What’s a girl to do when her father remarries into a family with thirteen sons? If Ema’s example is anything to go by, have them walk all over you for months and tug your emotions every which way with constant pleas for coddling. At the start, it’s easy to get on side with Ema, feeling displaced and out of her league with so many loveable stepbrothers. But there’s only so many times a dozen guys can manipulate a girl and get no further reprisal than “Oh, it’s fine” before the cuteness wears off.
The last straw comes with the downright oppressive behaviour of pop star Futo Asahina. In an early episode, protective Yusuke has been watching Ema sleep on the sofa for an eerily indeterminate amount of time. Even then the poor girl – surely emotionally exhausted – is woken to Futo’s accusation that she collapsed there to get attention. According to the 15-year-old serial narcissist, it’s no-one’s fault but her own that she’s being bombarded with unwanted affection. Dub actor Vic Mignogna makes his bullying even more irritating with a nasal drawl that’s weirdly on-point. You’ve got to worry for Futo – hearing breathless whispers from fans wherever he goes by his own design, maybe he believes he’s right. Either that or he’s driving the first girl who doesn’t worship him into an isolation holed up in self-doubt.
From every direction it’s a surreal setup, each guy by turns flighty, frenzied and earnest in their love for Ema. The only rescue from all the just-kidding flippance and forced kisses is the youngest, Wataru, and gentle Louis. They barely cleanse the palate with his unconditional smile before it’s back to another brother’s problem, and their ignorance of Ema’s assistance out of the generosity of her heart.
By the time the stress has caught up to her and she could do with some help in return, she feels she must run away to gather her thoughts. The show itself needs to escape from the bumper cars of brotherly conflict to get down to its emotional core – what family really means. Overcrowding stifles the exploration of how familial love can be strong even between people not related by blood. As someone with a stepfather and stepsisters myself, I would have preferred much more of this than the suffocating harem.
Even when Ema feels cut off, abandoned or like she doesn’t belong, at least someone always comes along to reassure her. These quiet conversations, away from the hyper-drama, end up being the emotional highs of the story. All the romance achieves is to obstruct actual relationships, the one queer love between Tsubaki and Azusa broken up just to support the premise. Every single guy carrying a torch for our heroine (right down to her pet squirrel) keeps a new family, with any amount of potential for quirky kinship, impersonal to the last.
Extras: English dub; OVA episodes; episode 9 & 12 commentary; clean opening/closing animations; trailers.