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ef ~ A Tale of Melodies Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

Young loves and young death populates this darker feeling season of the series.

What They Say:
Shuichi Kuze’s been spending time with Mizuki Hayama, and as they’ve been getting to know each other, they’ve been growing closer. Sadly, Kuze discovers that he’s contracted a fatal illness and decides to break all romantic ties for the little time left to him. Before he can break things off, however, Mizuki tells him that she loves him. Will her declaration change Kuze’s mind?

In another city, in the not-so-distant past, Yuu Himura meets a girl who seems to know him, but he doesn’t know her. Soon enough, he remembers Yuko Amamiya, a girl he met long ago, and begins to rediscover the depth of their feelings for each other. Will Yuko’s love reach across time to find her true love once and for all? Kuze and Mizuki, Yu and Yuko… Intertwining fate, tragic, bittersweet and beautiful.

Contains episodes 1-12.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series is straightforward with the original Japanese language and the English language adaptation in stereo using the lossless DTS-HD MA codec. The series is very much a dialogue driven piece with little in the way of action material that would work the mix much, but it does have some very good moments where it uses the music to excellent effect. The big moments really are with the opening and closing sequences where it all blends together well, but there are some solid crescendos to have within the show itself and some intense moments of dialogue. It’s not one that will overpower you or prove to be memorable though, but it does the job very well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this twelve episode TV series are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs with eight on the first and four on the second where a small selection of extras are also included. This Shaft animated production really has a striking look to it as one would expect with a lot of attention to detail and some truly beautiful colors. There’s a great sense of atmosphere that’s captured in the visuals and the transfer drives home just how much work went into it all. The colors are beautiful throughout, whether it deals with the darker interior for some scenes or the lush outdoors from the blue skies to the beautiful sunsets. There are some fast motion scenes here and there but most of it is slice of life kind of movements. The opening and closings go big in a great way though and really shows it off well.

The packaging for this release is pretty much similar to the season that preceded it with A Tale of Memories and the main problem comes in the front cover. It uses some good looking character designs but it places the pair of leads on the top of the school building as the sun sets behind them, so it’s very murky in a way with the darker brownish colors that fills it while also in a way being blinding. There’s a haze to it that like the previous set just isn’t all that appealing. The back cover keeps things fairly simple and a bit better, though still largely working with darker colors both in the background itself and the school uniform. We get some character artwork and a few brightly lit shots from the show that’s alongside a good summary of the basic premise. The back cover provides the usual breakdown of production credits for both the US and Japan while also providing for a good, clean and easy to read technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor sit here a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release really feels very busy, which is kind of part and parcel with a Shaft produced show, but it’s kind of off-putting, especially with the color design. The static screen features Kei along the right side in more manga style colors while the background has some soft whites and reds with various bits of text from the show. Along the bottom we get the episode numbers and titles selections that are done in a similar Q-Bert style blocks which also serves as the pop-up as well during playback, which smartly shows you which episode is currently playing. The menus are quick and easy to load and navigate and things are made very clear about which language is active which is a real plus.

The extras are pretty good to have here even if it’s just the clean opening and closing sequences. The show has multiples for each of these that goes upwards of fourteen and sixteen minutes for each end of it so it’s welcome to have all of them here.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the previous series, A Tale of Memories, I was curious to see what this one would be like as it couldn’t do the same thing but was going to have to play in the same realm. I enjoyed the previous series fairly well and liked what it was doing even if it was pretty obvious where it wanted to go. What drove the stories better for me was that it had a really great sense of style and quality of animation to it. That helped to elevate what it was doing in a way that would have come across as rather bland if done with more traditional designs, angles and sense of atmosphere. With this series, it’s essentially more of the same but it has a darker tone to it overall which is both good and somewhat off putting.

While these series stand on their own, there are some crossover elements to it. Characters that were more secondary in the first season, being proper supporting characters or even a bit more on the outside in general, they take on the central roles here. And those that were primary in the Tale of Memories are present here, but their positions have swapped and they serve as either a bridge or an opportunity to help by providing a little guidance and insight. Those characters had quite some challenges in that series with their lives and loves and we do see elements of that here as well, though it’s not exactly as blatant as one might expect. We’re not directly involved in their lives so it works in a rather good way.

There’s a lot of play when it comes to when things happen but it’s easier to just ignore that overall and focus on the more immediate connections that are forged. The first relationship that gets dealt with is that of young Mizuki. She’s living with her cousin Renji for the moment and through his mother she gets introduced to the next door neighbor Kuze. Kuze’s an accomplished musician even at his age as he goes to school with Renji, but he’s given it all up. And just about everything else as well as he’s closing the accounts on his life because he has a heart condition. She doesn’t quite understand this to some degree but the two spend a good bit of time together for awhile and they eventually get closer to each other as you’d expect. It’s not exactly “fun” to watch their relationship because of what’s going on, but seeing how the two young people cope with it and the things that become really hard to process makes it rather worthwhile. Usually these kinds of stories can be off putting unless you give it a lot of time, like Clannad, but it works well in short form here and is pretty believable.

The other main story that flows through is that of Yu and Yuko, two people that had met at a very young age in an orphanage. Not surprisingly, they play the fated romance card here with Yuko having fallen for him years ago while he was oblivious. For her, she had it very rough as she ended up with a family that abused her, but she suffered through it all in hopes of getting together with him some day, but there’s also a layer of resentment there within her because of what she went through. Naturally, there’s a complication in the mix as while we do see things starting to soften between them over time, Yu also is mildly involved with another young girl named Nagi who has a fun little personality where she seems just a little off and has no problem being naked in front of him for the sake of art.

With the way the show shifts around at times, it can be a little disconcerting to keep up with. But what it does do well is to work through the emotional spectrum of the characters and what they’re going through. And it does it with a lot of darkness attached to it since you have some very bad things either happening to them, like Kuze, or happened in the past with Yuko. And Yuko’s past issues are still haunting her in the present as her abuser is practically biding his time to get her back. Whereas I didn’t get completely behind some of the relationship quirks in the previous series as it felt a little much medically, here it feels more grounded. And because of that and the visual style of the series with the mood it creates, it hits all the right notes for me. And it has a larger scale to it as well because of the frame of time involved. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this series but it won me over once it got rolling and made clear where it was going.

In Summary:
While liking the first series won’t mean you’ll like this series, there’s definitely a lot to like here. Each of them has their strengths and qualities that are similar, especially when it comes down to the animation and approach to setting up the scenes, but it’s the characters that have to sell it and the combination of that with the designs does it well. The more grounded nature of the relationships here and what they’re each going through, both in the past and the present since it covers things from sibling loss, earthquakes, abuse and disease, while managing to cover it all without really seeming like it’s piling it on. I was less than thrilled with the way it kind of jumped around with what takes place when at times since some of the shifts weren’t quickly noticeable, but this is a series that as a lot of little nuance moments to it and hidden meanings. And that makes it very much worth multiple viewings. This is an intriguing series and one that I think will get better with time and repeat viewings.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings

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

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 20th, 2012
MSRP: $69;98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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