Title: Brothers Conflict
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Year of release: 2013
It’s not masochistic to want to throw your hands up, decide that all the shows you’re watching lately are simply too good, and put on some old fashioned trash. Disappointment is as much a biting shock as it is a lingering aftertaste, and instead of not seeing the perfection in something that’s not quite there, it’s more amusing to watch a production dig a hole deep, deep into the pits of the bottom ratings, ploughing on into awful with glee and splendour. Perhaps it’s more sadistic than masochistic, but of course, this unintended appreciation relies on the piece of media furiously paddling until it sees the light at the end of shit creek; keeping itself well-paced with shockingly abrupt mistakes lest it become bland moreso than bad; and having the means to punctuate its ridiculousness with enough melodrama to keep the cruelty in you invested.
So what I am saying is that there is an art to ‘so bad that it’s good’, and Brothers Conflict (henceforth, BroCon) hones the craft. You could probably tell that from the premise, though: Ema moves in with all thirteen (thirteen!) of her step-brothers, who hilariously quickly become interested in her female charms. While Ema’s no doubt pretty, and even gets a few moments of character, such as the niceties she delves out around the house and the fact she absolutely is going to blossom into a hardcore fujoshi (girl I see you shippin’ your twin brothers), she’s also not nearly proactive enough to entice so many boys. This ain’t even an adaption of an otome game, where the player projects onto the protagonist to go hunting for their desired boy, but a novel! It’s instantly shaping up to be something ‘so bad that it’s good’, at least in the beginning, because the entire premise is balancing on something ridiculous.
The boys range through the whole spectrum of shoujo romantic interest archetypes, with over-the-top traits, hobbies or skills plastered over, or sometimes as, their persona. BroCon can play it safe with childhood friends and school mates, though sails off into the distance with such exotic examples as Kaname, the flirty Buddhist Monk, and the creepily domineering high school idol in Fuuto. Shoutacons will even find a home in BroCon’s catalogue with the 10 year old Wataru who cutely becomes interested in his new step-sister, and Ema’s talking squirrel and seemingly only confident, Juli, becomes a little jealous at points. Almost all of the boys fall into the ‘pushy’ stereotype, which waltzes merrily into the sexual abuse category as older boys kiss her without consent… though there’s at least a couple of more pleasant boys, such as the ‘it’s not that I like you or anything!’ fan-favourite, Yuusuke, and Subaru, who at least gets a chance to ruminate on his feelings. It’s deliciously terrible, and that’s just getting through the synopsis.
Thirteen boys across twelve episodes? The show rams forth with its dumb plot, pressing on into the arcs of each boy and overlaying them with deft. With so many stunning, or even outright heinous reveals, twists and climaxes, BroCon doesn’t give you a chance to check the clock. That’s not an accident, though – the pacing of this show is a genuine strength, digging into each arc with enough depth to keep it moving steadily but not disappointingly. Near the third-quarter, when many arcs are coming to their end, the show finally slows down and almost loses its value, but the anxiety the show generates juxtaposes Ema’s. Before we know it, we’re in her shoes – perhaps with a meta-awareness she lacks, but the show worms its emotions firmly into her mindset.
It’s stressful – just keeping up with the names is stressful!; it’s exhausting, and utterly, utterly ridiculous, and when BroCon takes that take-up time to evaluate all its crazy events, it doesn’t lose steam. For one impressive finale, that the crossdressing brother, Hikaru, lampshades with a tongue-in-cheek stunt, BroCon wraps it all together with a vigour I didn’t expect. In the final couple of episodes, Ema comes into her own, finally gaining some agency and putting her foot down, leaving me satisfied in a way that almost no ‘so bad that it’s good’ show can manage. I found myself laughing throughout at this silly show’s awfulness, but it knew what it was doing the whole time – BroCon hits two demographics in its stride; those coming for the fantasy and those coming to laugh at it. That’s a rare achievement.