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ef ~ A Tale of Memories Complete Collection DVD Anime Review

12 min read

A tale of what makes you “you,” and how special are those who can see what that really is.

What They Say:
One Christmas Eve, Hiro Hirono helps Miyako, the victim of a purse snatching, and discovers that she goes to the same school he does. To the dismay of his childhood friend, Kei, Hiro starts hanging out with Miyako. But Kei is not about to let a new girl in Hiro’s life take him away from her, and sets out to prove that she’s the only one for him.

When Renji Asou meets Chihiro Shindou at an abandoned train station, he doesn’t notice anything unusual at first. But he soon discovers that she suffers from a rare form of amnesia and can only remember things for thirteen hours. Chihiro dreams of writing a novel, but her amnesia has made it an impossible task. Now, however, Renji is determined to help her fulfill her dream.
Emotionally charged, beautifully animated and now available for the first time with an all-star English cast. Don’t miss one of anime’s masterpieces: Ef – A Tale of Memories!

The Review:
The release of this television series contains two language options, English and Japanese, though both tracks are limited to only a stereo mix, likely due to the materials only being available to Sentai in that manner. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was selected and it is a solid representation of stereo tracks as splits the dialogue and other sounds nicely in such a way as to give a decent illusion of depth. The track also works well to provide directionality and it covers the low sounding effects, the more quiet ones as well as the higher pitched ones in a way that provides a nice balance. The series doesn’t push a lot with fancy effects but what it does carry a good supply of is dialogue, and the dialogue is presented clearly and there were no dropouts noticed during playback though a brief moment of distortion was present.

Originally airing in late 2007 the feature is presented here in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the feature is also presented with an anamorphic widescreen encode. The feature is one that sticks mostly to a more realistic type of setting and as such it tends to use a more uniform color palate that doesn’t require a whole lot of really garish colors, but the colors that are used here are solid and the blacks are nice and rich in the presentation. The release contains some noticeable elements including some grain which sadly fails to cover up a rather fine- but very persistent- layer of noise. The noise isn’t the only determent as there is some ugly dot crawl that pops up at quick transition points, as well as some aliasing, jaggies, ghosting, rainbowing, and almost a digital pixilation at one point. As sad as it is to say, this is almost a standard level of flaws though found in many anime DVDs today with their seeming quick and dirty encoding practices and I have certainly seen far worse, even out of Sentai itself.

The release comes packaged in an eco DVD case that includes a middle flipper page to hold one disc while the other is held on the back side of the case. The front cover features the three main girls on it with Miyako standing on the left while stretching as the twin sisters Kei and Chihiro are slightly back of her and holding hands against an image of a picturesque sky.
The spine features a smiling image of Kei at the bottom with the title being present just above her. The back cover features a larger image of Miyako in her school uniform on the right with the series copy to the left of her. Underneath that are a series of small cubes which each feature images from the series while below that is a listing of the extras for the series as well as the DVD credits and technical specs. The series is presented on two discs with the first disc using an image of Kei Shindou in her school uniform as she stands on the school basketball court and she holds a basketball in front of her. The second disc features an image of Kei’s twin sister Chihiro as she stand pensively in front of the railroad station that plays a role in her story.

The chance for damage to the cover artwork is an annoying enough downside to with these cases normally, but given the release includes a plastic flipper component it seems it would have been more “environmentally friendly” to just use the standard DVD case with hubs on either side than use an eco case and then a flipper. This leaves the package with a sense that it contains all of the fun of weakening a case and possibly damaging the art work with none of the environmental upside, which is not really a win in my book.

The main menu for the first disc uses a static image of Miyako with her fingers interlaced in front of her on the left while the right side of the screen uses some stacked boxes that have the episode number listed on one side and the name of the episode on the other visible side. The color palate is a very softer and pastel like hue and it has a pink dot against a white background setting. The Special Feature and Language screen each use an image of one of the Shindou sisters in a similar concept, though the color palettes are different and some of the word motif the series uses are present in the images.

The second disc uses an image of the twin sisters cheek to cheek and holding a strand of the others ribbon tie in their mouth while the Language Screen features a compilation of all three main girls on the left side. To match the rather simple but elegant screens the menu itself uses a small red dot to indicate the current highlighted option and the menu is quick to respond to changes in selection and prompt in implementing them when they are chosen. For all the screens snippets of the opening or closings are used which is a standard touch but which is pulled off here fairly well regardless.

While having clean opening and closings seems to be a bit standard for the anime industry this release pushes that standard further as the series has two separate openings and four closings and all are present on this release and it is a rather welcome addition.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally airing in the last quarter of Japan’s 2007 television season ef- a Tale of Memories is an adaptation of an adult visual novel (ef- a Fairy Tale of the Two) released by Minori and animated by the studio Shaft. The stories revealed in this set will run the gamut of love and loss as joy and heartbreak stand right next to each other and yet look to be as inseparable as night and day.

The setting for the series is an unnamed town that has seen more than its share of disaster. The majority of the town looks rather new and often includes some rather non-Japanese designs due to the unnamed event which destroyed much of the town in the past. While a large part of the city has been rebuilt one doesn’t have to travel far to find the scars that remain from the event, and in many ways these scars are as powerful a reminder of the past as the (mostly) hidden scars many of the characters in the series carry with them.

The series open by focusing on Renji Aso, a young high school student who is struggling to figure out just what it is he wants to do with his life as he is coming to terms with the idea that his dreams of being recognized as special are breaking hard against the reality that life isn’t likely to be so accommodating. He ponders this while walking to his favorite spot, an old train station outside of town that has become abandoned and where he often quietly spends his time reading. Today however things change as there is a young woman about his age (Chihiro Shindou) sitting there and while he comments as the narrator that the encounter lasts less than 45 seconds, his life will be changed going forward in a way he couldn’t have possibly guessed.

The story shifts in both character focus and time as the focus lands on Hiro Hirono, a young man who is studiously working on his manga series when his phone rings. When he checks it he finds a message from his childhood friend Kei Shindou reminding him he had been invited to a Christmas party by her and he decides somewhat reluctantly to take a break and put in an appearance least he incur her wrath. Christmas Eve may turn out to be a rather fateful night for a number of people though as paths will cross which may lead to new encounters but which also may leave people deciding to have to leave their old paths behind them.

Kyosuke Tsutsumi is out taking shots for a student production that night along with his girlfriend when he briefly captures an image of a running Kei and he makes the decision he wants to follow her as she has a special something he wants to capture on film. While his decision to follow his muse and the impact it will have on him and his girlfriend is being pondered, the focus of his muse’s attention is having problems of his own. Hiro has decided to stop by a local church to do some research for his manga but encounters a new problem when his bike is stolen by a young woman who is herself chasing after a thief who has stolen her purse.

Hiro catches up to the young woman to discover she has crashed and his bike has been wrecked as she lays on the sidewalk seemingly unconscious. The young woman’s name is Miyako Miyamura and she is a bit of a capricious girl who suddenly decides she is no longer interested in chasing down the thief now that the going has gotten too tough. Hiro is not going to escape her though as his concern for her well being after her crash will turn out to have him spending the night with her as her house key was in her bag and no one is at her house, so the two head into town together though Hiro isn’t exactly overly enthused by the prospect.

With the main characters largely now introduced each of them will be discovering the paths these new encounters lead down as they try to travel on these new found branches in their road of life. Each of the characters discovers that the paths will involve no small amount of pain and to travel these paths means they take up both another’s weight but they also carry the burden of knowing these decisions will close off other paths from them and that closure will lead to pain for other people they care about as well.

Renji will learn that Chihiro carries a particularly heavy burden with her that is the result of a childhood accident that has left her with impaired memory function. Despite this and a warning from the man who has been taking care of her, Renji becomes close to her and attempts to help her out of the limited existence that her life has become. While doing so he discovers just how much pain may occur to both of them as they discover they have something special- something which in turn may prove too much for either to bear however.

Meanwhile Hiro will have to come to terms with the idea of making choices, which is something he has never been any good at. To move forward he is going to have to decide what is important to him but in doing so he will have to face the pain his decisions will place on others. Along this way, both Miyako and Kei will have to confront their own histories and try to decide just how much they will risk opening up to Hiro in order to stay with him while also balancing that out with the fear of what might happen to them if they leave themselves completely vulnerable and find what he has to offer isn’t what they need.

In any number of ways anime based off of visual novels can be a tricky thing. With a visual novel the writers have the ability to write scenarios for every character to have a specific ending so that everyone gets to see a route for a character who they may embrace as their favorite. This unfortunately isn’t something anime largely has the ability to do and the writers then face their own dilemma- do they write for a specific ending and perhaps alienate those who are fans of a particular character or do they play it safe and try to go for a more “middle of the road” style approach to try to alienate as few fans as possible which has the downside of really not leaving anyone happy. Thankfully this series chose to go with a single approach which has the benefit of carrying the emotional payoff, though it with that payoff it brings both happiness and sorrow.

The other thing that the series does very well is display a masterful level of showmanship in creating its narrative. There are a number of elements here that those who have played a number of visual novels or have watched enough anime will recognize as almost generic story elements. From the injured girl with a tragic secret to childhood friend afraid of moving forward there are elements here one can have encountered many times in the past and which may turn viewers of feeling they know what is going to happen in advance.

To counter this the series chops up elements and presents them often in different narrative ways as the different paths and leads are intercut as they play forward with one beginning in what looks to be fall and the other starting with a Christmas Eve story. These intercuts in the narrative force the viewer to actively try to put the pieces into their proper place and as such that work to integrate the pieces can greatly disarm the cynicism that one might have entering the story and seeing some items that almost approach tropes status at this point. It is here that the story really wins as the disarming of cynicism sets the viewer up to more fully embrace the emotional swing that the series brings, a swing which can leave them feeling far stronger for the story and its characters then they might have imagined from the onset. Additionally the series also plays on this challenging the viewer through some imaginative visuals which help to break away the idea of the series being something the viewer has encountered before in a different skin, even if to a large degree that may in fact be the case.

In Summary:
ef-a Tale of Memories takes the stage with all the panache and showmanship of an accomplished magician who knows how to play to his audience’s expectations while also playing to their cynicism in such a way that they actually bring themselves further into the illusion by looking to dismantle it. The series introduces some items which could be seen as the typical tools of the trade and as such the series changes up how the show is performed with its unique storytelling style that forces the audience to concentrate on putting the pieces in order and at the same time bringing them into the illusion in a subtle way. The cynic can note all they want how, when looking at the final product the story doesn’t do a lot that is completely imaginative or new but those with any trace of romance in their soul will find they don’t care as originality is really rare in the grand scheme of things but what really carries the day is the heart behind a series. When a story has heart and then can move one step further and cause the suspension of a good deal of cynicism a tale can go from good to outstanding, and “outstanding” is where this series finds itself. Recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: January 31st, 2012
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.