First Look Fair: ef-a tale of melodies

Groovy!
Groovy!

ef is a state of mind, and requires a certain state of mind to really absorb and accept. This episode starts the process–with stronger artsiness waves than before, though. Is that always a good thing?

This was, of course, my most anticipated show of the season, and if SHAFT’s goal was to simply continue the style that made ef-a tale of memories so memorable, they certainly succeeded. All the usual directorial moves are back: the bizarre color schemes, the text on the screen a la Godard/Anno, the oddly abstract settings and dialogue.

Renji and his oversexed mother are back, but only briefly, thankfully. While he appears in the most “typically anime” scene with Mizuki getting out of bed, he does not appear to be a main character at all as in the first season; instead, if this episode is any guide to the future, the two adult men, Kuze and Yuu, are the chief protagonists. The timeline shifts from flashbacks during Yuu’s younger days to the present day Kuze-san. Both, it seems, are dealing with their own demons, with the high-school aged girls primarily serving as catalysts for self-examination. This is actually a fairly staple plotline in a number of movies and even anime–it’s one way to think of Welcome to the NHK!, for on. I still find it refreshing for the anime to focus mainly on the grown ups for a change. There was clearly a lot hinted about the two of them in the first season that remained unanswered, particularly Yuu’s relationship to Yuuko.

A pickup line for the ages!
A pickup line for the ages!

One fascinating question that the very first words of the episode seem to hint at is the nature of the setting, the town itself. It always seemed very dreamlike from the beginning, and the VO narration implies that there are in fact two cities: a dream and a “real” one built on rubble. It makes me wonder whether we will get a later revelation like in Oshii’s Avalon that there is an actual “real” city that is not nearly so picturesque, and we discover what is holding the illusionary version together (not in a sci-fi way, but more like by subjectivity and perhaps denial). It’s probably also a reference to the vision of rubble that we see briefly in the wake of Miyako’s emotional devastation. Graphically, we’re still often presented with two sets of colors or sides in a lot of shots and I suppose this dual nature is something the director will continue to play up.

The musical motifs came in, just as I predicted; with Kuze talking about his “fermata,” (apparently his way of getting through some illness), his former violin playing, and with the show’s logline, we are going to see a lot of reflection on music. Not that the memories theme has completely gone away, though. It seems Yuu has some memory problems, and somehow this has led to lasting consequences. Obviously, it’s too early to tell what is going to happen with all these useful ideas, but one of the things I really liked about the first season was the way “memories” served as an organizing principle that made the show’s artistic vision very coherent. In fact, that was why the show worked at all; all its artyness actually contributed to a meaningful whole. I hope they continue down that road and not simply become arty for artyness’ sake.

Mein Gott, die Worte
Mein Gott, die Wörter

I’d like to make a final complaint about the OP: musically, it’s far, far too similar to the first OP (which was wonderful, mind you). It is still sung in Engrish–I think; it could also be horrifically pronounced German.  Speaking of that, the text in the background is now German, not English, and I suppose it fits in with the whole classical music/composer motif–I get the feeling we are going to hear a lot of Bach in this show–but honestly? It ratcheted up the “pretension” factor a bit when I saw it. It reminds me too much of the Xenosaga series that named each game after a Nietzsche work.  (Any German speakers among us care to translate some of it to see whether it means anything? I know a tiny amount of German but I’m way too busy to translate the rather large volume of text the OP throws out.)

Nothing was terribly unexpected in this start. Naturally, since this show tends to bring out the analyst in me, I certainly will blog it, and I will keep in mind that the first episode of season 1 didn’t particularly impress me, either. Judgments were meant to be suspended in these first look fairs, after all.

4 thoughts on “First Look Fair: ef-a tale of melodies”

  1. I´m too lazy to translate all of it but the words in your screenshot mean:

    With a smile on my way home
    Searching for my sometime(somewhen?)lost voice
    When the darkness cuts through the memories
    Even now, it does not end

    I couldn´t hear any German in the song :)

  2. Tenmon said in an interview that it was a deliberate decision to make the OP sound very similar to the first OP, even using some of the same rhythms for the start and finish. It’s meant to be a sister song to the first OP, much the way melodies is a sister to memories.

    The German text are the lyrics to “Eternal Feather,” the first game’s OP, and “Emotional Flutter,” the second game’s OP.

    And correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks more like Mizuki is going to be the other chief protagonist, not Kuze? She certainly looks like being a more important (active?) character than either Miyako or Chihiro from the first season.

  3. At times I think ef’s intense visual imagery hurts the plot. It makes the show unique but becomes distracting when everything on the screen is supposed to be ‘art’.

  4. @Sirenja: thanks! And yeah, I picked out English eventually from the singing, so I’m fairly sure it’s not German.

    @FF: ah, so the similarity is deliberate. I still kinda disapprove of it, though to the tell the truth, the song is currently stuck in my head, so it must be doing something right! And thanks for the info on the lyrics, that makes sense now.

    Mizuki is definitely the more active person in her relationship with Kuze, but I think in anime the protagonist is not necessarily the most active one (as it is in most traditional Western stories)–we’ve seen tons of things where the nominal protagonist is a brooding, passive male. If we spend a lot more time focusing on Mizuki’s inner emotional state later on, though, then that’s another story. In the original ef they generally split the inner emotions time fairly equally so it will probably be the case here too.

    @Yamcha: I felt the same way at first in the first season, and it took me a little bit of time to get used to. I think the strange shots usually express something visually that verbal dialogue can’t say very well and is one of the better features of the show. Then again, they may go gratuitous on us and then your criticism would be definitely apply. Artsy folks tend to be tempted in that direction.

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