Ebullient Future? On ef – a tale of melodies
(SPOILERS for ef – a tale of memories and the first six episodes of ef – a tale of melodies).
Karl Marx once wrote that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Well, it seems the folks over at minori/SHAFT disagree. Welcome to “ef”, where the first time around it’s a tragedy and the second time it’s a catastrophe of such life-draining pathos that it makes the first time look like a plain old goat-song (i.e. tragedy). Through it all though, I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The parallelism between the two series is intense and pretty much determines the two plotlines. Chihiro and Kuze both have rare conditions with devastating consequences; Renji and Himura are both warned when about to embark on new loves; Miyako and Yuuko both explode in a shrill crescendo of misery culminating in what I would call personal apocalypses. But the sequel outdoes the first series every time: impending death over memory loss; the warnings of a rival over the rivals of a caretaker; rape and torture over existential loneliness …you get the drift.
I want to focus on one pair of sequences to make this explicit, and also to show why there is cause for optimism. In ep 02 of “memories” an adult Yuu Himura warns Chihiro thus:
In ep 04 of “melodies” Akira Amamiya does the same to a teenage Himura:
If you’re wondering about how the statements go in Japanese, the first one is: “Chihiro no soba ni itai nara, kakugo shiro.” Akira’s warning is: “Moshimo Yuuko o jibun no mono ni shitai no nara, kakugo shina yo.” You don’t have to understand Japanese to see some resemblances. I want to point out that the key word in both statements is “kakugo” (覚悟) which means “resolve, be resolved, make a resolution”, far stronger than the “be prepared” that the subbers have used.
The really interesting detail for me is the appearance of Yuu Himura in both sequences. The Akira-Himura sequence goes chronologically prior to the Himura-Renji conversation, and this means that unconsciously or not the older Himura is faithfully handing down the words he heard from the terrible teacher years ago. This is because both Akira and adult Himura are partly motivated by the same feeling: they both want the young men before them to go through with the ordeal, but only if they’re ready. Although some may disagree with me, I think that Mr. Amamiya does feel guilty for what he’s done to Yuuko and sees Himura as some kind of saving figure: he wants to be stopped, maybe even be killed! And Himura himself as a guardian for Chihiro feels guilty for keeping her isolated, and deep down (again, my personal opinion) is relieved at Renji’s proceedings. At another level, of course, Akira and Himura’s drives are worlds apart. Himura protects, Akira destroys.
When I was watching ep 04 of “melodies” I was expecting Himura to warn Mizuki against falling in love with Kuze, thus repeating the cycle a third time. Instead, he blessed them. This development (Himura’s willingness to let go) caught me by surprise but it also gave me hope. At the beginning of the post I said that if “memories” was a tragedy, “melodies” was a catastrophe. Well, taking into account that the Yuuko-Himura side of the story is chronologically in the past, we can say that the story of “ef” as a whole is progressing from darkness toward light. If the screenwriters had actually placed everything chronologically, it would have been a happier story but we wouldn’t have felt so involved. Someone gets raped, then things get better: big deal.
By putting Yuuko’s secret around the middle, we suffer more. We see how many obstacles lie on the way to happiness. We also get to know Himura more intimately. The parallelism works because there is a fundamental difference between the past and the present in “ef”. It may sound silly but here it goes: the past happened all alone, but the present has the past within it, and it is through the present’s working out of that past that the future may come.
There is an assumption I’m making here, a big one, and that is that the Kuze-Mizuki angle will somehow work out. I’m not going to speculate, but my sense right now is that it must. That is, unless, there is a third series somewhere on the horizon…
PHILOSOPHICAL NOTE: The Japanese words “kakugo/kakugosei” are used to translate the terms “Entschluss/Entschlussheit” in Heidegger’s Being and Time, and sure enough in English the translations usually read “resolution/resoluteness.” Heidegger defines resoluteness as “The reticent projecting oneself upon one’s ownmost being-guilty which is ready for Angst” (on p.297 of the standard edition). Translating Hedeggerian into plain English, this means: “Acknowledging one’s guilt as a human being and the pain and terror that go with the human condition, and doing all of this in silence, not because one has nothing to say but precisely because one has a lot in one’s heart.” I think “ef” is not far from these feelings.