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Do you have memories you don't want to forget?
A Visual Novel duology created by minori, formerly the software subdivision of Comix Wave. Sounds familiar? Don't be surprised by the amount of Scenery Porn, Surprisingly Good English and Melodrama you'd find in these tie-in games.
The story, as in the first chapters: While going to a Christmas party, Hiro Hirono meets Miyako Miyamura, who steals his bike to chase a purse thief. They decide to hang out together and soon grow fond of each other. Renji Aso meets Chihiro Shindo at the abandoned train station where he likes to hang out after school. He is intrigued by the girl with the eye patch but finds out that she harbors a sad secret. Meanwhile Kyosuke Tsutsumi, an aspiring young film maker, is taken by the appearance of Hiro's Patient Childhood Love Interest, Kei--Chihiro's twin sister who herself is in love with Hiro.
The stories are lightly interwoven, with Kei and Chihiro functioning as a linking pin between the various groups in the cast (Hiro, Miyako, Kyosuke and Kei on one side; Chihiro, Renji and their acquaintances on the other). It is similar to series such as Kanon, AIR and Da Capo, but is much more surreal in its execution, often resorting to very abstract imagery coupled with copious amounts of Scenery Porn.
ef: A Tale Of Memories was released in 2007 and is the an adaptation of the the first game and one third of the second game. It was produced by Shaft and directed by Shin Ounuma, who volunteered for the job. Of special note are the illustrations at the end of each episode, which are made by various anime and manga artists. Sentai Filmworks is distributing it in North America; it is available on the Anime Network's Online Player.
A combined standalone English release of both games is now available from No Name Losers, who are also known for their localization of an earlier game from minori (Wind ~a breath of heart~). A commercial re-release via a collaboration of NNL and the European company Mangagamer is in the works.
Tropes for the first season include:
- An Aesop: "There's no such thing as friendship between men and women," is what Kuze tells Chihiro. Indeed, all the Just Friends relationships in the series either get a Relationship Upgrade or result in heartbreak.
- Things go wrong in life and there's nothing you can do about them, but it's not the end of the world and you can still move on from there. This is probably the overarching theme of the story as a whole: Hiro's tendonitis, Miyako's abandonment issues, Chihiro's memory problems and more.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Kyosuke tries holding this as a point of superiority over Hiro. However, in actuality he feels his earlier experiences were shallow and meaningless.
- Anime of the Game: The original game, ef: A Fairy Tale of the Two, devotes an entire chapter to each of the five love stories, and the game's setup is considerably different, with the first half devoted to Miyako and Kei. Chihiro wasn't a main heroine until the second half. The adaptation also has...
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Kei, to Hiro.
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Miyako automatically assumes that the then-stranger Hiro felt her up while she was laying unconscious after an accident, as if it would be the most natural thing. She's disappointed that he didn't and asks if he thinks she's ugly or something.
- The Bet: Kyosuke runs one on the subject of Hiro's love triangle, even including a Gay Option.
- The Big Damn Kiss: Provides the trope's picture. Most of the kissing scenes turn the Scenery Porn Up to Eleven.
- Bittersweet Ending: Every ending. Hiro's tendonitis will just get worse, Kei still isn't over Hiro, Chihiro's memory problems aren't going to magically vanish because of The Power of Love and Kuze is still dying. Every ending is slightly more bitter than the last up until the final ending to the story, which ends with Yuu dead and Yuuko alone... but they do get to meet again and the immortality of the soul is confirmed. And so things work out regardless.
- Bleached Underpants: No sex shown, although ef was originally an eroge. Although it is implied to have happened.
- Blind Idiot Translation: "I wish I could see your insides..." Not technically ungrammatical; just sounds unfortunately gruesome due to different languages/cultures having different idioms and word connotations.
- Book Ends: The show starts and ends with Renji describing his first encounter with Chihiro.
- Boy Meets Girl
- Boys Love Genre: Mizuki accuses Kyosuke and Hirono to be lovers.
- Broken Aesop: The aesop of needing to cope with your problems instead of hoping they just go away is broken in the anime with Chihiro and Shuuichi. The Visual Novel does not introduce the idea of some surgery that may save Shuuichi nor does Chihiro get over her memory issues.
- Cannot Spit It Out
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': The pregnancy version is averted-subverted in the game, the first three ero scenes specifically point it out that the couples were foolish enough not to use any protection on their very first time, but nothing happens.
- Caught the Heart on His Sleeve: Kei, to Hiro.
- Cat Smile: Mizuki.
- Chick Magnet: Kyosuke
- Christianity Is Catholic: Averted. The Church and Yuuko's uniform have more of an Orthodox vibe to them.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Kei towards Hiro. She even goes so far as to delete Miyako's messages on his phone, and promising to remove her from his memory.
- Closed Door Rapport: Hiro and Kei are separated by a door as they work out their Childhood Friend Romance love triangle.
- Copy Protection: For both games in the series. You can find the specifics in the trope article (scroll down to the very end).
- The Danza: Hiro Hirono is voiced by Hiro Shimono.
- Dating Sim
- Dead All Along: Yuuko. There are plenty of hints about it.
- Disability Superpower: Chihiro's amnesia forced her to develop her ability to precisely convey her feelings through words, making her a great writer. Yuu even used the blind-hearing analogy for it.
- Discretion Shot: When Chihiro takes her eye patch off.
- Dramatic Shattering
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Applied towards Hiro largely.
- Easy Amnesia: Of the recurring, timed variety.
- Evolving Credits: Once the pairings are made rather obvious, the ED of the 3rd episode becomes the regular opening, and has several scenes changed in the final episode.
- Fake Memories: Averted, since Chihiro's diary is used for the opposite purpose.
- Played straight in that she does lie to herself in her diary at times, making events up.
- Feminine Women Can Cook: Played straight in that the feminine Miyako is a Supreme Chef while the tomboy Kei is a Lethal Chef. Subverted in that the really feminine Chihiro, like her twin sister, is also a terrible cook.
- First Girl Wins: Two examples, Chihiro (with Renji) and Miyako (with Hiro).
- First-Name Basis: Chihiro makes a big deal out of it, but she has her reasons.
- The Gadfly: Miyako and Kyosuke just love messing with people, particularly their love interests.
- Gory Discretion Shot: When Chihiro removes her eyepatch, the camera zooms to another angle behind her where its not visible to audiences. Her scream indicates it's not something pretty to look at.
- Greek Chorus: Yuuko.
- Hero Stole My Bike: Miyako grabs Hirono's bike to chase a purse thief.
- Hooked Up Afterwards: In a sense. Chihiro's chapter ends with Renji hitting the reset button on their relationship, or rather, NOT hitting said button. He starts over from square one. There's a timeship before Mizuki/Kuze's chapter showing them completely platonic but with Chihiro admitting she's both fallen in love with Renji and knew they were in a relationship before. Renji restarts the relationship by writing her a story about said events with his feelings in them.
- Hot Mom: Sumire Asou, Renji's mother
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The first letters of each episode title spell out "euphoric field", the title of the opening song (kind of -- episode 12 cheats by having a split name).
- Idiot Hair: Miyako.
- I Just Want to Be Loved: Miyako's goal in life.
- I'm Taking Her Home With Me!
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Chihiro thinks breaking up with Renji and hoping they'll forget they ever met was the best course of action. Also played straight with Kei towards Hiro.
- Ladykiller in Love: Kyosuke.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Kyousuke, after confirming his confession to Kei, manages to avoid breaking the fourth wall by virtue of being Kyousuke.
Kyousuke: "Amamiya, you were around? If it isn't really important, then be quiet. This is supposed to be a dramatic scene."
- Lethal Chef: Kei. Chihiro also admits to Renji that women in her family shouldn't be allowed to cook.
- Love Triangle: Played totally straight between Hirono, Miyako and Kei.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Very definitely Miyako, who violently hauls Hiro out of his shuttered life and into new experiences.
- Mind Screw
- Mundane Fantastic
- No Periods, Period: Averted with the girl in Chihiro's novel. Averted visually with Chihiro in the VN.
- Nosebleed: Of course it doesn't happen in this genre, but the manga fan Mizuki seems to believe that it does after Kyosuke's face hits the pavement.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Kyosuke and Mizuki seem to be a lot sillier in the early part of the story than in their own routes, though Kyosuke's actual intelligence is never in question.
- Parental Abandonment: Miyako's parents left her to her own devices after they split up. Kei and Chihiro's grandfather is the landlord of the apartment that Hiro And previously, Yuu lives in. Hiro and his sister Nagi's father is an artist and is frequently mentioned by the two, but never appears. Renji's mom is the only one who ever shows up on screen.
- Inverted with Chihiro, who abandoned her parents.
- Patient Childhood Love Interest: Kei.
- Porn Stash: Miyako finds Hiro's, and she is disappointed that it is not hardcore enough.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Hiro has always loved shoujo manga, and now draws it for a living.
- Subverted, as he is neither particularly manly, nor openly proud of his interest.
- Relationship Upgrade: Happens to Kiro/Miyako, Renji/Chihiro, and possibly Kei/Kyousuke (they never explicitly say they're dating, at least in the first season).
- Scenery Porn: To at times surreal levels.
- Shout-Out: Several, but most notably to Da Capo, AIR and Clannad.
- One of the character designers for the original Da Capo game, Naru Nanao, did the character designs for the female characters in this series. Mikage, a screenwriter, works with both CIRCUS and minori.
- Second Love
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Kei is an athletic tsundere, Chihiro is a shrinking violet that likes to read.
- Sitting on the Roof: Of a Church, no less. The school's roof is often used as well.
- Snow Means Love
- Sparkling Stream of Tears: The series tends to be...rather sad.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Renji and Chihiro, due to Chihiro's memory problem.
- Surprisingly Good English: The excerpts from Chihiro's book are all grammatically correct English. Odd, considering the book itself was written in Japanese. Also, the opening theme is grammatical, with just a few slightly mispronounced words.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Kyosuke gives one to Hiro while simultaneously beating him up after Kei runs away from his apartment crying when she discovers him sleeping in bed with Miyako. He's angry at his friend due to Hiro apparently playing both women's feelings for him.
- The Tease: Sumire, towards Renji. Yes, her son.
- Time Skip: Each new chapter begins either in the middle of the previous chapter or a period of time afterward, at which point we can see how the previous relationship has progressed.
- True Art: In-Universe: A major theme in every chapter.
- Tsundere: Kei and Hiro.
- Twelve-Episode Anime
- Uncanny Valley: In-Universe: The girl in Chihiro's novel was intended to be in the middle of this.
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Kei, and possibly Chihiro. They mention in the second season that neither one of them ended up with Hiro.
- Utsuge: Although the ending is fairly positive.
- Weird Moon
- Well Done Daughter Parents: Miyako becomes a great cook and the top student in both academics and athletics in a failed attempt to earn her parents' praise.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Kyosuke is not happy to find out that Hiro is leading Kei on, and beats him up later for not being more clear with his feelings about her.
- Winged Humanoid: Chihiro sports some wings at the climax of her story, but it's likely just symbolic.
- Write What You Know: The main characters' hobbies and occupations are suspiciously similar to that of a visual novel developer team's main crew.
"Can you hear it? The true melody?"
The sequel, ef: A Tale of Melodies, shifts focus to the love problems of Yu's past and Kuze's present as occured in the rest of the second game.
Ten years ago, Yuu, Kuze, and their friend Nagi Hirono (yes, Hiro's sister) are all in high school. Yuu meets a girl who he remembers from his orphanage, Yuuko Amamiya, who turns out to be the adopted younger sister of the art club president, who is trying to get Yuu to join.
In the present, a year or so after the first season, Mizuki meets Kuze and they fall in love, but unfortunately Kuze is dying from a rare heart condition. We see the characters from the first season and their continuing relationships as they offer the pair their help.
Mizuki's cheerfulness aside, this part of the story is significantly darker than the straight-up romance of the first season. It deals with different psychological issues, such as loss, death, facing one's own mortality, familial relationships among non-family members, and several others.
Tropes: The second season contains many tropes from the first; only those that differ should be listed.
- Always Save the Girl: Heart-rendingly averted--twice. Yuu can't seem to catch a break.
- Angst? What Angst?: In-Universe: Mizuki's mother tried to strangle her, then drove the family car off a cliff into the ocean with everyone in it. As Mizuki sums it up:
Mizuki: Doesn't this kind of thing happen all the time? You couldn't call this kind of thing a scar!
- Babies Ever After: Tragically subverted. Yuuko gets pregnant and after some drama decides to give birth to the baby and everything is starting to look up... but then she gets hit by a car while only a few months pregnant and bleeds to death inside the church.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Despite being noted as probably being the most beautiful of the heroines, Yuuko is covered in bruises, burns and scars. She's also the most psychologically scarred
- Berserk Button: Yuu gets pretty angry when he finds out Yuuko is being bullied at school, and later with her home life. Kuze also gets hit by him when he mocks Yuu that he won't see Yuuko again.
- Best Served Cold: Yuuko, upon encountering Yuu after ten years, follows him around and allows him to discover that she's being picked on and abused at school and at home, all as an attempt to get him to care about her and pursue her. Once she has him emotionally invested, she shows him all of her scars, describes several of them, and lists the ways she's been hurt, and then reveals that, had he not pushed her away unnecessarily ten years before, none of it would have happened, essentially making it all his fault. She describes this as her revenge on him for abandoning her, but it was also a cry to get him to help her.
- Bokukko: Nagi. Apparently 'Watashi' just takes too long to say.
- Break the Cutie: Yuuko. Oh god Yuuko. Seriously Yuu, just give her a hug already.
- Bright Slap: Mizuki surprise-kicks Kuze to the ground after he answers her letter of challenge. "With that, you've already died once!" Perhaps not the best way to handle someone in his condition... (Complete with THIS! IS! SPARTA! eyecatch.)
- Broken Bird: Yuuko, although it's not evident right away. Yuu gets pretty horrified when he finds about what happened to her since she left the orphanage, and that he's largely responsible for it as well.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Nagi herself notes she was never able to outright confess until she knew she had already lost. Though she did give some pretty blatant hints.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Not that it ever gets pitch black, exactly, but in the English release, where both games come together, each route is darker or more ambiguous than the last until the fourth chapter ends with Kuze driving Mizuki away so she won't be heartbroken when he dies, followed by Yuuko's more uplifting but dark fifth chapter, and the sixth has her getting run over after everything else had finally gotten resolved. And that was a lot of resolved issues. During Yuuko's chapter, you might be startled to look back and realize that yes, Miyako and Kei's chapters are part of the same setting and game.
- Chick Magnet: Kuze is noted as such.
- Christmas Miracle: Subverted big time. Kuze is back from Germany for Christmas Day, so Yuu is getting off work early and Yuuko is waiting outside the church rather than inside like usual. A young Mizuki meets Kuze for the first time and all seems well. Then Yuuko gets hit by a car. God Dammit.
- Played straighter at the end, where Yuu and Yuuko finally meet in the church, despite Yuuko's death. This makes it a Christmas Miracle ten years long to the day.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Nagi in the flashback episodes, although not as severe as Kei was in the first season.
- Crucified Hero Shot: Yuu in the opening.
- Cute and Psycho: Definitely played with. Yuuko's adopted brother gave her a knife specifically so she could do this at any time. She doesn't
- Dead Little Sister: Two of 'em, no less.
- Death Seeker (Villainous example: Amamiya. After giving Yuuko a knife to kill him if she wanted, and trying to taunt Yuu into doing it, he finally dies after setting his house on fire.)
- Demoted to Extra: The main high school students from the first season. While they're not entirely gone, most of the emphasis this time around is focused on Mizuki, Kuze, and Yuu.
- Did I Just Say That Out Loud?:
Yuuko (to Yuu): Would you mind not speaking out portions of your internal monologue?
- Domestic Abuse: Amamiya regularly beats Yuuko. By the time this is revealed, she's become used to it to the point where she can list all the scars and bruises she's received as well as all the ways he's abused her. It's a long, long list.
- Drama Bomb: This is a case where an already-dramatic series is made even more dramatic by Yuuko's revelation of her scarred body and the aforementioned long, long list.
- Dramatic Shattering: At one point Kuze is suddenly stricken by his disease, causing him to drop his jar of medicine on the ground. He collapses on the floor and licks up two pills with his tongue, picking broken glass off his face afterwards. In another case, Yuuko is bullied off-screen and some window glass breaks, but don't find out what actually broke it.
- Dreaming of a White Christmas: Played with. Some of the characters are in Australia at christmastime with little reason given. Also, Yuuko muses about what it must be like to have Christmas in the summertime.
- Dying Alone: Kuze, in an attempt to make peace, breaks off all his worldly connections while he waits to die. Except it takes a lot longer than he expected, and he starts going a little crazy while thinking about this trope.
- Everybody Lives: Averted somewhat. Yuuko dies, and was in fact always dead, but somehow stuck around in the church until Yuu could say goodbye. Everyone else lives.
- Evolving Credits: There are a lot of varied color schemes used in the opening for various episodes, one is completely instrumental and lacks the characters in the scenes. Just as it was in Memories, the final version of the opening has several scenes that change, and is the final ending to the series.
- Foreshadowing: Remember Hiro mentioning Nagi's weird friend that gave her the key to the roof? Yeah.
- The Gadfly: Just like his eventual spiritual successor Kyosuke, Shuuichi has a tendency towards provoking behavior.
- Generation Xerox: More like half generation, and they are not related, but Hiro and Yuu share many similarities during their high school life. Yuu is essentially a smarter Hiro who drastically devoted himself to studies rather than art because of the earthquake. They also share their relationship dynamics with Shuuichi/Kyosuke, Nagi/Kei, and Yuuko/Miyako, who also fill the same basic character archetypes as their counterparts.
- Genki Girl: Mizuki.
- Gone Mad From the Revelation: Seems to happen to Amamiya after he sees a sketch Yuu did of his younger sister Akane, who strongly resembles Amamiya's own little sister who also died in the same earthquake. He ends up killing himself via a fire after he's done painting.
- Gratuitous German: In the Eyecatch images and opening animation.
- Hollywood Atheist: Yuu and Yuuko are a mild version. "If there ever was such a person as God, he died a long time ago. Otherwise the world wouldn't be so full of such pain and loneliness." The end upgrades Yuu from outright atheist to agnostic. Just one miracle won't turn his beliefs around!
- Technically, neither of them are really Atheists. Atheists don't believe God(s) exist at all, so they would not say something like "God is dead" - they seem more like people who believe in God(s) but are disillusioned about it.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Yep, again. The first letters of the first six episode titles spell out "future" in reverse. Episodes 7 through 12 use the same titles as 6 through 1, respectively, but with a prefix attached to them: "for-" in the last episode; "re-" in the other five.
- If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him: Yuu prevents Yuuko from stabbing Amamiya with this sentence almost word for word.
- Look Both Ways: Someone not following this rule (person differs between the game and the anime) results in the death of the same person in both mediums.
- May-December Romance: Mizuki and Kuze. The relationship is generally referred to as a crime. Technically, it probably is...
- Melodrama: The good kind.
- Memento MacGuffin: Yuu keeps the wristwatch his sister wore until the earthquake. Later he buries it and gets over his guilt after saving Yuuko.
- Not So Different: Amamiya has the same Dead Little Sister backstory as Yuu, and Yuu believes that he was close to becoming someone like him.
- One Degree of Separation: Best emphasized by episode 10, where nearly the entire cast is revealed to have a very tight connection to each other.
- Promotion to Parent: Yuu and Yuuko are almost like this to a young Mizuki, at least until Yuuko gets hit by a car. On christmas.
- Rape as Drama: Surprisingly minor plot point; it's no less horrible, but in this case it's just another horrible thing: Amamiya has done to Yuuko. On Christmas, no less.
- Replacement Goldfish: Amamiya adopted Yuuko as a sister because his own sister died in the earthquake. Predictably enough, he eventually harbors deep feelings of hatred both towards Yuuko for not being the same person as his sister and toward himself for being unable to save her. Beatings and rape ensue.
- Mizuki was this initially despite denials to the contrary from her family.
- Sarcastic Confession: One of the first things Yuuko says to Yuu is that she hates him. She doesn't really, but she pretty clearly showed she was a Stepford Smiler with that declaration. See also Best Served Cold.
- Shout-Out: There is one to Hell Girl in episode 11, and Yuu does Despair's "I'm in despair" pose in one of the post-episode stills. That series was also animated by SHAFT. Also, this excellent one to Star Wars in episode 4:
Mizuki: Do that thing! "The Lord watches over you", or whatever!
- In retrospect, there is a great one in the game's title itself: "A Fairy Tale Of The Two" turns out to mean "a tale of two cities".
- Single-Minded Twins: When Kei and Chihiro finally meet, they start talking in unison to Mizuki.
- Soap Opera Disease: Kuze has an ill-defined heart condition that is causing him to die, but has few symptoms other than heart attacks, isolationism, and existential angst.
- Stepford Smiler Yuuko and Mizuki Less negative than most portrayals, this story seems to suggest that this behavior is actually a good way to keep your sanity after horrific trauma.
- Mizuki is actually a subversion and coping just fine, and Yuu just thought she was one. Probably because being one wouldn't be very strange since Yuuko taught her it was a good way to deal with things. She also picked up some mannerisms from Yuuko, causing people who knew Yuuko to compare them.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Amamiya's death is presented fairly neutrally, or even as being somewhat sad despite, well, you know. It's strongly implied he committed suicide and suggested that he never truly hated Yuuko but simply could not cope. The reader is unlikely to agree, of course.
- Tomato Surprise: There are two towns, one in Japan and the other in Australia.
- Trauma Conga Line: Happens to several characters this season, such as Kuze, Yuu, and especially Yuuko.
- Twisted Christmas: Three of them!
- Victim Falls For Rapist: A complicated variation in the game: Kuze assaults (but does not outright rape) Mizuki because she loves him and he reciprocates, so he wants to scare her away from him to protect her from a tragic experience.
- You Are Not Alone: More or less said to Kuze, and to Yuu to a lesser extent.
- Wham! Episode: Episode six.