ef: a tale of memories
Hiro Hirono is a budding professional shoujo manga artist, despite being in his final year of high school. Late one Christmas Eve, he meets Miyamura Miyako, who enchants him with her capriciousness and beauty. This new love interest upsets his childhood friend (and occasional housekeeper) Shindou Kei, who becomes so blinded by jealousy that she doesn't notice the advances of another student. A vicious love triangle ensues, as Miyamura seduces Hiro, and Kei plots to end their romance.
Meanwhile, another romance is blooming between the affable Renji Aso, and the aspiring writer Chihiro Shindo. The two met at an abandoned train station, and after three days of clumsy conversation, the two begin to fall in love. Then Chihiro makes a startling confession: due to an accident when she was seven years old, Chihiro can only create memories for thirteen hours, before forgetting everything that happened after the accident.
The Kanons, the Solas, and other recent anime based on romantic visual novels, all have some things in common: a strong visual style that's a seamless combination of modern fairy tale and moe culture, and a brooding melodrama that somehow make these series add up to more than the sum of their parts. ef ~a tale of memories~ takes that visual style and drama, and pushes it to a higher, more artistic level. While the story is sometimes over the top, and the dialogue is mostly cheese, Shaft's cinematography is what elevates this series from just another moe show into a hypnotic romance. I've seen Shaft's experimental style featuring odd camera angles, rapid cuts with drastic contrast, and quirky coloring before, but only in the comedies Goodbye, Mr. Despair and Pani Poni Dash!. After seeing ef, it's clear to me that this style is put to better use in dramas, because it did so much to save this series from being too campy.
Ef is two loosely connected stories in one anime. On one hand, we've got a love triangle blossoming between Hiro, a high school senior who is also secretly a budding manga artist, his childhood friend Kei, and the sexy, mysterious Miya. The other storyline follows the romance between Renji and the tragically impaired Chihiro. Fans are going to gravitate towards one storyline or the other, and I imagine that some forums have threads where divided fans argue over which one was better. Personally, I thought Hiro's storyline was stronger, mostly because Chihiro's was preposterous, which is saying a lot in a genre known for magical girls and teenagers who save the world. But as far-out as that storyline was, it didn't do much to stop the series from being entertaining.
The one thing that did drag it down was that the series was cheesy and melodramatic more often than not. Every crisis, whether it's something as drastic as forgetting who your lover is, or something mild like Hiro being late for dinner, warrants angst and drama. In this anime, it isn't out of place for Renji to be so torn by grief that he falls to his knees in the middle of the street and howls at the moon. The characters seem to spend all their time hanging by thin, emotional threads ready to snap at the lightest provocation. It is almost laughable...
Until I remember what it was like for me to be young artist, full of hormones and in love. It's not hard for me since I've only barely cracked my twenties, but I'm sure many of you remember high school, too. If you were anything like me, or for that matter, the cast of ef, you spent all of your time in sophomore math daydreaming, or were doodling in English. Maybe you spent most of Biology class trading notes with that cute blonde who sat behind your desk. I'm sure a lot of my readers haven't even left high school yet, and know better than I remember what it was like. ef's cast doesn't spend any time in the classroom on screen, but they are filled with hormone-riddled love, lust and a burning desire to make their name in the world of art. Remembering that made it much easier to overlook the bad melodrama.
I wonder, though, how much I would have enjoyed ef without Shaft's unique style of animation. Instead of animating the series by mimicking what it's like to shoot a scene with a camera, like nearly every other animation in existence, Shaft depends on making quick cuts of beautifully animated sequences with little movement. It makes for hypnotic viewing, since more attention to detail is put into these short bits. On top of that, ef takes place in an exotic nowheresland with architecture, fountains and statues that feel quasi-European, with just of a touch of Japanese culture that can still be seen in the apartments and the uniforms. The animators obviously didn't want to be tied down by setting the series in a single real world place, so they took creative advantage of animation's natural flexibility. It does wonders for the mood in the series, adding a tangible layer of mysticism and fantasy.
In that way, it reminds me of Kanon, and come to think of it, whether or not you enjoyed Kyoto's 2006 adaptation of Key's game might be a good litmus test for what your mileage with ef will be. A lot of the same elements are still there: some comedy, a lot of drama, really big eyes, and a whole lotta emotion. And while it won't come close to unseating Kanon as the best v-novel romance, it does pack a strong emotional punch.
Despite some laughable melodrama, the raw emotions and Shaft's hypnotic animation makes ef ~a tale of memories~ a memorable romance. The plotting is slow, though, so it's not for people with short attention spans. — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Teenagers and up for mature themes and mild nudity. Also, the school uniforms are a very, very tight fit.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub.
Review Status: Partial (10/12)
ef: a tale of memories © 2007 SHAFT / Rondo Robe / ef Production Committe
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