(This post is part of a series of posts covering Christmas-themed anime episodes. For more posts like these, check out the 12 Days of Anime tag.)
ef ~a tale of memories~ is an anime adaptation of an eroge. Like most anime adaptations of eroge, there is no porn to be seen. This one is particularly remarkable because there is nary even a panty shot. In addition, the anime attempts to tell two serious love stories. The first one is True Tears without any roosters, while the second one is 50 First Dates with Rikka Takanashi.
As glib as my description sounds, the show is actually pretty good at what it tries to be (a story about moe girls SUFFERING). The visuals make great use of religious imagery alongside luscious nature shots, which brings out a sort of ethereal atmosphere that perfectly suits the somber tone of the story.
Now, this kind of narrative isn’t my favourite in the world, as I was reminded in the first couple of minutes when MC-kun launches into a self-pitying monologue about how he, an ordinary Japanese high school student, can’t be a knight in shining armour. But just because it’s not my personal preference doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its craft. ef ~a tale of memories~ seems to be about the frustrations of teenagers who struggle to express their artist selves, so the ponderous musings these characters indulge in is a natural fit.
The first episode can be roughly split into two parts. The first part introduces us to our first male lead, Hiro Hirono, and his meeting with a mysterious girl named Miyako Miyamura. The second part introduces us to our other male lead, Renji Asou, who (surprise! surprise!) also encounters a mysterious girl. This one’s the eyepatch girl, by the way, and her name is Chihiro Shindou.
Of particular note is that all of this action takes place on Christmas Eve. Christmas is more of a romantic holiday in Japan, and here it’s used to symbolise new beginnings. Quite an interesting choice when Christmas is near the very end of the calendar year.
This is a SHAFT anime, by the way, as the above picture not-so-subtly hints at. Also, the director is Shin Oonuma, who later went on to direct for his own animation studio Silver Link. Oonuma is often belittled by critics for being a Shinbo copycat, no doubt because of the close relationship between the two animators (Shinbo supervised for ef ~a tale of memories~, by the way) but I personally quite like Oonuma’s style. It’s softer and more restrained than Shinbo’s. So far, it seems like a better fit for ef ~a tale of memories~, which deliberately eschews the fantastical and the down to earth.
This isn’t to say that I think the visuals are pitch perfect, though. Some of the shots seem really arbitrary, as if they exist just to break immersion. (What SHAFT anime doesn’t have moments like this, I wonder?) While I do like it overall, it is the work of a young, inexperienced director. At the same time, you might say this is Oonuma’s best work, considering that many of his later works are a significant step down in terms of artistic merit. I’m quite sure the story of ef ~a tale of memories~ would have felt rather pedestrian without Oonuma’s touch. Unlike the other stories he has tackled, this one did seem to have enough interesting themes going on to benefit from such an overtly “artsy” direction.
Overall, this was a solid opening episode with some decent emotional highlights. I say give this show a shot if you have a soft spot for stories featuring anime girls with freakishly big eyes crying in the rain.
And lest I forget, this was an episode with a Christmas theme, so here is your obligatory Christmas shot for the post!