Monthly Archive for December, 2008

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[Ascaloth] ef ~a tale of melodies~, Episode 12

His days with his beloved Yuuko a thing of the past, Yuu sets out to create the future of his dreams, a mirror image of his home city in a beautiful land, a reflection of a happier past before tragedy and sorrow struck the original city, and at the same time the reflection of a happier future which has shed the spectre of that very sorrow in its history. In so doing, he sets the stage for just two out of many stories of love and sacrifice that is fated to play out soon enough in the next generation of love stories. And thus is how the story of the ef universe begun, and as the divergent chains of events come full circle and converge once again, thus is the resolution of this very same story arrived at.

ef ~a tale of melodies~, Episode 12.

A Santarina Chihiro is fine, too.

The Kei-Kyousuke pairing is quite possibly the biggest hole still remaining in the overall ef narrative; what little we get of their story can basically be summarized as how Kyousuke basically became the rebound for Kei’s disappointment, and it is hard to see just how it fits in with the general themes of the various ef love stories. In fact, Kei’s reunion with Chihiro actually seems more pertinent to the overall thematic drift than her budding relationship with Kyousuke, and one gets the feeling that the poor guy is little more than an expendable foil to Kei’s true stories about the resolutions she finally gets with the relationships she has with Hiro and Chihiro. Is this really the way it’s supposed to be?

And of course, Kuze makes it out of the surgery alive, even if only for a little while. You know, I’m pretty sure I saw this turn of events before….oh wait, yes I did. It’s just that the ill-fated one in question is a lot cuter, plus much less emo to boot.

As a final tribute to the long-departed Yuuko, the last couple to find resolution within the tales of memories perform the melody they had completed in her honour, the melody that speaks of trust in love when all else is dark and hopeless.

And with the twin keys having worked the magic that bonded the new generation of lovers together, the charm of Yuuko that she asked Yuu to pass on to those in need of it has come full circle, and made its way back to his hands after several years. For there is one last charm that the twin keys must work, and it is for the couple who first started the chain.

When we first saw these two meet each other in the last episode of memories, who could have possibly imagined then that it would happen quite this way? The tragedy of Himura Yuu and Amamiya Yuuko was one of epic porportions indeed, but out of this tragedy was born the motivation for them to see to it that the people related to them do not suffer the same fate that they did.

And it is the charm worked by the twin keys of the twin Otowas, that were together witness to and instrumental in the resolution of the relationships of our four younger couples, that holds with no pun intended the key to the resolution of the original tragic love story that started it all.

And that is how Amamiya Yuuko came to exist in the present day, long after she had passed on from the mortal realm; entrusted with the task of watching over those around her and given a temporarily corporeal form for that purpose, she got her dying wish fulfilled in return for having done so.

But as precious the feelings may be, one needs to move on from the past, and to look forward to the Ebullient Future. Even if the one who has passed on was very important to another, the survivor will have to move on with his/her life eventually. For as treasured as the past may be, to cling on to it will make it little more than a golden chain keeping one from living out the rest of one’s life. Therefore, as he had once said before, it is time for Yuu to look ahead of him once again.

The tragic wounds of the past, and the bright outlook of the future despite it. Just the other day, I’ve had the fortune to listen to the real-life story of someone I know; she was raised in an environment where life’s odds were pitted against her, and yet far from breaking her, it moulded the girl into a woman who has come far since then, and has the determination to go even further to prove that even she can stand for herself in a world which has dealt her such an awful hand to begin with. With determination, a bright future can indeed be created from the ruins of a broken past; it is something worth believing in.

No longer are they still reaching for something, no longer is he pinned down by the past, no longer is she isolated from everyone else, and even beyond the mortal realm, the well-wishes of those who came before will reach those who come afterwards. The "evolving OP" is still one of the most creative ideas within the ef universe, something that could have only come from Shinbou, and it still remains one of the best ideas I’ve seen within anime.

In the end, should ef ~a tale of melodies~ be considered as the sequel that it is to ef ~a tale of memories~, or should it be considered as a series in its own right? A recent bout of heated discussion in the Animesuki thread have brought up the interesting question of which approach is fairer when judging the overall execution of the series, and this question has only been made more salient by the fact that one of the most popular opinions on melodies was that it was not as good as memories, sparking the equally-popular counteropinion that such a comparison is unfair on the sequel due to people’s "rose-tinted" memories (pun unintended) of the first series. Personally, I believe that while it is possible that the "rose-tinted" accusation may have some merit, I also think that by its very nature, melodies is even more so than most other sequels one which cannot help but be compared to its prequel; after all, there is almost nothing else out there which can be compared to it due to its SHAFT-uniqueness, and with it forming part of a greater narrative with memories, comparison between both series becomes almost necessary if one is to make sense of the big picture which both series together portray. Therefore, as "rose-tinted" and biased as the comparison approach may debatably be, I don’t believe that treating melodies as its own series is any better as an approach to critically reviewing it.

Nevertheless, it is possible to minimize (though not totally eliminate) any feelings of bias in a critical review, and even after I have tried my best to do so, I still have to say that while melodies was still a good series very much worth the watch, it still falls short of the admittedly high benchmark that memories set. A defining characteristic of the prequel series was the excellently-executed melodrama that makes one can’t help but feel for the characters, even if the circumstances which they face aren’t always possible for the viewer to fully empathize with; the sequel turned that around with a set of stories that, while undeniably tragic, lost out in characters which were frankly harder to empathize with, robbing it of the "excellent Korean melodrama" vibe that the memories storylines possessed in abundance.

A lot of it might have to do with pacing; there is the general feeling that for the Yuu-Yuuko storyline, there was just far too much happening all at once to give enough time for both of them to develop as characters in their own right, and in the case of the Kuze-Mizuki storyline, several episodes dedicated to an emo-ing Kuze certainly didn’t help matters, not when there seemed to be much more useful things that could have been done with the time spent, such as developing him and Mizuki further.

And of course, while the Shinbou-WTF visuals are still as one-of-a-kind and beautiful as ever, and even a lot more polished since the days of memories, repeated usage of the same visual techniques that first appeared in the prequel didn’t help to rid viewers of the suspicion that Oonuma had simply run out of ideas, and was simply just trying too hard to make melodies stand out from its predecessor without any fresh ones. The ef visuals may be an acquired taste in the first place, but although the repetition may have been intended to link the themes of the series with its predecessor, even such unique visuals loses its novelty and freshness once they have been resorted to excessively. Of course, the music of Tenmon are an exception to that; somehow, it remains as evocative as ever.

In conclusion, how should we judge ef ~a tale of melodies~? Should we judge it as its own series? If so, then definitely I have to say that it is very much a good one. But if we should compare it with its predecessor, ef ~a tale of memories~? It still remains good, but it falls short of the height that the prequel reached within the hearts of the few viewers who saw the beauty within its madness. Ultimately, I’m going to have to fall back on a pet phrase of mine which I’m afraid is about to, or already has, lost its freshness and novelty too; it is good, but good does not do justice to what could have been great. And with the premise and what little we have been shown, the story of the ef universe could have been great indeed.

And with that, I end my coverage of the first of three Fall 2008 series. This is Ascaloth of RIUVA, publishing my first article since my return to Singapore from Tasmania, signing out.

Gantz + Bleach + Matrix + Hunter x Hunter = Psyren

Yup, after my last manga post, I went to check out some of the newer JUMP manga, namely Psyren and Toriko, to mixed results. Toriko started off interesting, in the fantasy One Piece mould, but turned to rubbish very quickly. It started off something like Monster Hunter, but halfway through became more like a bad Dragonball, make that a very bad Dragonball.

On the other hand, Psyren started off a tad slow but soon picked up. The story is about this guy who finds a phone call, which is essentially an invitation to play a "game". When the game starts, he (and soon some friends) has to make his way from the start point to the end point, across a desolate post-apocalpytic landscape full of monsters. This part is like Gantz, and many people die, which is unusual for a shounen manga. People who think Gantz is shounen need to get a reality check. Anyway, the guy soon discovers that people who play the game awaken latent powers of ESP, which can be trained in the 3 basic areas to become powerful unique skills. Wait, sounds like HUNTER X HUNTER’s NEN! Because it actually is. To make things a bit simpler, instead of the 6 basic areas HxH have, Psyren has 3 only. Like HxH, there are technical training chapters and some thought put into the fights.

It’s a bit like the Matrix because of a few elements, such as the use of phones as exit and entry points, a strong female character who introduces the males to the real world and how the characters use the power of belief to create super powers.

The characters discover that this terrible world, the eponymous Psyren, is actually the future of Japan. But there’s a whole lot of mystery, like why, how, when? So even during their days away from the game, in present time, they seek to uncover this mystery, which turns out to have its roots in modern Japan. Quite exciting and intriguing at this point, and it has quite good action, plus awesome super powers.

BUT, it’s not without its flaws. Psyren is a shounen after all, and I’m very sure under pressure from Jump, the author added some shitty characters which resemble the Shinigami from Bleach. As of the latest chapters, the faceless bad guys have revealed themselves to be some pretty-boys who wear costumes resembling Shinigami robes, or more similar to the Hollow’s white robes. I’m pretty sure there’ll be much fandom for these bad guys.

Overall, you really should check this series out, it’s one of the new and good Jump manga. Though I can’t remember any of the character names. The local publisher, CY, doesn’t carry it so you’ll have to read scans for now or something.