Sunday, 24 February 2008

2007 Flashback: ef ~a tale of memories~

As far as I know, taking an image and rotating it before posting it on you site does not make it your intellectual property

2007 was quite the year for SHAFT, ignoring their work on Negima?! for a while, the studio managed to churn out some of the better titles of the year including Hidamari Sketch and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (both which we are/will be seeing more of this year thankfully) but most notably in my opinion, ef ~a tale of memories~ (and I'll just add here that all 3 of these shows were among my top favourites during their respective seasons).

Now if I can just figure out a better way to start out these supposedly more serious posts without having to mention a single studio...

Hidamari Sketch and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei both obviously had much to gain from SHAFT's quirky and 'artsy' artstyle (the first title being an art school anime while SZS is quirky to say the least), it can be somewhat debatable whether the SHAFT touch was even necessary for a visual novel adaptation such as ef. Certainly the visual aspect comes to mind, especially when the show was first promoted with a preview that was aesthetically stunning to the eye. But the true colours (or lack of them) of ef were truly revealed when the first episode premiered. As we start getting introduced to the characters and setup of the story, what should intervene but SHAFT's signature psychedelic scene blending (honestly, I'm at a lost at how to describe what SHAFT does) which immediately turn off some, yet personally I knew quite immediately that I was sold on the show.

Indeed I will maintain till that ef owed much of its success to SHAFT's styling on it, and not in spite of the studio's efforts. Not only did the art style compliment the stories (for it is not just a tale of memories the show offers, but two), the imagery and symbolism wasn't just there to make the animators seem 'cool' *will not mention Evangelion... damns*, they almost always had a purpose and reflected a great deal upon the progression of the story (well most of the time anyways. The rest of the time it's just SHAFT being SHAFT - which I still enjoy).

Of course being rather shallow myself (and biased SHAFT fan), I'm not the one to be asked about symbolisms so I'll just redirect you to this post.

Storywise, ef is a romance drama of two halves which progress side by side, with the obvious theme of memories in play (specifically, memories that you do not want to forget). It is said that with drama, the story should have a level of believability and should best be uncontrived... But really isn't the whole point of drama to compel emotion into the viewer, and to do so it is almost always the case where contrivances have to be employed to a certain extent? In ef's case, I don't think it was so much of a concern as to whether or not the drama comes across as a tad bit fantastical (true as it is, stating that part of the plot borrows from an Adam Sandler movie leaves a slight bad taste in my mouth fingers), the drama comes across with a strong conviction, the characters are given a respectable amount of depth and growth, and the story is handled very satisfactorily overall.

But for those who feel ef does not triumph with its story and drama, to me this is secondary to how these all important elements not only worked together with the unconventional style of presentation, and how this approach basically conveys the story in a visually and emotionally compelling experience.

I'll also note that ef was not only everything and more than what I expected of the show itself, but also from the same year's sola, which in the end sold out its slice of life charms to some campy action. Also for a supposed sky-whoring anime, sola is majorly outwhored by ef in that respect. (It should be interesting to note that this is my first time using the term 'outwhore')

*spoilers start here*

Just some extra spoilerific personal thoughts on my ef watching experience:

Favourite character: Miyako. I'm a sucker for those seemingly fun-loving whimsical characters, though there was obviously more to her than what met the eye. Which was probably why it pained me as much as it did to watch her infamous 99 message scene, which was the perfect example of how SHAFT's rendering could make all the difference in a scene. It also occured to me that Kei's biggest mistake in the show was to delete Miyako's messages on Hirono's phone. Though Miyako made it obvious later to Hirono that she had reasons to be needy, it probably would've added another level of conflict if Hirono realized the full extent of her personality before being able to accept her. But to rise from that level of devastation to finally snag the guy, Miyako earns a place as one of the stronger heroines of her year.


Also Miyako's ED song "I'm Here" sounds the best next to the epic one they played in the final episode.

As for the supposed 'cheapness' of SHAFT in not animating Miyako's phone booth drama, as a frugal bastard myself, I say it was an excellent way to both elevate the tension in the moment and save on the budget at the same time =P

Evidently, Chihiro's story was designed to have more of an impact and related more to the theme of memories, in which case it succeeded. (At any rate it's a much better take of the memory loss concept than 50 First Dates was) I envied Chihiro's ability to convey her subconscious onto her writing and the effort she put into it... but not her feeling of utter desolation and worthlessness as she basically spent her days in a loop of hopeless mundane-ness. Her final dramatic act of basically tearing her memories out of her diary near the end may be arguably the most contrived thing to happen in the show (or rather how she overcomes this in the end), but the impact it had was undeniable, and as much as it should've been predictable given the direction her story was going, I still found myself shocked to watch it happen. As a foil to Chihiro's character, Renji was an admirable not only for willing to stick by her through it all, but more so because he didn't do so out of some blind (shounen anime like) chivalry - he had his moments of weakness and fallibility (when Chihiro was the one becoming more forward in their relationship), yet he sought it within himself to help Chihiro for both their sakes.

Since this post has already exceeded my own limitations of wordiness and rantiness, I'll just end it here with a convenient link to sum up what others thought of this show.


Chumara said...

I Still love reading peoples entries for this fantastic show even months after it's been finished, I also love how more than 50% of those articles mention Sola in relation to ef hmmm....
Nice post I like to hear peoples thoughts on this show.

issa-sa said...

Hmm, guess I haven't seen as many reviews of ef that compared sola with it as you have. I was rather surprised to find that the Japanese voted sola as the best anime of 2007 though, since in my mind's eye many other titles from the year would cleanly blow sola out of the water, ef being one of them for sure.