In its most literal translation, Onee-Sama (also parsed o-nee-sama or oneesama) refers to a highly respected older sister, (which can be troublesome when dubs treat it literally and it isn't). It's an extremely formal phrase, and probably is most commonly heard in period dramas.
In modern times, it has three main uses:
- An idol-follower relationship between young women, usually signifying extreme adoration on the part of the follower.
- A subset of the first type of relationship, signalling a lesbian relationship with the Uke referring to the Seme as "Onee-sama". I.e., the Onee-Seme.
- Identification of a very formal and traditional relationship between sisters. Most likely to be used by very traditional families, (mikos, Samurai, Yamato Nadeshiko, etc.). Tends to be a sign of awe rather than affection. (Awe can mean either adoration, or a type of fear).
The Onee-Sama is always an older character, if only by a year. She's essentially a princess for the other characters with grace, beauty, and poise. The Onee-Sama often overlaps with Tall, Dark and Bishoujo, but usually comes in two flavors.
One kind is reflexively affectionate and doting, finding frequent excuses for giving hugs; the kohai is treated like a puppy, although the Onee-Sama might be anything from a humorous Dorm Mother to a Good Bad Girl.
The other is the 'serious' one, a girl who seems cold but enticingly mysterious; almost always the "alpha" schoolgirl. As sign that they view themselves as an idol to the rest of their coterie, the Ojou may demand to be referred to this way. When part of a romance she is likely to act possessively towards her object of affection to disguise her romantic feelings.
Mainly appropriated by the yuri fandom, it has become so closely identified with a particular brand of the Sempai-Kohai relationship that it is very difficult to use without carrying the connotations of attraction. Ironically, the increasingly overt behavior of Onee-Sama can probably also be attributed to shounen's use of this phrase.
Sometimes the term is rejected by its target, because she doesn't want to be the object of adoration and perfection that the term implies. If the romance element is present, a rejection of the term signals that she's straight and so does not return the affections of the girl referring to her as "Onee-sama".
Not to be confused with Oba-san.
Anime and Manga
- In A Certain Magical Index Kuroko calls Misaka this... and teleport-gropes her at every opportunity. Kuroko is probably the best known example in North America of the "rejected" version.
- Many other girls at their school also call Misaka this, as do the Sisters (with justification on the Sisters' part since they share her genetic pattern and are younger than her). Misaka herself is uncomfortable with this term. She does her best to live up to it in public, but among close friends she isn't very lady-like at all, and is repeatedly lampshaded as being rather childish at times.
- Baka and Test: Miharu could be a Shout-Out/Expy of Kuroko as she does the same thing (minus the teleport) to Minami.
- The textbook example is Maria Watches Over Us, where most of the important characters are referred to this way. Sachiko herself is the archetypical Onee-Sama, although some fans complain through Character Exaggeration she has become more aloof in the show than she was in the original novels and manga. Sachiko's aloofness appears to have been toned down considerably in the last season of the anime, making her much more sympathetic.
- Strawberry Panic!, essentially a Moe Moe seinen Flanderization of Schoolgirl Lesbians shows, has Shizuma. Ironically, however, it's Nagisa who is most often addressed as "oneesama". (Why? Because Shizuma has an even more respectful title unique to Astraea: "Etoile-sama".)
- Similarly, Mai-Otome has Otomes refer to their senior Otomes as Onee-Sama, with Shizuru being the example. Shizuru is known for being unfailingly polite, graceful, and finding reasons to hug the main character randomly. (Shizuru was also an Onee-Sama type character in My-HiME—on the surface.)
- Kare Kano took this a step down in its tangental last episodes, with Yukino's sister the apparent victim of a stalker, culminating in a shy declaration a character wants to be her "oneesan".
- One of the few bishoujo shows that still use this phrase straight is Ah! My Goddess (although the manga is almost two decades old); Skuld usually refers to her idolized sister Belldandy as just Onee-Sama. She always just calls Urd by her name. Belldandy herself, however, frequently refers to Urd as Neesan, and in a flashback with them as children, is shown calling her Oneesama. The formality fits with being goddesses.
- Likewise, Tenchi Muyo!. Sasami addresses Aeka as "Oneesama," much like Aeka addresses Yosho as "Oniisama." This fits with their royal and formal nature.
- Neviril from Simoun is an Onee-Sama figure for both Chor Tempest and the rest of the Sibylla corps. Paraetta is also referred to as Onee-Sama, but is more of a Bifauxnen type.
- Mizuho from Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru, surprisingly, becomes the Onee-Sama figure for the whole school shortly after transferring in.
- Motoko Aoyama's older sister in Love Hina is an example of actual sisters. They are swordswomen, very traditional, and Motoko definitely feels awe towards her older sister. But instead of "o-nee-sama", Motoko uses a more samurai-style archaic form of addressing, "ane-ue".
- Minto of Tokyo Mew Mew calls Zakuro "oneesama".
- Kazumi Amano from Gunbuster is a classic example of the 'serious' Onee-Sama in her relationship with series protagonist Noriko. Of course, the first half of the series is an Affectionate Parody of classic Shoujo series like Aim for The Ace that used this trope without irony or (intentional) subtext. In Diebuster\Gunbuster 2, Nono adopts a reluctant Lal'c as her Onee-Sama at first sight.
- Chizuru Naba in Mahou Sensei Negima plays the affectionate (with a little Trickster thrown in) type, particularly with her classmate Natsumi (in a subversion, Natsumi is actually the older one, if only by a few months), and combines this with Cool Big Sis when she all but adopts Negi's Half-demon rival Kotaro. Another example would be Mei's relationship with her upper-classman Takane.
- Alicia and Akira from Aria. Athena would qualify, if only she weren't so ditzy most of the time.
- Aiko from Himechan no Ribon is an actual sister example, having all the personality traits and Himeko calls her such.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: Kaiba Mokuba usually refers to his brother Seto using the similar honorific Oniisama.
- Nadeshiko from Shugo Chara acts like Amu's older sister figure, despite being the same age. Interestingly subverted that she's a Wholesome Crossdresser and is actually male that goes by the real name Nagihiko.
- Nami occasionally calls Robin "onee-sama" in One Piece, particularly when she does something that makes her very happy.
- In Sorcerer Hunters, Tira Misu refers to her older sister Chocolat as "Oneesama".
- The androids' first appearance in Excel Saga was that they fell in love with who they first saw. One saw Excel, and actually called her this.
- Haruka from Minami-ke is very much this, as well as a Cool Big Sis. Due to her Promotion to Parent, this goes double for her little sisters—especially the younger, Chiaki, who invariably calls her "Haruka-neesama".
- In the second season of Rosario + Vampire (Rosario to Banpaia), the three "butterfly monsters" who were tamed after the showdown with Youkai Academy's Public Safety Commission (in the first season) refer to Moka's vampire personality as Onee-sama. In their human bishoujo forms, of course. Similarly, Kokoa, Moka's actual sister, is deeply in love with her vampire personality—her original personality, actually, with whom Kokoa grew up—and always calls her Onee-sama. All her intrigues revolve around getting back her Onee-sama from Aono Tsukune who seems to prefer the coy, "illusory" Moka who appears as a result of the original Moka being bound by the eponymous rosario.
- Momiji calls Kureha this in Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword.
- In the Hatamoto Family arc of Detective Conan, Natsue calls her older sister Akie "onee-sama," keeping with the formal modes of address in the family (for example, her aunt Mariko uses "onii-sama" when referring to her older brother- Akie and Natsue's father). Conan calls Ran by this, though it once (almost) backfires - when he temporarily becomes 'normal' again and still calls her that, which given the circumstances then is decidedly... odd.
- In Vandread, Misty calls Meia this constantly, despite having just met her. The dub unfortunately has this directly translated as "dear sister", confusing everyone into thinking the two are actually related when they just met each other.
- In Princess Resurrection, the relationship between Hime and her little sister Sherwood both exemplifies AND subverts the trope. Sherwood always calls Hime her "onee-sama," and Hime is exactly the type of character who would get that moniker; she is cool and mysterious and (literally) a princess. However, Sherwood's use of the phrase is initially quite ironic because at the start of the series she actually has no respect for Hime at all, and even makes an attempt to kill her.
- The Familiar of Zero: Louise calls her oldest sister, Eleanor, this. Usually while she's absolutely terrified - Eleanor has a little bit of a temper. In this instance it's both a signal that Eleanor demands more formal behavior from Louise, and that Louise fears and is submissive to her. Also, Silpheed in human form calls Tabitha this.
- Euphemia uses this on Cornelia in Code Geass, although she is often required to address her by her title while in front of others. And Nunnally to Lelouch. Even when he gave her all the reasons to hate him.
- Hinagiku of Hayate the Combat Butler calls her older sister by this. As Yukiji is a greedy drunkard, the title is perhaps lost. Although Yukiji does show signs that the obsession with drinking is just a cover and does truly care about her younger sister. Yukiji seems to have been pretty cool when younger. Nagi also holds Sakuya in this regard.
- In Digimon Adventure 02, Miyako Inoue greatly admires "Mimi-oneesama." This is particularly amusing because Miyako already has two older sisters, Momoe and Chizuru, and because of the blatant Utena Shout-Out during the episode they first meet.
- Chizuru's sister Ichiko in Bokurano is kinda like this, too.
- The leader of the Lobelia girls in Ouran High School Host Club is this to the point of parody.
- In B Gata H Kei, Yamada tries to surprise Kosuda with a kiss in the dark, only to discover it's her friend Takeshita. She remarks afterward that "if it had gone any farther, I'd have to call you onee-sama". (See intro for the term's Yuri connection.)
- Chiyo-chan is implied to see Sakaki as this, especially in the "You took it, didn't you?" scene.
- Hanaukyo Maid Tai La Verite episode 10. When head Security maid Konoe Tsurugi learns of the intruders effortlessly passing through the mansion's defenses, she says "Nee-Sama". This is because she realizes that the intruders are being led by Shikouin, the woman who trained her.
- Chikage from The Rows of Cherry Trees is the first flavor of Onee-Sama.
- In Oniisama e... the eldest Sorority girls play the role, or are supposed to. Lampshaded by Nanako, who comments on how "Lady Borgia" Ogiwara and "Lady Mona Lisa" Komabayashi were kind to her... until the Sorority is in risk of being disbanded.
- In Lucky Star Minami Iwasaki is very attached to her neighbor Miyuki Takara and accidentally calls her "Onee-chan". Minami appears to have a simlar relationship with Yutaka (but with roles reversed), at least in the eyes of Hiyori who draws Dōjinshi of the two as a Yuri couple.
- Rukia from Bleach adored her liutenant Kaien's Yamato Nadeshiko wife, Miyako, who fits in here as a Type 1.
- In the manga of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Mion addresses Shion this way when grovelling to her after the latter goes Yandere.
- Yuzuki calls her older sister Shizuki "Onee-sama" out of awe in Hekikai no AiON. Shizuki is the cold and mysterious type but have a soft spot to her twin Ditz sister so the awe is in sign of adoration.
- In Berserk the Hawks refer to Casca as their "sister" or "sis."
Live Action TV
- Super Robot Wars: They're not siblings, but Excellen Browning managed to get Lamia Loveless to call her 'Exie-neesama'. Latooni and Seolla refer to Ouka as Onee-sama since she was older and always watched out for them at The School.
- Loretta calls her older twin sister Stella "onee-sama" in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. What's odd is that the English dub keeps this—when you swap between them in Sisters Mode, Stella calls out "Loretta!" and Loretta calls out "Sister!" (To hear Loretta's original "Onee-sama!", hold L when you pick Start Game; this switches you to Japanese voices till next reset.)
- In "The Answer" of Persona 3: FES, both Aigis and Metis share this type of relationship. And in Persona 3 Portable Mitsuru's social link is recasted as this for the Female Progatonist. Still some leftover Les Yay though.
- The picture depicts Fangirl Youmu from Touhou. And that person of affection? Sakuya Izayoi, who seems to be almost always titled somewhere around Perfect Elegant Maid, first two words DOES emphasis the characteristics of an Onee-Sama.
- Quite funny in that the half-ghost Youmu is quite probably much older that the human Sakuya. Unless she's really a centuries-old Lunarian as some Wild Mass Guessing theorists think.
- The uninitiated would keep in mind that Sakuya/Youmu pairing is the work of doujinshi and is typically based on vague similarities. The two have appeared in the same canon work and haven't fought each other only once in the official manga Silent Sinner in Blue where they both approach the protagonist to serve as exposition about shinto rocket fuel.
- This is also slightly subverted in canon. Reisen Udongein Inaba often acts as the first type of Onee-Sama towards Tewi Inaba, a doting and caring sister. Except that Tewi is quite an ungrateful girl and tends to pull pranks on Reisen instead. Tewi is also the elder of the two being over 1,300 years old. It stuck to her so much that in the semi-canonical Inaba of the Moon and Earth, when Reisen dreamed about Tewi acting like a doted little sister, she considers it weird. When she gets up and see Tewi acting like her usual devil-may-care prankster self, she hugs her in relief.
- Raspberyl from Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice is often called onee-sama (translated as "my lady") by her "delinquent" subordinates Asuka and Kyoko. Considering the nature of "delinquency" in the Netherworld, it's hard to tell just what type of onee-sama she's supposed to be.
- Fuka of Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten is always called onee-sama by Desco. A somewhat more literal example then the previous, as Desco was created by Fuka's father to be a younger sister for her.
- An interesting example occurs in Kara no Shoujo where the dynamic is clearly in place, but since it takes place in mid 50s Japan the concept hasn't been fully realized yet. Characters clearly fall into the relationship in regards to Orihime Tsukishima, and a sort of prototype is in place regarding Mizuhara and Toko, but the term hasn't been invented yet.
- Aqua from Kingdom Hearts falls somewhere between this and Cool Big Sis, since she can be affectionate and informal or ladylike and serious based on the situation. Either way, though, she acts as a protective sister figure not only for Ven (and arguably Terra), but also for Kairi and Cinderella in particular, and to a lesser degree the other Princesses of Heart she encounters. This is reinforced by Aqua taking up the role of The Hero and rescuing every one of them from danger at least once while only needing to be rescued herself when Vanitas wises up to how strong she is and ambushes her while she's protecting Ven.
- A Type 3 happens in Galaxy Angel Moonlit Lover, Forte route. After solving the problem of Chitose's extremely inflexible line of thinking as per her New Meat status, Forte gets this treatment from Chitose. Quite amusingly, Forte outright flips from embarrassment and begs Chitose not to call her that.
- Cloche for Sasha in Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica. She's an elegant, reserved and affectionate big sister figure. Sasha's adoration came be seen in every one of their conversations.
- Lilly Satou from Katawa Shoujo is this to everyone around her, and specially to Hanako. Even Hisao, the male lead, sees her as such.
- Yukari says the relationship would be described as S for Sisters