MERCEDEZ: And I’ll say, it’s interesting you say that because I’ve never seen it, but based on my understanding from social media, that would not be the case because everybody just sings Eva’s praises.
VRAI: Listen, I love Eva and I even like the TV ending for some of the stuff it’s doing, but production-wise and narratively, that shit comes to pieces!
DIANA: It’s true. But I do think that Dear Brother is so good when it isn’t falling apart at the end, that it’s worth just watching and appreciating, but also just giving a disclaimer to people that “Oh, and by the way, the ending sucks but everything else makes it worth it anyway.”
CHIAKI: Yeah, I would have appreciated that warning going in.
DIANA: I’m sorry. I was told—
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Everyone swears by this show, and I was like, okay.
DIANA: Everybody told me not to give spoilers, so I didn’t give any. But I was definitely hurting at times not giving them. [Chuckles]
VRAI: No, no, this is my fault for doing this to you, Chiaki.
CHIAKI: You’re never gonna get me to watch Utena now.
CHIAKI: I won’t trust you. I won’t trust you. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: And conversely, now I’m kind of hyped to watch Utena. It’s the duality of it all.
VRAI: [Chuckles] No, the last two people on Earth who haven’t seen Utena and can say smart things on the internet, and now I only have one of them!
MERCEDEZ: Aw, that’s nice that you think I’m so smart.
MERCEDEZ: There’s definitely a show that I’m gonna do what I did with… I feel like there was a recent anime that I had to do this with, where I was like, “Mm, the last…” Oh, you know what? It was Madoka!
VRAI: I was gonna say, was it Wonder Egg?
MERCEDEZ: [Laughs] You know what? Yeah, let’s go Wonder Egg, because that’s a really… Yeah, with Wonder Egg, you just kind of have to pretend that it ends in episode 11. And if you do, you’re like, “Wow! What an interesting, original concept with a really banging soundtrack.”
And this, I’m just going to pretend that the moment where Fukiko sits on a rock is really where it ends. That’s a good cutoff. If you see Fukiko ride up on a brown chestnut horse that looks like Epona, gets off of it, and sits on a rock, just go through that scene. Close RetroCrush after that.
MERCEDEZ: Close it.
CHIAKI: Cue up the ending on YouTube or something and just watch that after, and closure.
MERCEDEZ: And maybe listen to the OP again because that OP slaps!
DIANA: It really does.
MERCEDEZ: Going around my house talking about the gold and silver bowl. [Chuckles]
DIANA: Okay, so who here is never going to forget the word for “bowl” in Japanese after watching this show?
CHIAKI: Well, I mean, I already knew it.
MERCEDEZ: That is true.
VRAI: True. Okay, but I did have a moment where, deep in the hazes of sleep deprivation, I had the thought, “You know, one of the musical riffs in the ending sounds kind of like Billy Joel’s ‘The Stranger,’” and now that lives in my head. Which, it’s not an inappropriate song for this show.
DIANA: Huh! I think you’re right, dang!
VRAI: Uh-huh! Yeah, yeah, see, now it lives in your head, too.
CHIAKI: Luckily, I don’t know what that is.
DIANA: [crosstalk] Thanks for that.
CHIAKI: That will never work.
VRAI: You’re free.
CHIAKI: [triumphant] Ha-ha.
VRAI: It can be tough, and not unreasonably so, to recommend older shows like this, where it’s like, “Well, yes, it’s deeply tragic because it’s a show made about queer people before 1990 and it’s not one of the five exceptions, but you should watch it anyway.” I understand why people don’t necessarily want to do that. But it’s really, really good and I feel like understanding this history really informs and makes one’s knowledge of media history more rich, and I want more people to watch this show.
MERCEDEZ: That’s actually what I was just about to say, was: I think watching this really enriched a lot of my understanding of certain things I’ve seen in manga. Like, I did not realize… I think it’s actually not an overstatement to say that Dear Brother walked so a lot of other series could fly and do really fantastic things.
And it’s really given me… I think if you’re someone who really wants to understand the history of genre, this is a really critical text to engage with. And I don’t regret it from that side at all. It’s really interesting and it really explains a lot of the things that you see in ‘90s anime, that you see even now. It’s really good for that kind of context.
DIANA: How many series I’ve seen that managed to rip off the Rei-in-the-coffin shots. That is everywhere in tragic shoujo ever since.
CHIAKI: Right. [Obscured by crosstalk]
VRAI: Yeah, I gotta say, I do appreciate the amount of time the show is willing to dedicate to the fallout of grief. I think that that’s really nice and understated in an effective way for a show that is defined by its extra-ness a lot of the time.
DIANA: Yeah. I have to say, in terms of making me sad by making me remember what real grief is like, there’s only one other series I’ve seen that can outdo that, and that I only think outdid it because of one truly spectacular performance.
MERCEDEZ: What series is that?
DIANA: Legend of the Galactic Heroes. And I watch a lot of tragedy because apparently I enjoy when my favorite series hurt me. I hate myself for it, but this is just who I am.
VRAI: [Chuckles] It’s the life you’ve chosen to live?
DIANA: Yep. I’ve decided that it is great, in fact, when media roundhouse-kicks me in the chest.
MERCEDEZ: That’s so funny.
VRAI: Where are you sitting with it, Chiaki, on the whole?
CHIAKI: No, I think, definitely as a piece for historic context, I appreciate this show a lot and I appreciate a lot of the tropes that it set up. Whether it’s the Class S concept or the kiss from Ex-Arm, all of this—
CHIAKI: There’s so much history—
MERCEDEZ: I forgot about that. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: There is so much history in this show that I really appreciated watching. And as Diana, you said, getting into this podcast and series, this is the definitive ‘90s aesthetic anime. And I just love the visual elements of everything here and all the things that it did. This one—
DIANA: I genuinely think it’s one of the most beautifully done cel-animated anime to ever be made.
CHIAKI: Yeah, no, I mean, I loved watching this show. Definitely one of those… And I agree: you watch to episode 32 and maybe you just kind of turn it off and say that, you know, maybe 33 through 39 were lost like those episodes of Doctor Who, and who knows what happens then?
VRAI: We’ll never know about Nanako and Rei’s perfect date where she opened up to her about her tragic past and the fact that her mother committed suicide in front of her.
VRAI: I guess we’ll never know. But it was probably beautiful and they had a very touching relationship.
CHIAKI: I think I know some websites with the stories that I need to read on it. So…
VRAI: I was about to say, I am typing in Archive of Our Own right now to see how many fanfics there are.
MERCEDEZ: Ooh, give us the deets!
DIANA: The ending of this series makes me remember all those old MythBusters memes that are like “I reject your reality and substitute my own,” and I’m like, yes, that’s me watching the end of this series.
DIANA: I reject this.
VRAI: It’s so, isn’t it?
DIANA: It is a lot.
MERCEDEZ: I’m just really sad that my prediction that Kaoru and Mariko was gonna be a thing is just… That’s dead in the water. It’s just Mariko and her 20 cats!
CHIAKI: [Chuckles] Eh, 50.
VRAI: Aw, there’s only 37 Dear Brother fanfictions.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] What’s the top ship?
VRAI: Let’s see. [Hums while searching] Obviously, it is Rei/Nanako with 10, 10 of 37.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Okay, what’s the top rating?
VRAI: Distressingly, there are nine for Rei and Fukiko and—
VRAI: —and only one for Kaoru and Mariko, so I don’t know what that’s about.
DIANA: [crosstalk] Oh, boo!
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Wow. [Sighs] All right.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Okay, it’s cool. It’s gonna become two.
CHIAKI: Listener. Listeners. Better to get writing. Gotta get writing.
VRAI: Well, apparently everyone ships KaoRei, because there are 7 of those out of, again, 37.
CHIAKI: Okay, well, that’s acceptable.
DIANA: Okay. I’m fine with that.
MERCEDEZ: I’m curious what the top rating is. Is it E? Or is it G? I said E. And I think what I meant was E for Everyone, forgetting that E is “explicit”!
VRAI: Yeah, I was about to say, “Well, there are four explicit fics, but I don’t really want to read porn about high schoolers!”
MERCEDEZ: No, no, I definitely forgot E is not Everyone in fandom.
CHIAKI: Have people stopped using the little lemon and the limes?
DIANA: Yeah, like 20 years ago.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Chiaki, it’s 2022!
CHIAKI: I’m sorry, I stopped writing in 2010.
MERCEDEZ: The youths don’t even know what lemon and lime is anymore. They don’t even know kink tomato is!
VRAI: Just capping off by showing our age. Good. This is excellent.
CHIAKI: We’re as old as this show.
VRAI: [Laughs] That’s true, literally.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, God. Yeah, we… [Laughs]
CHIAKI: Actually, I’m still older than the show.
VRAI: Ah, that’s beautiful. I guess this is my last chance to entreat people to go out and buy it on Blu-ray while it’s still available, not least because of the improved subtitles.
DIANA: Yes, the improved subtitles are a big part. And also—I’m just gonna be the mercenary here—go out and buy it while you still can because when it goes out of print, there is going to be a group of people who just never bothered buying it and then they’re like, “Oh, crap, I forgot to buy it.” And if you have it around and don’t like it, well, then that’s some dollars in the bank, baby.
VRAI: It’s true. It’s a win-win!
MERCEDEZ: I do want to say that Rightstuf has it for $52.46 American right now, so…
VRAI: It’s bound to go on sale soon. When’s the next holiday?
MERCEDEZ: Fourth of July?
DIANA: Memorial Day?
VRAI: I mean… Memorial Day…
MERCEDEZ: Tried to… [Tries to speak through chuckles] Yeah. [Chuckles] Tried to [Obscured by crosstalk].
DIANA: [crosstalk] I only remember Memorial Day because that’s when Fanime is! [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: I mean, yes, that’s true, you’re right, but that’s when you buy a car, not anime.
MERCEDEZ: That is true. That is true.
DIANA: I mean, you buy anime at Fanime. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: It’s in the name.
CHIAKI: I only buy alcohol at Fanime.
VRAI: [Chuckles] Does anybody have any final thoughts on the series before we go, besides, you know, ask somebody to license the manga?
CHIAKI: I’ll let you two go.
MERCEDEZ: I enjoyed it. I really quite enjoyed it. It’s a really interesting kind of historical look at some of the foundations of what we think of as modern shoujo. And it’s a really good… Definitely, there’s parts of it that are fraught, but that’s what I like about shoujo, is the kind of conversations it tends to have with fraughtness, and in a lot of cases fraughtness and femininity and how those are very realistically entangled. And that is the one thing… This is heightened drama, but this is also drama that could very much so happen in the real world.
And I definitely think it’s worth watching, simply to have the encyclopedic knowledge of shoujo and of what it can do, what it’s always had the capability to do, and have that kind of respect for it.
VRAI: Respect classic shoujo more. It’s very important. And also make more shoujo anime now so we can respect it in the future.
DIANA: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and, may I add, yes.
VRAI: And give it a budget of more than $2, for God’s sake. Poor Rose King. [Sighs] Sorry. Not that I’m not bitter or anything.
DIANA: Oh, it’s fine.
VRAI: All right. Thank you so much, listeners and readers of the transcript at home, for joining us on this watchalong. I really relish the chance to get to talk about classic series like this, and I hope that we have helped a few people discover the show that wouldn’t have before.
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