I have mixed feelings about this anime. On one hand, nearly everything about it is done superb, but somehow I just couldn’t get myself to care for the characters as much as they were aiming for.
Story & Characters
The story is split between two lines, each following a troubled love story involving one from a pair of twins. The two storylines play parallel to each other. Neither of the stories meets the other (except for the occasional text message between the twin sisters Chihiro and Kei), but they play side by side, often having half an episode about one tale and half an episode about the other.
Chihiro’s and Renji’s tale is one about attempting to overcome a seemingly impossible problem. It is specifically about the two of them, and there’s much focus on the individual hardships and worries that come with them.
The other tale has more of a love-triangle story and thus automatically has a larger cast. Hiro is a shoujo manga artist with childhood friend Kei (the other twin) who always pushes him to keep attending school. One day, Hiro meets Miyako, a relentlessly cheerful and carefree girl who keeps clinging to him. This story also involves another one of Hiro’s friends, Kyosuke, a cameraman with an artistic vision for his works. In his attempts to capture real emotions and put off by the commercial vision his fellow club members have, he becomes involved with Kei and soon begins to follow her around.
While these two stories are told beautifully, I had one major problem with them. No matter how interesting something is, a romance anime loses a lot of its charm if it fails to make me care for its characters. I enjoyed it for what it was, an interesting, touching story, but would've liked it so much more if the characters made me care for their problems.
A large part of this anime is just decent, solid quality without anything that puts it apart from other works of the year 2007. However, when ef wants to be, the animation is absolutely stunning. With gorgeous skies, interesting transition shots and visualizations of thoughts, SHAFT managed to turn a seemingly regular looking show into a stunning piece of art.
The music in ef – a tale of memories is great. The background music is mostly calming and emotional music with much use of strings and piano, setting a mood that goes hand in hand with the themes of the show.
The opening songs didn’t really appeal to me as much as it did to most of the anime community. I liked it, but since the timing of the English words felt off, I couldn’t listen to it more than once. Luckily, I didn’t have many problems with the Japanese version (which appears in the later episodes) as I have much less understanding for the language.
The first ending theme on the other hand was quite good and fit right in with the other music used throughout the rest of the show. It starts with an accordion setting the mood with stretchy, slightly melancholic tones and then continues with vocals and the rest of the band playing a song that strangely reminded me of a sailor’s song, being slightly nostalgic, yet anything but depressing; I wonder how I made that link… Hear for yourself.
Although ef managed to impress on some level, it didn’t deliver what I expect from fantastic romantic dramas: care and emotional punches that hit. It is definitely something I’d recommend to people for its themes, style and way of storytelling, but not for deep, realistic characters to feel empathy for.