11 down, only one more to go in my countdown of the Twelve Moments of Anime 2009:
12 Days 2009, #2: 100 [ef – a tale of memories]
In many ways, the two seasons of ef are much the same; they follow the same characters, they change openings and endings the same way, and they share SHAFT’s amazing and unique visual styles. Taken together, the two seasons of ef are two parts of a whole; they tell the story of Yuuko and Yuu, the fairy tale of the two. While melodies presupposes knowledge of the character backgrounds and relationships established in the first season, memories leaves Yuuko and her relationship with Himura for the second season to explain.
But despite these similarities, memories and melodies differ thematically. While melodies focuses on despair and hope, memories tells stories about finding something special in life. For Tsutsumi, this is the perfect scene; for Kei, it’s the strength to move on from her relationship with Hiro and her guilt toward Chihiro. For Renji and Chihiro, it’s fulfilling their dreams of writing novels, and an escape from Chihiro’s 13-hour time limit. And for Hiro and Miyako, that “something special” is a loving home to return to, and color in the world around them.
SHAFT even animates the world’s lack of color when Hiro and Miyako feel alone; scenes fade to black and white, and some even lose detail to become block or line drawings. And when the two kiss, they glow, and the world sparkles. In general, the animation in memories is extremely versatile and dynamic, perhaps even more than in melodies. Characters become hollow sillhouettes on a black plane, the backgrounds shining through their line drawings; static interrupts scenes, and time slows, cluttering animation with noise and slowing speech to a baritone crawl. Frames are dynamic and sometimes constructed from random objects like umbrella handles or wreckage.
But for all the pretty animation, memories doesn’t hit me as hard as melodies emotionally. Maybe it’s because none of the characters’ situations in memories are as hopeless as Yuuko’s life in melodies, and maybe it’s because Yuuko and Himura are around to guide the others, but I can get through memories without becoming a wreck. The first season feels more passionate, but less desperate; its characters are fighting to be happy, instead of fighting to survive.
I suppose I see the first season of ef as a lite version of the second—not as deep, not as filling, and not as traumatic the next morning. memories doesn’t move me as much as melodies; it isn’t as spirit-crushingly depressing as its sequel. But I think it’s good that memories is brighter than melodies; it gives the first series a warmer, homelike feeling that matches its theme. That doesn’t mean that the first season is without tension or sadness, but it feels more… optimistic, more hopeful toward the world.
For example, I felt heartbroken the first time I watched Chihiro collapse from exhaustion in episode 8, and from her terror and confusion upon awakening. And Miyako’s wall of text in episode 7 was amazing and oppressive. But these scenes aren’t as oppressive as the revelation of Yuuko’s past or Kuze’s wall of Warums, or as heartbreaking as Yuuko’s death. Perhaps it’s because memories ends happily, while the ending of melodies is bittersweet and tinged with loss that I don’t feel as affected by the first season.
However, I do feel like the first season is more passionate than the second; I can feel the characters’ feelings more clearly than in melodies. I can feel Miyako’s desperation better than I can with Kuze’s or Yuuko’s frustration. And as the time on Miyako’s phone card decreases, I can feel at first her recitence and then her growing hope as she talks to Hiro. I feel her happiness drain away as the timer reaches zero. And I feel her joy when Hiro shows up anyway out of the blue. It’s one of the most passionate scenes I’ve watched, and that’s why it’s Moment #2.