Drama, drama, drama. Anime is filled with sappy, romantic dramas. An entire subgenre,
shoujo, is devoted to these stories. While shoujo is typically not my bag, several
series such as Clannad and Fushigi Yugi broke through the typical shoujo pitfalls
(re: shameless melodrama) and are among my favorites. ef: a tale of memories, unfortunately
drowns itself in a self-impressed whirlpool of overdramatic sap.
ef: a tale of memories follows two separate, but inconsequently connected teenage
love affairs. By "inconsequently connected," I mean that ef could easily have been
two completely separate series. One storyline follows the love triangle of young
Hiro and two girls, Kei and Miyako. Hiro dreams of becoming a manga artist and devotes
all of his time to this goal. Much to the chagrin of Kei, who tries to focus Hiro
on school. The lifelong friends have a brother-sister, or more likely a mother-son
relationship. Kei falls in love with Hiro. However, her affections are challenged
by Miyako, a whimsical free-spirit who encourages Hiro's dreams--for better or worse.
The other storyline focuses on Renji, a lonely bookworm who spends his days lost
in the imaginary worlds of his books. One day Chihiro happens upon his usual haunt.
Chihiro is a quiet girl who sports a mysterious eye patch and whose memory only
spans the past 13 hours. She relies on her diary, which she re-reads every day,
to remind her of about her life. After several awkward attempts at conversation
and friendship, Renji decides to help Chihiro accomplish her unlikely dream of writing
a complete novel. In that time, they develop an equally unlikely relationship.
Frankly, I hated all of the characters. I cannot fathom why a boy would date any
of the ridiculously unstable girls that inhabit this series. Nor could I understand
why a girl would desire, much less tolerate the wimpy male characters. Beyond the
fact that Chihiro's claim to a 13-hour memory is a silly story angle, she is one
of the most incredibly pitiful and whiney characters I have ever seen in anime.
With her 13-hour memory, Renji must endure her same ritual of self-pity every single
day. Chihiro also must constantly remind him that she has a 13-hour memory...because
she has a 13-hour memory.
For all of Renji's suffering, Hiro has it doubly worse. Kei is a clingy nuisance
who cannot accept that Hiro views her only as a naggy little sister--or "friend"
as he likes to call her. Despite the fact that they are not even dating, Kei has
an emotional meltdown every time Hiro pays attention to the new girl in his life,
Miyako. For a time, the free-spirited Miyako was the only likable character in ef's
cast. Then, in the middle of the series, ef nuked her likability factor with one
of the most egregious sins in dating: psycho voicemails.
Miyako exposes herself as a complete lunatic through a seemingly endless chain of
voicemails on Hiro's phone. Director, Shin Oonuma, apparently felt that showing
every one of these voicemail messages somehow enhanced ef's storyline. For half
an episode, we are subjected to a still image of a cell phone lying in the dirt
screeching with Miyako's passionately crazed rants. It was at this point that my
mere eye-rolling disinterest for ef: a tale of memories exploded into a supernova
The two male characters in this series are largely interchangeable wusses. One writes
manga, the other is a bookworm with a top knot. Hiro agonizes endlessly over whether
to focus on his dream of becoming a manga artist or attending high school. I wasn't
aware that the two choices were mutually exclusive. Hiro also ties these choices
with the two girls who are fighting for his affection.
In Hiro's worldview, Miyako represents freedom and following his dream. Kei represents
the pragmatic choice of staying in school and living a safe, boring life--which
forever dooms Kei regardless of Hiro's choice. It's obvious which path Hiro should
take, but he's a coward who refuses to take a stand on anything, much less life
decisions. He doesn't even seem aware that he has a choice to make for most of the
series. Instead he leaves both girls dangling on a tenuous twig of oblivious indecision,
which crushes their fragile emotions.
Renji's personality is much the same as Hiro's. Nobody wants to watch a passive
wimp fumble his way through a relationship built on a foundation of mutual pity.
While Renji's motives smack of a desperate loner, he somehow breaks through Chihiro's
Great Wall of Self Loathing to forge a relatively healthy relationship. Until Chihiro
perplexingly decides that's too good for her pathetic little world.
I suspect that if Chihiro had more than 13 hours of memories, she wouldn't give
Renji the time of day. Every episode she has to re-convince herself that she has
any feelings for Renji despite the fact that her trusty journal details her undying
love for him. None of this even matters since their entire storyline is overshadowed
by its laughable implausibility.
Exacerbating ef's melodramatic storyline are the distracting and often confusing
visuals. Sometimes characters change colors or take on a stylized manga appearance
for no apparent reason. A dramatic flourish of visual artistry also accompanies
every emotional event in ef. In one episode, Renji and Chihiro take a typically
hyperemotional stroll on the beach. At an opportune moment, a tsunami rises from
the ocean and nearly washes Chihiro away. Only it doesn't. The crashing tsunami
is actually a pedestrian, 6-inch wave overdramatized to symbolize the weight of
These bizarre visuals pepper every episode and are a desperate attempt to artificially
enhance the depth and meaning of an otherwise clichéd romance. In a series overflowing
with sensationalized drama, if every little emotion comes packed with an extravagant
artistic display, then it quickly ceases to be an effective tool. The result is
a series that's an unaware parody of shoujo.
ef: a tale of memories is the type of anime series that I would have turned off
well before the first episode ended. It introduces too many characters too early
and they whine about their trivial lives too soon. My mere dislike bloomed into
hatred and amplified as the series progressed. The story is ludicrous and in the
world of anime, that's a monumental achievement. Even worse is the execution of
this story, which is filled with information dumps and campy
vocalizing of characters' innermost feelings. My advice to all prospective viewers
is the same as my advice to the forlorn teenage characters in this story: RUN!
Sound: The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and includes both English and
Japanese soundtracks. It's a barebones, dialogue-focused track that won't even begin
to push the bounds of your surround sound system.
The English voice acting is mediocre, but the actors were not given much to work
with. Most of ef's dialogue is pure cheese that evokes memories of the atrocious
90's anime dubs. Who says "Tee hee" anyway?
Video: The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Whereas I complained
about the use of striking visuals as a crutch for the abysmal storyline, these visuals
were eye-catching. The image is bright and vivid and is a party mix of varying manga
and anime art styles. Instances of prolonged stills and repeated imagery, however,
make me wonder if the director didn't blow through his budget too soon.
Extras: The special features include clean opening and closing credits and trailers
for other Sentai Filmworks releases. It should be noted that the opening title song
is catchy and probably the lone highlight of this entire release.
Bottom Line: ef: a tale of memories is an overall aggravating experience for all
but the most diehard of shoujo fans. Even having to write the title in all lowercase
is annoying. The series is melodramatic mush filled with unlikeable whiners who
would all benefit from simply ignoring each other. You can spend 288 minutes of
your life much better than watching hormonal, angst-ridden teenagers dwell and cry
over every facet of their mundane lives. The story commits numerous party fouls
that entrench its status as one of the more frustrating anime series that I have
ever had to endure. Skip It.