memories vs melodies – how about a structural approach

Having seen a lot of discussion on the quality of memories vs melodies (the two seasons of ef) I found myself agreeing with the majority of those who preferred the first season over the second.  Still, I felt there was something confusing about the whole thing, something inside of me that refused to accept that the melodies segment was simply inferior, something that screamed that the two series were complementary and so…

I think a lot of us are confused, and maybe an analysis of the structure will help to clear things up.  Many things I will talk about here are obvious, and the ones that aren’t might be completely wrong, but I hope that something of value might still come from this exercise.  Let me emphasize that I’m going strictly by the anime and will totally disregard the visual novels which I’d love to play but haven’t yet…

Let’s look at the chronological structure of the relationships in ef, by which I mean the points of intensity (meeting, courtship, bonding) of each relationship in the timeflow of the storyline.


Of course, the saga of Yuko and Yuu’s relationship extends from the beginning of the ef story to the very end with full intensity.  Between Yuko’s death and her meeting with Yuu they’re constantly thinking about and waiting for each other.  That’s why I draw that overarching arrow at the top.

Then there’s the structure of ef with regards to the two seasons memories and melodies.  Memories focuses on three relationships (with Yuu and Yuko in the background) and melodies goes on to flesh out the Yuu-Yuko story and add the Mizuki tale, while Chihiro, Miyako and Kei fade into the background.  Here:


What I mean exactly by “at the end” will become clear later on.  Anyway, there’s one more structure, that I think most of us would identify as the real structure of ef: what may also be called the emotional structure, which is:

emo-efThe heart of ef is the Yuko-Yuu relationship, and this is a fact whether the fans like them best, or prefer Chihiro-Renji or some other pairing.  At least, it’s what the creators wanted it to be.  This structure is evident chronologically (see above) as well as in the constant intervention of both characters in the other people’s affairs.

It’s even present in the architecture: the Australian Otowa was designed by Yuu as his Taj Mahal to Yuko, after she was died in Japan.  The idea was that the Australian city would be a more perfect Otowa and it is this bridge between Japan and Australia created by the two Otowas that determines Chihiro and Renji’s meeting, plus Kuze and Mizuki’s meeting.

If you take these three structures together, I think you can see where the confusion begins.  There are 2 conflicting points to consider:

1) ef is a hamburger, memories is the patty, melodies is the two buns

When you look at the content of the two seasons, and then at the chronological sequence, it turns out that melodies is both a prequel and a sequel to memories (I told you I was going to be stating the obvious here!).  So just from these structures, it seems like memories is the main show, and melodies is just there to please the fans with more background information.  Memories can stand alone; melodies is nonsense without memories.  In short, melodies seems to depend totally on memories.  This is a reason for viewing melodies negatively.

The 2nd Otowa - a labor of love

The 2nd Otowa - a labor of love

2) ef is an apple, memories is the peel, melodies is the core

This is a possible conclusion when we compare the broadcast content of the two seasons with the underlying, emotional structure of the show.  We get wisps of Yuko, whispers from Yuu in the first season, but it’s in the second that we get the full scoop on the two.  And if they form the heart of the series as a whole, then melodies structurally speaking (I’m not getting into execution and animation quality here) is by rights superior.  Memories is little league, melodies is big leagues.  This way of looking at things seems to put memories in a negative light.

So how about we put all three structures together?  Maybe now we can see a perfect balance between the two seasons.  The conclusion of Yuko and Yuu’s saga at the end of melodies is the highpoint of the ef as a whole, but it is only possible after memories, where we have already seen how their tortuous story reflects and influences many others after them, etc etc.

I could stop here, but I would have failed in my analysis.  I didn’t start out trying to prove that memories and melodies were perfect together and equally satisfying as such, but trying to understand why although we can make that claim (and I have seen a few out there making it) most fans are coming out with a feeling that memories was substantially better.

I think the reason is in the emotional shuriken structure of ef.  Look again at my poorly made diagram. Yuko and Yuu are in the center, immovably so, but notice that the center is a hole.  What actually happens to Yuko?  She dies, comes back as a ghost and after a lot of soul-searching while observing and aiding in other difficult love affairs, the couple reunites one last time before she goes off to Heaven.  Is this even possible?  Well, maybe.  In anime, sure!  But ef is not a fantasy anime at all, so what’s going on here?

The Yuko-Yuu love affair is a truly epic saga, it’s a symbol.  Everyone else is hovering around this symbol.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to call the very end of the last episode of melodies: the “apocalypse” of ef.  (Don’t tell me apocalypses are bad things, and Yuu and Yuko’s reunion is a happy event so it’s not an apocalypse.  The apocalypse means the Devil’s dead, it’s the happiest moment for a Christian).

Winning can be painful too

Winning can be painful too

But the apocalypse is something so intense that it’s best not described.  It can’t be described, really, because it’s something outside of history.  The hole in the emotional structure of ef is this indescribable depth of feeling not only in the reunion scene, but also in their whole past relationship.  I thought the clashes with Mr. Amamiya were nicely done, don’t get me wrong, but they still failed.  While I was looking at Yuko and Yuu running away and renting an apartment something inside of me was saying “no, you can’t show me this!  It can’t be done properly.  This is a myth, you can’t animate it!”

This is why melodies in a sense fails, because it has to.  Memories, in focusing on characters with very serious but still earthly situations, wins because it must.  In any case, it’s good to see melodies as that finger that points at the moon but isn’t the moon.  Because in the end Yuko and Yuu can never meet on a TV screen or a computer monitor, no matter how high the resolution.  Their resolve is way higher.

~ by Haloed Bane on January 11, 2009.

3 Responses to “memories vs melodies – how about a structural approach”

  1. I like how you likened melodies to the “finger pointing to the moon”. I’ll be starting on it soon so I could experience both halves of the ef story.

  2. I disagree with your structural analysis. Take the movie Godfather for example. “Godfather II” was the bun, “Godfather I” was the patty, but Godfather II still could stand well in its own. You could draw some structural diagram to prove that watching “God I” was essential but you’ll find that plenty of people found “God II” moving without having watched its prequel. Well-written script is key to any melodrama and in my opinion, this is where melodies failed (well, not failed, just not as good as memories).

  3. I agree that Godfather II is great and can stand alone, and maybe someone out there would enjoy melodies without watching memories. But I do think that everything hinges on a mysterious Yuko-Yuu core and so the content of melodies (focusing as it did on this very core) doomed the show.
    In this post I avoided taking script issues: my greatest complaint would be the proliferation of repeated elements, which exploded about halfway through. The “Warum” gimmick (Miyako’s 99 messages in memories) was overdone to the point I though the show was trying to ridicule itself..

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