Thanks to the likes of Fruits Basket and Red Garden, I’m hardly a stranger to angst-drenched series, but there was one I had never laid my hands on- Oniisama E (aka Brother, Dear Brother). Created by the mangaka who brought us the somewhat better known Rose of Versailles, Oniisama E is one of the forerunners of that special genre that shows us that, in anime at least, all-girls’ schools are hotbeds of melodrama and HARD YURI (I really don’t remember it being like that at my school; in fact, unless you counted the PE teachers, we didn’t even have an evil lesbian trio).
Moving onto the specifics, Oniisama E tells the tale of Misonoo Nanako, who, together with her best friend Tomoko, choose to spend their high school years at the all-female Seiran High School. This was perhaps not the wisest decision the two girls ever made, as Seiran is not so much a school as a gathering place for young women with severe mental issues. Practically every named character has experienced some kind of trauma that has left them unbalanced and, in some case, a danger to themselves and others. Over the course of the series’ thirty-nine episodes, the various skeletons cluttering up their closets are uncovered, until eventually everything is resolved in one way or another.
As you can imagine, therefore, this is the kind of series which will only appeal to some very specific groups of people. If you genuinely adore HARD YURI-tinged angst and simply can’t get enough of it, then you’ll want to check out this series- in fact, you may even add it to your favourites within a few episodes of starting it. For the rest of us, however, the appeal is in the fact that the melodrama is just so over-the-top that it cannot help but be amusing- after all, it isn’t every day you get to see someone try to walk into the sea just because they had a minor upset in school. I’ll talk about the specifics more later on, but suffice to say that if you derive entertainment from the exaggerated misfortunes of others, you’ll get significant mileage from this series.
Visually, Oniisama E conforms to Ikeda’s slightly simplistic but distinctive style, with the usual trappings of dramatically flowing hair and women who look and act like bishounen. It’s hard to judge the animation quality when most of the series is only available in low-resolution VHS rip form, but since this is a series from the early 90’s, don’t expect anything too marvellous.
So you think you’ve got problems: a look into the troubled lives of our leads
As the main character, Nanako is more good natured, optimistic and naïve than troubled, but she still has some issues in her past. Having lived with her mother since she was young, Nanako doesn’t know her real father, although her mother eventually remarries, choosing Professor Takehiko. Takehiko leaves his first wife and child in order to marry Nanako’s mother, but everything proceeds remarkably amicably. Later, Nanako learns that her pen pal, friend and former cram school teacher Henmi Takehiko is her father’s real son.
Due to her youthful innocence, Nanako is often a target for the HARD YURI affections of the named characters, and she even gets admitted into the school’s Sorority (a gathering of bed partners for the senior students). Nanako remains in the Sorority for a while, but eventually quits after her friend Mariko is suspended from it. Nanako briefly indulges in HARD YURI when she gets a crush on second year Asaka Rei, but in the epilogue of the final episode she finally discovers STRAIGHT.
Nanako’s level headed childhood friend, Tomoko simply isn’t HARD YURI enough to be involved in the melodramatic events that surround Nanako. Despite their long friendship, Tomoko lets Mariko practically break up her friendship with Nanako through a handful of stock “she doesn’t want to be your friend any more” phrases. In the end, however, she, Nanako and Mariko magically become the best of friends.
Maybe it was because her father had an affair and her parents subsequently divorced, but Mariko is more than a little strange. On the very first day of school, she latches onto Nanako as a potential HARD YURI partner, even going so far as to break her up with her best friend so that she can have her all to herself. In her attempts to get admitted into the Sorority, she tries to please the Onee-samas in any way she can, even biting her lips to make them bright red.
Later on, she invites Nanako to her birthday party, failing to mention that Nanako will be the only guest; afterwards, she takes Nanako home for a shared bath and some HARD YURI, only to threaten to kill Nanako when she refuses to stay.
One can hardly blame Nanako for not wanting to be around Mariko after that, but in response, Mariko decides to stop eating, and after she collapses from malnutrition, her personality changes, enabling her to become best friends with both Nanako and Tomoko whilst transferring her HARD YURI crush to Kaoru.
Even after these events, however, Mariko still has issues. She despises men to the point of sinking to the floor and crying after talking to some at a fair, but nonetheless still seems to want to see her Papa. She also ends up attacking rival Misaki Aya with a knife and getting suspended from both Sorority and school for it.
Asaka Rei (Hana no Saint-Juste)
The bastard child of the Ichinomiya family, Rei lives with her mother until the day she randomly walks into the sea. At this point, Rei is sent off to live by herself in an apartment, and has quite a depressing existence popping pills and barely eating. She has a HARD YURI bond with her sister Fukiko (see below), to the point that she tried to kill herself when young Fukiko suggested committing HARD YURI lovers’ suicide.
From an early age onwards, Rei puts herself in Fukiko’s hands, grabbing at her small kindnesses and enduring her cruelty and abuse- all because her mother told her to look after her older sister. This complex and twisted relationship continues for a while, until finally Rei seems able to move on and begin a HARD YURI life with Nanako- unfortunately, on this very day, she somehow gets blown off an overpass into the path of a train.
Ichinomiya Fukiko (Miya-sama)
Despite being considered one of the legitimate children of the Ichinomiya family, Fukiko is actually a full sister to Rei (both Fukiko and Rei know this, but do not realise the other knows). As head of the HARD YURI school society known as the Sorority, Fukiko picks and chooses her partners, trying to forget her ill-fated crush on Henmi Takehiko. She keeps Rei chained to her, and also tries to seduce Nanako, simply because she is jealous of her friendship with Henmi. Eventually she is forced to face the loss of her beloved Sorority, and from then on seems to spent most of her time with her horse.
- Drops some kind of spiked brush onto Rei’s hand for no apparent reason.
- Traps Nanako at the bottom of a lake, apparently because she felt like having some fun.
- Smashes all her glass ornaments after a maid accidentally breaks one because she couldn’t bear the idea of any more of them getting damaged by someone else.
- Tries to get Rei to kill herself by persuading her they should commit a sisterly lovers’ suicide, only to regret it and save her life. She later gives Rei a bracelet to cover the scar, but continually goes on about them committing suicide together for real in the future. She even goes so far as to attempt to jump off a building.
Orihara Kaoru (Kaoru-no-Kimi)
A sufferer of breast cancer, Kaoru had to have a mastectomy some time in the past, and thus chose to break off her relationship with Henmi Takehiko for fear she could never make him happy. At school, however, she actually seems quite stable, even standing up to the Sorority and eventually orchestrating its demise by slowly persuading the student body to sign a petition asking for it to be abolished. It is only later on that we learn of the truth about her mysterious illness and the fact that she may have less than five years left to live. Due to this, she decides to angst instead of being with Takehiko, but is eventually convinced to give up HARD YURI, marry him and have his child. What more does a woman want- a career, a life of her own, maybe even to finish her education?
Nanako’s pen pal (and technically her stepbrother), Takehiko may seem like just a friend, but as we can see from the above, he has intimate connections with the named characters. He actually first met Nanako some years ago when he went to spy on the family that took his father away from him, but never revealed the truth of their relationship in the intervening years (in the end, Kaoru accidentally revealed it to Nanako). After choosing to study in Germany and angsting over whether Kaoru will come with him, everything turns out happily ever after.
Mariko’s rival, Aya is so upset over not being accepted into the Sorority that she stages a hate campaign against Nanako, spreading rumours about her, shredding her gym uniform and generally making her life unpleasant (naturally with the help of two underlings). Although she is defeated in round one, she returns for another round, provoking Mariko enough to get stabbed in the arm. After making a fuss about her arm, Aya actually sinks into depression and tries to walk into the sea, but is saved by the leads.
Fukiko’s brother and Takehiko’s good friend, Takashi doesn’t really have much purpose beyond being one of those people who are always around so other characters don’t have to talk to themselves when they have something to think through.
Even the details revealed above can only cover the broad strokes of the world of Oniisama E, a place where angst is as essential as air, and where unbalanced people seem constantly out to manipulate and abuse each other. It won’t be for everyone, but if you need a dangerously high dose of melodrama, then look no further.