Riyoko Ikeda’s Dear Brother

Having just read the manga Dear Brother I’ve found Riyoko Ikeda’s reputation is well deserved.

Actually, that statement I just wrote is absolutely terrible.  Let me amend it:

I’ve found that I agree with the general consensus on Ikeda’s greatness.

Ugh, that’s still not really what I want to say.  Let me try it one last time:

I love Ikeda, and so do many other people.

OK, not elegant, but at least I feel 100% comfortable with the truth-content of this statement.  I always make an effort not to think of myself as the center of the universe, to only allow myself statements like “Oh, So-and So sucks” when I am fully aware that I am not and will never be a decent arbiter of anything, specially when my judgment goes against a broad, suitably aged consensus.

Anyway, no problem here: Riyoko Ikeda rocks.  She’s awesome.

When I try to gauge her art both visually and structurally (in the arrangement of the plot) I’m tempted to call it Baroque.  There’s a wonderfully Baroque definition of the Spanish Baroque style called Culteranismo on Spanish Wikipedia:

“El Culteranismo es una estética del Barroco español dentro de la más general del Conceptismo, con el cual comparte la intención de enrarecer y aquilatar la expresión separándola del equilibrio y claridad clásicos, pero con el procedimiento opuesto de dilatar el significado en un máximo de expresión estética no para aclarar el mensaje mediante el procedimiento de la paráfrasis, sino para impresionar y confundir con lo laberíntico, sensorial y disperso de la expresión y de aplicarse fundamentalmente al género lírico y al verso en vez de a la prosa.  El estilo culterano es una amplificación no parafrástica, porque no pretende explicar, sino deleitar con el ejercicio intelectual del enigma.”

Culteranismo is a Spanish Baroque aesthetic within the more general style of Conceptismo [actually these two are opposite movement] with which it shares an intention to rarefy and purify expression by detaching it from classical equilibrium and clarity, but with the opposite procedure of expanding meaning to its maximum of aesthetic expression not in order to clarify the message as with the procedure of paraphrasing, but in order to impress and confound by way of labyrinthine, sensory and wide-ranging expressions and also by focusing primarily on the lyrical genre and verse instead of prose.  Culterano style is a non-paraphrastic amplification insofar as it never intends to explain but only to delight through the intellectual exercise known as the enigma.”

“Expanding meaning to its maximum of aesthetic expression”.  One thing that Ikeda clearly loves to do, and that many would consider horrible storytelling, is piling meaning/image upon meaning/image upon meaning/image and then, as if that weren’t enough, to knock us over the head with these monsters and make them run amok page after page.  The characters of Dear Brother (Oniisama e) not only have expressive, meaningful names, but they have expressive nicknames.  Not only do they have expressive nicknames, but we get to see students actually going to libraries to find out what the nicknames mean, and we even get blurbs with information detailing the historical characters the names are based on.  And of course the present-day characters at the Japanese high school resemble their figurative historical namesakes to a deliciously ridiculous degree.  Ridiculously delicious.  Deliridiculous.

I love how half of the characters (maybe more?) flirt at one point or another with Todesliebe, a tendency not alien to the Japanese psyche.  I love how the references to Verlaine, Murasaki Shikibu and the French Revolution.  Incidentally, Verlaine’s “Il pleure dans mon coeur / comme il pleut sur la ville” poem gets quoted here, which reminds me of how it’s used toward the beginning of Leiji Matsumoto’s Otoko Oidon (O.O. ran until 1973, Dear Brother was serialized in 1974).  The French → Japanese translation of the first stanza is slightly different in Leiji’s and Riyoko’s manga.  Here’s my own (nasty, literal) English translation of the Japanese from each manga:

Leiji: “Just as it rains (rain) in town / it rains (rain) in my heart”

Riyoko: “Just as it rains (rain) in town / it rains tears in my heart”

Daigaku Horiguchi and Mitsuharu Kaneko are responsible for these translations, though which one belongs to which is unclear to me, as different websites contradict each other on this point.

The Japanese language uses a noun and verb for raining, i.e. rain rains.  Verlaine plays on the fact that the French verbs for rain /cry (pleuvoir / pleurer) are so similar.  The translation Leiji has used employs a metaphor “rain in my heart” without explicitly talking about tears.  Riyoko’s just lays it all out.  And in true Riyoko fashion, she puts the whole poem on the page instead of just this opening line as Leiji does.

It’s a great story, and the more you read on the more you could say it’s not Baroque at all, since by the end every single enigma has been explained.  So maybe this is Rococo..?  Though come to think of it, the enigma is in fate’s decree that intertwined all of these elements together.  That’s the sort of mystery that grows darker the more you shine light on.

And the character designs are absolutely gorgeous! God bless shojo manga!

~ by Haloed Bane on March 14, 2011.

2 Responses to “Riyoko Ikeda’s Dear Brother”

  1. I saw the anime just few days ago and was love. I knew Ikeda for her most famous work “Versailles no Bara”, that is also “baroque” but not so much Dear brother! The character of Saint Just is sublime, she wears a mask and she’s an actress too, she’s the will to death and her counterpart, Prince Kaoru, the hope, the will to live. Is a so dense microcosmos and what i’ve said is just a little part of what i think about this anime/manga.
    Just watch it or read it, it’s a must for a shojo lovers!

    • Ciao!! Actually, I am very curious about the Dear Brother anime. It might be a good idea to put it on my watchlist.

      I agree. Dear Brother has a complexity, an intensity, at a higher level than Rose of Versailles. I think partly the reason is Ikeda was following History in Rose of Versailles, and in Dear Brother she was creating her own concept 100%.

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