I don’t know when I’ve ever seen two seasons of an anime structured as cleverly as Ef. The main characters in the first season barely feature in this second season, and instead the focus is on characters who were superficially of lesser importance in the first. As the series progresses, their stories become more and more intertwined.
As per the first series there are two separate story strands, but this time there is a stronger connection between the two, despite one of them taking place in the past. That strand sees a love triangle of sorts between Yuu Himura (remember him? Chihiro’s guardian in the first series?), his friend in the art club Nagi Hirono, who spends her time painting nude self-portraits in the art room (it’s not gratuitous – her motivations are eventually a window into her soul), and Yuuko Amamiya. You might remember her too. In the present day she’s the mysterious woman who pops up occasionally to give people advice. In the past, she’s knows Yuu from his childhood, and turns his life upside down when she turns up again at his school. Eventually we get flashback sequences even further into the past, to explain the connection between them.
The other strand, back in the present day, concerns Yuu’s best friend Kuze, who is facing death and getting his affairs in order. Into his life bursts 16 year old Mizuki, whom you might also remember from the first series of Ef, although her role was not a major one. She is a fan of Kuze’s violin music and the two fall for each other pretty quickly, but Kuze pushes her away to protect her from the future he is facing.
This series is much more intense than the first, and tackles some pretty horrendous life problems. Although I ultimately found it an uplifting anime, it is at times hard to watch all the suffering the characters have to go through, which includes the horror of an impending early death, rejection, the loss of family in a tragic accident, and severe sexual abuse. It is also quite a lot more complicated than the first series, with more characters playing a significant role across three different time periods, so it takes some concentration to keep track of everything.
I mentioned when looking at the first series that this is anime as art, employing all sorts of surprising techniques to further the narrative. That goes much further for the second series, most effectively with the black and white episode that bursts back into colour when the colour metaphorically returns to one character’s life (and one I haven’t even mentioned, such is the complexity of the series). However, there are times when I wondered if the motivation was truly art rather than cheapness. The use of text on the screen, so powerful in the first season, is overused here. One episode features a still shot of a room in flames with the characters frozen on the spot while the whole picture burns, which goes on far too long. Perhaps most frustratingly of all, the penultimate episode has perhaps five minutes of key plot development and the rest is padded out with the usual artistic tricks and the use of four… yes four… opening/closing title sequences. It makes for a disjointed viewing experience at times. Having said that, when the inventive techniques work, they really work, and the final episode in particular is visually stunning from start to finish, while wrapping up the story in a satisfying but bittersweet way. At times the beauty of the animation is breathtaking, throughout the series.
Out of the two seasons I much prefer the first, which has a tighter focus and a better balance between the storytelling and the artsy cleverness. But I think in the end the second season had more to say about the human condition, and an even stronger message of hope. It’s a heady mix of tragedy and euphoria, at times frustrating and at times stunningly beautiful… much like life itself. RP