HomeReviewOniisama e…, “The Music Box” and “Thorns of Suspicion and Doubt”

Oniisama e…, “The Music Box” and “Thorns of Suspicion and Doubt”

Episode 4: “The Music Box”
Original airdate: Aug. 4, 1991

In the random bits of the last installment on Oniisama, I mentioned how much I like the episode structure and wanted to elaborate on that just a bit.

There’s an absolute pleasure in the series’s use of cliffhangers (like in episode 3) and its easy transition into that particular storyline.

This, of course, is thanks to its previous existence as a manga in the mid-1970s.

As a weekly storyline in a shoujo magazine, you needed a reason to have readers keep coming back, and the nature of those chapter installments is not at all different from the structure of a weekly episode in a serialized television program.

A boy hitting two girls
The story primarily follows Nanako Misonoo, a young girl who enters the prestigious Seiran Academy.

“The Music Box” follows this idea to a degree, but it feels very much like the second part of “Nanako is Disqualified?.”

Of course, Nanako still gets into the Sorority despite not arriving on time and embarrassing herself by liking Anne of Green Gables and then scrambling to say she also likes the works of Marquis de Sade (appropriate for this school, though).

In this episode and “Nanako is Disqualified?,” the series has gone to great lengths to demonstrate Nanako’s naïveté, child-like nature, and innocence.

She likes making cakes and swinging in playgrounds, and she doesn’t know the meaning of sadomasochism.

She’s not ready for the world she is entering and is already starting to pay the price.

One of the payments is the knowledge about her father and mother’s marriage, which boils down to Nanako being born due to an affair and Nanako’s father ditching his other family for this little girl and her mother.

Not only does this continue Misaki’s attempts to discredit Nanako in front of her classmates, but it adds another strand to this melodramatic tapestry, extending the intrigue of the school into the home.

But the episode isn’t without its fun.

I like how the series mobilizes Kaoru for some much-needed humor, both in her man-handling of Misaki and her crony and later with her inability to separate eggs and yolks.

And while she’s aware of the challenges these girls face and none too happy about them, she keeps a sense of humor about her and tries to set a counter-example.

Thank goodness someone is.

Two girls staring
Nanako bonds closely with her classmates, including Mariko Shinobu and Rei “Saint-Just” Asaka.

Episode 5: “Thorns of Suspicion and Doubt”
Original airdate: Aug. 11, 1991

Speaking of payments and elegant continuation of storylines, boy oh boy, does “Thorns of Suspicion and Doubt” fit that model.

I think it may be the best episode yet, to be honest.

So when I talk about the smoothness of the storytelling in the series, I love that the episode devotes a decent chunk of its run time to the collapse of Tomoko and Nanako’s friendship, which started at the end of the last episode and developed here.

Tomoko becomes another form of payment for Nanako to be in the Sorority, a depressing one.

If there’s been one constant in Nanako’s life, it’s been Tomoko, and that loss will start to weigh heavily on her sooner or later.

Two boys talking with each other
The relationships between the characters are often fraught with tension and emotional turmoil.

But the real focus of the episode is a deeper look into the bizarre relationship between Miya-sama and Saint Juste-sama/Rei.

There’s a real sense of mystery about this, and I like how the episode mobilizes Nanako as a sort of audience surrogate (which is what she’s supposed to be anyway), that we’re being exposed to this insane love triangle through unknowing eyes (though we do end up with more information than Nanako).

And so we get little bits of things. Kaoru is trying to break Saint Juste-sama of both her pill addiction and her subservient impulses to Miya-sama, but not terribly successfully.

There’s a bracelet that appears to be some trigger, enough for Miya-sama to knock a kenzan onto Saint Juste-sama’s hand purposefully.

It’s this horrible act of violence that leads to disturbing dreams for Nanako, as she plays out Miya-sama’s words to her at the initiation ceremony, both a compliment and a warning to be less-than-kind ever to survive, and then Nanako’s psyche adds Miya-sama striking out with the kenzan, blood already dripping from her hand.

If you thought this was going to be girls surviving bullying (with sapphic undertones), there’s something much darker going on here.

There’s a rawness to this, regardless of whether Oniisama e… was consumed, whether 1975, 1991, or 2012.

It’s timeless, despite the things that may seem out of place to us now, like phone technology (Everyone uses payphones! There’s no caller ID!) or clothing.

The story and the emotions it seeks to explore aren’t chained to a decade, and it’s standing up as well as it is. It is pretty impressive.

In closing, I want to mention the series’s animation briefly.

It does have some of the hallmarks of limited animation so common to anime. Still, I feel that Oniisama e… do an excellent job incorporating these cost-saving measures into their style.

The very rapid shot-reverse shot of glares between Saint Juste-sama and Miya-sama is just one example that adds to the dramatic flair while also saving the production some cash.

I’d add that repeating frames of hair billowing and whatnot likewise helps, in a way, to elongate time and stretch out the drama.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am grooving.

Random bits

  • I cannot stress how much I loved Kaoru in the cooking class. And the exchanges between the teacher and her about whether or not she was a girl? A nice nod to the character’s androgyny, but I feel there’s something more going on there…
  • “You daughter of a pornographer!” I’m going to start calling people that.
  • “She obeys Miya-sama like a tamed lamb.”
  • So, there is a lot of forward momentum in the Henmi storyline as we discover that he is, in fact, Nanako’s half-brother, the child from the marriage that Nanako’s father left behind to be with Nanako’s mother. I rather like that he’s being mature about this. It is a bit refreshing, but, again, SO MANY SECRETS!

Have You Read: Review: Oniisama e…, “The Magnificent Ones”

Muskan Ghimire
Muskan Ghimire
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