Again, massive spoilers abound. If you haven’t seen ef – a tale of melodies yet, you’ll probably enjoy watching it more than reading this post (make sure you’ve seen the first season first, though). Otherwise, enjoy the next of my Twelve Moments of Anime 2009:
12 Days 2009, #6: Yuuko [ef – a tale of melodies]
Honestly, I’m not sure what to write about this series. I simultaneously have so much and so little to say about the second season of ef. Every time I watch it I find something new, something I missed the last time, something that SHAFT carefully orchestrated, and every time I watch it it utterly destroys me emotionally, something that few series can do. Sure, there are quite a few shows that make me feel sad or bring me to tears, and to be honest I tend to gravitate toward those series, but usually I cry for a bit and then move on. ef leaves me drained, shattered, and feeling like a wreck, as if someone came in while I was watching and beat the crap out of me, something that Kanon, Clannad, and even Saikano can’t come close to doing.
Maybe it’s because ef – a tale of melodies is about despair. From the beginning of the series, Yuuko and Kuze have both given up on their lives—Kuze from his looming death, and Yuuko from her traumatic life since leaving the orphanage. At the end of episode 6, Yuuko reveals herself to Yuu, physically and emotionally; she shows him her scars from Amamiya, her abusive “nii-san”, and tells him how she was beaten and raped. She also tells Yuu that he could have saved her—that she tried to get him to save her—by accepting her affections in the orphanage and giving her a place to belong, and that by rejecting her Yuu was complicit in her despair.
In the following episode, Kuze confronts Mizuki, asking her “Why are you trying to care for me? Why won’t you leave me alone? Why are you cheerful?” But as he tries to push her away, he speaks with a hint of desperation in his voice, and even as his words literally tear apart the scene he truly is searching for a way to reconcile his desire to stay alive with his despair at his inevitable and impending demise. Even though he outwardly tries to cut his ties with the world, Kuze fights an internal battle against his own hopelessness, embodied by masked doubles of himself.
But as their parallel stories unfold, we see their respective companions fight to rescue them from that despair and replace it with hope. Though Yuu blames himself for Yuuko’s suffering, he acts, trying to take her away from Amamiya and begin a new life together. After he overcomes his sadness, he gains conviction, visualized in the opening. At the end of episode 6, Yuuko tells Yuu that he blinks when he lies, and through episode 7 the opening shows him blinking while crucified, but beginning with the (upside-down) episode 8 opening, Yuu does not blink. And though his attempt to start a new life with Yuuko ultimately fails, he produces a drawing of her that brings closure to Amamiya’s own despair, and as he burns himself and his mansion, he frees Yuuko and Yuu from their troubled pasts as well as his own oppression.
Similarly, Mizuki finds the courage to confront Kuze again, with answers to his previous questions: “I try to care for you because I love you. I’m cheerful because I love you. I won’t leave you alone because I love you.” With these answers (and a nice kick) Mizuki frees Kuze from his doubts and fears and gives him the resolve to fight for the remainder of his life. He decides to undergo a dangerous surgical procedure that could extend his time briefly, telling Mizuki “Even if it gives me just another second to spend with you, I think it’s worth fighting for.”
Any of these moments would be worth a spot in my top 12, but one other thing from ef – a tale of melodies sticks with me. If I were more organized and better at planning, it really should be December 25th’s post, and it probably should be #1 on this list. It’s the reason I’m trying to push out this post a little early so it’ll be out on Christmas. And it’s to whom this post is dedicated.
While the two seasons of ef follow Hiro, Miyako, Chihiro, Renji, Kyosuke, Kei, Kuze, and Mizuki as they struggle to find happiness, ef is really about Yuuko and Yuu. They’re the ones who the other characters look to for advice, Yuuko especially. In episode 11, the first season’s characters say the following:
After meeting her, I resolved to start trying again.
After meeting her, I found something precious to me.
After meeting her, I found a place to return to.
After meeting her, I found the colors I was looking for.
And Yuuko’s story is the most tragic; when I watch ef, Yuuko’s story is what’s truly crushing my emotions. After Amamiya’s death, Yuu and Yuuko really do start a life together, and for a while they are happy. They even meet a young Mizuki (called Miki at the time) and help her grow out of her shell and open up to other people. But on Christmas day, while she waits for Yuu at the church where she and Yuu were orphans, she goes to pick up a ball that rolled into the street—and is run over.
Yuuko’s death is sudden and heart-wrenching; a friend described it as a shot to the gut. I… don’t have the words to describe my emotions, really. Even with her dying breaths, Yuuko doesn’t lament her lost happiness, but sings a song of hope.
Yuu becomes an architect and leaves Japan to found the second Otowa in Australia and fulfill Yuuko’s dream of “A city where everyone is kind, and no one will be alone. A bright city that’s connected to the future.” But after his work is complete, he returns to Japan on Christmas to reunite with Yuuko’s spirit; the two go to the roof of their old school, and try to part. Yuu tells Yuuko what she wants to hear—that he will be fine without her, and that he has the strength to be on his own—blinking; but he tells her not to worry with only a twitch, and she vanishes, thanking Yuu for her happiness and telling him to look forward to his own happiness.
In memoriam, Moment #6.