29. Ef is one of those stories that directly challenges Clannad in terms of being a serious work of art. It's one of those 'tried and failed' stories that attempted to match Clannad by tackling the same sorts of subjects, that I just previously said was a better strategy than 'running away' like World God Only Knows has.
But when you try and fail to be another Clannad, you still achieve something great.
Ef is the story of various male leads getting together with various female leads. These romances aren't easy though. The girls the boys are trying to win over are far worse off than normal girls, and need far more delicate handling than a normal relationship. The problems in the way of these romances are insurmountable to mortal men.
Just as an example, here are some of the girls you have to acquire (this sounds like Pokemon): A girl who has no long term memory past age 12, whose short term memory is around 24 hours, and has no existence outside that 24 hour, constantly new life. Every time you meet the girl, she is meeting you for the first time in her life. Can you have a romantic relationship with her? The story asks you this daunting question, and then shows just how daunting such a relationship would be.
But the girl is so needy, and so courageous, and so beautiful, that you want to be her lover anyway. She's not like other girls precisely because of her injury. She's something much more pristine and beautiful. Chihiro is one of the all time greatest girls in anime. The boy getting the girl and making even Chihiro happy, with all her disabilities, is one of the all time best romance stories ever made.
Another love story has a girl who's been a victim of child abuse for around a decade, whose exterior is now so distrusting and cynical that it's nearly impossible to have a normal relationship with her. Furthermore, her abuser is still out to get her -- oh, and when everything looks like it will be solved, she gets run over by a car -- too bad.
Another love story has a guy with an incurable heart condition who is slated to die 'any month now.' Nevertheless, a young girl decides to fall in love with this boy, and wants to stay at his side, even though she'll suffer for it when he dies. The guy has to accept this girl's love, and accept that it's better to love and lose, than never to love at all. The dilemmas these scenarios pose are magnificent. They truly challenge your philosophy, feelings, and soul -- they try to make you as good as the characters on the screen, or ask yourself why you aren't as good as they are.
This is accompanied by an art style that sometimes works, and often doesn't. It attempts to be original and innovative in all ways and at all times. Sometimes this produces amazing art, like the entire episode in black and white in Ef A tale of melodies. Sometimes it just produces needless confusion, like how we find out after endless effort that the story is set, half of the time, in Australia instead of Japan. The demand to be cutesy and artsy really weighs the story down. It feels like the director/choreographer is the main character, instead of the characters in the story. The same is true of Bakemonogatari, another story that needlessly suffers from a need to be artsy and innovative. If you don't have faith in your characters and your concept, but instead rely on gimmicks, the viewer will notice this lack of faith and match it. Hopefully some day artists will learn this lesson and stick to the script.
Ef has one amazing speech that should be noted. When Misizu visits the house of her beloved, after he's already driven her away, he gives her an enormous tongue-lashing where he keeps asking her 'why are you here?' 'why are you smiling?' 'why won't you leave me alone?' In the hopes that he can break up with her for good, and thus die in such a way that no one mourns his passing. But a few episodes later, his plan backfires, because she appears before him again, and she answers in a steady voice each of his questions: "I'm here because I love you." "I'm smiling because I love you." "I won't leave you alone because I love you." And eventually she says, "Everything, every time, all of it, is because I love you." The answer is so phenomenal, the very idea that the questions weren't rhetorical but could be answered, and the very idea that every question could be answered with the exact same answer, and for the answer to still make sense, is one of the greatest speeches ever made. The fact is, "I love you" is a fair, reasonable, and workable answer to Every Single Question he posed. If you love someone enough, what else would you feel or do? What does his dying have to do with it? Shouldn't she at least be happy around him while he lives? That debate is one of the best scenes in any work of art, anywhere.
There's another precious scene in Ef, when the abused girl meets the young girl who will eventually be the heart-attack man's lover. They are both in a church together, and the abused girl comes up with a clever trick to comfort the young girl -- instead of asking the young girl if she's lonely or sad, which would draw forth a quick denial as the child stubbornly refuses help, she described HERSELF as lonely and sad, and asked the CHILD for comfort and company. Phrased in that manner, the child was forced to come to her side and talk to her -- but as a result, it was the abused girl who was able to comfort and give company to the child. That was so amazing, such a profound insight into human psychology, that it shouldn't be forgotten either.
It's a shame that much of Ef doesn't involve itself with these, genuinely good characters, but has random people like a two timing manga artist and a two timing movie filmer that are given equal air time. Ugh, just thinking about how much of Ef is wasted on these creeps annoys me. But almost every anime has this problem, where its maximum and minimum values are so far apart that half the series can't be stomached while the other half is epic beyond belief. Only a few series -- like Madoka Magica, are good every single episode, start to finish. The rest must be slogged through like an amazon rainforest to find the cities of gold.