The Spring 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Brynhildr in the Darkness
Review: I think Brynhildr in the Darkness is easier to watch if you don't know where it's coming from. Not "fun" to watch or anything, not "good," but just "easier." On the surface, there's very little to say either good or bad. It's a tepid premise: boy meets girl, girl gets in fatal accident, boy sees girl alive again years later and finds out she's been the subject of horrible experimentation turning her into a precognitive human weapon for reasons yet unknown. It's all very anime, and the direction and writing here is so uninvolving that the best you can do is shrug it off and say "there are better things out there doing most of the same stuff." Maybe give it a second episode. Maybe not.
But then you learn that this story comes to us courtesy of the author of Elfen Lied, and it's being adapted and animated once again by Studio ARMS, and you're forced to watch it a completely different way. Comparing first episodes of both, you can see the creator repeating himself, from the initial plot devices right down to the german title. If that is the case, he's also repeating a story many consider one of the most unsettling, disturbing, insulting, slimy and schlocky anime out there that still maintains a level of popularity unusually high for its heinous content. Just under ten years ago, Elfen Lied was the "edgy and adult" show people would pass onto their friends who said "anime was just kids stuff like Pokémon" to prove them wrong, and would often succeed at turning them off to anime for completely different reasons. Now that role seems to have been passed to Madoka, (hopefully with less turnoff backlash?) and we're all better for it, because Elfen Lied's taste in "adult content" was more repellent than refined. I'm doing my best to talk about this impartially, but in full disclosure, I find Elfen Lied to be one of the most repugnant anime series ever made for the way it combines silky-tongued emotional manipulation with its nihilistic, sexist, brainless, and gore-obsessed material.
It's not fair to assume these two will have anything in common after just one episode. It is entirely possible that ARMS' adaptation will taper off or alter the content of Lynn Okamoto's manga. But if they don't, potential viewers should be warned that yes, Brynhildr's manga version is fully in the vein of Elfen Lied. Chapters include glamorization of physical and sexual torture, infantilization of women, a deeply stupid male protagonist, generally bad writing, and potential bowlfuls of regret for having sat through it all. At very least, tiny echoes of all these things can be seen in the first episode of the anime. (The above screencap is from a deeply uncomfortable moment of voyeurism that is clearly unnecessary to the story.) The fact that its beginning is boring is probably a good thing. Brynhildr has none of Elfen Lied's sharp direction, incredible sound and score work, or lightning rod opening scenes to reel in many curious fish. Not really recommended, and by all means, at least be aware of what you might be getting into.
Brynhildr in the Darkness is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: When he was a child, Ryōta Murakami had a girl friend whom he always called Kuroneko and only knew by that name. She firmly believed in aliens, but a terrible accident which happened when she tried to prove the existence of one resulted in her dying and him being gravely injured. Even ten years later Ryota has trouble accepting her death, which has led to him continuing to look for evidence of aliens in her stead and having trouble communicating amiably with other girls. Then a girl transfers into his class who looks exactly like what Kuroneko should have looked like as a teenager and has the suspiciously similar name Kuroha Neko. She claims she doesn't know him, but there are three things strange about her: she knows that two students are supposed to die on a given day (and that he is supposed to be one of the two), she is immensely physically stronger than it seems like she should be, and she does not know certain things that would be expected knowledge of anyone her age, such as basic multiplication. When she uses strange powers to save him from a calamity that would have, indeed, killed him, he gets some of the truth out of her: she is a technologically-created witch who escaped from an experimental lab with the cryptic instructions to stop the world from falling into ruin. He also finally sees that she does not have the distinctive moles that Kuroneko had, but does that ultimately really mean anything?
Right from its title – which is a reference to the most storied of the Valkyries, the shieldmaidens who claim the souls of dead warriors in Norse mythology – Brynhildr in the Darkness makes it clear that this is going to be a serious, darkly-shaded adaptation of a science fiction manga. Its opener, which also indicates that three additional “witches” will eventually come into the picture, shows bloodied girls in our world transposed with their healthy versions in a ruined world, and that's hardly a subtle way to intimate that bad stuff is going to be comin’ down. The somber tone as Ryota reminisces about his past further that impression, as does the freakish accident which nearly kills a classmate in a Final Destination-like moment. What exactly this is all leading to is not entirely clear, as the closer gives off an almost harem-like vibe, but one thing does seem clear: Kuroneko and Kureha will eventually be connected in some way if they are not, in fact, the same person.
The result is a series that is by no means spectacular but sets itself up well enough, and establishes its lead character firmly enough, to provide plenty of hooks. Ryota is a damaged soul haunted by a loss that he legitimately feels responsible for and cannot get over (and, in a big twist, which he actually remembers), a trait more typically seen in an action hero, so watching how that continues to shape his character in a story like this could be very interesting indeed. Somewhat surprisingly, this also does not look to be an exercise in fan service, either. Technical merits are also pretty good, too, so the first episode has no major weaknesses. As long as it doesn't tread too strongly down a harem path it has the potential to be a good series.
(And as a side note, Kureha not knowing her multiplication tables at her age is, sadly, not actually suspiciously odd. I have worked with several students her apparent age over the years who had to pull a calculator out to do single-digit multiplication – yes, even something as simple as 2 x 2.)
Brynhildr in the Darkness is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
When Ryota was a little boy, he had a friend he remembers only as “Kuroneko.” She liked looking for aliens, and claimed to know where one was. When Ryota didn't believe her, she told him she'd take him to see one, resulting in them climbing a dam. Both fell off, and while Ryota survived, Kuroneko didn't. He's been riddled with guilt ever since, making it his goal to find the aliens she believed in. Now in high school, Ryota is floored when a new transfer student named Kuroha Neko arrives, and initially he thinks she's Kuroneko. She claims she's not, and then further confuses him by showing strange powers, such as predicting the future and using what appears to be magic.
This seems like a fairly basic dark fantasy plot, and we know from the opening and ending themes that more powerful girls are on the horizon for Ryota, but Brynhildr in the Darkness' first episode overcomes the clichés, or at least uses them well, to give us the start of an interesting story. A throw away line in the beginning, that Kuroneko isn't dead, but at another hospital, could be a major clue as to how she got her powers in the first place, and her behavior towards Ryota does not imply that she has never met him before, despite her protestations. That her name is Old Norse for “battle armor” (reversed; “bryn” means armor and “hildr” means battle) is a good touch, and her goals certainly do seem to be to protect people from death. Is that because she once died herself?
As might be expected, the color scheme of this episode is largely dark and somber, and even daylight scenes show shadows in the corners. Some background details, like the chart of constellations in Ryota's observatory, are very well illustrated, which almost makes up for some of the less wonderful artistic moments, like the way you can see Kuroha's bellybutton through all of her clothes. Ryota seems like a pretty good protagonist thus far, although it must be admitted that he won points with me personally when he was disgusted with his classmates' inappropriate talk about Kuroha's body.
As first episodes go, this is definitely one of the stronger ones this season. With an interesting blend of science and magic, an intriguing backstory, and plenty of questions to be answered but no sense that we're starting with nothing but questions, Brynhildr in the Darkness looks like it has a lot of potential.
Brynhildr in the Darkness is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: The best thing you can say about Brynhildr in the Darkness is that it's pretty painless to watch. There's nothing vile or awful or even particularly unpleasant about it. On the same token, though, there's nothing amusing, involving, or intelligent about it either. It's one of those shows that just exists, that is neither a benefit nor a detriment to your day. Which is to say, it doesn't matter if you watch it or not. So you might as well not, and fill that half hour with something worthwhile. Like maybe a nice bath. Or a phone-call to your mom. You know she'd love to hear from you.
In case you're still intent on squandering that half hour, here's what you'll get: A boy, a tragic past, a beautiful transfer student, and a hidden world of magical mysteries and techno-conspiracies. Wee. It could be almost any “dark” magical-action story ever fabricated for otaku consumption. That said, the harshness of Ryota's tragic past does make up for some of the sameness of his transfer-student-instigated descent into magical adventure. As a young child Ryota was directly responsible for the death of the girl he loved, which colors most what happens next, since the transfer student in question is a dead ringer for his dead girlfriend.
But any points earned there, or for transfer student Neko's weird patchwork of abilities (she can split a boulder and get into a high-end high school, but she can't multiply 2x2), are lost to Ryota—a mopey goodnik with the personality of a bean-and-cheese burrito. The show's look has roughly the same level of personality, and whatever interest is sparked by Neko's mission (armed with a book of prophecies and a scary tech implant, she is trekking around trying to prevent… something) is squashed by the ED's promises of oncoming haremdom. Poof! Nothingness achieved.
Brynhildr in the Darkness is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
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