Azusa TadokoroM.A.ODaisuke MotohashiYuichiro Umehara
Brynhildr in the Darkness (2014 anime)
Adapted from: Brynhildr in the Darkness (manga) chapters 1-158
Also known as: Gokukoku no Brynhildr (2014 anime)
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: B
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Kenichi Imaizumi
Original creator: Lynn Okamoto
Actor: Risa Taneda, Ryota Ohsaka, Aya Suzaki, Azusa Tadokoro, Hiroki Touchi, M.A.O, Mamiko Noto, Manami Numakura, Sayuri Yahagi, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Yumi Uchiyama, Yuu Hamagashira, Asami Takano, Ayane Sakura, Daisuke Motohashi, Fumiko Uchimura, Kana Yuki, Marumi Koike, Rina Satou, Toshiki Iwasawa, Yui Kondou, Yuichiro Umehara, Yuki Takao
Keywords: Brynhildr in the Darkness, SF, horror, harem, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 14 episodes, including an 11.5th OVA episode
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 2 February 2015
I really like this series, but sometimes it annoys the living daylights out of me. It's a horrifically dark show from the creator of Elfen Lied, drenched in blood and rich in ideas to stop you sleeping for a week... but it's also a harem show. Ryouta Murakami is a boy surrounded by girls who are liable to have fanservice scenes and/or display romantic interest in him.
Even that shouldn't have been a problem, though, because the show's set-up justifies it. The girls call themselves witches, although there's nothing supernatural about them and they've escaped from a laboratory. Everything to do with these girls is a nightmare. It's amazing that their minds haven't snapped. Good news: they have superpowers. Bad news: (a) using their superpowers can damage their minds, (b) they need to take pills to survive and they only have enough to keep them alive for another few days, (c) they're being hunted down by their creators, who have access to world-destroying powers and will kill or brain-wipe passers-by simply for the crime of seeing them, (d) they've spent all their lives in laboratories being tortured in the name of science, (e) they have devices on the backs of their necks with functions including, but not limited to, an instant kill-switch, (f) spoiler, (g) gross spoiler, (h) insanely gross spoiler that's only in the manga, etc.
These girls have hardly any memories left that don't hurt. They're capable of forming intense emotional attachments even to sociopathic bastards. They live the kind of lives where wanting your friend to see her sixteenth birthday (tomorrow) is a sufficient reason to commit suicide. Oh, and not taking your pills is an ugly form of suicide, by the way. You gush blood, your body parts fall off and you melt.
One of the characters is almost completely paralysed. She can move her left hand enough to type into a keyboard with a voice processor and she can swallow food that's been mashed up in a blender. That's how much fun it is being one of these witches.
Anyway, as justifications for a harem anime go, I've seen worse. This is powerful stuff. I could imagine someone like that getting almost anything into their head and you could tell some terrifying stories about it. What's more, most of the show isn't harem at all and you'll be far more worried about, say, the ever-present risk of gruesome death.
No, what bugs me is the show not taking its own premise seriously. Kazumi can be fantastically unpleasant, talking filth and occasionally molesting the other girls, while her non-stop sex talk is liable to goad Murakami into counter-attacking with offensive comments about her small boobs. Admittedly it would be possible to approve of her boldness and directness and I can imagine the character having fans, especially after we've got to know her better in later episodes, but I hated the scene in ep.8 where she gets naked and throws herself at Murakami. That should have been powerful. In live-action I could imagine it being so intense as to be almost unwatchable. It should also have caused an earthquake in the relationships between the characters... but it's none of that. The show thinks it's just standard harem antics, complete with comedy music. Piss off. There aren't even any consequences.
"I bet my nipples are much prettier than hers." I'm not saying I can't understand her mentality. In the end, I even quite liked her. However she's at once creepy, obnoxious and being used by the show for cheap titillation.
Worst of all is the 11.5th OVA episode, though, which is so bad that it breaks the show. I'm not joking. Watching it put me in a foul mood that made it hard to get into episodes 12 and 13. The OVA starts with a pandering scene from ep.11 that had made me roll my eyes, but without the punchline that had rescued it and instead made me go "what a bitch". The episode then gives us a stupid harem contest for Who's Going To Be Murakami's Wife (and Murakami doesn't try nearly hard enough to talk sense into them), including fetish outfits, hot spring nudity and basically everything you'd expect to find in an empty bubblegum show made for sad wankers. Redeeming factors: (a) a death prophecy, (b) it was all a dream, but I'm reluctant to give many points for the latter.
Oh, and these 13 episodes are condensed from 100 dense chapters of a still ongoing manga. They omit entire characters and story arcs. I haven't read the manga and so I'm not going to get sniffy about this, but even I noticed that the storytelling gets jerky in the last three episodes, e.g. the ugly plot parachute of the Hexenjagd. Oh, and the all-important character of Neko Kuroha fades into the background somewhat over time, with her big scenes towards the end perhaps lacking their full emotional weight because we've lost a little interest in her. Admittedly her robotic-looking emotionlessness and passivity were always liable to make her less of a scene-stealer than the other regulars. It should still have been possible to do more, though, I think.
Oh, and if all possible, watch the DVD version. The censored TV episodes are trying to make the show suitable for general viewing (eh?), generally with black bars across the screen or glowing clouds of steam. It's not an improvement.
Those are a lot of problems, but I'm still a fan of the show. Its concepts and situations are ghastly, in a good way. There are so many layers of horror here, from simple ones (memory loss) to others that are barely imaginable. Some of that creepy sexuality is clearly deliberate, as is shown in ep.9 with Nanami and her older male minder. Unreliable memories, incidentally, are explored in detail and this adds up to one of the more interesting takes I've seen on the subject.
I love Mako in ep.12. That's what it looks like when you do these girls' broken psyches properly. I love the way that the show isn't frightened to turn the helpless, paralysed girl into a bitch.
Oh, and the show's first opening title sequence (eps.1-9) is one of the all-time greats. Disturbing, freaky, sinister and with perfect music. The second one (eps.10-13) isn't, though. I admire the showrunners' courage in choosing such an ugly-sounding song, without actually liking the sound it makes, but I'm not so forgiving of the visuals.
I like this show, despite its problems, but it's not Elfen Lied. It's less extreme in all respects and it won't annihilate you. It's also more light-hearted, although that's not saying much. It's strong but flawed, with episode 11.5 in particular being an abomination for the Do Not Watch pile. Anime doesn't do many remakes, but they exist (Sailor Moon, Full Metal Alchemist) and I think you could have something special if you remade this show and fixed all of its mistakes. The episode count's the obvious one. I still think thirteen episodes is a better series length than 26, all other things being equal, but this is the second adaptation I've seen recently (after Black Bullet) that clearly needed a greater running time. In the absence of that, though, I'm still glad to have seen this. Even with its problems, it'll stay with you.
I should probably read the manga, though.