Review: Oniisama e…, “The Secret Door” and “Fukiko: The Sea Rumbles”

Nanako sits on the beach

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Oniisama e…
Episodes 14 and 15: “The Secret Door” and “Fukiko: The Sea Rumbles”
Original airdate: Oct. 27 and Nov. 3,  1991

After an intense run of episodes, these two kind of slow things down a bit, and begin what I can only imagine are transitions to the next set of stories. This first third of the series was about introducing us to the world of Seiran Academy and its politics, and the tail end of that third opens up that world a bit beyond the school gates and into the personal lives of some of the characters. That the show has achieved this shift very organically—did you realize we hadn’t seen Misaki for a number of episodes until that flashback started?—is really delightful. Nanako’s sense of this world (“My season of illusion has finally ended.”), and thus our sense of this world, has steadily expanded without feeling rushed or overly contrived (the nice thing about melodrama is that you can get away with some contrivances, like leaving your French notes in the classroom).

These two episodes do this as well, putting pieces in place for larger confrontations that I suspect we’ll be dealing with for a little while.

The first, and probably smallest, is Mariko’s association with Kaoru. And I only say smallest because it involves less dot-connecting than the next two elements. I suspect, however, that we’ll see Mariko’s infatuation with Nanako transfer to Kaoru the Prince. Perhaps not as obsessively deranged as she was with Nanako, I can only imagine that the blend of masculinity and gestures  easily mistaken for affection (“Let me stand in for Misonoo.”) appeals to Mariko’s obvious father issues and need for attention. I don’t know how quickly this will happen, but I’m willing to bet it does.

The second is the arrival of Henmi’s friend (has the series given him a name yet?) at Saint Juste-sama’s apartment. Obviously this is something of a nice connection, and it draws Henmi closer into this web by association, but the nature of the connection remains to sussed out. While Saint Juste-sama teasingly asks, “A friend, am I?”, it implies a stronger connection between the two than a simple friendship.

Miya-sama in shadow

Which leads me to perhaps the meat of these two episodes: Miya-sama’s demand that Nanako stops writing to Henmi (and the start of her attempts to seduce Nanako… ?). It’s such a bizarre request. How has she even heard about it? It’s not like she and Tomoko travel in the same circles, and Nanako doesn’t mention it to her anyway. Which can only mean one thing in my mind: Henmi’s friend is the brother of both Saint Juste-sama and Miya-sama. (I floated this theory at the start of the series, though at the time I thought it more likely he was Misaki’s brother.) It explains how he knows about the Sorority and Seiran, and it explains how in the world Miya-sama knew about the letters: He told her.

Even if I’m wrong, I love that the series gives enough rope for me to hang myself with this theory. It all fits, but I feel I’ve gotten to know the show well enough now that I half-expect it to surprise me somehow (maybe he’s Kaoru’s brother?). I don’t think it will though, and I will be pleased with myself if I am.

Random bits

  • “This is no time for you to be distracted over futility.”
  • “Beyond those dark eyes, who or what could break in?”
  • “I didn’t want to trouble the teachers by taking remedial every time.”
  • Oh, yes. Give champagne to high school freshmen. ON A BOAT.
  • “I hurt you because I couldn’t stand how you talked back.” Language of an abuser.

***

Late last week, Hulu announced that it will stream Oniisama e… on its site. Interestingly, they seem to actually be using the video from Viki, the site on which I’ve been watching the series so far (Viki’s logo appears on the show page). As a result of this, since both sites seem to be using the same subs, I’m likely going to stick with Viki for two reasons. One is that while Viki’s image is a little fuzzier than Hulu (though this could just be my settings), the image is larger, and that gives me me room to play with for screengrabs. The second reason is the near lack of commercials on Viki compared to Hulu. 

Oniisama isn’t the only Viki series on Hulu, so this isn’t a huge thing. Viki’s business model of licensing lesser-watched shows and then using fan-subs (under a Creative Commons license) for translations into various languages does make this practice interesting. (Apparently they also license content to Yahoo! and Netflix.) It, of course, provided more exposure to series that Viki picks up, but I do wonder about where the fan labor comes into this. While Viki is ad-supported, the ads aren’t very common, and thus I can’t imagine much money is being made off of the videos. But here, and with more exposure and more eyeballs, these legit fan-subs are potentially generating more digital dimes.

The Viki model, and its partnerships with other content sites, does open the door for other such deals on the cheap. Picking up the license, having fans sub it, and then streaming it on higher profile content sites is a potentially good way for other unlicensed series to be made available—and without the concerns of producing a physical copy. But there’s still an issue of fan labor being used to generate cash. This isn’t anything new, of course, but it is something to think about as this practice could become more and more common.

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