Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 7th 2014
Brynhildr in the Darkness
episodes 1-13 streaming
As a child Ryota Murakami knew a girl he called Kuroneko, with whom he shared a passion for astronomy, but he lost her in a fall from a dam that badly injured him and killed her – or so he was told. Several years later he still pursues astronomy as the only member of his high school's Astronomy Club, which means spending most of his free time at a mountainside observatory. One night he encounters a girl who seems to be a dead ringer for a teenage version of Kuroneko, one who even has a suspiciously similar name – Neko Kuroha. Even stranger, she uses odd powers to save him from a rockslide she knew was going to happen and explains that she is a man-made witch who has escaped from a lab. But if she is Ryota's Kuroneko then she does not remember him. Ryota just cannot leave such oddities alone despite Neko's warnings to stay away, which results in him getting drawn into a dangerous world of runaway teen witches who bleed to death if they do not regularly take a certain medication, a laboratory run by a man willing to send more powerful and obedient witches out to hunt down the strays, and a secretive group which seems to be opposing the lab but may not have the best interests of the witches at heart, either. If Ryota cannot help the witches whom he gathers together stay alive, can he at least help them live a little in the time they have left?
Brynhildr in the Darkness is based on a manga by Lynn Okamoto, the man who also created Elfen Lied. Even without knowing that up front, that pedigree should eventually become obvious to anyone who has seen the latter, as within the first few episodes the striking similarities between the two become unavoidable, to the point that this series could almost accurately be retitled Elfen Lied Lite. And yes, that is meant somewhat derisively, as Brynhildr is clearly aiming to capture some of the magic that Elfen Lied had but falls so far short in its attempt that it mostly winds up being a mess instead.
That is a shame, too, because it actually has one of the most important pieces firmly in place: a likable cast. As male harem leads go, Ryota is a cut above: he is intelligent, intuitive, respectable, brave and determined to the point of recklessness, and keeps the girls together when they might otherwise lose hope. Neko is initially implied to be stupid but that is later shown to actually be gaps in her memory and learning, partly due to being stuck in a lab for several years and partly due to a side effect of using her power (she is the group's blaster). She does not stick out as much as some of the other girls do but does not easily fall into one of the standard anime archetypes, either. Acerbic, doll-like Kana is completely paralyzed except for one hand, but the trade-off is a precognitive ability that usually keeps the group out of the worst trouble. Kasumi, the electronics-manipulating witch, has the most distinct personality as the one most obsessed with experiencing what life has to offer (especially sex, as she desperately does not want to die a virgin), but she is also the one who most keeps to herself her distress over the witches' mortality. Later addition Kotori is a more endearing airhead than normal as the group's teleporter, and a couple of other witches who pop up in the late stages as potential allies also show promise. In fact, the series is almost worth recommending for the core cast alone; transplant them into a sitcom and they would probably work just fine.
The problem is not really with the premise, either, although it is mostly a retread. Once again girls with potentially dangerous super-powers are either escaping from a lab or being sent out from a lab to hunt escapees, and bloody mayhem sometimes ensues. A boy encounters one of them whom he knows from many years before (though some memory loss is involved) and inadvertently gets involved in the trouble. One of the two real differences this time around is that the super-powered girls were the result of deliberate experimentation involving alien critters rather than a genetic mutation, but in both cases the treatment of the girls is merciless. The other significant difference is that the power of the girls here is limited by their harnests, devices implanted into the backs of their necks which grant them their powers, denies them their powers when they overload or are manually shut down, and causes them to literally melt to death if fully ejected. If the girls do not take “death suppressants” (yes, that is what they are really called) every 36 hours, they bleed out in messy fashion, which is either something engineered into them to keep them in check or a side effect of the harnests or both. One of the escapees is special to the cold-as-ice head lab guy, who is trying to pull a Gendo Ikari by running his own agenda concerning a family member while supposedly serving the interests of a bunch of shadowy figures, but the rest are disposable and need to be killed off. Meanwhile Ryota has to try to figure out if Neko really is his Kuroneko or not, which involves seeing whether or not she has three moles in a certain place on her body that is not normally exposed. Shenanigans concerning that occasionally ensue, as do super-powered conflicts when Ryota and the girls either must defend themselves or go on the offensive to try to find more life-extending pills.
No, the problems in the series come when everything is put together. All too often the pacing and timing are clumsily-handled, especially in confrontation scenes; prolonged death scene conversations or seemingly-too-long, too-casual conversations in the midst of battles are common flaws in anime, but Brynhildr is a worse offender than most on both fronts. In other places, especially at the very end, events seem rushed. Major new developments, such as the introduction of the pills and the much later appearance of the third party organization, are handled with all of the finesse of a sledgehammer. Logic falters in many places, and some important things – like why only girls are subjects of these experiments with implanting alien embryos, or whether young Kuroneko's belief that she had seen an alien (she was leading Ryota to check it out when they fell from the dam) was connected to the experiments – are never explained. The final scenes are also a mess, as a couple of characters improbably appear alive and viewers are left to figure out how that could have happened. (A logical explanation for it can be formed, but it requires viewers to infer more than they should have to.)
Unlike its predecessor, Brynhildr also seems a bit uncertain how far it wants to push its graphic side. Elfen Lied gloried in its nudity, cruelty, and extreme graphic content, to the point of becoming a landmark and standard-setting title for TV series anime in the way it mixed those three elements, but it also used those as an engine to very effectively drive the intensely moe aspect of some of its key supporting characters. Brynhildr does occasionally achieve that kind of edge, as its first scene involving a captured witch being forced to melt down is jarring, but too often its attempts to be shockingly graphic end up being silly instead, such as the whole business with the girls bleeding out from not taking their pills. That does not stop the series from continuing to keep trying, and throwing in some occasional fan service along the way, but the misses are at least as frequent as the hits.
The technical production side does not overly impress, either, although it also does not have major flaws. Characters designs are pleasing enough, feature a broad variety of female body types, and provide attractive and appropriate clothing selections without being outlandish; male characters, contrarily, are typically bland in design and apparel. Background art is well-detailed but colors overall are a little muted. Although quality control sometimes slips on the character rendering, the animation is generally above average. Significant fan service is limited to just a couple of episodes but is definitely present.
The musical score is likewise serviceable without being particularly impressive. It does a reasonable job of building up some tense scenes but falls short in others, although its support of the rare comedic moments is consistently better. The instrumental-only original opener, which does not exactly flow well in its visuals, is replaced in episode 10 by metal-themed number "Virtue and Vice,” which also is not flawless in its use of visuals but is still a distinct improvement over the first opener in every respect. Closer “Ichiban Hoshi,” which is used throughout, is a perfectly pleasant cap to each episode. Japanese vocals are mostly fine, although Aya Suzaki's vocal performance as Kana conveys a broader range of emotion than should be possible for a computerized speaking unit to convey. (Kana uses the one hand she can move to type in what she wants to say, a la Stephen Hawking.)
The name of the series refers to a Vakyrie from Germanic lore whose memories were muddled with, and a character named Valkyria who is connected to Neko does also late pop up, but the result here is much less ambitious or effective than any attempted mythological or operatic allusions. It shows at least some potential early on, but even the strength of its highly appealing cast cannot entirely carry the series through its many rough parts. The result is a series which can still entertain but is largely a disappointment.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Core cast, background art.
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