1/05/2008

eh about ef? (Episodes 4-7)

What is eternity doing tonight? has become Mega Megane Moé. For the latest posts, please change your links accordingly.
By all means, I should be entirely smitted with ef, like most of the otakusphere (to steal a term) seems to be.

It's got what seems to be it all: a unique animation style, characters ripped straight from a storyline I dreamed up, parallel plots that look to tie together smoothly, and personalities that are appealing without being overly moe. Not to mention, a green-haired meganekko.

I've spent a lot of my time with my hands plugged in my ears not just because I'm trying to get the earwax out, but to avoid the spoiler-tastic raving that everybody has been going on about for ef. It encouraged me to catch up with the show over the last few days of vacation as part of the "My God, it's Winter 2007/8 season already!?" watching panic.

So I was quite surprised when ef turned out not to be the gripping, awe-inspiring wonder that it's been made out to be, but merely a show that's good. Funnily enough, popular recommendations as to shows in off-center genres such as magical girl (Shugo Chara!) and GARmbling (Kaiji) have worked wonders for me, and I can't say enough superlatives about those, but for a visual novel show that's pretty much straight up my alley, it's not working out quite the same.

I could attest this to any number of things. First off would probably be that I've just seen too many of these damn shows. I love the visual-novel-slash-harem genre to death but in terms of bringing new concepts to the table it takes a lot to impress me. Perhaps because I'm an 'expert' in this genre I expect more, and it's quite easy for shows in this genre to fall into a cliche pattern.

It's a bit amusing, in that I try to avoid blatant escapism in my harem shows, which is kind of like trying to avoid the cream filling in an Oreo. It's there and it's going to be there, because that's a core part to a lot of shows in this genre.

ef has stayed out of this trap pretty well, but there are parts where it stumbles a bit; Chihiro's spontaneous lapsing into uber-dere-dere mode with the "you can kiss me if you want" for one, and the quick transitioning of the Kei - Hirono - Miyako plot into a sort of love triangle of the jealous regard.

This bugs me, probably the most because it was doing pretty well while giving the romance part a backseat, while making the story a tale of character discovery, and when the love-love part gets center stage it's just sort of flat and been-there compared to the rest.

It's a bit early to be refuting my argument but I suppose the counter is that this kind of stuff could just be working to develop the characters; yeah, Miyako's just working herself into either the lonely girl or yandere corner, where things will get interesting, and Chihiro's "kiss me nao plz" thing is kind of tacky but it sets Renji on a hardcore monologue.

Maybe this post as a whole is kind of ironic, in that it does mirror Renji's thoughts a lot. That feeling of "gee, I should be loving this, but something's wrong" is very prevalent in my viewing of ef so far.

The predictability factor is beginning to rise in the show as well, continuing on with the 'story is looking kind of weak' worry. Soon enough, if it hasn't already, it will hit Renji that Chihiro's story, like most, is a quite un-subtle narrative reflecting on her own tragic life, and their story will continue on their heartwarming if not kind of straightforward style of "someone reaching out to the lonely person". Eventually it will hit Kei that she's being a Class-A Jealous "Friend" and being entirely unfair to Miyako. At that point, they'll have a My Story Is Sadder Than Yours duel and Miyako will probably claim Hirono, while Kei either gives up on her feelings or puts out to that photographer guy.

It's all entirely speculation of course, and most of you who have actually already finished ef (which, I suppose, is all of you reading this) are laughing in that evil-villain-with-a-monocle way at my foolishness, but that's the way the story is feeling to me. It just seems like ef has played most of its cards already.

We have Chihiro's backstory, have most of her inner feelings exposed. We've seen Kei's light and dark side, seen her relation to her sister and her guilt, her true relation to "onii-chan" Hirono. Miyako, we now know her past, and her desperation to be recgonized, to be loved by someone again.

It's just sort of at a 'what now?' point. Maybe there's something good to be said about this, how ef is up-front with its characters and doesn't take the entire time beating around the bush saving up for a shock that should have been obvious. But I'm just kind of lost with what this show is planning to do; it was moving so solidly earlier and is now kind of bogging down a bit, with sequences which are moving, yes, but damn long.

You know what I mean, with Miyako's now-famous 99 Missed Calls (take that, American movies). It was a touching moment, one that isn't easily forgettable, but the little Mystery Science Theater voice in the back of the head spoiled everything. "They used like 4 frames over 15 minutes, you know," it says. "They didn't have to drag it on so long, we know that she's desperate." it says. "Why couldn't it have spent more time on her backstory instead of throwing it out there and going straight to the voice mails?"

This is my problem with ef as a whole, as as much good as it is on paper, it's just not clicking, not getting that connection with the viewer for me. I see Miyako rant on and on for 5 minutes to Hirono's phone, and I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to feel sorry for her or scared of her. I see Renji struggle with whether he should Just Kiss Her Already, and I'm not sure whether he's doing what any person would do or is just being a standard romantic coward.

It's this unease about the story that gets to me, that it's very ambiguous in terms of characters and morality. This is probably what a lot of people love about this show, in that it's different from every moe-fest visual novel; like Chihiro says, "if the characters are thought to be cute, that means they aren't described properly."

And don't get me wrong; I don't hate anything more than a story that is very black and white, good vs. evil. But the characters of ef just aren't hitting any special shade of grey; they don't really inspire, at least not yet, a lot of discussion about their actions and thoughts. They're just, there, to me. And that hurts.

Undoubtedly, the judgment is not final yet. I've still got five episodes to go and that could make all the difference for this show; even though I cannot see how yet, ef might pull an ace out of its sleeves. There might be an intriguing twist, or more revelations on a character's train of thought. But right now, it's just kind of a dissapointment.

Like Chihiro's "you can kiss me" scene, what it says and how it looks are two different things. It's on paper, visual novel gold, a show with the dual plotlines of a KimiKiss, the balanced characters of a sola, the character discovery of a Myself;Yourself, but in reality, it just doesn't have the feel that it should. It's just not lining up, and that's something that worries me.

Clearly, the intent to like ef is there, by the tone of those words and the references to the show itself. In the end, although it really sounds like I dislike the show, maybe the underlying meanings of this rant tell more - I try to hate the show so that when it turns out good, it's all the better. We shall see.

-CCY

Any show with Cardcaptor Sakura, Touhou, and Lucky Star has to be good, right?

(Incidentally, I don't have much to say about the SHAFT-itude of it all.)
(One more random thought: all the red-flash-heart-beating parts of episode 7 were a real throwback to Tsukihime the visual novel. Hehehe.)
(Finally, Chihiro's analogizing of her own problems to the sheep math problem, with the "if the chain is 13 years long" and all, was much more chill-inducing than Miyako's 99 Missed Calls.)

9 comments:

I must say I am rather enjoying my very mediated experience of this show - vicariously watching it through various bloggers, like some kind of TV-experience vampire.

You're not joining the collective ef blogasm, then?

"but the little Mystery Science Theater voice in the back of the head spoiled everything."

That's exactly what's wrong with ef. But is that something wrong with ef or something wrong with us?

Overall I agree with you, but at the same time reviewing a show like that exposes our biases more than it does for the show IMO.

(Late comments are late. Such a backlog~)

IKnight: ef certainly has gotten a lot of blogging attention, so I could see how you could experience the show through other posts - but somehow I can't picture myself doing it. It just doesn't seem like it would have the same feel, the same impact, although you may gain more out of the many bloggers' interpretations of the events.

I usually do the opposite and go into a blogging lockdown once I find a show that interests me, just to avoid spoilers.

I'm still on the fence about ef at episode 9 - I'm not hating it nor loving it; there are some points where it's utter brilliance, where it just works, and other points where you can really see the cheesy, semi-escapist roots of it. It's the visual novel genre at its best and worst.

Of course, seeing both sides of a thing and taking it for what it is may mean more than just blinding adoring it as perfection. It's a different kind of love, or something. Time will tell whether I can accept ef's flaws though.

omo: Yeah, I think it's really hard to judge a lot of anime objectively, especially shows like this that want to mess with your emotions.

I think ef does do a lot for the viewer in reminding them that they are watching a work of fiction, though, with all the Shaft animation tricks and whatnot, it's almost like they're putting a barrier between the viewer and the show. What results from that, is up to us.

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