Review of Brothers Conflict

World-famous adventurer Hinata Rintaro is newly engaged to successful fashion designer Miwa Asahina, so to give them some privacy, Rintaro’s daughter, Ema Hinata, decides to move in with her soon-to-be-step-brothers, all thirteen of them. Inside the huge mansion full of people, Ema finally feels like she has the family she can turn to; however for the boys all they see is the one person they have been looking for to spend the rest of their lives with…

From the looks of the cover art and screenshots, with the boys all having crazy anime hair plus the description of the series above, it would be easy to write off all thirteen brothers as one-dimensional trope-ridden characters who only serve as cheap love interests for the heroine and the audience to latch onto. However, whilst calling them all ‘one-dimensional’ wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, arguably it’s the brothers themselves that are the strongest element of the series.

First of all, you can’t deny that there isn’t a lack of variety in eye candy and due to the diversity of personalities, it’ll be easy to find at least one male that an audience can get behind or perhaps represent a type they like. Want a hard-working calm man who happens to be an excellent cook? Ukyo is the man of your dreams. Fancy some brothers that are very close, similar to the twins Hikaru & Kaoru from Ouran High School Club? Feast your eyes on Tsubaki and Azusa. Do you like Christian Grey from the Fifty Shades series but wish he was a young teen pop idol instead? Look no further than Futo.

Secondly; the brothers do act like they’re a close-knit family by taking fun jabs at each other, encouraging one another at their jobs and, of course, all having the romantic capacity of an old-school Disney princess – they don’t just like Ema, they fall head over heels in LOVE and want to spend the rest of their lives with her!

Thirdly; it also helps that not all thirteen brothers are the same age; it would have been easy (also lazy) to have them High School age but they actually range from 31 to 10 (the youngest one is kept out of romantic race… for the majority of the time) and they all have different jobs, from the down-to-earth doctor to the dream-job game designer. This creates opportunities to not only stay away from the typical school environment, but also for the heroine to spend time with each brother individually (as they all have different schedules), learn about their specific passions and give each male time to shine on their own. Due to the nature of the genre and shortness of the series however, some brothers get more screen-time than others and a few fail to get any quality time with the heroine. For example, it seems weird that Yusuke, a boy who has apparently known Ema for several years before the start of the series, never gets the opportunity to truly confess his feelings. This counts double for the tenth brother Iori, who is easily forgotten about due to having the same silver hair as his brother Tsubaki and being shoved into the background from the start. Lastly, there’s no denying that the story is very rudimentary and predictable, and comes with a truly terrible script. But thankfully, at the best of times, the script crosses the line into hilariously awful territory, so we get golden scenes of cross-dressing Hikaru practically trolling his helpless brothers which always provide a laugh, random dream scenes where the brothers have laugh-out-loud proclamations of love for Ema, and some frankly poor but hysterical lines, my personal favourite being: “I’ll protect you from the ultra-violet rays…with my lips!” (That’s from the English dub, but the original Japanese line is not far off from that either).

The object of their affections is, of course, the heroine Ema who plays as audience surrogate. Normally in these reverse-harem situations the main girl is the self-insert and therefore lacks personality, which works fine in video games where dialogue and actions are decided by the player, but they never cross over well into other fiction where the choice is gone. Ema is not as bland as, say, the heroine from Amnesia (whom you could replace with a googly-eyed sock puppet and not notice the difference); Ema does have SOME urgency and character of her own, however small. She works hard at her exams to get into the college she’s passionate about, loves video games and expresses interest in helping around the house.

However, when it comes to the interactions with the boys, and their individual confessions of love, any semblance of personality goes completely out of the window. It doesn’t seem like it at first; in Episode 1 she accuses perverted monk brother Kaname of ‘being a tease’ when he puts the moves on her, but from then on she merely acts as the ‘nice girl’ card-carrying character to the brothers and does nothing outside of blushing and remaining silent when the boys proclaim their love. If they kiss her she just lets them, and despite the swooping music and cheesy-as-hell dialogue from the boys, in the very next scene or in some cases next episode (if the confession was at the end of one) Ema and the other brothers continue as if nothing has happened; the status quo hasn’t changed and Ema stays oblivious to the boys’ painfully obvious affections. This kills any sort of romantic tension or drama that the series could have carried because Ema just acts so stilted and ignorant throughout it all.

This plays out in part with the ‘dates’ the characters go on; Ema is taken to a video games arcade, a fun fair and other colourful places, but the most we see of it is the beginning of the trip, and then fast forward to the end where the boys proclaim what a good time they’ve had… shame the audience never actually gets to see it or any possible development of chemistry. Then there’s the time scale over the course of the series; easily a year flies by throughout Brothers Conflict (e.g. Episode 10 takes place in the summer, whereas Episode 11 is at the end of January) but it doesn’t feel like it because the scenes feel so small, and the aforementioned lack of tension isn’t carried over, so nothing feels consequential or meaningful in any capacity. So, for instance, you have a weird situation where a boy confesses to Ema that he loves her in January, then the next episode takes place in the Spring, and only then does she finally do something to address it. I can’t imagine many people happily waiting at least 4 months+ for the object of their affections to finally get their act together and tell them yes or no.

Ema isn’t the worst thing about the series however; that honour goes to her pet squirrel Juli. He’s Ema’s constant companion and she just so happens to have the ability to communicate with him, so the audience hears Juli ranting over the boys fighting over her, as well as supporting Ema. However, his dialogue ranges from annoying to unfunny to sometimes offensive in places. Thankfully, the anime gently phases him out towards the halfway point, but every now and then he pops back just as the audience has forgotten him to remind us he’s still around, or worse, the anime gives him a human form (no, really).

Extras are plentiful and spread evenly across the discs; the given clean openings/closings and trailers are there but also commentaries for Episodes 9 and 12 plus 2 OVAs (Christmas and Valentine’s specials) plus an extra episode where the boys get a hold of a magic lamp. So if you do invest in the series you’ll be please to know that you’ll get everything that’s been animated and commercially available in one complete set, which is more than can be said for other, bigger franchises.

It’s important to note my review is based upon the DVD version of the series, which was cancelled not long before the eventual Blu-ray release of the series was confirmed, so my feedback on the animation quality may not truly reflect what the Blu-ray edition has to offer, however I cannot imagine it being any less lazily animated. Brains Base has done great work in the past (Penguindrum and Innocent Venus to name just two) but they really phoned it in for Brothers Conflict. From still backgrounds with lips barely moving filling up whole dialogue scenes, characters having backs turned to camera to save on animating more than one set of lips (in the Valentine OVA one character barely has a shoulder in the frame, so the brothers are practically talking to someone OFF camera), both opening animations take place on a plain white background and the first closing song animation is made up mostly of clips from the show. It wouldn’t be surprising if the previously mentioned abrupt dates were cut to save on animating anything stressful. The character designs are nice and mostly easy on the eyes, especially the heroine who does look quite pretty in several scenes, but they all barely move; this is not a great representation of Brains Base’s work.

The music score is provided by Takeshi Nakatsuka who compliments the rom-com vibe of the series with a soundtrack that varies from heart-pulling strings to comical jazz. “BELOVEDxSURVIVAL” is a serviceable pop/rock opener by Gero, with the OVA opening song “MY SWEET HEAVEN” by the same artist being near-identical to the first opening. But if you want to cringe in your seats or just burst out laughing, watch the ending themes “14 to 1” for the series or OVA ending song “I Love You ga Kikoenai”, both by Asahina Bros + Juli. Yes, it’s the Japanese cast of the brothers and the squirrel singing terribly cheesy pop about loving the main girl. It’s as terrible as it sounds.

Despite being a silly harem story the English dub does have a lot of high calibre male talent from the likes of J. Michael Tatum, Kyle Hebert and Vic Mignogna lending their voices to bring the rom-com scenes to life. Even Colleen Clinkenbeard tries her best to make the female lead as interesting as possible despite the script not always reflecting it.

Brothers Conflict is tricky to recommend because it swings back and forth between ‘so bad it’s good’ to ‘just bad’, sometimes within the same scene. If you want a safe purchase, a definitive ‘good’ example of a male harem then the likes of Fruits Basket and the already mentioned Ouran High School Club are better examples to put money towards. However, if you have a good sense of humour, thrive in potentially hilari-awful series and are happy to take the cons/pitfalls of the genre, then Brothers Conflict has a lot of laughs to offer.

Title: Brothers Conflict
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Harem, Romantic Comedy,
Studio: Brains Base
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Ouran High School Host Club Review

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*** This is an edited/revised version of our original reviews of Ouran High School Host Club which deals with the content of the series: story; script; music etc. posted to celebrate the new Collector’s Edition (as yet unseen) from Anime Limited.*** 

‘Maybe you’re my love!’

Studious Haruhi Fujioka has won a scholarship to the prestigious Ouran Academy which caters for the sons and daughters of elite Japanese families. Desperately searching for somewhere quiet to study, Haruhi stumbles upon Music Room 3 – and the dazzlingly good-looking members of the Ouran Host Club. Inadvertently breaking a horrendously valuable vase, Haruhi is told that the only way to pay the Host Club back is to become a host and entertain the young ladies of the Academy. There’s one slight flaw in the plan which Tamaki Suou, the ‘king’ of the Host Club, hasn’t quite realized: Haruhi is a girl. But when was gender confusion ever an impediment to a good story in anime and manga? One thing is certain: Haruhi’s presence will change the lives of the six privileged young men and maybe her own, too – and, in the process, afford viewers many hours of genuinely engaging and amusing entertainment.

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Based on Bisco Hatori’s witty 18-volume manga, Ouran takes shoujo manga stereotypes and wickedly satirizes the hell out of them. So we have the inevitable swimming pool episode, the beach episode (swimsuits and muscles galore!), the high school ball at which the best female dancer will receive a kiss from Tamaki, and even an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ dream-fantasy. Add in plenty of themed cosplay, so that the boys can charm the young ladies of Ouran Academy with their good looks and romantic compliments, and you have all the ingredients for an engaging watch that charms as well as amuses the viewer.

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Ouran is, above all, the story of a likeable – yet very atypical – heroine, whose off-screen comments on the antics of her fellow hosts is often a weary, ‘Oh, good grief.’ As well as the magnanimous (yet oh-so easily wounded) Tamaki (the one who dreamed up the idea of running a Host Club), there is cool, calculating Kyoya Otori who looks after the finances. Then there are the identical twins Kaoru and Hikaru (first years, like Haruhi) who like nothing more than to cause mischief – and the tiniest seventeen-year-old ever encountered in anime, the blonde, cake-loving, bunny-hugging Hunny (little pink flowers dot the screen whenever he appears) with his constant companion, the strong, silent Mori. In fact, true to its shoujo roots, Ouran is bursting with flower imagery: from red roses and cherry blossom, to the white lilies that appear when Haruhi encounters the forceful girls of the Zuka Club at the all girls’ school, Saint Lobelia’s Academy. But it takes Renge, a raving otaku who jets in from Paris to claim Kyoya as her fiancé (because he resembles her favourite character in a dating sim) to first label each of the Host Club members. Kyoya is the megane, Hunny is the Boy-Lolita type, the twins play up to the girls’ fujoshi tendencies by acting out steamy twincest moments, etc. etc.

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Another target for satire is the wealthy students’ utter lack of knowledge about ordinary life. When sent to buy coffee, Haruhi astounds them all by returning with a jar of instant ‘Hescafe’: a complete novelty. “Isn’t that where the beans have already been ground?” enquires one customer innocently. And the boys constantly refer to Haruhi – in her hearing – as a commoner, without even realizing that this might be construed as hurtful or insulting.

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If Ouran were just a series of parodies, its freshness would soon pall. However Bisco Hatori, whilst having fun at the characters’ expense (especially poor Tamaki, whose grandiose ideals are so often deflated) also invests them with believable and sympathetic back stories. So we gradually get to learn more about what makes them all tick. Haruhi learns from one of the girls that the twins have changed since he/she joined the Host Club. “Because of you, the twins are having fun.” And she, the hardworking honours student, also begins to open up and enjoy herself. Perhaps, as the opening song suggests, there may even be the possibility of falling in love? Tamaki is certainly very smitten with Haruhi – although, being Tamaki, he confuses his feelings of romantic attraction with those of a father for his daughter. Suddenly the ‘king’ of the Host Club starts acting very paternally towards the newest member, trying to protect her from prying eyes and amorous advances. The independent and self-contained Haruhi finds this behaviour extremely irritating indeed; she already has a father! (And thereby lies another tale, as the Host Club soon find out…)

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Faithful to the manga, both in content and in Kumiko Takahasi’s character designs, Ouran looks superb. We get frequent amusing glimpses inside ‘The Theatre of Tamaki’s Mind’ and manga-style captions and thought bubbles often give insights into what’s really going on in the characters’ heads. The prestige Ouran Academy itself is a grandiose vision of pastel-coloured architecture based on famous European buildings (the clock tower looks uncannily like Big Ben) and its lofty halls are filled with crystal chandeliers.

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As well as looking good, Ouran sounds wonderful, with excellent casts in both the US dub and the original Japanese version. Caitlin Glass makes a believable and likeable Haruhi, although Maaya Sakamoto makes her a little sweeter and less world-weary in tone. Both Mamoru Miyano and Vic Mignogna excel as Tamaki, delightfully conveying his volatile shifts of mood, one moment capricious and full of himself, the next insecure and wounded, sulking in a corner. Add to this an inventive and tuneful orchestral score that makes use of the catchy opening song ‘Sakura Kiss’ to great effect (if you recognize one of the more dramatic themes, it’s because composer Yoshihisa Hirano was also responsible for the score for Death Note.)

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In 2006 when the anime series was made, Bisco Hatori had not finished the manga, so the ending here differs and is in some ways less satisfying than the mangaka’s more developed conclusion. But this shouldn’t in any way detract from the viewer’s enjoyment.

Anime Limited have brought out a new Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, filled with goodies: a 32-page booklet and 2 sticker sheets inside. The extras comprise: Actor & Staff Commentaries, Ouran High School Host Club Manga Pages Presented by Viz Media, Outtakes Parts 1 & 2.

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We should point out here that, even though we’ve yet to see this brand-new Collector’s Edition, Anime Limited have confirmed that they have used the new Funimation Blu-ray materials and there should be no issues of image stretching as encountered by some viewers with the original DVD release back in 2008.

In Summary

Ouran High School Host Club might be based on a shoujo manga, but it should appeal to any anime viewer, male or female, who’s looking for a light-hearted comedy with a wicked sense of humour and sympathetically drawn characters. The ideal series for sharing, maybe? Highly recommended.

 

Title: Ouran High School Host Club
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Shoujo, Slice of Life
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 625 minutes

Score: 9/10