Anime, Ef - A Tale of Memories, Episode Writeup

ef – A Tale of Memories – Episode 10

Let’s get back to A Tale of Memories! We’ve been slowly winding our way through this production for a while now, and I’m certainly having a fine time with it. The show is divided between two very different narratives, but its obsession with the idea of truly existing and leaving an impact on the world carries through each of them. On the Hiro/Rei/Miyako side, Miyako is the most stark example of this theme, constantly panicking at the thought of being neglected until she simply fades away. On the Renji/Chihiro side, Chihiro has obvious reasons to be preoccupied with memory and the nature of being, assailed every day by questions and fears regarding her ability to truly engage with the world, as well as whether the active voice in her mind is even really “her.” That thread, along with the show’s wild visual experiments, have kept Ef engaging regardless of its romantic twists and turns, which have stuck to more traditional melodrama territory. My preference for the show’s thoughts on memory over its romantic drama likely informs my preference for the Chihiro story over the Hiro story, but I’m certainly enjoying both the show’s halves, and am very interested in seeing how all of this comes together. Let’s get right to it!

Episode 10

“I’m Here.” An episode title that applies equally well to either of our understandably insecure heroines

“I only want to be with people who will take care of me.” Miyako is in a pretty terrible place, and I don’t think Hiro’s the one to help her. She needs unconditional support from close platonic friends now, not to be the wavering third point of a love triangle

Ef was based on a visual novel, which makes me question if this sequence actually was preceded by a sex scene there. If so, what was the tone? This isn’t really a healthy union, so a totally upbeat and traditionally titillating sex scene feels like it’d be pretty inappropriate. But my experience with the visual novel medium is very limited, so I don’t know how often they do things like Katawa Shoujo does, where some sex scenes are meant to be genuinely uncomfortable, because that’s what best serves the narrative

“I don’t want to disappear from anyone’s heart again. Otherwise, I’m better off not even knowing them.” A line which cruelly reflects on Chihiro’s narrative. Chihiro can’t help but have people disappear from her heart, but her whole life is living proof that surviving in memory is not experience’s only value

This consistent shot of the moon through branches is beautiful in its own right, and also echoes Ef’s generally emphasis on cages

Kei arrives, rises into a fury, and runs out. Hiro moves to follow her, but is stopped by Miyako

This blanket around Miyako seems intended to evoke wings

The second Hiro pulls away from her, the color disappears from her arm. Echoing her overall fear and reusing the visual vocabulary that gave so much impact to her flashbacks. Ef has successfully developed a full, consistent, and evocative vocabulary of motifs

And of course Kei runs into Kyosuke. There’s only ever five or six people who exist in a story like this, and you’re gonna bump into them any time you run out of a building crying

“Don’t you want to record this? You’ll never get such interesting footage again!” Kei is brutal in her mockery of Kyosuke’s mission. But it’s a fair critique – Kyosuke’s capturing of emotionally charged moments robs them of the context that gave them meaning, turning them into a series of emotionally sterile beautiful objects. Kei doesn’t want to and has never wanted to be a beautiful object; she’s a person with feelings, and those feelings have been deeply hurt

The show gets some nice dramatic mileage out of this steepled house. Ef’s occasional flourishes of generally western or specifically Christian symbology do give it a nice ethereal quality

Kyosuke just straight decks Hiro, which he’s certainly earned. Hiro is reminding me of School Days’ protagonist at the moment – a dude who acts like he’s just stumbling through these situations and not doing anything personally wrong, but who is hurting others through his willful ignorance of consequences

“You’re so half-assed about everything. And you hurt people in the process!” Well uh, thanks for precisely articulating my character critique, Kyosuke. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on you

The cut to black and white for their meanest comments to each other is a nice way to add a little impact to this relatively reserved fight

“You even ran away from your dad without talking to him.” Oh, huh. Is this new information?

The show’s leaned hard on this run-down town as a dramatic tool, but it’s a good tool. The compositions here are full of jagged foreground objects and KEEP OUT signs, echoing the violence of the conversation

“You’re the only one who can save her, Hirono.”

Hiro returns home, and Miyako has cleaned up absolutely everything. It seems she has chosen to erase all traces of herself

“Let’s stop seeing each other.” Yep

And once again the backgrounds echo Miyako’s behavior as first color, then detail, then base linework entirely disappear from around Hiro

Hiro runs into Hayama, the blonde friend of Kei’s. Welp, this’ll be awkward

The extreme distance shots keep this scene the sense of emotional remove it’s going for. Hiro is barely involved in this conversation, and so the camera matches his disinterest

“The Nagi Shindo I knew is gone.” Apparently Hiro’s lost his creative edge

Hiro finally runs into mysterious hat girl on the roof, another symbol of freedom

“They’re all precious, so you don’t want to give up anything.” A charitable read

Hat girl’s words lead us into Miyako and Kei’s eyes. The open and closed eye is another of this show’s central symbols, a reflection of the ease with which we can blot out the entire world

“I knew the answer, but didn’t have the courage to understand it. I think I found the color I was missing.” But… how? Hiro entered this scene filled with uncertainty, and I don’t really know what this woman’s words did outside of simply describing the situation he’s in, and urging him to make a choice

This woman is one of Ef’s weakest elements. While the show is clearly a pretty dramatically heightened production, and little about this town feels real, at least the emotional drama and characters tend to maintain some stability. They propel the narrative, but this woman exists entirely apart from time, and could well be no more than a metaphor for the cast members talking to themselves. But the show doesn’t need that element of outright fantasy, and having her be instrumental to turns like this one feels emotionally cheap, like someone’s just handing Hiro his character development answers

Hiro through bars again, looking in at Kei

“I’ve decided to quit school and focus on my manga.” This show has an almost desperate appreciation for the power of art to enliven and redeem us. Its characters destroy themselves in the pursuit of their art, seeing nothing of value in their lives outside of the things they create. It’s an unhealthy panic, but it’s one I well understand, and one that I think is very common to creative types

“You always decide everything yourself, leaving me behind.” Kei’s words echo Kyosuke, when he said that Kei would remain like a lost puppy if Hiro let her keep following him

“That manga got discontinued. But we never knew. We were so obsessed with that ending.” “Real life is like that, too. There are no happy endings.” A beautiful little insight, reflecting on how the messiness of the creative process is like the messiness of reality. There’s a hope in that. If even the fiction we see as a flawless articulation of some emotional truth is often a messy and compromised work, then perhaps we can come to accept the many imperfections of our own stories

Kei was writing her own story too, but reality didn’t conform to her narrative

Kei finally confesses. This is a really good scene. The use of the door as a barrier is a classic trick, but applied so well to this story that’s already so obsessed with boundaries

Now Miyako is talking with the hat girl. Miyako is basically drama incarnate in this story, which makes it a little hard to sympathize with her, even if she’s obviously got a sad story of her own

“I wanted to dream that someone like me could be happy.” And then hat girl disappears, because nothing fucking makes sense in this town

I really like how they use this payphone counter to emphasize the finality of Miyako’s decision. Really like all of this episode’s visual choices; this hasn’t been the most ostentatious episode, but every one of its embellishments has been smartly chosen and very effective

Ahaha, the payphone’s windows are shaped like an actual hourglass

The endless repetition of this timer also calls back to Miyako’s last desperate phone incident, when she left that pile of messages. Repetitive, abrasive action like this is a good way to convey Miyako’s extremely agitated, obsessive nature

“It was as if I was the only one in the world.” Gesturing towards Chihiro

Oh man, this sequence is so fucking good. The building strings taking over for the payphone beep is such a nice touch. It’s like Miyako’s neuroses are literally being overwhelmed by Hiro’s conviction

And Done

All friggin’ right! That was a terrific episode, easily one of the show’s best so far. It’s odd to say, but maybe my favorite thing about that episode was that I didn’t have any complaints. Normally, even when Ef is good, it’s a messy production, and some of its experiments don’t pay off at all. But here, all of the big emotional beats landed stupendously, and all of the smaller visual embellishments actually achieved clear dramatic goals. And then the one-two punch of Hiro’s meetings with Kei and Miyako offered some of the most impactful climaxes of the show so far, each of them bolstered by great music and their own strong visual conceits. I don’t actually know how Hiro resolved things with Kei, but the story is moving with beauty and grace right now. I’m ready for whatever’s next!

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