Ef ~ A Tale of Melodies so slavishly follows the formula set by its predecessor that it's almost unwatchable. Even with low expectations coming in, it’s a letdown.
Like Ef ~ A Tale of Memories before it, Melodies’ plot covers two different sets of tangentially related characters. Unlike Memories, Melodies utterly fails to engage the audience. Instead, the series plods along with trite, uninteresting character development for five spectacularly uneventful episodes before finally dropping the angst hammer.
Even when the OMGDRAMA hits, the series mainly feels like a replica of what the first season did better. For example, the Memories uses a massive amount of text during a key emotional scene to blindside the audience, and the result is extremely powerful. However, when the device is used again (TWICE) in the second season, it's both predictable and tiresome. Most of the emotional punch of the original scene comes from surprise and shock value, and without either of these elements most reactions will either and mild amusement at the wall of text.
Furthermore, the conclusions of each arc are almost comically inept. Now, I realize that Memories does not have the most originally plotted premise out there, but it at least has the good sense to limit its clichés to the beginning. After that, the plot ventures into unexpected territory, making the story seem new despite the familiar premise. On the other hand, Melodies' clichés continue to the very end, and savvy watchers will find the story horrifyingly easy to predict.
The final episode is the worst: a lukewarm and largely plotless mishmash bloated with anticlimactic cameos of characters from season one. What little new plot that's there is tedious.
Melodies’ art direction is largely unchanged from the previous season, but for once this is actually a good thing. The imagery continues to be challenging and memorable, and as a whole complements the story well. Moreover, even when the story is borderline unwatchable, the animation continues to be engaging and creative.
Like Memories, the visuals are about taking bold risks. Sadly, the experiments don’t always work this time, as not all of the imagery fits. For one character, masks are used heavily as a symbol, but since his character’s personality has absolutely nothing to do with multiple personalities, the imagery is ineffective.
There’s also a general lack of freshness to the visuals, which is no more clear than in the aforementioned “let’s overuse text” scenes copied from the first season.
Fortunately, these are minor quibbles. For the most part, the challenging, avant-garde imagery continues to work. Throughout the anime, the pretty animation is often welcome relief from the creatively braindead plot and aggravatingly cookie-cutter characters, to the point where at times it feels like the sole redeeming factor of the show.
The OP and EDs are nowhere near the level of quality that I was hoping for and sound like bad remixes of songs from the previous season: predictable and flaccid.
Moreover, Melodies' background music is so similar to Memories that at first I thought it was identical, track for track. The most memorable songs are reused pieces from the original OST, and the "new" songs are generic and nigh identical to the first season's music.
While the original soundtrack was amazing and heartfelt, the new soundtrack's borderline duplication of it reinforces the idea that Melodies is an unnecessary retread of a better show rather than an original work of art.
That said, the soundtrack is still fine on its own terms, and is certainly preferable to completely new music of inferior quality. Most likely, if the animation and characters had been up to snuff, the recycled soundtrack would be fine.
While some fare better than others, for the most part the characters are aggravatingly shallow and simple-minded. One of the main characters, Mizuki, is the “genki girl” cliché on repeat. Another protagonist, Himura, repeats the same line ad nauseum (“Who knows? I’ve already forgotten”), to the point that he loses all credibility as a real character.
On the other hand, some of the other characterization relies on plot devices so artificial and hackneyed that you almost wish the characters had remained one-dimensional. Both Kuze and Yuuko’s development essentially hinges on a single revelation. After their token formulaic “surprise,” each character’s development grinds to a halt, as if the writers thought that merely having a dark secret would suffice. Sadly, this is not the case, and both characters’ unrealized potential remains exactly that.
The problem is exacerbated by numerous cameos of characters from the previous season. Not only do these clips break the narrative flow, but they serve to illustrate just how terrible these new characters are in comparison to the old ones.
Ef ~ A Tale of Melodies is perhaps the biggest disappointment in a year riddled with disappointments. Not only is the series a redundant “companion” piece, but it dampens my high opinion of its predecessor. While the amazing animation still keeps the drama from being an absolute chore, there are too many deficiencies in both the plot and the characters to recommend this to even diehard fans of the first series.
The story of Yu Himura and Yuko Amamiya’s relationship is troubled and complex. One day, Yuko showed up at Yu's high school and, despite the two not having seen one another for ten years, confessed that Yu was her first love and still loves him. In the present, Mizuki Hayama moves in with her cousin as she prepares to begin high school. She meets his smooth and handsome neighbor, Shuichi Kuze, and begins spending increasing amounts of time with him; they begin to fall for one another despite their age difference. The tale of these relationships thus begins to unfold.