The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

ef – a tale of melodies

Title: ef – a tale of melodies
Genre: Romance/Drama
Company: SHAFT
Format: 12 episodes
Date: 7 Oct 2008 – 22 Dec 2008

Synopsis: World-class violinist Kuze Shuuichi is dying. During his final days, he meets Hayama Mizuki, a cheerful, upbeat girl who falls in love with him. Their fateful meeting rekindles old flames inside Himura Yuu, Kuze’s old friend and confidant. Chance encounters. A past remembered. A reunion surrounded by memories. Feelings that reach, and feelings that don’t. Can you hear it? The true melody.

The Highlights
Mood: Much darker.
Visuals: Come on, SHAFT, you can come up with something new.
Music: Entrancing.
Nagi: Why doesn’t she have her own story?

Conventional wisdom says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Melodies presents a clear case of someone attempting to fix something that wasn’t broken, and the results are not always pretty.

My problem with melodies stems mainly from the fact that SHAFT tried way, way too hard in their attempt to turn this series into something extra-special. They failed to see, in their wave of avant-garde animation and maverick storytelling style, that the original work from which this anime was based was inherently beautiful and captivating. ef ~the latter tale~ was an excellent visual novel, and had SHAFT simply stuck to the source, good things could have happened.

Of course, it is not fair to weigh the artistic merits of the two works against each other. That being said, I must commend melodies on what it does well. It is by no means anywhere near bad; it has its episodes of genius, and the production quality is quite high. In particular, the music by Tenmon is captivating, fits the mood almost 100% of the time, and helps keep the show flowing. The varied and tremendously talented voice cast, spearheaded by Yamada Yuna (aka Nakajima Yumiko) as Amamiya Yuuko and Agumi Oto (aka Goto Mai) as Hayama Mizuki, bring their respective characters to life. Never once during the series did I question the talent of this cast.

Yet, no amount of brilliant voice work could make up for the massive storytelling flaws in melodies. Pacing problems run rampant throughout the series; SHAFT‘s time-warps between Kuze and Yuu’s respective storyline make almost no sense, especially given the (eventually revealed) relationship between them. The lack of a clear chronology made the series a bit confusing to watch. In addition, each heroine was not given enough screen time for their respective personalities to develop fully. As such, they seem a lot more flat than Miyako and Chihiro from memories, especially given the unusually complex nature of Yuuko and Mizuki’s respective pasts.

Without a doubt, the first half of the series is stronger than the second half. Characters are introduced, viewers learn of their respective secrets and pasts; this portion of the show was done much better than the second half. With all the raw materials on the table, it seemed that SHAFT simply (and astonishingly) failed to find a good way to spin individual facets of character together to form a cohesive, rounded personality for each persona. The end result: characters with lots of damaged goods and painful memories from the past, but little personality other than the memories they carry. The characters turned out to be very predictable, something that I was very disappointed about. With all the dark memories hidden inside each character, one would think that they would act in a more realistic, unpredictable manner; I would have liked to see a bit more insanity or a bit more desperation, but alas, I found neither. The last three episodes of the series throws creativity out of the window; cliche replaces ingenuity, and even the animation quality drops. I was very disappointed with SHAFT‘s effort (or lack thereof) to explain major plot holes during the last few episodes; after watching the final episode, I was left with a few crucial unanswered questions. Yet, feelings of unease left me, if only temporarily, as I watched the beautiful ending sequence, complete with a five-minute ED and inspiring, albeit corny phrases about happiness and perseverance. A beautiful ending, no doubt, but, ultimately, my questions still remained unanswered.

Melodies is not a masterpiece, not by a long shot. Yet, it still has its fair share of merits. Artistically, it is one of the most beautiful works of anime to have ever graced the market. Unfortunately, the lack of a solid, believable story and memorable characters mar what could have been one of the best series ever produced this decade. So close, SHAFT, yet so far.

The Rating: 6

Reviewed by: Akira

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