Judge Josh Rode forgets the names of people 13 seconds after he meets them.
Fleeting moments. Chance meetings. Two tales of bittersweet memories.
ef: a tale of memories: complete collection (the e.e. cummings inspired lack of capitalization is theirs) took the traditional route to American video. It started as a manga, then turned into a visual novel (basically a computer-based interactive comic book) and, very soon afterwards, out sprang the anime. This all happened within a period of three years (2005-2007), if you don't include the sequels. Also following the traditional route, it took another five years to cross the Pacific.
Facts of the Case
Twin sisters Kei and Chihiro have some problems. Kei's are of the normal teenage girl type: Hiro, the boy she grew up with (and absolutely adores), got his bike stolen by a cute girl, and now he's smitten with the thief. Naturally, Kei isn't going to let the bike-and-boy-snatcher take her man. Chihiro's problem is much much worse: due to a head injury, her memories disappear after thirteen hours, so she spends her time keeping a constant diary of everything she does…except she does very little but sit at an abandoned train station and watch the sky. When bookworm Renji finds her there and then keeps showing up day after day, her life becomes much more interesting than she hoped. Or wanted.
The boys have problems of their own. Hiro's dreams came true at an early age when his manga got picked up and published, but he is killing himself trying to make deadlines while also going to school. Renji just wants to be alone so he can read, but life keeps grabbing him and forcing him to deal with other people.
Throw out all of your preconceptions about anime before you sit down to ef: a tale of memories. There are no weapons or fighting. Nor are there ubiquitous panty shots and D-cup breasts on fifteen-year-old girls. All of that is replaced by (gasp!) an actual story. Two of them, actually, intertwined and centered on the twin sisters. There's no getting over the fact that this isn't a "Yay, everyone's really happy!" type of story. Although everyone ends in good situations, the climb to get there is often tortuous.
This is a show about learning to deal with the complications that life throws your way. It is, in short, about kids becoming adults. Kei has to face the feelings she has kept hidden—even from herself—all her life. Hiro discovers what it's like to have something one loves become work. Renji finds that life works better when other people are involved. And Chihiro…well, she learns that hiding from life is the same as not having one. It's a heavy load for a genre that typically features people who steadfastly refuse to grow up, and if you try to watch it all at once, you will be in danger of drowning under its ponderous emotional weight. This is a show best watched in segments, with some breathing time in between.
The art and animation are gorgeous, with detailed characters and sometimes near-photographic backgrounds, and the voice acting does a fine job of supporting the art. The English cast is a who's-who of anime dubbing, featuring what appears to be an attempt to reunite the cast of Clannad (Brittney Karbowski, Clint Bickham, Greg Ayres, and Luci Christian are all in both). That carries with it both strengths and weaknesses. Everyone knows what they're doing, so the mouths match the lips well enough and the characters speak with fluid reality. On the other hand, you've heard all these voices before, so in some ways it sounds like just about every other anime. For instance, Monica Rial's Chihiro sounds suspiciously like Dragonball Z's Bulma from time to time.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation is crisp and clean, with good color and excellent saturation. The sound comes with only a Dolby 2.0 stereo option, but since the show is mostly talk, it works well enough. The only extras are textless credits and trailers for other Sentai shows.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are some logical fallacies interspersed throughout the show. For instance, if someone with no memory kept a daily diary, they would soon spend their entire day reading it to catch up; by the time they were done, they'd have already forgotten the beginning. Perhaps the writers needed to watch Memento to do some research. (Polaroids would be a good idea. Body tattoos…maybe not.)
Also, there is an apparent supernatural element, as a woman with flowing black hair appears during each characters' moment of decision and helps them work through what they need to do. It seemed only to be a physical representation of the conscience, even though it seemed strange that they all had the same image, but the end of the show hints that there is more to the woman. What that might be, the show never says.
Finally, just a minor technical detail. The DVD case says this is the "Complete Collection," but then it also claims to be "Season One." There were no other seasons of the show (although there is a sequel with a different name), so I don't have a good answer for the oddly contradictory terms.
ef: a tale of memories has entertaining moments, but its goal is not strictly to entertain. It wants to tell a story, and maybe teach people a thing or two about humanity along the way. A lofty goal for an anime, and it does succeed; it just might not find a wide audience. Non-anime fans who would really like this story will shy away because they will assume it's a typical over-the-top anime featuring excessive fighting and boobs. Casual anime fans will shy away because of its lack of either. Both will be missing out on a dramatic gem.
Guilty of growing up.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
• Clean Open/Close
Review content copyright © 2012 Josh Rode; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.