marshtide: (Rei - go on you know you want to)
[personal profile] marshtide
It's official! It's Awesome 70s Shojo week!

So far we have:

- Andromeda Stories volume 1 (Takemiya Keiko & Mitsuse Ryuu) reviewed by [personal profile] starlady

- Gender, Sexuality and 70s Shojo Part One: Oscar Is Hotter Than You (70s shojo and Ikeda Riyoko's Rose of Versailles) by yours truly

- Four Shoujo Stories reviewed by [personal profile] starlady

(Do join in if you've got anything!)

And now I present to you: the next installment in Why I Love Ikeda Riyoko. That is to say: Oniisama E.

If you thought that Rose of Versailles was too melodramatic you should be edging away about now; I am not actually sure that Oniisama E missed even a single opportunity for melodrama and angst. Also drugs, self-harm, suicide, abuse. It has everything. Fair warning?

Oniisama E (sometimes referred to in English as Brother, dear Brother or some variation) is a much shorter manga series than Rose of Versailles at just three volumes, although the anime version is pretty long (and contains significant differences in plot). ETA: now that I think about it the anime also points far more obviously at sexual relationships (which is not to say that I don't think the manga should be read that way!) - possibly partly by virtue of being released in the early 90s rather than the 70s and also having so much more space to explore these things in.

It's a series about an all-girls... college? high school? (a lot of places high-school but the youngest students are 16 - educational systems around the world, so much confusion), and is remarkable in that it is a series which can reasonably be described as having token men.


The main character is a fairly normal girl, Misonoo Nanako, who gets dragged into the lives and convoluted intrigues of a bunch of older students at the school. She's basically quite sweet and confused and completely out of her depth.

And a budding lesbian!

"The aura of... a man..."

No wait, sorry, there are no lesbians.

You imagined it.

But I feel like her own story tends to take a bit of a back seat to her attempts to understand what's going on with the older students, particularly in the manga; I don't have a terribly strong impression of her as a person in comparison to some other characters, but she does draw out an awful lot of things about them and their relationships for the audience, sometimes without even understanding what she's dealing with.

The characters that I read & watched Oniisama E for were definitely those older girls.


Asaka Rei is a very charming and completely maladjusted drug-addict who likes to play with sharp objects (note the knife above). She also likes melodramatic french poetry and frilly shirts and despite having deep suspicions about the merits of both Rimbaud and frills with frills on I adore her thoroughly. She is manly! She poses so well! On good days she has a wickedly warped sense of humour!


Orihara Kaoru is athletic and boyish and has a mysterious 70s manga illness (there are a lot of these around). She's outwardly confident and tough and tries not to look at her issues or admit they exist and oh god she is amazing if not as well-balanced as she wants you to believe. She's also probably the most practical character in the entire series and keeps order a lot.


Albeit in a rather exasperated way.

She is Rei's best friend, which sounds like a thankless task if ever there was one.


But you know. "Best friend."

Remember: there are no lesbians.


Ichinomiya Fukiko (most often Miya-sama) is the leader of the school's sorority. She's very imposing and can seem very caring but is in fact deeply manipulative and more than a little spoilt. I have to concede that this is actually a common theme with Ikeda's more classically feminine women; I tend to find her characters with more confused gender identities a lot more sympathetic and I don't think it's just because I identify more with them.

There's a lot of antagonism between these three characters; Kaoru hates Fukiko and Rei is scared of her but obsessed with her and Fukiko hates everyone but tries to keep very tight control over Rei anyway. The motivations are many and varied. Basically: it's a mess, and the main plot of the manga is how all of that plays out.

There are a lot of things in Oniisama E that Ikeda Riyoko really liked to use throughout her work. Of note is the whole "traditional femininity" thing (in this case Fukiko and the sorority) set in opposition to gender non-conforming characters (Kaoru and Rei, although in different ways and for different reasons), which is actually pretty centre-stage here but also felt like it existed in a less antagonistic form in Rose of Versailles. I don't think that's insignificant given the context of that whole group of writers and their exploration of what gender means. There's also a lot about freedom and dependence, and there's a not insubstantial element of revolution here too. More than any of her other works that I've been able to read, though, this is a manga which is almost entirely dedicated to relationships between women, whether they're friendly, romantic, twisted or openly hostile. And that's pretty great.

On the other hand, it does feel like it could have gone further*, and the ending (which is basically an exercise in hiding the queerness that the rest of the series has established) is not its finest point, although there are things leading up to it that I really loved, and other things that I found very powerful.

I do recommend this one, overall, but I'm pretty sure it has a more limited audience than Rose of Versailles. It's one of my personal favourites, but I'm perfectly willing to accept that this is because I have great big buttons and it is pushing them. Damn near all of them.

By the way, this series and Rose of Versailles, along with the Takarazuka aesthetic that they both borrow from and feed back into, feel like they make a pretty heavy contribution to the look of Utena, and some of the themes in there too. Just thought you might like to know that.

All images in this post come from Lililicious' scanlation of the series, by the way. But yes, damn it, buy the thing if it's available in a language you can read.

* I mean with the lesbians, damn it, not with the... anything else. In most other respects it went quite far enough and possibly then some.
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