In a high school setting, there are many people whose stories must be told: Hiro, an aspiring manga artist whose view of the world is "missing a certain color," according to himself; his childhood friend Kei, who is vying for his attention; Kyosuke, a photographer and cameraman who seeks to capture true emotion in his work; the ever-cheerful Miyako, who meets Hiro by chance and immediately becomes attached to him; the gentle Renji, unsure of his aspirations to become a novelist; and Kei's mysterious and quiet sister Chihiro, who seems to be a different person every day. As time passes and they interact with one another more, their paths increasingly intertwine as shades of regrettable pasts emerge.
StoryOn the surface, ef - a tale of memories seems to be your average romance anime series, featuring a range of characters forming relationships as they spiral awkwardly towards adulthood. Certainly, this series almost disappeared under the radar, and I only watched it on the recommendation of a fellow fansubber who was enjoying it himself. And I have to say, I'm glad I did.While ef - a tale of memories does follow the accepted path of romance series, it's the way it proceeds, dancing away from clichés as it goes, that really makes the series. The plot itself isn't anything particularly sparkling and the idea of duplicity (two separate stories involving a different set of characters playing out alongside each other) certainly isn't new (see: Baccano and, to a lesser extent, Shinigami no Ballad) even if it handles both of these rather well. However, the strong emotional clincher at the beginning of the series, where we learn of Chihiro's shocking condition, grabs the viewer by the heart and refuses to let go. Where this series really hits it mark is in its cast of characters. The characters are ones you can either relate to, or demand sympathy. Ef is as much a series about unrequited and unwelcome love as it is about becoming romantically aware.The series has a great way of whisking you along with it, whatever the action is. I was gripped from start to finish, awaiting each new episode to be released, which is a rare event these days. Ef's greatest tool is its fantastic storyline and direction, where not a single second is wasted onscreen without invoking some emotion in the audience. What the director has done well in this series that have failed in other similar titles, is maintaining the fine balance between the optimum amounts of action and introversion.Having said this, however, there are flaws inherent in the ef model of storytelling. The problem I've always found with duplicity is that they only work if the stories are equally as enthralling -- Baccano works despite its massive cast because every character has an interesting story to tell. Ef, however, has a much stronger storyline in the childlike romance of Renji and Chihiro, than the bordering-on-cliché love triangle of Kei-Hiro-Miyako. Unfortunately, when this happens, the viewer is dragged in by the stronger storyline and sees the weaker one as deadweight -- to the point where it feels like that whole half could have been dropped to make the series stronger. This is what I felt for most of the love triangle story, despite liking most of the characters involved and the individual pieces of magic it brought to my computer screen.AnimationThis score is a hard one for me. At times, there are some real breakthroughs in anime artwork, in particular the two amazingly emotional scenes where Miyako and Hiro are communicating by phone (or not, in the case of one of them); and at other times, the viewer is left to deal with long distance shots with only small variations in movement.It's a hard one to judge, but ef definitely receives higher marks for its wonderful scenery. Nearly every backdrop becomes memorable for its richness of colour, and each setting is perfectly realised -- from the beach where Renji talks frankly about his feelings with Chihiro, to the rooftop of the school, the centre of a climactic scene that I've no doubt I'll always have imprinted on the back of my eyelids.I almost feel harsh for knocking this down a few pegs, but I get the feeling that if the art directors had just pushed the boat out a little bit more on those near-static scenes, this would be a masterpiece that everyone would remember. As it is, it has some fantastic glimpses of what it could have been.SoundThe best soundtrack I've heard in an anime series. The last time I heard two songs so distinctly unusual to an anime series was in Gunslinger Girl, another series with an amazing opening and ending. I think, like Gunslinger Girl, ef can only achieve the emotional heights it does with perfectly placed music. The ending is an astonishingly good song, played on the accordian in what I can only assume is an imitation the sounds of Paris. There's so much going on in these songs that it's a delight on the ears listening to them.My only comment on the music is that it would have been nice if the opening theme was in Japanese, instead of dodgy English, but even then, the song itself is a wealth of strings and orchestral wizardry -- and with a scrolling animation as beautiful as "Puzzle" was in Welcome to the NHK! to accompany it... well, I can forgive this one minor downside.CharactersAs I mentioned earlier, the duplicity of the plot unfortunately doesn't lend itself to the characters it portrays. On the one hand, Renji and Chihiro are two of the strongest lead characters of any romance series I've seen, with enough flaws to fill a psychiatrist's journal (some of the faces Renji pulls are more reminiscent of Higurashi than Love Hina). On the other, we have Hiro who is too wishy washy to really be the centre of a love triangle, and Kei who seemed to fall into too many of the regular romance traps to be taken seriously.But then, she is the clichéd member of the cast. While other characters have compelling motivations (Hiro's attempt to juggle drawing professional manga and schoolwork, Miyako's desire to find a place where there is no such thing as silence), her only reason for existing is to be the childhood friend who secretly loves the protagonist but remains unnoticed despite her best attempts. Luckily she's strong enough not to fade into obscurity, but her character is weakened from the outset.I think it's unfortunate that the character that piqued my interest the most received the least screentime. I wanted to see more of Kyosuke and the way he viewed life through his camera lens, forever searching for the "right" angle. I found his perspective more interesting than Hiro, but it seems as though his involvement in the story is only to give Kei another option in her lovelife. Which is disappointing, to say the least.It's the relationship that sparks up between Renji and Chihiro that carries this mark though. In fact, on the basis of their endearing love story alone, I considered marking this a 9, maybe even a 10, but I couldn't justify it, especially when you consider that the two "teacher" figures in the church are never really introduced, talked about, or even explained.OverallBefore anyone else says it -- yes, I'm aware that ef - a tale of memories does border on the absurd more than once, teetering along the edge of being emotionally charged and being hilariously over-the-top, but all I'll say to that is, if you're willing to let yourself be swept away in a less-than-conventional rollercoaster of a love story (or two) then this is the one for you. Yes, it has its flaws. Yes, half the characters seem either worthless or unused. Yes, it would have made much more sense to have some sort of crossover in the plot somewhere. But frankly I don't care, because this came out in a Fall season where every popular title was disappointing and this shone out above all the rest. Vastly superior to Myself;Yourself which aired at the same time, and perhaps, if given the chance, a romance series that will be seen as a milestone of the genre.
Ef – A Tale of Memories (pronounced ‘eff’) is a short 12 episode drama romance anime, based upon a light novel. I think (couldn’t find in English), but apparently there’s visual novel versions of it. A unique anime, capable of invoking emotion and making the viewer think, something I appreciate. Off the bat, this was a rather serious, yet sensible anime with a mature, intricate plot. I must also add that I’d watched the first episode of this anime many years ago, when I was sampling the first episodes of a variety of anime to see whether they were worth watching later (many years later!). This was one of the ones I looked forward to all this time, I even got vibes of my favourite anime of all time, Angel Beats. I will disclose my dislike for ecchi, harem and shoddy romance, relevant in a later bit. Animation HOLY MOLY! The quality of the animation felt like it was years ahead of its time. Watching it in no less than 1080p, I felt the quality of animation was comparable to more modern anime such as Another and the aforementioned Angel Beats. On the odd occasion, the framerate had slight noticeable drops, but it reminded me that this was no movie like 5 Centimeters per Second, thus for a 12 episode series, the quality was on point. But the quality wasn’t the only astounding thing about the animation. The style. The first thing noticed about it is the standard looking character designs, done rather well of course. But the animation style itself is rather unique and stood out a lot. I was reminded of anime with styles like Kare Kano and Neon Genesis Evangelion, just add some random power line shots and there you go! The scene transitions had poetic lines, from what looks like a book, making me all the more sad that this doesn’t have an English light novel. There’s artistic use of grayscale and monochrome, I can vividly remember one scene where the character was drawn in white on a black background. The intro/outro sequences feature similar inventive colour simplification, with characters being depicted in shades of just a single colour. The intro uses just two colours at a time (if one doesn’t count white). One thing that some folks may dislike is the use of silhouettes, especially where the camera is zoomed out and glow around character models. As well as interesting camera angles, I also noticed in one scene the original use of silhouettes and background. The entire scene was black, except for the animated characters, which were actually windows into the background. It’s difficult to explain, imagine if holes, the shape of the characters, were cut out of black paper and was overlaid over a normal image. I love how creative and distinctive the animation style of this anime is. The last thing to mention is the ‘rated’ aspect of the animation. I’m happy to announce, zero fan-service or ecchi crap. There’s occasional references to stuff, like a guy sitting nude and working at a computer, while his girlfriend sleeps naked in bed, likely after having made love. It’s as it sounds, sensible camera angles and well within context for justification. The closest thing to bs are guys being grabbed from behind, but they never draw attention to it. One last thing, I’ve seen complaints about the content in other reviews. From the way they were talking about it, it sounded like this anime could be quite vulgar. Don’t be fooled, this anime still maintains prudence, there is no nudity and the adult scenes are dealt with very reasonably. If it wasn’t, then I’d be the one ranting about it and complaining about it, just see my Elfen Lied review. There is a fine line when it comes to depicting this stuff and most anime fail miserably, but this is one of the few that manage it perfectly. The beautiful animation style even continues, it’s still very artistic in the way it is depicted. Don’t let anyone tell you the love scenes are too much, for real ‘too much’ go see an anime like Berserk. Sound I was disappointed by the first couple of episodes, since it seemed like there wouldn’t be an intro sequence. Thankfully I was proved wrong and this anime also seems to have quite a few outro sequences, each seeming sung by each of the 3 female characters. The intro was is some surprisingly well-sung English, though at times the pacing was off. I felt like the first outro could bring tears to my eyes, it sounded so beautiful. The music from the anime itself, was used suitably. The usual high standard of background music, comedy tunes for the funny bits, serious music for the serious bits and sad stuff for the sad bits. Mostly beautiful instrumentals, like piano. Which is dynamic in the mood, it changes as the scene changes. And of course, some moments had no music at all, which was done purposefully. I felt like the music on its own could portray the atmosphere and emotion, independent of the animation and dialogue. With music so beautiful, I did get the soundtrack though I was still listening through the Shakugan no Shana music collection (12 hours of solid music) from the last anime I watched. It just so happened that this site didn’t list the English voice actors for the last anime I watched, in the past I’ve been misled to believe that anime are Japanese only because of this. Thankfully, since I watched the first episode many years back I know this is available in both English and Japanese. But once again, Anime-Planet has let me down, no English voice actors listed and some characters are missing. I watched it in English, especially since that’s how I watched the first episode all those years ago, but also since this anime has a good cast of English voice actors, I swear they had the entire cast of Clannad for this. Turns out the English cast voiced characters in many of my favourite anime. So major folks in the voice acting industry, starting with Greg Ayres as Hiro Hirono, starring in roles including Ayato Naoi in Angel Beats, Koichi Sakakibara in Another, Kouta Tsuchiya in Baka to Test, Youhei Sunohara in Clannad, Keisaku Sato in Shakugan no Shana (last anime I watched) and Kaoru Yamazaki in Welcome to the NHK. Chris Patton does the voice of Kyousuke Tsutsumi, the voice of such characters as Naoya Teshigawara in Another, Greed in FMA and Yuuichi Aizawa in Kanon (2006). Chihiro Shindou is voiced by Monica Rial, who was Misuzu Kamiyo in Air, Mei Misaki in Another, Chane Laforet in Baccano, Hyatt in Excel Saga, Lyra in FMA, Misao Ogami in Kaze no Stigma, Sakura in Tsubasa Chronicle, Hazuki in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase, Maria in Witchblade. Brittney Karbowski voices Kei Shindou, also the voice of Yuri in Angel Beats, Yukari Sakuragi in Another, Ryou Fujibayashi in Clannad, Kiko Kayanuma in Darker than Black and Ayu Tsukimiya from Kanon (2006). Miyako Miyamura is voiced by Luci Christian, having voiced Haruko Kamio in Air, Masami Iwasawa in Angel Beats, Nagisa Furukawa in Clannad, Ophelia in Claymore, Wrath in FMA, Medusa in Soul Eater, Haiji and Hikaru in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase and Hitomi Kashiwa in Welcome to the NHK. Clint Bickham voices Renji Asou, having also voiced Yuuya Mochizuki in Another. Yuu Himura could be recognised as David Matranga, also the voice of Takaki Tohno in 5 Centimeters per second, Mr Kubodera in Another and Tomoya Okazaki in Clannad. Yuko Amamiya’s voice was recognised as Carli Mosier, voice of Akira Yoshii in Baka to Test and Wilhelmina Carmel in Shakugan no Shana (coincidence?). Shuichi Kuze is voiced by Illich Guardiola, the voice of Katsumi Matsunaga in Another, Yusuke Yoshino in Clannad and Masaru Kato in Gantz. Mizuki Hayama is voiced by Hilary Haag, voice of Yui in Angel Beats, Fuko in Clannad and Merry in Dream Eater Merry. I took the liberty in this section, since not even the anime credits list the English VAs. What is this discrimination in this industry? Characters Probably the most important of the main female characters, 16 year old Chihiro Shindou is the frail and physically broken one of the Shindou twins. She lost her eye, which is why she wears an eyepatch and is unable to attend school because of a far pressing matter. Since four years ago, her ability to retain memories was so severely impaired that she was unable to retain any memories past 13 hours. Thus, she has taken it upon herself to write a diary, which she reads before bed so that she can remember the important things that occur in her day to day life. She aspires to be a writer, but her memory makes this difficult. Over the years, she’s attempted to write her novel dozens of times but to no avail. Due to her disability, she doesn’t attend school and live separately with the rather protective Yuu Himura (treated as an older brother) as her legal guardian. During the course of the plot here, she makes friends with the boy Renji Asou. Personality-wise, she is very shy and gentle, but somewhat strong-willed and will often accuse Renji of being mean. Hiro Hirono is a 17 year old guy who attends the Otowa highschool (likely in his final year, guessing by age). He is unable to attend school often, due to his full-time work as a professional mangaka (manga artist) drawing shoujo manga (i.e. aimed at girls) under the pen name Nagi Shindou, which allows him to be self-sufficient and live on his own. Despite this, he has never learnt to cook and eats quick food like instant noodles. Being a manga artist is his dream and he puts all the time and effort he can into it, trying to grab every extra opportunity he can. He has even developed tendonitis in his drawing wrist, which sometimes makes it difficult for him to draw. He lacks sleep as a result of staying up all night to draw his manga and meet the deadlines. He means well, but ends up being kinda indecisive and half-arsed at things, trying to juggle a lot at once instead of focusing on what’s important. Still, his true self pulls through. Kyousuke is regarded as his best friend and the Shindou twins are childhood friends, though Kei is much closer. He ends up meeting Miyako Miyamura during the anime and gets caught in a love triangle between her and Kei. He has a pleasant personality, he doesn’t care for much besides following his dream and occasionally helping his friends out when they pester him. He has a key to the roof of school, which is his special place where he likes to be alone. Miyako Miyamura is the same age as Hiro Hirono and in the same year Otowa highschool. Yet the two have previously never met since she is also a delinquent, rarely attending school. She likes to cook for Hiro, who was put off cooked food by Kei’s cooking. Unlike Kei, Miyako is able to cook well, this might be because she appears to live by herself too. Initially Miyako seems to be a cheery, mischievous girl, often with a smile on her face and dragging Hiro along to do stuff. She often gets upset at him when they are out, leaving him to pay for the bills by himself. Miyako seems to be a character with a lot of freedom, but she feels lost and aimless as a result, she wants to be anchored. She seems to respect what he does and wants to let him draw his manga as he likes, except for spending time with her. But soon we find out a bit more about this girl, especially since a certain phrase aimed at her by Kei cuts deep. There’s a lot more to this character than meets the eye. Kei Shindou is the other of the Shindou twins. A year below Hiro, she calls him senpai at school (Otowa high) and big-brother (onii-chan) elsewhere. She is athletic and plays basketball, she seems to take good care of herself and thus her body is more average, in comparison to her twin’s frail chassis. As a childhood friend of Kei’s, she was the one who got him into girl’s manga and drawing them. In essence, she was responsible for his dream. But she also harbours feelings for the guy, which she rarely shows him. She is very concerned for his wellbeing, suggesting he put less time into manga and more time into school. She even wakes him up every morning. She’s no deadly chef, but her attempts at cooking are terrible nonetheless, which turns out to be a thing that runs in her family. She goes to her best friend Mizuki for help cooking and such and just to hang out. Kei’s personality is not necessarily as pleasant as the others, she can be aggressive, jealous and rather horrible. But she’s a human being at heart, these flaws are to be expected. She means well towards her friends and Hiro, but she feels guilty about the events four years ago concerning her sister. Renji Asou is a 16 year-old high-schooler who lives alone with his mother. He seems lost and has no idea what to do with his life, claiming to have no talents or skills in which he is proficient. That is until he meets Chihiro, who brightens his day. He often visits Kuze Shuichi for advice and help. Personality-wise he’s a nice person, much more pleasant than most of the other characters, he’s very gentle with Chihiro, though that doesn’t stop her claiming he’s being mean at times. But soon he finds out about Chihiro’s problem, which makes it difficult for him to get close to her and develop a relationship. Much like Miyako, one must watch the anime to see how complex this character really is. It’s not all bright smiles and sunshine. Kyousuke Tsutsumi is a friend of Hiro’s, a boy in the same school. At the start he is part of the film club and is dating the film club president. His dream is to shoot a beautiful movie, sparked by his late mother who was an actress, whose acting was so beautiful that he wanted to make something similar. He disagrees with the other members of the film club who want to make something to win prizes, while Kyousuke doesn’t want such things to taint his creativity and ideas. He resigns from the film club and even breaks up with his girlfriend. His opinion on creativity differs to that of Hiro’s. Hiro mentions he’s a bit of a player and thus slightly dangerous for girls to be around, but you soon find he’s a rather caring, pleasant and deep individual. He feels he can see everything through the lens of his camera and his lens is caught by Kei, who he discovers is the film subject he was looking for. He wants to film her as she is and doesn’t want to interfere with her life, letting her do as she would normally do. Yuu Himura is Chihiro’s guardian an adult whom she considers as her big brother and together they live at a church. His occupation is completely unrelated to his abode, he isn’t a priest or reverend. When asked why he is there, he claims to be waiting for someone. He has Chihiro’s best interests, but also tries help Renji as trying to advise him with what he believes is the best option. He understands how difficult it is for Chihiro and potentially the difficulty one may face when and if they get close to her. This character is somewhat mysterious and he seems to be the closest thing to a father figure for Chihiro, trying his best to prevent her from doing anything to hurt herself, being a tad violent if needs be. Mizuki Hayama is Kei’s best friend and in the same class/year. Unlike Kei, she can cook very well. Like Kei, she enjoys reading girls manga and is a fan of Nagi Shindou, who she is unaware of as being Hiro. She’s a bit jealous of Hiro, since she seems to have feelings for her best friend. She’s very light hearted and cheery, much like Miyako, but without the ‘other’ side. Sumire Asou is Renji’s mother, she seems to look and behave a bit too immature for her age. She makes awkward jokes about her son’s love life and even jokingly flirts with him and the neighbour. Speaking of which, Kuze Shuichi is the next door neighbour, a womanizer who also plays violin. He shamelessly flirts with Sumire, being confident enough to mention the awkward stuff with her son. The closest thing to a pervert this anime has, he also seems to have the same hairstyle as Renji. Since Renji’s father is never around, he’s actually the closest. Finally there’s the mysterious woman in the black hat who appears to certain characters to provide advice and disappears like some sort of supernatural being or ghost. Story The plot essentially follows three intertwined arcs, each featuring a cast of the 6 main characters. One arc concerns Renji and Chihiro, another is about Hiro, Miyako and Kei, while the final smallest arc focuses on Kyousuke, but mixes in a bit with the second. The plot is here in its full glory, this is no slice of life and I’m happy to say this is a romance narrative taken seriously. It’s unpredictable, at one point I thought it had just gone down the drain after some significant progression. The narrative of this anime is carefully interwoven with the characters, without one you can’t have the other. It’s a human-based story. And it’s not an easy one at that, being rather complicated and dare I say real. Most of all, this story has a lot to say, not being simple means there’s a lot to read here. I feel like it’s suggesting things about key topics such as life and love. It’s has the potential to invoke emotions in the viewer, I wouldn’t be surprised if folks cried watching this anime. And also to induce thought as I mentioned in the intro, the viewer is trying to figure out what’s going on and the characters are done so well, one could almost empathise with them. It’s a beautiful story and I’d write a lot about the subtext here. But to do so could potentially spoil the story. Some wise words are mentioned by some of the characters. Because pain and suffering exists, it allows us to feel happiness and joy. Love (a fictional concept, check my Romeo and Juliet review for the little rant) is a double-edged sword. One thing repeated by Yuu that also holds true: “There are no such things as miracles in this world. Just the inevitable and accidental. And the things we do. That’s all.” Much of this anime suggests the characters are wandering lost, trying to find the things that matter to them most, to find a dream they can truly strive towards and make them happy. And best of all, the conclusion was magnificent. I couldn’t see it coming from a mile away, but it made a lot of sense and most of all, it put a smile on my face. That said, I’m a person at peace and the small things make me happy, even if fleeting. Overall it’s a beautiful story, but one that would go unappreciated by younger audiences or those who don’t understand and would cast it off as soppy. Its fine, this anime doesn’t need those kind of people watching it. Conclusion Overall I loved this anime, it reminded me of some of my favourite anime ever and I’m wondering if there’s a place for it in my top five. Who would I recommend this anime to? It’s a true romance anime and a beautiful one, much like Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, so I’d definitely recommend it for romance fans. But I’d also recommend it to adults who don’t enjoy typical anime BS, because it’s something that’s different and unique. If the first few episodes don’t reel you in, then don’t bother with it, the best thing to do is to ignore it and move on with your life. Because it’s so complex and unique, some people probably won’t appreciate it. I’m reminded of what I said in my 5 Centimetres per Second review, it’s like a beautiful flower, some people don’t care. But others will see it for its beauty. If you have a good taste in anime, then you’d enjoy this. Personally, it’s anime like these which make me glad I got into anime, it’s unique stories like these that I strive to find within this bogged down (by crap) media form. I’d definitely show it to a friend, especially one who has romance or relationships on their mind (even if they don’t enjoy the genres in media). Family-friendliness Rating: 5/5 Nothing offensive, but inappropriate for minors nonetheless (lower is better) Overall Rating: 10/10 (higher is better)
For Ef they decided to follow 2 different stories. My problem lies with how clustered these stories seemed to be. The writing didn't seem to have a grasp on how to manage both stories and they even went as far as adding a 3rd minor story too. I liked the direction but I did not like the execution. The animation is the best part about the series. It was very artistic and certain scenes used an art style that highlighted a character in a unique way. The characters in the series were very hit and miss. For Hiro's story it seemed like Miyako had no clear way of acting and majority of her story stays a mystery. Hiro is pretty forgettable himself as he does not stand out at all. Kei was ok but there was a point where she did something that went completely against everything her character portrayed during the series. It took away from the feel of the story and dropped the tension in almost an instant. Kyosuke was the highlight of this story. He was the minor story that was added in. He is a film maker looking to catch the perfect moment. It is a great concept but he barely got any airtime (which is not surprising considering this anime was only 12 episodes long). For Renji's story everything just seemed bland. Him and Chihiro were so generic that I really did not want to even see their story. There is also a character that appears in all of the arcs dressed in a nuns clothing but her purpose is never fully explained. I think the series expects you to have knowledge of the visual novel which is a bad thing to do. The music was enjoyable for the most part. I think that the songs that were used hit the moment correctly. The dub was poorly done though. This was not on the voice actors. I felt that the voice actors were good and fit their characters very well but the direction and script were not up to par. The dialogue was very stiff and awkward which made it very hard to get into the moment (especially in Renji's story). Final words - Ef: A Tale of Memories is a series that had a very good idea but failed to execute it because of the lack of runtime. If there were more episodes where the characters backstories could be more fleshed out then I believe it would have had a great chance to succeed. Throw in generic characters and bad writing and you have a subpar romance anime.
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