So some months ago, when Brynhildr in the Darkness was airing, I posted week-by-week episode notes, up to episode 9. My opinions in them were varied; there were parts I really liked, and parts that made me want to do some Higurashi worthy things to the characters. Ultimately, I dropped the show after episode 9 because episode 9 felt like the anime equivalent of The Puppy Who Lost His Way. Until then, Brynhildr had offered some good moments of surprisingly subtle feelings of dread, misdirection and psychological horror. These moments are probably why I wanted to come back to it right after finishing Higurashi. Unfortunately, it was also plagued by moe drear, terrible cliches and indecisive direction. But lately I’ve been curious about the show again, and how it ends. Did it pick up on and run with its strengths? Did the story have a satisfying conclusion? Or is it just crap, and a waste of my time then and now? Only one way to find out.
First, this is intended to be a review of Brynhildr, with a focus on the last episodes. I will avoid major spoilers, but certain events are important in illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of the show. If you want to go in blind, don’t read this review.
For those unfamiliar with the show, I’ll give a brief recap of what I remember. Our protagonist, Ryouta, is a highly intelligent highschool student who has spent the last ten years angsting the believed death of his childhood friend, Kuroneko. One day, a new girl, who bears a striking resemblance to Kuroneko, both physically and in her name, Neko Kuroha, transfers into Ryouta’s class. Pretending this is somehow subtle, the writers wait a few episodes before revealing that Neko Kuroha is actually Kuroneko *insert super dramatic music here*; but, thanks to plot convenience, Ryouta is left ignorant, and he continues to angst about it. Neko herself is also unaware of her past, because amnesia is apparently still used ironically in stories that, I would just like to stress, actual writers were paid actual money to make. A lot has changed with Neko over the years, she has boobs and super powers, and is probably going to die. She, and her fellow “witch” friends who make up Ryouta’s harem anime must take pills not to die (presumably this will be replaced with “Press X” in the videogame adaptation), and the only place they can get these pills is from the same secret government organization that turned them into witches and now wants them dead (actual writers; actual money).
Each witch has different powers, including future-sight, short-distance time travel, regeneration, mouth beams, that thing Lucy from Elfen Lied does (did I mention this is Studio Arms? Because this is very Studio Arms), and hacking. That last one must make it awkward meeting people at secret government experiment parties; “My power lets me go back in time. What’s yours do?” “Oh, I can get celebrities nude photos, assuming they keep them on a device with wi-fi.” “Right… I’m just gonna go back before we met now.”
These powers could make for a ton of really cool fights, and put the characters in positions where their depth and growth is judged in highly intense, personally challenging, inspiring situations. Instead, Neko wants to go to karaoke with friends and feel shy about it. As for the rest of the main cast, there is Kana, who’s completely paralyzed, speaks with a voice-box, is very supporting of her friends and was probably someone’s fetish on the writing staff; Kazumi, a slutdere attempting to be tsundere; and Kotori, who can go die for all I care, because she’s just a moe blob. And on that high note, we’re all caught up. Time to go head into the darkness, and see what the last four episode have to offer.
And immediately my jaw is on the floor, as I’m greeted by a new opening. The original OP was actually a large part of why I picked up the show in the first place (as is generally the purpose of an OP); in fact, it was my favorite of its season, and damn good in general. This new one is like Death Note‘s season 2, except I enjoyed Death Note‘s season 2 OP, but this, this is unbearable. Fast forward!
Apparently something happened at the end of episode 9 that I forgot about, because now the group has a new witch in their ranks, who’s worried that the organization will remotely kill her any second. She talks about friendship and crap, and as soon as the others convince her that life is worth living, *click*. Her harness is activated and she dies. Clearly a devastating scene, meant to shock and traumatize the viewer, and I can’t stop laughing. Seriously, her death could not have had more perfect comedic timing XD
So dead girl deletes herself from everyone’s memories just before she dies, because that way no one has to feel sad. This touches on one of the strong points of the show. This decision to make her friends happier, even if it meant being forgotten, is so emotionally powerful, that I can’t even be a cynical prick about it. I didn’t even remember this character myself, and was laughing a couple seconds ago, but this still genuinely got to me. I accused the show of moe-traits before, but it doesn’t rely on cheap emotional manipulation, it uses it, but it doesn’t rely on it. This one scene gave me enough information about the character to understand how hard it was for her and why she did what she did. Hence, a strong emotional impact. Bravo, Brynhildr in the Darkness.
The only person whose memory she leave intact is Ryouta. Instead, she gives him her memories of the secret government organization (I’m just gonna called them Gehirn from now on), so they may be of help in fighting Gehrin, and getting more Press-Xs.
With that bombshell dropped, the show becomes moe crap once again. The witches wall want to lead normal student lives, but aren’t motivated to study. They agree that anyone who gets good marks gets to go to the beach with Ryouta, and my brain has melted. The conversation devolves further, until Slutdere brags about an indirect kiss with Ryouta, and Lucy makes sure everyone knows she’s not jealous before storming off. Later, and I couldn’t make this up, Ryouta finds her singing about how much she doesn’t “care about who indirectly kisses whom one bit!” and how “An indirect kiss isn’t really a kiss. I don’t care at all! I really super don’t care about anything.” Oh my god, was this a joke by whoever did the subs?! But perhaps the best part is that Ryouta can’t figure out for the life of him, why she’s acting so strange. Dude, you’re the only male character in a freakin’ harem anime!
They do the beach thing, and every cliche you would expect happens. End of episode 10. Alright, I’m getting into this. The show shows a bit more promise than I remember, and I’m willing to see it through this time. There was one point where the episode went back to its theme of memory, which I remember being interested in before. But other than the specific scene at the beginning, it didn’t do anything to expand it.
On the technical side, Brynhilr is pretty good. Things get a little sloppy with wide shots and crowds, but when the animation is focused on just a few characters it’s crisp and clean. The best part is probably the backgrounds. It’s a bit of a cheat, since they’re mostly just art, not animation, but they do manage to make a lot of scenes worth looking at. But there’s nothing particularly special about it. It’s a bit above average technically, but there’s rarely a shot that means anything or makes an impact. The lack of proper direction even made a lot a shots that should make the viewer pissed at the villain or sorry for a protagonist, just make me laugh at their total lack of tonal pertinence instead.
As for the sound track, I’ve already mentioned OP 1, which is great, and OP 2, which sucks. But overall, the OST leans a little more towards OP 1. Most individual tracks are completely forgettable, but as a whole they have a good range, and do their job effectively. There is an electric theme to a lot of it, which fits the show well, and there are a couple good songs in it that got me hyped.