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.