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If ever a series was done wrong by its premiere, The Yuzuki Family’s Four Sons would be it – not because it wasn’t a faithful adaptation of its source material, but because it debuted with truly abysmal subtitles, which rendered it nearly unwatchable. If that sent you screaming away from this series, it’s worth taking a second look, because not only are the subs on the first episode fixed and the rest fine, but this story is heartwarming in all of the right ways.

Based on Shizuki Fujisawa‘s manga of the same title, which won the 66th Shogakukan Manga Award’s shoujo category in 2021, the story is the deceptively simple tale of four orphaned brothers. Their parents died in an unspecified accident two years before the plot begins, and eldest son Hayato, who is significantly older than his brothers, has taken on the task of raising the other three. Hayato was just finishing up college when his parents died, and we get the sense that the loss upended his life: he was just about to strike out on his own when his plans were irrevocably changed. But Hayato isn’t bitter about it. He genuinely wants to do his best for his siblings, and most of his anxieties come from the fear that he’ll somehow screw the whole thing up.

It doesn’t help that his brothers are all very strong personalities themselves, especially his third brother, Minato. There’s less than a year between Minato and the second child, Mikoto, because he was born early, and the implication is that his health is somewhat fragile. Despite – or perhaps because of – this, Minato is a tornado of a person, always in constant motion and the loudest of the brothers. He’s also conflicted about his relationship with Mikoto. It’s not easy for him to be in the same grade at school as his more stereotypically “perfect” older brother, but there’s also a sense that he feels like he might have somehow hurt Mikoto by being born too soon. Minato hides some of his emotions underneath his brash personality. However, we can still see that he feels things deeply, and when he can’t hold them in any more, they virtually explode out of him in storms of emotion. Mikoto, meanwhile, holds most of his feelings close, to the point where he comes off as almost Buddha-like to others. He of course does have the same emotions as any other twelve-year-old boy, and we see in flashback episodes that he wasn’t always as good at holding them in. But it’s the method he’s developed to cope with his very loud near-agemate, which creates a very believable dynamic between them. Gakuto, meanwhile, is one of those children who were just born old. Although we see he has a friend his age and has worries that make sense for a six-year-old, he also likes pursuits more associated with the elderly and has a cool head most of the time. He’s like a tiny grandpa, making you wonder what the story would have been like were his and Hayato’s ages reversed.

The anime format is almost identical to the manga: the brothers trade off chapters where they’re the point-of-view character. It can feel like Minato gets more screen time, not only because he has a two-part arc with his best friend Uta, but also because he’s the brother who stands out the most. Even without his impressive cowlick, Minato is loud and open with everything he thinks and feels; there’s something wonderful about that. Yes, he can be obnoxious, but he’s always trying hard and working to understand the world around him, even if he hasn’t matured enough. It’s as if he and Mikoto chose opposite approaches to life, which fascinates classmates and mutual friends. Even more interesting is how Mikoto and Hayato seem to define themselves by their brothers. Although we see both of them with outside friends (although Mikoto’s closest friend is a mutual one with Minato), they don’t have the same level of relationship with them that Gakuto and Minato do with Waka and Uta. Hayato’s life is firmly centered on doing his best to raise the other three, while Mikoto focuses primarily on Minato. In part, this stems from their closeness in age, but in the bigger picture, it looks like both Hayato and Mikoto are focused on the others due to their parents’ deaths. While all four boys were affected (and Minato does have a bit of a Gakuto obsession), the two eldest are fixating as an expression of grief.

In Hayato’s case, this sets him apart from his agemates, as we see in episode four when he goes to a class reunion. His peers are visibly shocked and put off by the fact that he’s using his steady job to support his brothers, saying he seems too “old” now for them to be interested in him. Apart from being a rotten thing to say and a blow to his ego, it shows how Hayato is on the outside, socially. He’s not unhappy with his choices (although he’s nearly always anxious about something), but he also knows that he’s not living what most people in their twenties would want for a life. This idea of what people are “supposed” to be doing at certain ages runs through the series, with Gakuto’s old man tastes used lightly and a strong two-episode storyline about Minato and Uta being the clearest example. In episodes five and six, the plot opens with Uta being asked out by a boy in another class. Genuinely shocked and thrilled, Uta and Minato begin excitedly planning her date…until another friend mentions to Minato that if Uta has a boyfriend, he won’t be able to play with her anymore, or even see her as often. This begins to eat at Minato, who doesn’t understand why this should be. He has no desire to date Uta himself – romance isn’t on his radar. Why does it have to destroy their friendship?

This question is examined through Minato’s and Uta’s experiences and done very well. Not many stories starring middle school students seem to understand that it’s okay to still be a kid building forts at that point, and these two episodes very nicely cover the fact that we all grow up at different rates and that there’s no rush to meet specific checkpoints. It works even better because Uta looks like a fairly standard middle-school manga girl – not like she’d be more interested in actual playing rather than dating. The resolution of this plotline isn’t quite as well handled as in the manga, but it still is striking and a stand-out component of the series as a whole.

Fujisawa’s art doesn’t translate as well as it could have into anime form, and there are moments when the animation looks a bit off – walking is frequently stiff, and bodies don’t always move naturally, although when it matters, all stops are pulled out. There are some good details, such as Gakuto wearing a hand-me-down and the way Uta moves compared to other girls we see, so while it isn’t the best, it’s also far from the worst. But this is a series you watch for its emotional honesty and depiction of a family that’s been through tragedy and is working to overcome it as best they can. It’s a rewarding experience; hopefully, we’ll get the manga in English someday, too.

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The Yuzuki Family’s Four Sons Anime Series Review – Review