…and a Happy Ending.
All of that encompasses this series which was not created by Makoto Shinkai, but he had a profound impact on its adaptation. Here in Part III of the Makoto Shinkai series, we will be taking a look at ef: A Tale of Memories, the first part of a 24 episode adaptation of the 2006 light novel series ef: A Tale of the Two.
It’s hard to nail down the story to one specific thing with this series because there are a few stories being told here. The first is that of Renji Asou and the developing love he has for Chihiro Shindou, who aspires to be a writer, but she has a bit of a problem, which I will detail in the characters section. Renji tries to help her overcome her struggles and starts to develop feelings for her.
The second story revolves around Hiro Hirono. Hiro is an aspiring manga artist and he’s caught in a love triangle of sorts between Kei Shindou, his next door neighbor, and Miyako Miyamura, who stole his bike one night in order to catch a purse thief. She ends up wrecking the bike and has been hanging around Hiro ever since.
The first episode of this series can really put off a lot of people because they throw everyone at you at once, but this is necessary because it helps set up the stories you will see in the next eleven episodes to follow… some of which is foreshadowing for the second half, ef: A Tale of Melodies. Once you get through that first episode, it should be clear sailing from there as you get to watch the two stories develop side by side and come to their own conclusions.
While the love aspect is one thing, you also get the underlying story which tells the struggles one goes through in order to achieve their dreams. Chihiro with her novel and Hiro with his manga; both share the same kind of struggle and they both have people in their lives trying to support them and help them along the way. These hardships and struggles serve as the foundation for the love stories that develop throughout the series. They are also told in such a way where you, the viewer, actually feel a connection to the characters and it makes you want to support them as well… especially Chihiro.
This is another area where ef: A Tale of Memories shines. Being only twelve episodes, you’d think that there wouldn’t enough time to develop the characters, but if you keep in mind that this is a two-part series, then all is served up pretty well. The main attractions of the first half get the attention they need and the other characters which seem minor and/or like cannon fodder, are primarily being set up for the second half where it’s there time to shine. Everything is done pretty well and their development allows you to attach yourselves to them pretty easily.
Renji is tied with Hiro for the lead male protagonist in the first half of the series. He, one day, goes to an abandoned train station where he meets Chihiro. Even through Chihiro is shy, Renji finds her interesting and continues to come back and see her. Renji becomes her motivation to help her achieve her dream of writing a novel. You have to hand it to Renji, though. Despite the obstacles he has to overcome in order to help Chihiro reach her dream, he remains tenacious through it all and it’s because of this that you can see him as a genuine, caring character. That whole ideology behind the character shines through perfectly!
Chihrio is a shy girl who has a dream of writing a novel, however, she struggles with it each and every day. Some might attribute it to writer’s block, but the problem goes far FAR deeper than that. When Chihiro was a child, she was involved in an accident which left her brain damaged. She has a severe case of anterograde amnesia in which she can’t remember anything for the past thirteen hours, yet, she can still recall the incident which left her that way. Every day she accomplishes something new, but then forgets it all. It’s a rather sad case to see someone struggle so hard and then see it all just taken away by something beyond her control. It’s this that allows you to feel for Chihiro and make you want to cheer her on in hopes that, one day, she can overcome her condition completely.
Hiro’s dream is to become a manga artist. He’s a typical high school student, but he soon feels that he doesn’t need an education to continue living his dream. He sacrifices his studies in order to focus completely on becoming a mangaka. He also does this for financial reasons as he is pretty poor. Hiro is attempting a rags to riches story, but in this stage of it, we merely see the struggles he goes through in order to try and makes those dreams come true. His pen name is Shindou Nagi, taken from his sister Nagi and his childhood friend Kei Shindou.
Kei is the twin sister of Chihiro and Hiro’s neighbor and childhood friend. In fact, even though there is a love interest there, due to them being friends for so long, Kei kind of acts like the big sister to Hiro. She’s always there waking him up when he’s late and making sure things are in order because she knows if she left Hiro to his own devices, he just wouldn’t do anything. She’s also experiences a bit of internal struggle with the introduction of the next character.
After wrecking Hiro’s bike chasing after a purse thief, she stays with him that evening. She finds the thought of classes boring and is a bit on the hyper-energetic side. She likes doing mischievous things and eventually begins to hang around Hiro more and more, gaining feelings for him. This is where the love triangle between Kei, Miyako, and HIro begins to form. It all has to do with Kei’s locked up feelings and the fact that she’s in the sister role. Hiro is caught in the middle, but it’s not exactly the typical anime love triangle where the two girls battle each other. They each go on about their lives in their own way and it seems like everything is just happening right under their noses while they are all aware of it. It’s kind of odd to try and describe, but it’s something that actually works. Who Hiro ends up with, by the way, I’ll let you guys watch to find out. I can’t spoil everything, now can i?
Yuu is often found inside the church, although he’s not a Christian. He’s simply there waiting for someone. It is later revealed that he is Chihiro’s guardian and can be seen as a bit of an antagonist as he tried to drive Renji away from her. He doesn’t do anything forceful, mind you, he keeps telling Renji not to get attached to Chihiro because one day something will happen and it will probably shatter him inside. Despite the warnings, Renji continues to see Chihiro and then one day, that something does happen. Yuu is a minor character here, but he becomes the main focus in the second half. A lot of what you get with this character is simply foreshadowing and once you see the second part of the series, you really get to appreciate the time they spent with him in this part.
He is Renji Asou’s neighbor and a bit of a musician. That right there should tell you that he’s primed for ef: A Tale of Melodies. Here, he is seen as a womanizer and a simple side character, but lo and behold, his story hits home; however, I will be touching upon him in Part IV of the Makoto Shinkai series.
Here we have another character who will be making a big impact in Melodies, but here in Memories, she’s simply a random girl that Hiro met at the church one night. She plays the role of advisor to many of the characters and can often be seen appearing randomly throughout the shows. There is an apparent mystery about her that’s not really touched upon, but there are some subtle hints strewn about.
He has a passion for filming and one day, a girl catches his eyes. He tries to film her, but a truck passes in front and he misses the shot. He spends his time trying to figure out just who that mystery girl is. That girl turns out to be Kei Shindou. Kyosuke falls in love with Kei and it even drives him to end his relationship with his current girlfriend.
Out of all the characters here, I love Chihiro the most. Mayhaps I’m just a sucker for the tragic love story or the fact that Chihiro has such a wonderful personality despite her condition. She’s the type of character that you just want to hug and not let go. When you get to know her, it’s like you want to step into Renji’s shoes and fulfill his role. There’s just something about her that makes you just want to be with her. None of the other characters really gave off that vibe despite the fact they were all well-developed. I just happened to think that they nailed it perfectly with Chihiro.
Art & Animation
This anime came out in 2007 and it can easily stand up against anything put out today. The CG used in the anime is a bit apparent, but the backgrounds are breathtaking. Sentai Filmworks and Shaft are the ones responsible for putting this show together and everything from the character designs to the gorgeous backgrounds was executed very well.
A lot of detail in the character designs when into the eyes of the character. There are many tropes out there that talk about anime characters having large eyes and this is one of those series that goes in that direction. In fact, the eyes are very prominently featured in the show’s opening, which has some very VERY smooth CG animation to accompany an amazing song sung completely in English. The show also makes use of vivid and vibrant colors… almost giving it a Clannad vibe where the world is colorful and alive while the story is deep, impactful, and anything but bright.
I believe this was done intentionally to give off a sense of reality. That the world can be filled with darkness and tragedy while the sun shines brightly, illuminating everything. It’s a contrast of art versus story and it’s pulled off very well here by the studio. With the CG aside, nothing really stands out as overbearing or glaringly obvious… it does its job of immersing you in the surroundings while giving the world and the characters their own personalities.
I mean, who doesn’t like Chihiro’s eyepatch?
If you’re going to invest yourself in this anime, you will also need to invest yourself in Tale of Melodies to get the full story. While the Chirhiro/Renji and Hiro/Kei/Miyako stories are good on their own, it’s still not the big picture.
Makoto Shinkai served on the storyboard staff for this so this isn’t one of his original works, but if you’ve seen his films and his shorts, you can definitely tell he had a hand in shaping the adaptation of the light novels. If you need something to bring out the tragedy of romance, then this is the guy you need to call and call him they did. You could just tell from the scene selections, the arrangements, and the overall dialogue that Makoto Shinkai put his personal touches on this and the genre was something he was already versed in doing thanks to his movie 5 Centimeters per Second which came out in the same year.
If you were someone who loved Clannad and want something not as tragic, but still can hit you right in the heart, then this is the series you need to pick up and watch. It’s a great ride of emotions from beginning to end and the fact that it doesn’t end on episode 12 is a bonus!
Also, I know it’s a little nuance, but I love how the episode titles were arranged. If you take the first letter of every episode title, it spells out “Euphoric Field” which is the name of the opening theme for this show. Euphoric Field is also abbreviate “EF’ which is also a nod to the ef in the title of the show. A nice little nod and Melodies makes use of that as well!
Next time, in Part IV, I will be taking a look at the second half of this series, ef: A Tale of Melodies.
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ef - A Tale of Memories
Two main stories intertwined in an overall bigger picture set the stage for a classic telling of tragic love!