Brynhildr in the Darkness
When he was a child, Ryota Murakami was friends with a girl he called Kuroneko, who adamantly believed in the existence of aliens. One day, while trying to prove this to him, they were caught in a freak accident, where she was killed and he barely survived. Feeling guilty over his role in the accident, Murakami decided to dedicate his life to proving that aliens exist.
Then, in his high school years, a new student with mysterious powers transfers into his class. She not only looks a lot like Kuroneko, but is named Kuroha Neko; she, however, claims not to know Murakami. He soon discovers that she is a "witch", a girl with special powers and one of several who has escaped from a lab that is experimenting on them. The two discover several other runaway witches and Murakami finds himself trying to shelter them from their pursuers; he must figure out the truth behind their existence, as well as whether Kuroha is indeed his deceased childhood friend.
I don't like harem shows, for many reasons, but what I dislike most of all are harem shows that attempt to pass themselves off as something else. Therein lies my fundamental problem with Brynhildr in the Darkness, an ostensible scifi horror anime based on a manga by Lynn Okamoto of Elfen Lied fame. What begins as a poorly written horror story with a shaky premise derails itself further by occupying most of its running time with incessant harem antics and fanservice, the latter of which often wanders into creepy territory.
Like far too many manga adaptions, Brynhildr serves a functional rather than illustrative role, and in my opinion its incomplete story and poor-quality visuals will offer little to anybody besides Okamoto's diehard fans. The art and animation are especially suspect considering that the anime character design bears only the vaguest resemblance to that seen in the manga, the features being softened such that this show's cast resembles a low-quality knockoff of one of KEY's harems. The color scheme aims for a spooky effect by choosing dark tones and yet appears muddled, the backgrounds indistinct, and there's little in the way of animation or memorable music. It's yet another adaptation that merely comes across as a manga in motion, one that takes no advantage of its new medium, and considering that horror and science fiction often benefit from the atmosphere that animation and music can lend, it's a massive waste.
To be honest, however, I'm not sure if good animation and music would really make much of a difference, for the story itself is equally shoddy. Supposedly important aspects such as Neko's conviction that aliens exist are left unexplained, and much about the "witches" themselves remains highly ambiguous. Indeed, Brynhildr does hint that these beings (who for no apparent reason besides the potential for harem antics are all female) were somehow salvaged from previously dead people, but it never digs into the mechanism or implications of this, beyond some generic statements about memory loss that are designed more as tearbait than anything. The witches are held in check by a so-called "harnest", a switch on each of their necks that prevents them from using their powers too often and contains a manual "shutoff" switch implanted by the lab that, most often, serves as a surefire defeat for the "bad" witches pursuing the main characters. This renders the various battles between the main cast and their pursuers boring, to be honest, since all but one of them end up as glorified cat-and-mouse games and the bad guys are given so little personality. Other aspects, such as some mysterious slug-like creatures Murakami discovers living in the harnests, promise to answer questions regarding whatever importance "aliens" have to this story but ultimately amount to red herrings. I speculate (and would certainly hope) that the manga elaborates more on this, but as a standalone the anime does not make for a compelling story: the mythology is poorly-developed, characters continue to enter the show without sufficient introduction almost right up to the finish line, and the ending relies too heavily on last-minute plot twists and miraculous occurrences to make sense.
I blame all of this in part on the show's pre-occupation with fanservice. I didn't especially like Elfen Lied, given its own plot holes and the unpleasant distraction of the nudity (including some utterly revolting lolicon), but at least those distractions didn't take up so much of the show that they became its main focus. Not so with Brynhildr. It preoccupies itself with harem antics for over half the running time of many episodes, introducing a new "witch girl" about every two episodes for little purpose besides adding more characters who can become emotionally dependent upon Murakami. Murakami himself is a milquetoast harem lead with the standard conviction of protecting his little harem of vulnerable girls, in spite of the fact that most if not all of them are smarter and physical stronger than he is, and there's just not much to say about him beyond that. Any chance of this series' having believable character development was sacked when Okamoto wrote the female characters such that they'd all be desperate for sex with Murakami upon meeting him, the following screencap illustrating a typical scenario:
It's lines like that which derail this series, along with such shining moments as this show's many comparisons of breast size among females, and worst of all, the creepy sexualization of a completely paralyzed girl (one of the witches, who has precognitive abilities). The girl in the screencap above, Kazumi (the show's resident "genius hacker"), is the worst offender in terms of hypersexuality and in terms of the Okamoto's apparent inability to write female characters: she complains endlessly about the prospect of dying a virgin and persistently attempts to wheedle Murakami into having sex with her, particularly by tricking him into taking her to buy electronic parts and attempting to turn it into a "date". The show doesn't address hypersexuality or female sexuality in any meaningful way: it's yet another show with a bland idiot male lead surrounded by women who are all dying to have sex with him, and that aspect has no bearing on the plot. Brynhildr's does attempt to tie Kazumi's hypersexuality to the witches' fear of imminent death, since they rely upon scarce pills for their systems to stay in equilibrium, but it's so verbose and awkward that I just laughed. Indeed, for whole episodes I sometimes forgot that this was even meant to be horror, since there were so many scenes of the witches fondling each others' breasts in the bath that I'd sworn I'd accidentally picked up a hentai title. In that sense, I actually appreciated the degree to which Brynhildr toned down the infamous level of violence that Elfen Lied had become defined by; it turns the creepy fanservice present in that show up several notches, but tones the violence down somewhat, and since the combination of graphic violence and fanservice is something I loathe, this helped me get through the show. Still, I'm not interested in harem in any form, and for all of the many complaints I could make about it, Elfen Lied had a few good aspects, including several interesting characters and occasional scenes that did an astoundingly good job of establishing atmosphere. Brynhildr settles for an overdose of boob-grabbing and a deficiency in plot integrity instead.
From its misuse of Germanic mythology to its creepy fanservice to its half-assed plot, Brynhildr in the Darkness is a poorly-made and skippable show, and a falsely-advertised one at that. I had no love left for it or any of its characters by the end, and the following screencap should sum up my overall feeling pretty well:
I have nothing else to say.
A mess in all respects. I suppose watch it if you really love harem, but why bother? There are already a gazillion of those being made even without shows like this that pretend to be something else. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Absolutely not for children. There are some graphic scenes of dismemberment and bloodshed, while a character literally melts in one episode (though some of the worst of this is censored in crunchyroll's broadcast). The fanservice is extreme, also: girls sexually harass each other, a paralyzed girl is sexualized, and there's a suffocating amount of sexual nudity in some episodes.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll.com (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Brynhildr in the Darkness © 2014 Lynn Okamoto/Shueisha/VAP/YTE/GENCO/DAX PRODUCTION
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