Friday 4 July 2014

Anime REVIEW: Brynhildr in the Darkness

Brynhildr in the Darkness (Gokukoku no Brynhildr)

Even though it's original manga was never officially translated into English, the Elfen Lied anime series has quite the reputation. Whether its for its horrific violence, copious amounts of nudity or simply for being a great example of how adapting an ongoing manga series can affect an ending, it's a series that can come up in conversation quite often. So when author Lynn Okomoto's new ongoing manga Brynhildr in the Darkness (or Gokukoku no Brynhildr) was announced to be getting a 13-episode series, heads were going to turn. And with Elfen Lied being one of my all-time favourites, mine was among them.

Ryouta meets Neko
Ryouta comes face to face with the past

Ryouta Murakami is a bright high school boy with a photographic memory. However he is still scarred by a moment in his childhood where his best friend Kuroneko fell to her death and he was unable to save her. His world is turned upside down when a transfer student identical to Kuroneko arrives at his school, but has no memories of him. The mystery behind the girl - Neko Kuroha, deepens even further when she warns Ryouta of his impending death. When her prediction proves accurate, Neko saves Ryouta with telekinetic powers.

Neko explains that she is a witch - an experiment who has escaped from a scientific facility and needs to take a pill every day to survive. As Ryouta enters the world of the witches and struggles to find enough pills to keep Neko alive, more escaped witches come to him with powers of their own. But also on their tail are much stronger witches sent out from the facility, as well as their masters who may hold the answer to Neko's true identity.

Ryota's flashback to Kuroneko's death
Ah, good old fashioned childhood trauma

With a set-up like a childhood friend seemingly coming back from the dead, Brynhildr in the Darkness is all about mystery. Are Neko and Kuroneko one and the same? What are the witches and why were they created? The show starts by quickly throwing out all of the mysteries to bring you in and does a fantastic job of making sure you're kept there. Either you sit there learning things just as the characters do, or something happens to stop the characters finding out when you do - making the wait for that revelation all the more agonising. The characters are all superb. Ryouta is a quick-thinking, likeable protagonist while Neko is a cute but powerful girl steeped in mysteries and secrets. Joining them are Kana (a girl able to foresee deaths but completely paralysed other than her left hand), Kazumi (a short tempered girl with incredible computer hacking skills) and Kotori, a teleporting witch who has a few secrets of her own.

More witches come and go, but these five are the ones Brynhildr follows from beginning to end. It does an excellent job of setting them up as not only friends, but a family. They laugh together, they cry together and don't have anyone looking out for them except each other. It may eventually have the makings of a supernatural harem, but the fact they're characters you can actually care about makes the fawning over Ryouta a little easier to swallow.

Obligatory beach episode

Given that this is a show from both the creator and studio of Elfen Lied, you wouldn't be wrong to expect a similar level of adult themes either. Both graphic violence and heavy nudity are featured in Brynhildr, but right now anyone looking into this show solely on this is going to be rather disappointed. The show has some pretty heavy censorship in all the right (or wrong, depending on how you view these things) places, and right now it's pretty uncertain whether a DVD/BD rip is going to rectify this. But the fan service element is also just as juvenile as it was in Elfen Lied, often breaking the tenseness for some quick boob shots or sex talk. Her determination to not die a virgin may be an integral part of Kazumi's character, but that doesn't stop it from feeling out of place and/or cringe-worthy half the time.

Better wait for those blu-rays

Unfortunately all of the brilliant set up the show manages to achieve instantly falls apart as the show reaches it's climax, once again proving that basing a 13-episode series on an ongoing manga is never a good idea. Elfen Lied's ending isn't ideal, but it still manages some level of closure for the main characters and is memorable in it's own way (the manga also goes completely insane, but that's a different argument). Brynhildr's ending on the other hand is an absolute mess. Characters are introduced that are quite obviously meant to be main characters but last for one to two episodes, the explanation behind the witches is left vague, Kotori's real identity is even vaguer and the relationship between Neko and Ryouta is left in possibly the worst place possible. Throw in a bunch of flash-forwards in the closing credits and you're left with an ending that leaves far more questions than it ever planned to answer. I've not read the manga myself so have no idea what route that goes down, but it certainly can't be any worse than this.

Brynhildr in the Darkness starts out as an absolutely fantastic show that's well worth your time, but sadly spirals down into one of the worst and most poorly-paced endings I've ever seen from anime. This show had the potential to be better than Elfen Lied, but that potential was completely squandered and you're left with another average series that will inevitably never get another look-in. Such a massive shame.

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