This year was fantastic for new anime, and I’m gonna have a difficult time whittling down a top ten list within the next week. Nevertheless, the best show I watched in 2016 aired 25 years ago, and it’s called Dear Brother [Oniisama e…]. It’s kind of a spiritual successor to the Rose of Versailles anime, with the great director Osamu Dezaki once again adapting a manga by the great artist Riyoko Ikeda. Set in an all-girls high school, it’s a knuckle-biting melodrama about love, friends, family, depression, bullying, basketball, tall girls, sororities, populist uprisings, incest, drug abuse, death, and lesbians. Dezaki is in top-form, and nearly every frame is a work of art, balancing light and shadow, full of tumultuous birds and ominous wind gusts, always mindful of the interiority of the characters and how they shape the space around them. Dear Brother is also responsible for one of the oddest things to happen to me this year: going viral on Twitter.
As I do with most anime I watch, I livetweeted Dear Brother. I honestly doubt I’d be watching as much anime if I hadn’t stumbled onto my corner of anitwitter. Livetweeting turned a usually solitary activity into something social, where I can make bad jokes and ill-informed observations and get feedback almost instantly, and where I can also respond to the bad tweets from my horrible friends. It’s great for currently-airing shows and feeling like a part of something new and exciting, whether it’s the next potential classic or whether it’s Heybot. It’s also great for something like Dear Brother, which isn’t that well-known but is still a show I’d call a classic, and at the very least the closest antecedent to the important Revolutionary Girl Utena. Livetweeting exposes people to shows they might never have heard of or might never have otherwise checked out. I don’t read as much capital C Criticism as I used to, but I do have what I’d consider a great circle of friends on Twitter (many of whom are critics), and there is no better recommendation for me than hearing one of them speak enthusiastically about something.
Anyway, sometimes (read: often) when I livetweet I slap a meta-joke about Twitter over an anime screencap and call it day. Easy engagements. On the morning of August 4th, I had just finished the antepenultimate episode of Dear Brother and was ready to finish the show before I had to go to work. I remembered a video tweet I’d seen recently about the small circle of followers who always like your tweets, and to that point there is a notorious serial liker in my group of Twitter friends, so in the space of maybe two minutes I came up with this tweet, posted it, and went on to watch the next episode.
My phone started buzzing pretty soon thereafter. It was gaining traction, and I’d had tweets get about 1,000 retweets and likes before, so I figured I’d be in for about a day of my notifications being completely swamped. It, however, wasn’t until about a week later that the notifications finally died down, over 10,000 retweets and likes later. And even that wasn’t the end of it. All it took was one semi-popular twitter account to retweet the post to their followers, and the chain reaction would be set off anew. A few months later, the post settled into its current tally of about 24K retweets and 31K likes, and around that time, Twitter mercifully introduced the ability to mute notifications from individual tweets. Life is much quieter now.
I think my most significant takeaway from this whole experience is the absurdity of it. On the one hand, I can kinda understand why the tweet blew up. First, it’s about a universal Twitter experience–if you have even a small social circle on Twitter you’re likely to have at least one friend or stranger who clicks that heart on a lot of your tweets. Second, the “joke” of the tweet is contrasting the mundanity of the text with the intensity of the images, and nobody captures the essence of drama in a still image quite like Dezaki. The context of the scene is that Henmi, who is preparing to study in Germany, has reunited with his father for the first time in over a decade. Their meeting is short, reserved, and wistful. Much is unspoken, and much *can’t* be spoken, but they have a mutual understanding and support of each other. His father walks him to the train station, they say goodbye, and as the crowd separates them his father turns back and, unable to contain himself any more, shouts to Henmi, “Be strong!” Words of love from a father to a son. It’s an incredibly emotional scene, and I feel a little bad for bastardizing it into a punchline, but I doubt this post would have gained as much traction without the talent of Dezaki and Ikeda behind it.
On the other hand, how odd it is that an obscure anime from 1991 would be the one to resonate so strongly outside of anitwitter. I joked that more people have seen this tweet than have seen Dear Brother, but if you go off its MyAnimeList stats, that’s actually true! I wish I had hashtagged the post so that I could have at least used this virus to spread the Dear Brother gospel (I added this post to the thread a few days later to provide the source). It’s such a wonderful show, and it deserves more of an audience. I’m really thankful to the Anime Sols project for licensing it, but it sucks that the DVDs I used to watch it are now out of print. In a perfect world, my tweet’s popularity would inspire Nozomi Entertainment or Discotek to pick up the license, but I have no delusions over the amount of influence I have on social media or otherwise. Still, the ball’s in your court, anime licensing industry.
My favorite social media aphorism is “It’s never the tweet you want.” (@uncreativecat, 2015). It’s an undeniable fact of Twitter life that you can spend hours agonizing over the phrasing of one sentence but the tweet that will go viral is the one with the lame joke that you lifted from somewhere else and plastered over an anime screencap. However, I’m glad this was the one to blow up. If it inspired just one person to watch Dear Brother, then I will have considered it worthwhile. And more so than that, I’m glad that it has a positive message. As we transition into 2017, more than ever, we need that one guy among many, telling us we’re liked, telling us to be strong.
Be strong for each other. Be strong for yourself. Be strong, everybody. Be strong.