Saturday, February 15, 2014

Anime Review No. 74-Ef a tale of melodies

"I am dead to the world's tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song!"

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, Gustav Mahler Ruckert Lieder, 1901

Ef: a tale of melodies

Fall 2008 TV Series

Studio Shaft, Director-Shin Oonuma, Writer: Katsuhito Takayama

You, know its an interesting tale of how I got this series. Well, last summer, I went to a local anime convention for a day. While there, I saw a few vendors selling some anime and took a look. One that caught my eye was Ef: a tale of memories on sale by a significant bargain. Also, I saw Ef: a tale of melodies as well, right next to it. At first I picked up the first season, then later that day I decided 'what the heck?' and pick up the second season as well. For that, I am entirely grateful as the second season is exceptional.

First off, I shall talk about the setting a bit. There are two towns named Otowa: one in Japan, one in Austraila. One was afflicted by an earthquake, we are not shown only through brief flashes. Essentially, there are twin cities on opposite sides of the globe: same climates and time zones but different seasons naturally. I only bring this up as it seems a bit confusing in the context of the story, hence why you should re-watch this show at least once. Though, to be fair, I do like the little touches they add into the setting for the sake of world building.

Anyway, the story with Season 2 is rather similar in structure to Season 1, with the multi-tier story lines following different characters. However, whereas Season 1 took place entirely in the relative present, Season 2 takes place in both the relative present and past. Story A involves Yuu Himura (the weary priest) and Yuuko Amamiya (the mysterious nun) and the relationship and life they shared back in high school. They both knew each other, though at first both were hesistant. But, due to situations, Yuu becomes becomes a protector for Yuuko. There is also a love triangle of sorts between Yuu, Yuuko and Nagi Hirono, making it similar to Hiro's story in Season 1 but certainly a bit more complex. For one thing, there is an antagonist, an obstacle to their relationship, which happens to be Amamiya-sensei, the school's art teacher and Yuuko's adoptive brother/adult figure. It turns out he isn't such an upstanding guy, as one episode midway through certainly demonstrates. Granted, Yuu is no saint either and that leads into something that I quite like about this series: it has a very grey but human sense of characters. There exist no heroes or villains, just human characters living out to the best of their abilities. Anyway, Yuu and Yuuko do fall in love yet tragedy strikes again and that's what shapes Yuu in the present. Granted, the Ef series is fraught with emotional and pyschological drama, even angst at moments, but it doesn't wallow in. It knows the pit, doesn't spend any time more then necessary in digging down the pit, but rather seeks a way out of the pit.

Story B, meanwhile, focuses on Shuichi Kuze and Mizuki Hayama in the present. Kuze is a friend of Renji's and Yuu's, a world known violinist though a bit of a playboy/womanizer. Mizuki is a friend of Kei Shindou and cousin of Renji and is your typical perky and happy high school girl. This story is striking similar to Renji's from Season 1 but gender-flipped in that the girl meets a guy with a tragic secret and wonders on whether to help or not. Except, things are not so clear. Kuze is basically a lost cause, he views life as a calculated risk, one that he is not willing to continue with. Yeah, I got to say Kuze is really the only character I can actually relate to in any fashion. Luckily, with support of his friends Nagi Hirono and Yuu along with Mizuki, Kuze seeks to live life to the fullest even if it will be short-lived. I must say it is very life-affirming and positive, even in the midst of the darkness that life sometimes run into.

This in turns leads to another strong theme that runs in the show; the notion of unconditional love as being the most brutal and honest form of love there is. It is certainly not 'Love conquers all' mentality akin to many romance stories but more along the lines of 'Love helps us out when in despair or trouble.' Where it be Yuu loving and accepting Yuuko for who she is or Kuze realizing it helps to have a loved one there to hold and comfort you at your worst hour, that is what this series basically boils down to.

Sidestory elements include the characters from Season 1 as they come back on occasion. It shows how the characters from Season 1 have grown and gone about their lives. A masterstroke, in my opinion, was to have the Shindou sisters reunited, which was a heartwarming moment of 'DAWW'. In the end, its Yuuko that ties everyone in the series together, a beacon of hope to all of humanity. The final episode is one of the best I have seen, with it all's right with the world mood and ends on scene so tremendous that it defies commentary but so full of emotions it brought me literally to tears.

Much like the first season, the dialogue is rather lyrical and poetic. Animation is scenery and atmosphere, pervading the series all out. At times it verges on the line between the stock standard and the experimental. For instance, use of sepia-toned film stock to the animation for the flashbacks is a nice touch. A single melody by solo violin dominates the BGM for this series: a sad late romantic style solo, reflecting the show in tone and mood, to say nothing else about the rest of the music which is just as good as in the first season, if not better. Finally, the opening songs for both seasons are both excellent and a rare example of engrish done right.

Lastly, the English dub is utterly fantastic, even more so this season. Granted, this season the main cast has mostly veteran voice talent behind the mic (David Matranga, Illich Guardiolla, Allison Keith, Hillary Haag, etc) delivering some truly excellent performances. Even the newer talent (like Carli Mosier and Josh Grelle) manage to stay their own with the veterans. Josh Grelle, voicing Amamiya-sensei, does an excellent job and should be taken notice as the guy got some impressive range.

Overall, the Ef series is a fantastic entry in terms of visual novel adaptations, certainly better then some of the Key adaptations. I also consider a masterpiece of romantic drama, when it comes to anime anyway, with interesting and strong characters alongside a nuanced, multilayer story. A solid effort in nearly every section of production, be it animation, sound design, voice acting, etc.

So, what's up next on the platter for me? Well, its an anime movie, certainly one involving roses, lesbians and a mind-screwing finale where love does indeed conquer all......

'Til next time readers.....

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