Ef: A Tale of Memories is divided into two parallel love stories, which, although loosely related and referential of each other, never actually cross paths. On one hand you've got a love triangle centered around Hiro Hirono, a highschool student despite being a published manga author. He soon meets the outgoing Miyako and a rivalry forms between her and Hiro's childhood friend Kei. The other story is focused on Renji Aso, an aspiring novelist who one day meets a girl called Chihiro. Due to an accident four years ago, Chihiro is unable to remember anything but the events of the last thirteen hours since the age of twelve. Renji soon begins to assist Chihiro in her longtime dream to write a novel.
One of the most striking things about Ef: A Tale of Memories is how in a genre often confined within the restraints of cliche and normality, the series is refreshingly unique in style and construction. It takes seemingly simple scenarios such as the love-triangle and presents them in a whole new angle, accompanied by incredible emotional flair that really packs a punch. The driving force behind this emotional impact is the unusual complexity of the series' characters, however, this is also where things start to go wayward.
Understanding the psyche behind each of these characters reveals a surprising amount of intricacy and initially, realistic humanism. Hiro, who is also my personal favorite character, is torn between pursuing his tenuous line of work and focusing on his more stagnant school career. He is, however, unable to make a decision and it is this indecisiveness which proves to be his greatest obstacle. Miyako represents the option of devoting himself as a manga artist, the freedom to do what he truly desires, but behind her outgoing and seductive front she is in actuality a confused and lonely girl, driven by selfish desires due to a tragic background. Kei is the safer option, where although she appears to be a control freak she is in fact fueled by a guilt-ridden sense of responsibility and compassion due to, well, once again, a tragic back story. Renji is similar to Hiro in the sense that he doesn't know where to go, he's lost and directionless, that is until he meets Chihiro who suddenly gives purpose to his life. Chihiro struggles on a daily basis to come to terms with a lifestyle that she believes renders her identity and existence an empty one. She feels confined by her handicap, unable to progress, and like Renji, unable to find any meaning.
It really is. Unfortunately, this impressive depth is completely smothered by how hyperbolic these characters end up becoming. In the show's efforts to convey the emotions which its characters are experiencing, the characters end up being defined not by their motivations but rather by their incredibly outlandish actions. Miyako and Kei end up devolving into some of the most obsessive, incomprehensible and plain detestable women I've ever seen- seriously, bitches be crazy. And although I understand the intent behind the exaggeration, where the lengths in which they go to are to demonstrate the intensity of their feelings, these feelings are ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer ludicrousness of what these girls are actually doing. As such, what we end up with aren't the complex characters initially implied but rather melodramatic caricatures.
It is this melodrama which ultimately drowns the series. Everyone (perhaps excluding Hiro) seems like they're constantly PMSing. We have characters on their knees howling at the moon, people constantly tripping as they run feeling betrayed and distraught, a monsoon of tears and stacks of shattered plates. It gets a bit ridiculous. And once again, although I understood what the producers were going for with the whole concept of 'intense melodrama = intense emotions' (and admittedly, it succeeds to an extent), it becomes overwhelming. Our very real characters with very human flaws become distorted and inflated by the stupidity of their actions and what they say, and as such become harder and harder to sympathize with. One could argue that their irrationality shows how deeply twisted and distraught they are, I think it's got more to do with lazy writing analogous to that of a Korean drama. As a result, some of the most intense scenes end up becoming some of the most unintentionally laughable and embarrassing. I can't help but feel it's a bit contrived at times, especially when you have two men having a deep and meaningful discussion on a Church rooftop (seriously, isn't that a bit dangerous?)
For all its depth and complexity, _Ef_ is lacking in any subtlety. It's not handled with nuance but rather with extravagance, and consequently everything is blown out of proportion to the point where it becomes obnoxious. There's so much illogical crying and screaming and smashing of fragile objects that although this cacophony of noise conveys a cacophony of emotion, it ends up being rather silly.
The visuals very much complements this sentiment. SHAFT's/Shinbo's stylistic individualism really shines through here, and the intensity and passion of the feelings of the series' characters is represented through a range of vivid imagery. Bizarre camera shots, framing and symbolism really communicates emotion in an effective manner. Something as simple as a harsh red dominating the shot to a black and white scene often ends up being drastically more effective at conveying emotion than through the dialogue and actions of the characters, and with far stronger of an impact as well.
Once again though, the imagery is at times overwhelmed by the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Some motifs are just so absurd and overused that it's cringe-worthy (I'm talking about you, paper-airplanes). Although for the most past the visual style is brilliant, it sometimes ends up trying to being too deep when it really isn't.
The soundtrack is characterized by a heavy emphasis on piano and violin to reinforce the mood. The opening song, Euphoric Field, is downright amazing, where the mounting passion in the vocals really reflects the same amount of passion the show tries to communicate (and ends up overdoing).
Pacing can get sluggish at times, and the intense melodrama can make important moments seem plain boring, although it picks up during the latter third. Also, as to be expected there's a lot of talking.
Although Ef: A Tale of Memories has a strong foundation with intriguing characters and vivid pathos, the intensity of it all soon becomes too overwhelming. The melodrama does work at times, and there are some genuinely endearing moments, but for the most part, I can't help but wonder if it realizes how ridiculous it's being. The series tries too hard, tries to convey too much through the irrational dialogue and actions of its characters and its unique but sometimes overworked imagery. I can see why this might appeal to many people, but for me, the complete absence of any subtlety, any attempted nuance leaves me severely disappointed with what was really so much squandered potential.
If you're into romances chances are you'll like this. If not, well, if you can ignore the absurdity of it all, maybe you'll be more satisfied than I was.