For the anime fan seeking melodrama, Dear Brother has it all. The series, which aired from 1991 to 1992 and was based on the 1975 manga of the same name, follows Nanako Misonoo, a new student at the elite girls' school Seiran Academy. The anime's title comes from the letters Nanako writes to her former teacher Takehiko Henmi, who she sees as an older brother figure. Nanako tells him of her experiences at the school as she becomes involved with the popular girls, in particular Rei Asaka, an artistic but troubled girl whom Nanako develops feelings for.
Dear Brother won't be for everyone. The series deals with heavy topics such as bullying, drug abuse, self-harm, cancer and parental divorce -- and that's just the beginning of the problems faced by the girls at Seiran Academy. The real meat of the drama, however, is found in the relationships between the students. The girls experience extreme jealousy, hatred, overdependence and love toward each other.
Nanako's classmate Aya Misaki begins to bully her when Nanako is invited to join the school's exclusive Sorority and Aya is not; Mariko Shinobu befriends Aya but also becomes extremely possessive of her; and Rei is unable to return Nanako's feelings because of her own obsession with Fukiko Ichinomiya, who enjoys tormenting Rei. Even Nanako's "brother" has history with several of her new classmates, which affects their own storylines and how they view Nanako.
Many anime deal with complicated themes and relationships, but what sets Dear Brother apart is that the drama never stops. Every episode is packed with unfortunate incidents or shocking revelations. For example, in episode four, Nanako embarrasses herself at her Sorority interview, which she shows up late to because Aya tricked her into arriving at the wrong time. However, she is selected to join the Sorority anyway, so Aya reveals to the whole school that Nanako's stepfather left his first wife and child to marry Nanako's mother.
The episode after this switches focus to the dysfunctional love triangle between Nanako, Rei and Fukiko, showing Rei's drug use and Fukiko's physical abuse of her, as well as Fukiko's anger when Nanako gets closer to Rei. These two episodes alone have enough drama for an entire story arc, and they're still very early in the anime's 39-episode run.
Dear Brother's status as an early example of the yuri genre gives it an extra angle of appeal, especially since the relationships between the girls are portrayed frankly and not treated as drastically different from heterosexual romance. For all the psychological torment the characters suffer, "But we're both girls!" isn't a primary reason for their angst. Nanako's budding relationship with Rei has enough obstacles without the girls feeling guilty for their same-gender attraction.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by Dear Brother's constant bleakness. The issues faced by the characters are serious, and not everyone gets a happy ending. However, the appeal of the anime is similar to the addictiveness of a soap opera -- every episode introduces some new twist that shifts the dynamics between the characters. It's hard not to want to keep watching to discover what will happen next, whether it's to see how its storylines resolve or how crazy they can become before they do so. Any viewer who likes their anime as drama-filled as possible should give Dear Brother a try.