ef – A Tale of Memories – Episode 4

And we’re back with more ef! Last episode accomplished something absolutely crucial for this story – it made me actually care about Chihiro and her strange condition. Chihiro seemed designed as that classic mix of frail, demure, and doomed that’s pretty much death to my investment, but by immediately acknowledging and exploring the lived experience of her condition, the show was able to make her feel not just pitiable, but actually relatable. Fantastical situations inherently dampen an audience’s ability to relate to drama, but if those situations are framed in terms of understandable human feelings, that bridge becomes easy to cross. Let’s see what episode four brings!

Episode 4

Looks like one of our heroes, presumably Hiro, spent his childhood studying as a classically trained artist. His world as a child is looming portraits over a pure white background. The inference is clear even before the outside world appears as a window – his childhood was an emotional void, where he worked for the approval of adults at something he wasn’t passionate about

Yeah, now we’re seeing the contrast between him and the other children. I like how it’s underlined by other kids playing while he draws them play from a distance

“Back then, I didn’t understand why people needed human contact.” Looks like this childhood may have been his own choice

“Back then, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to be alone.” And here’s Kei in contrast

These backgrounds look so friggin’ artificial. This show’s loose concept of perspective and environment really kills any possibility of believing in this world as a real place. That works fine for a show like Monogatari, which is largely about the myopia of individual perspective, but it feels less effective here – particularly since this show has much less of a specific “house style,” and jumps between new versions of its own world all the time

Yeah, once again the perspective is entirely flattened. Hiro is essentially walking up a wall that is the ground beneath him

Hiro brings his own shadow around with him

The girls reaching out to him is represented as the sky itself. The sky seems to be one of the most positive motifs in ef, consistently representing joy, freedom, and beauty

“Honesty.” The title card partitions the screen in the same way the show proper often does. Visually cohesive images aren’t really prioritized – the screen can contain multiple clashing variables

“Something is on my head.” Chihiro is still pretty moe

Chihiro doesn’t remember him breaking the promise, and can’t feel emotionally connected to the betrayal. That actually makes it feel worse, I’d expect – you never get any emotional catharsis, because both your experiences and the feelings they created are swept away. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Once again that blue, lightly clouded sky is omnipresent

“How do you feel about writing a novel together?” Dude, just ask her out

Chihiro is content to languish in her condition. She’s come to terms with basically treating herself as a non-person. Renji wants to draw her out of that and help her seek her passions, but that’s painful

Chihiro’s condition kinda embodies the emotional stasis of all these characters. They’re all adolescents on the verge of making seemingly permanent choices, and she’s that condition taken to an extreme, where it’s possible she could never leave that state

Hiro gets a straight-up rescue from the girl who joined him and Miyako at lunch. You don’t get too many of those, Hiro

“The lighter it is, the farther it flies.” Referring to the recurring paper airplane. “Lightness” could refer to a lack of emotional baggage, or something else

Hiro living paycheck to paycheck. I hear you, man

Miyako is a pretty classic type – fun and spontaneous, but that unpredictability can also express itself as an emotional unreliability, making it risky to get deeply involved with her. She’s the kind of person who might get labeled a manic pixie dream girl

Connecting hands framed through the sky once again. These consistent visual motifs are important – ef doesn’t exist in anything resembling the real world, but if its world has internal consistency, the audience can still come to understand and invest in its drama. Ikuhara pretty much always does that, establishing an internal language or dramatic code for the audience to follow

Oh goddamnit, they’re setting up a love triangle misunderstanding

Miyako isn’t particularly threatened by Hiro, which is understandable

“I know what people are thinking and what kind of person they are.” Miyako does seem like a bit much. Just kinda body-slamming her way into a love triangle here

Kyosuke leaves the film club. “There’s an image I want to capture.” Ah, youth

His hobby also reflects the show’s focus on impermanence

Kei unsurprisingly sucks at cooking. Pretty standard romcom territory

Kei encouraged Hiro to pursue his passion for drawing, and so feels partly responsible for his current struggles. A career spent trying to recapture the easy joy of youth

Yeah dude, turning your passion into a job is a mixed bag

“What am I searching for? The color that’s missing in my world?”

“You’re a genius, Hirono!” Miyako uses the same phrasing as young Kei, implying she’s basically a fresh injection of the drive and passion that Kei once inspired. A pretty cynical narrative trick

And now they’re toying with the term, as Kei calls Mizuki a genius for knowing how to put out a cooking fire

Miyako snuck into his house and plans to cook him dinner. This is probably intended to come across as zany or spontaneous, but like a lot of romcom behavior, it’s actually just kind of terrifying

Having Hiro be traumatized about eating a girl’s cooking is a cute reflection of his long-term relationship with Kei

Miyako talks about cooking for herself, and dodges a question about her family

Hiro gets very frank with her, asking her thoughts on his dream. Her positive response is framed against a pan up her body, implying this is the first time he’s really been looking at her during this conversation

Of course Kei arrives at the worst possible moment. DUN DUN DUN

This show can get a bunch of small thoughtful things right, but these big dramatic turns are pretty contrived

“Do you think you’re being heroic?” Oh man, I’m so glad Chihiro asked that. Renji’s actions have been incredibly presumptuous. Odd seeing such a genre-savvy critique directly following such a cliche turn, though

“Why does someone else know more about myself than I do?” Oof. They continue to find solid ideas in Chihiro’s condition. Renji has been seeing her every day for weeks, so he actually knows her current self better than any thirteen-hour version of her would

“If I fail at that, then I’ll really have nothing left.” A core fear of pursuing your passion

“Can I kiss you?” Renji smooth as fuck

“I’m thinking of writing about a girl who is the lone survivor in a world that is obliterated.” Welp, guess we’ve got some context for the eyecatches now

And Done!

Well, that episode was… very ef. The show has been something of a mixed bag so far, but a fascinating mixed bag with a pretty high floor. There are elements of all three of these narratives that are contrived or simplistic, but also elements that are very thoughtful or intriguing. The visuals are the same way – some great core ideas, and then a fair number of awkward ones too. I’m actually enjoying the show a lot, though – messy shows like this are fun to watch and write about, and I’m finally invested in almost all of the characters. Ef continues to be a very intriguing ride.

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6 thoughts on “ef – A Tale of Memories – Episode 4

  1. ef is… weird. A lot of it I like, some of it I don’t. The look is schizophrenic, because half the time they’re aping Makoto Shinkai’s gorgeous OP from the VN, and the other half is Shinbo Shinboing as only Shinbo can (the high contrast and flat, saturated colors would serve him better later in Mekakucity Actors). Chihiro’s arc is a moé-fest worthy of Key; Miyako’s will get as ugly as a White Album or Rumbling Hearts. And having played the VN, the liberties taken by the anime are pretty extraordinary. It’s certainly to be applauded for doing something so different back in its time, during the era of Peak Moé.

    • Shinbo had almost nothing to do with ef. He did some storyboarding for episode 2 and that’s it.

      • Yeah, this one was directed by Shin Oonuma. He would eventually go on to Silverlink to direct Kokomo Connect, among other shows.

    • It’s interesting you mention White Album. Were you referring to White Album 2 or the season based off the original VN from the 90s? If its the latter, I definitely see the parallels, of course. What did you think of that series? I thought it was very well done, to be honest. It had an excellent soundtrack and I think it was much better than any Key adaptation I’ve ever watched. I think it also worked well as a period drama, it does a good job subtly letting the viewer know that the series takes place as the 80’s bubble was bursting.

  2. I think (actually, I think somebody else thought this before me) that Chihiro’s condition is similar to the reality Rei faces knowing she can always be replaced. Chihiro gets replaced every 13 hours.

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