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ef ~ A Tale of Melodies Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

12 min read

A tale of loves as beautiful and ephemeral as a sunset but also filled with the tragedies that only humans can create when it goes wrong or fear rules the heart.

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.

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 it 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 or distortions noted during playback.

Originally airing in late 2008 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 does contains though some noise, blocking, banding, dot crawl, ghosting and color bleeding as well as one instance where the distortion is so bad the screen looks like it is almost bordering on pixilation however. Overall it isn’t a terribly authored disc but I’d certainly suggest that those with the capability might want to opt for the Blu Ray version instead as the formats capabilities should at the very least seriously reduce, if not eliminate altogether, most of these issues.

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 two of the main girls on it with Mizuki standing closer to the viewer at a slight angle while Yuko is angled to be almost at her back a few steps away as she looks out over the scenery. The two are framed with the sun setting behind them which casts a glow over their silhouette but causes the part of their bodies closest to the viewer to be more in shadows. Additionally it looks like both young women are standing on a roof top like the school’s which plays such an important role in the series.

The spine features a very young Mizuki in her winter wear with Yuko again standing behind her while she looks almost in the opposite direction at the bottom with the title being present just above them. The back cover features a larger image of Mizuki in her summer 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 Yuko in her dark school uniform with her hands brushing her hair behind her as a slight smile plays across her face while she stands against a night image of one of the towns in the series and the series logo is at the bottom of the disc under the hub. The second disc features an image of a high school aged Nagi Hirono in her school uniform against a winter looking backdrop with its cool skies and a barren tree as the seasonal setting sun plays across the sky and the side of her.

The chance for damage to the cover artwork is an annoying enough downside to deal with in regards to eco-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 on the left of a profile shot of Mizuki facing right with Shuichi facing the other way at what would be her back as a solid light blue line separates the two. 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 soft pastel like hue and it has light green dots against a white background setting. The Language screen uses an image of Yuko in her winter wear she appears in during the later part of the series timeline as she holds her left hand near her face while the Special Feature screen each use an image of Mizuki with some pastel flowers laid over her as she is set against a light blue dotted background with the options listed next to her on the right side of the screen.

The second disc uses an image of a high school aged Yuko as she stoops next to a child aged Mizuki as the two are wearing their winter clothes against a background that uses gray dots against a differently gray shaded backdrop that gives off a winter vibe to the image. Meanwhile the Language Screen features an image of Yuko and Yu positioned so they look like they are almost back to back against a pink dotted and shaded backdrop that gives off a much warmer feel than the Main menus’. 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 multiple opening animations and closings and all are present on this release and it is a rather welcome addition in the release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Much like its other half, ef- a tale of melodies is an adaptation of an adult visual novel (ef- a Fairy Tale of the Two) released by Minori and animated by the studio Shaft which covers the same two towns as the original series but focuses on some of the other characters who appear there as well as the past that has helped place some of them where they are.

The first half of this combined story covered the loves of its young characters as they went through the bitter-sweet trials of life and looked for that person who was special to them. Along this way the mysterious woman (Yuko Amamiya) who seemed to appear in a very fantastical fashion as if she were a ghost to question them and sometimes help them take the time to clear out the clutter that they were surrounded with and find their path. At the same time there was a man (Yu Himura) who claimed to not want to give any advice and affect others who would on occasion do so anyway, especially when it seemed to come to the young woman Chihiro Shindou who was in his care and one of the main characters in that series. Oddly enough both these strange characters seemed to be in the same church waiting for someone but their paths never crossed.

The story of these two plays out in this half of the tale which is also intertwined with that of violinist Shuichi Kuze who was briefly seen in the previous series as well as manga enthusiast (and Kei Shindou enthusiast) Mizuki Hayama who played a larger though still supporting role in that series as well. What begins here is a pair of tales that are both intertwined due to the past that Yu, Shuichi and Yuko share along with Nagi Hirono, older sister to the one of the previous series leads Hiro.

The tale takes place in two separate times as well as places which also offer an explanation to one of the odd situations that seemed so puzzling in the original series. The flashback like parts of the series takes place during the high school days of Yu, Shuichi, Yuko and Nagi in the Japanese town of Otowa while the current day (for lack of a better term) portion takes place in the Australian city of Otowa which was designed and constructed to be a remarkably close replica of its Japanese sister city.

The current portion will mostly take place in the Australian city of Otowa which helps set out that it is this city in which two of the main characters from the first series, Renji and Chihiro, live and pursued their love and which Mizuki is currently visiting as she as she has time before school starts and she wants to visit her cousin Renji (and just possibly mend her broken heart a bit as she has to face that her beloved Kei has found a love that isn’t her). Given that Renji and his mother are busy, they introduce/pawn her off on their neighbor Shuichi whose music Mizuki overheard and fell in love with- though this isn’t without some complication as Shuichi is more than a little womanizer but Mizuki and her persuasion pave over Renji’s hesitation and they are introduced.

What follows from here is a story that mixes in equal parts of the past and present as the lives of Yu and Yuko are laid bare as they go from reintroduction (they were acquainted as children and this time plus the intervening years is a major part of their relationship and individual personality makeup) as well as the interaction that Mizuki will have as she grows to be more and more interested and attached to Shuichi who for some reason seems to be growing more distant from everyone around him at the same time. What is the path these four will travel as they try to balance out the pains of the past and the futures some think are lost to them? Will they discover that even their best laid plans will come to naught when they suddenly are faced with a future they thought they had rejected or that fate had made impossible?

I’ll make no bones about it- I loved the memories portion of this tale and had heard rumblings from others how melodies just didn’t live up as well, though I set those tales away to try to approach this release with an open mind which turned out to be for the best. While memories is largely a somewhat bitter-sweet tale of young adults experiencing both love and the heartache of love for the first time, Melodies is a much darker tale in terms of some of the things that can haunt people as well as the darker parts love can lead to at times.

That isn’t to say that melodies is a pressing and despairing look at love but more that love can come in many different forms and sometimes the act of falling in love can either break some people or it can force them to have to encounter some of the darker aspects of human nature and actions and still try to overcome them to find some way of accepting the other person when they may have become more than a little twisted due to the events that they have experienced in life.

To this end I think I wound up enjoying melodies more than I did memories as there were parts of the characters that just resonated so much more for me in this series and parts which frankly far fewer works of fiction ever touch on as they can be both raw and upsetting. That on top of these rarer emotions Melodies also solved a good deal of the off putting mysteries of Memories (such as why events looked to be happening at the same time and place yet some characters never came into contact even in a passing way) was welcome enough but the two love stories at the heart of this tale just were even more remarkable given some of the semi-mystical nature that the first series had embedded two of the leads with.

That isn’t to say though that this tale is for everyone though as some of the more brutal aspects that occur and are revealed in the tale may fall between unnerving or just to horrible for some while others may just find some of the events to fall into a bit of an impossible area. Still, Melodies is a story that doesn’t try to just rest on the original’s series laurels or do some minor reworking of that series in terms of characters and story but comes at its purpose in a way that both fills in parts of the original as well creates its own path in which it travel a different road than most fiction as it attempts to look at some different examples of love that can occur between people. Though perhaps its greatest success may be in making one wonder if possibly the hope they thought they had given up and didn’t even realize still lingered may still be rewarded with a miracle some day as its characters interact, hurt and heal each other as they go about the often awkward steps of love.

In Summary:
ef~a tale of melodies is a story that fills in some of the questions that were raised in the original memories but at the same time it isn’t a slave to what came before. Rather in this set a whole new take on the paths some people walk and the trials they have along the way are shown as they have to try to somehow come to terms with their past and likely future if they hope to have a future with the person they have come to have feelings for. The story does walk a fairly dark path at times though and as such it brings a rather heavy psychological burden with it that may not find a welcome audience with everyone, but for those who want a love story with a fairly uncommon flavor this may be a welcome oasis in a genera that often tends to be rather similar in many of its structures and veneers.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 20th, 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.

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