Brynhildr in the Darkness
When he was a child, Ryota Murakami was friends with a girl he called "Kuroneko" who had a strong, obsessive belief that aliens were real. One day, while she was trying to prove this to him, they were tragically caught in a freak accident that killed her and nearly killed him, too. Ryota, believing that he was responsible for her death, dedicated his life to proving that aliens do indeed exist.
Years later, Ryota, now a high school student, is shocked when a new student with a striking resemblance to Kuroneko shows up in his class: she's even named "Kuroha Neko." She doesn't seem to know who he is, though, and more strangely still, she seems to be totally lacking in social or academic skills you'd expect a teenage girl to have. He soon finds out that she's actually a "witch," a girl with special powers; she's one of a few girls who's gotten away from a lab that's experimenting on them. Ryota finds himself sheltering her and several other escaped witches; he has to find the truth behind their existence, and figure out just what exactly Kuroha actually is....
I really, really don't like harem, for a lot of reasons, but what ticks me off even more is when harem shows try to pretend to be something else. That's my main problem with Brynhildr in the Darkness, which is supposedly a scifi horror series, albeit one with a shaky, shoddy premise in itself. As the show goes along, the premise doesn't get any better, and it gets more and more preoccupied with downright creepy harem antics and fanservice; if Elfen Lied, which was adapted from a series by the same person who wrote this show's source manga, had tons of problems with fanservice and sexism, this dials that up to a ridiculous extreme, and it ends up being pretty much unwatchable.
I feel like Brynhildr falls into the trap that a lot of manga adaptations do of being functional, barely so, and nothing else as far as animation and visuals go; the problem is that even though this feels like something that's not going to have that much appeal to anybody besides fans of the manga, or maybe Elfen Lied, it actually does a really bad job of capturing the manga's character design in any way. Say what you want about Lynn Okomoto, but at least his style's pretty distinct, and that just gets erased, here: the designs are just completely softened to the point where everybody looks like somebody from a knockoff KEY-style VN. And while they're going for a spooky effect with the colors, it just looks murky and muddled, here. The background art is barely noticeable, and the animation and soundtrack are pretty limited, too, with a lot of the action sequences happening barely off screen as a super obvious budget-saving tool. It just feels like a manga in motion, to me, and it doesn't feel like there was any effort to actually take advantage of what animation had to offer the story. This was pretty depressing to me because sci-fi and horror often benefit a lot from this; for all my complaints about Elfen Lied, that's one thing it did really well.
But if I'm going to be honest, I'm not sure if better technicals would really have made that much of a difference. The story itself is a stinking, confusing mess. Plot elements that seem important, like the aliens, the actual reason that Kuroneko even got killed in the first place, just fade out and don't get brought up again. The actual nature of these "witches" is left pretty awkwardly ambiguous, too. Brynhildr hints that they're somehow "remade" from dead people, but it never digs into exactly how this happens or even acts like this is important; there's something said about memory loss, but that's it. The witches are kept in check by a "harnest" that's a switch on their necks; it stops them from using their powers too often and has a manual "shutoff" switch that the lab put in as a safety check. This ends up making the battles between the cast and the witches the lab sends after them boring, honestly; all of these battles end up being glorified cat-and-mouse games that end with the "bad" guys having their switches pulled. As far as the harnest goes, they're host to these weird slug-like animals, but what those are just never gets explained. I really do hope that the manga digs into this, but the anime by itself just raises mysteries and....leaves them there. As a standalone anime it's completely useless: the mythology makes no sense, we keep spending time meeting new characters up until the very end, and the ending totally relies on a ridiculous twist to work. It's almost like Umineko on steroids, in that way.
So let's talk about the fanservice, now, since there's a lot of it. I really don't know what's the cause and what's the effect: whether the staff threw extra fanservice in to make up for the fact that they weren't going to bother with more of the story, or if there was a ridiculous amount of fanservice in the first place that totally took over the time they could have spent on world-building. Either way, the fanservice in this show was really, really hard for me to handle. I didn't like Elfen Lied all that much; aside from plotholes, it had a lot of its own problems with fanservice and lolicon, but that didn't take up nearly as much time as it does here. With Brynhildr, it feels like we meet a new "witch girl" every two episodes just so that Ryota can have another girl be completely emotionally dependent on him (argh!). Ryota, for the record, is just another bland harem lead who rambles about "protecting" his little harem of "vulnerable girls" even though they're all smarter and physically stronger than him; I've got nothing else to say about him. Somebody, either Okamoto or the people behind this adaptation, thought it would be a good idea to have all of the girls be desperate for sex with him the second they meet him.....
....yeah, that happened.
And the episodes spend about half their time on stupid harem antics: the girls compare boob sizes constantly, and the show really heavily sexualizes a totally paralyzed girl, a witch with extrasensory abilities. On the one hand, I want to see physically disabled people have their sexuality acknowledged more, but here, it's just Ryota (and the other girls) making lewd jokes about her, and given that she can't exactly run away, leave, or fight back it's pretty alarming how much of a vulnerable spot they put her in with this. And the girl in the screencap? Kazumi? She's a genius hacker who's mostly a pretty cool character, but then she also has to go and constantly come on to Ryota in the most humiliating, pathetic ways possible.....Lynn Okomoto really, really does not know how to write female characters. And I don't want to sound like I'm being self-hating and putting down female sexuality, but the thing is, it's all about our "wonderful" harem lead, here; I wouldn't be as upset about Kazumi constanly talking about her fear of dying a version if she wasn't just falling over herself to have sex with Ryota, constantly, and if, again, it weren't all about him and all the girls who want to have sex with him (sigh). Honestly, I often forgot that this was even supposed to be a horror show; there's so many scenes of breast-fondling, cleavage-showing, etc that you'd be forgiven for thinking this was just pure ecchi. In a way, that's a blessing: I hate ero-guro and get really grossed out when there's both a lot of degrading fanservice and physical violence against women put together, which Elfen Lied did endlessly, and here, at least the violence is a bit toned down. But I hate harem, too, and this doesn't exactly redeem Brynhildr. Elfen Lied at least had good atmospherics and some interesting characters; this show settles for lots of boob-grabbing.
Brynhildr has a lot of problems: the mythology doesn't make any sense, the technical aspects suck, and there's no satisfying resolution of any kind. I also feel like I got tricked into watching a harem, which is never something I'm happy about; this picture basically sums up how I feel about the whole thing:
...yeah. Don't watch this show.
Just an awful mess, all around; watch it if you really, really like harem I guess, but then again, there's a gazillion of harem shows that aren't pretending to be something else out there, so why bother? — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Totally not for kids. Lots of graphic dismemberment and violence, and there's a scene where a character literally melts; even though crunchyroll censors some of this, it's still pretty gruesome. Not to mention that there's a ridiculous amount of fanservice and nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on 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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