Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m eager to dive back into the nest of vipers that is Seiran Academy, as we bear witness to Nanako’s continuing misfortunes in the marvelous Dear Brother. The injustices of last episode, including the continuation dissolution of Nanako’s friendship with childhood confidant Tomoko, seemed to actually push our beleaguered heroine to a breaking point, prompting her to consider abandoning the Sorority altogether. Unfortunately, Miya-sama appeared to sniff out her intentions even before she did, offering her a pledge of loyalty that seemed to carry an undertone of yet another ominous threat.
So basically, it was just another day at Seiran, as larger-than-life titans like Kaoru and Miya-sama strode across the wreckage wrought by their tectonic movements, and underlings like Shinobu and Misaki scrambled for purchase upon their lofty, trunk-like garters. Riyoko Ikeda’s drama continues to wind in delightfully tortured directions, and Dezaki continues to elevate her tale with all manner of distinctive animated embellishments. It seems we’re on the cusp of Nanako beginning to seize her own destiny, rather than simply spin in the eddies prompted by larger forces, and I’m eager to see whatever fresh horrors await her. Let’s return to Dear Brother!
“For you, for love, I would empty the bowls of my past.” The final line of the OP implies giving up both the happiness and the sadness of the past, for the sake of a love-born transformation. Nanako has undergone a series of such potential transformations, from her mother’s second marriage, to her establishing her relationship with her “brother,” to her adoption into the Sorority. The line could also neatly describe her brother’s relationship with her, as he gave up the happiness provided by his father, but gained a connection with Nanako
As always, an establishing shot of that central tower leads us into Seiran Academy. However, in contrast with the usual low-angle shot emphasizing the imposing nature of this place, we instead get a far less threatening high-angle shot, which combines with the application of foil mock-sunlight to make for an unusually cheerful approach
This sense of idyllic peace is further amplified by more slow-panning, brightly lit establishing shots, combined with a gentle horn and piano melody as Shinobu recites from her textbook
Clouds blot the sky as Nanako takes her own turn at reciting. The screen goes darker still as we’re reminded of Nanako’s recent trials, emphasizing the contrast between this school’s sunny exterior and true nature
The teacher asks if she’s unwell as she finishes. Nanako is still not able to bear the slings and arrows of this place with total dignity; the fatigue of maintaining a brave face is clear
Misaki and her henchmen are still throwing accusatory notes at Nanako. Shinobu tells her not to let it bother her
Dear fucking lord. Nanako’s composure finally breaks as she reveals what she found in her desk this morning: a box full of razor blades. Right, so they’ve graduated from demanding she quit the sorority to urging her to kill herself. These girls!
“The Darkness in the Clock Tower”
Grim shot of Nanako’s stoic expression as she watches the package burn. You can really sense her developing calluses by the episode
Our next shot of the tower returns it to its natural imposing state, reigning high and shadowed above Nanako, practically blotting the sun. A regular stand-in for Seiran itself
“What’s so hateful about me? I wanted to be liked by everyone.”
“What is… what on earth is wrong with me?” She’s still too kind. She can’t brush off the hatred of all these strangers as simply callous jealousy, the common cruelty of those who believe someone has been unfairly exalted above themselves – she still grasps for a reason to explain this hatred, for something she might have done to provoke it. I had to learn early on as a moderately visible online presence that a lot of people will unthinkingly fling any degree of cruelty they can muster at those they believe do not “deserve” their voice. We are remarkably good at dehumanizing each other
She is distracted by the chiming of the clock tower. The tower’s stained glass windows facilitate bolder color fills, a natural complement to Dezaki’s aesthetics
She ascends into darkness. Seiran inherently evokes that sense of grand campus mystery that many school dramas attempt to foster, like there are secrets and ghosts waiting around every corner. Utena would follow in that same vein
She finds a note scratched on the wall: “M-sama, thinking of you has turned me into ashes.” I can’t imagine Saint-Juste was Miya’s first or last victim. A classic concept, an adolescent love so intense it actually destroys its bearer – the iconic Kaze to Ki no Uta centers on a similar sort of love
This wall scrawled in confessions and longing is actually a comfort to Nanako. She is not alone – she is sharing a sanctuary where many before her have come to voice their sorrows
“They found, in this tower, a place to escape – to embrace themselves and wet their knees with their warm tears.” Among its many strengths, it is a great asset to Dear Brother that its dialogue can actually bear the weight of its operatic ambitions. A lot of anime melodramas suffer from writing that’s just too rudimentary to bring their characters’ pain to life with lyricism, specificity, and power. KyoAni’s KEY adaptations would probably still be beloved romances, rather than just odd historical artifacts, if Jun Maeda could write
And of course, that in turn comes down to consuming a healthy, diverse array of literature. “You are what you eat” is as true for storytelling as it is for dieting, and one of the biggest creative problems facing modern anime is how much of its source material is created by people who only play videogames and read light novels. The ceiling of your influences informs the ceiling of your aspirations
At the top of the tower, Nanako finds Saint-Juste languishing and smoking a cigarette. Of course the queen of lamentation would nest in this tower of regret
“She’s… she’s smoking. She… is bad!” Compared to modern western dramas, this show’s treatment of drugs and drug abuse feels charmingly quaint
Oh damn, a remarkably fluid and beautifully exaggerated cut of animation as Saint-Juste flings a dagger past Nanako’s face. This show is usually pretty still, but there was great personality in the smears of Saint-Juste’s fingers there
She’s actually flinging daggers at a silhouette of Miya-sama
Saint-Juste, do you even attend classes here?
“What is it for, the sadness that creeps in my heart?” Love this obscured composition as Saint-Juste descends the stairs, with only the light visible through the windows piercing the darkness of the tower. It’s much like a prison cell, or perhaps more like a tower of banishment – the belltower where an unsightly creature is kept, or the ominous creaking attic of Jane Eyre. You could certainly draw a straight line from the abandoned Saint-Juste to Jane Eyre’s awful secret, a maddened former wife kept in chains
Lovely morose colors for the indistinct city as Nanako considers Saint-Juste’s actions. This show’s background art is excellent at evoking the felt impression of a scene, more than its minute literal detail. As Nanako returns home, the city is saturated in mournful blues and maroons to echo her thoughts
“Who on earth is Saint-Juste?” Her thoughts are complemented by a swingset in the foreground, its chains echoing the imagery of the clocktower
More energetic animation as Tomoko raises to catch her train. This is a lively episode!
She spies Nanako on the train, and thinks back to Shinobu’s painful rejection. I like this shot of us watching her through the glass, the blurred reflection of the scenery echoing her clouded, faraway thoughts
Nanako asks hesitantly if she can call sometime, but receives no response
When Nanako declines to join Shinobu in shopping for pajama fabrics, Shinobu says “it’s okay, I’ll choose your pattern too.” No matter how Nanako plays it, Shinobu always finds a way to ingratiate herself further into Nanako’s life
More ominous playing with light and shadow as Miya-sama and Saint-Juste collide. Miya-sama is defined by shadows, her appearance precipitated by the wraith-like shadows of herself and her followers climbing up the walls. In contrast, Saint-Juste is connected with the stained glass colors of the clocktower, and Miya-sama’s first recognition of her is complimented by a variety of shades filtering through the glass
“Can I borrow your light?” Saint-Juste attempts to draw Miya-sama into complicity with her own crimes. And the line has an additional meaning, as Saint-Juste once again asks to bask in Miya-sama’s glow. But of course, Miya-sama sheds only darkness
“Does your wound still hurt?” Miya-sama carefully balances tenderness and cruelty, keeping Saint-Juste held at a precise distance
In the library, Kaoru immediately figures out that Nanako is interested in learning about the historical Saint-Juste
“Reading for any reason is better than not reading at all.” Very true, Kaoru
Kaoru reveals that Saint-Juste, or “Rei,” transferred during middle school, at which time she was still rocking her full suit look. However, she used to spend all her time reading, without a care for the actions of other students
Rei is impressed that Kaoru is familiar with Verlaine. A poet who carved a similar journey through ecstatic, decadent love and into dependency
Rei apparently became a star basketball player as well, at Kaoru’s encouragement
“What really attracted her to me was something inhuman in her nature, and those eyes with such a distant, far-away look.” A familiar sentiment among stories like this, once again shared by Kaze to Ki no Uta. Certain figures are presented as glorious, shimmering, and ever-distant, as if they are angels who can only briefly survive among the muck of human conflict
Such figures are natural attendants to adolescence, when your emotions seem larger and everything is new
Misaki later comes by to harass Nanako again, “returning” her box of razors to her. Someone needs to do something about that daughter of a rat-dog
But holy shit, it’s Tomoko here to save her! Bless you, Tomoko!
“If you ever treat her mean, you’ll be dealing with me!” At last! God, Nanako really needed her one honest friend
And having reconciled with Tomoko, Nanako reads of the historical Saint-Juste, the zealous Jacobin who became known as the “Angel of Death”
“Does her nickname reveal the sad vision which is reflected in her eyes? Could it be a vision of Death?” Figures like Saint-Juste are always characterized as dancing with death, their eyes possessing a hazy understanding of their own mortality
At last, a great victory for Nanako! After half a dozen episodes spent losing everything that has ever been dear to her, it was a tremendous relief to see Tomoko at last get over her feelings of rejection, and repair the friendship that has meant so much to both of them. I’m relieved to see Tomoko act so reasonably in the face of this school’s attempted divisions, and also eager to dig even deeper into the histories of Rei and Kaoru. Misaki might be succeeding in creating an exceedingly unpleasant day-to-day environment for Nanako, but she’s also failing to integrate effectively into Seiran, whereas Nanako has forged distinct relationships with all three of the academy’s shining stars. You’re doing great, Nanako!