By Noel Kirkpatrick
Episode 6: “Lost and Alone”
Original airdate: Aug. 18, 1991
Bullying is an incredibly serious thing. This is a trite and obvious thing to say, but much like we assume urban violence to be a part of society, something that just exists, bullying, by the same measure, is assumed just to be something that exists, a part of the education society that children go through and become “better” people for as a result of surviving.
This is, of course, an absurd thing to say, let alone think, let alone allow to be a part of the cultural discourse. And I’m not even thinking from the perspective as a U.S. citizen. Just last week, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology set up an anti-bullying task force following some preteen suicides. I’m not going to armchair diagnose Japan’s bullying problem (or even America’s for that matter). I’m not a sociologist and I’ve never even been to Japan, let alone gone through their school system. But suffice it to say, Oniisama e…‘s depiction of bullying isn’t any less relevant just because the manga was written in the mid-1970s and the anime in the early 1990s.
And it’s fairly brutal in “Lost and Alone.” I’ve touted the series for its melodramatic chops, but “Lost and Alone” is one of those visceral uses of it that can either completely work, or feel like an overwrought Very Special Episode in an after school series. And I feel like it does work here. Between the beating performed by the upperclassmen and the cut-up gym clothes (complete with the scissors!), Nanako’s practiced smile about how wonderful school is for the sake of her parents, and then lying in her letters to Henmi feel earned from her damaged psyche. It functions on a dramatic level and offers vitally important look at the challenges that students face when teachers aren’t looking and parents offer only the minimal amount of interest.
I’m not sure what to make of Miya-sama’s vow to protect Nanako (hard to see the effects of this just yet), but it’s a moment that feels rife with potential meanings. Is this how Miya-sama drew in Saint Juste-sama? Does Miya-sama actually care about Nanako, or is this part of some other sadistic little game on the upperclassman’s part? I don’t trust the president of the Sorority as far as I can throw her, so protection of Nanako rings hollow.
Episode 7: “The Darkness in the Clock Tower”
Original airdate: Aug. 25, 1991
Things don’t let up in “The Darkness in the Clock Tower” (or “The Clock Tower of Darkness”). I mean, what kind of person wraps up a box of razor blades and then sifts through the ashes of the incinerator to then re-gift them? This is just deranged to me (the school store must have a gift-wrapping station). Thank goodness for Tomoko.
After the fight in “Lost and Alone,” I was worried that the strain between Tomoko and Nanako would continue, and the series would continue to allow Nanako to fall further and further into darkness. While that may have been interesting, it would’ve made an already fairly dark series perhaps too dark (especially when we still have 32 episodes to go!). So when Tomoko goes into full “COME AT ME BRO!” mode to Misaki and her entourage at the end of the episode, I cheered. Her vow to protect Nanako is one I believe, and one I’d love to see Misaki try and push.
This episode dips back into the more melodramatic soap tone, and it’s something of a welcomed relief. Finding Saint Juste-sama throwing daggers at a chalk silhouette of Miya-sama (right at the heart, no less) and then cryptically quoting passages of Paul Verlaine is pretty much the epitome of the show’s melodramatic impulses.
But it also gives us some much-needed backstory. I love Kaoru’s recounting of her meeting of Saint Juste-sama, and her startling honesty about her attraction (“I was attracted to her ethereal, inhuman existence.”). In a series that is about the trials and tribulations of one girl surviving, the story of Saint Juste-sama becomes a haunting parallel and warning if Nanako isn’t careful.
- “I was literally engulfed by Kaoru the Prince herself.”
- “I adore expulsion.”
- “You take after your mother, the ‘hostess’ who will ‘talk’ to anyone, right?”
- Mariko’s feeling a tad underdeveloped compared to some of the others, but she wins the Creepy McCreeperson award for wanting to pick out the fabric for Nanako’s pajamas for a Home Economics club project.