Anime Review: Brynhildr in the Darkness

written by Laurie Tom

brynhildrinthedarknessBrynhildr in the Darkness tried very hard to make me stop watching it, probably more so than any other series I can think of in recent years. On the one hand it has a smart and likeable main character who manages to pull off being a high school student protagonist without coming off as unrealistic wish fulfillment. Ryota is definitely not that powerful and works within the limitations of being an ordinary human caught up protecting artificial witches from the secret organization that created them.

On the other, Brynhildr in the Darkness is home to gratuitous fanservice. It’s not that blatant early on, but after Kazumi joins the growing group of escaped witches, the fanservice kicks into high gear. (And there is a highly graphic death in episode 2 that was almost enough to make me stop watching, but there’s nothing else like it later on.)

Most of the series is still very much about super-powered witches; battling the ones pursuing them, protecting the ones that ran away. But after Kazumi’s introduction scarcely an episode can go by without a short scene with gratuitous (though censored) nudity that has no bearing on plot or character development at all.

And that’s too bad, because the situation the escapee witches find themselves in is a compelling one. Deemed failed experiments due to not being powerful enough, the main protagonist witches managed to escape their own termination, but they need a supply of pills from the laboratory that created them or they will die within two days of taking the last one.

The witches are all teenage girls who have been held in captivity since they were young, so what they plan to do with their limited remaining lifespans tend to be ordinary things like going to high school, hitting their sixteenth birthday, and seeing the beach for the first time. They’re very easy to sympathize with, and most of them are quite selfless when it comes to others of their kind. They know that each new escapee they add to their group reduces the length of time all of them can live since they must split their remaining pills even further.

After discovering their predicament, Ryota refuses to let them die when he can help, even knowing that he will be killed if the secret organization discovers him. Though he can’t fight, he’s very bright, serving as the group’s strategist and guide to the world in general. He convinces the witches to keep living while looking for a way to get more pills to keep them alive.

Unfortunately the greater storyline of why the witches are being created is rather muddled and nonsensical. The anime concludes a story arc, but it’s clearly a season ending rather than a series ending and the last few episodes feel a bit rushed, with two characters appearing in the epilogue with no explanation at all. (I had to read fan comments to make sense of why they were there.)

This may have to do with trying to condense too much of the manga into a thirteen episode TV series. My feeling is that the show writers took their time introducing everyone and then realized they only had 6-7 episodes left in which to conclude the first major story arc of the manga, so they skipped smaller subplots and/or super-condensed larger ones to cram anything of importance into the second half. There are even characters appearing in the two opening sequences who will not show up until the second to last episode.

This also prevents the series from having a satisfying resolution as everything that does happens feels a little pat. It doesn’t have a proper build-up and supporting characters come and go without the audience really getting a chance to know them.

Of special note is the first set of opening credits, which is not only visually striking in how it portrays the well-being of the witches versus the rest of the world, but has one of the most memorable instrumental opening tracks in recent years. When the main theme plays during an episode chills go up my spine.

Brynhildr in the Darkness is a mixed bag and that makes it very difficult to recommend, especially after seeing the second half. A lot of potential was squandered here. Despite the fanservice though, I’d be tempted to pick up the manga if it was available in English.

Number of Episodes: 13

Pluses: extremely likeable main character, compelling reason to care what happens to the cast, one of the most striking sets of opening credits anime has had in years

Minuses: mood-ruining fanservice in a story about life and death, rushed plotline in the second half, unsatisfactory resolution

Brynhildr in the Darkness is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Spring 2014 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

April means the start of the spring anime season, and this time around there looks to be an unusually large crop of shows I want to try out. I generally don’t end up watching everything I try out all the way through, but to give an idea of what’s out there, here’s a snapshot of which first episodes I watched, why I chose them, and what I thought of them.

By quirk of luck, everything I want to check out this season is streaming exclusively at Crunchyroll for American viewers, with the exception of M3: the dark metal, which is at Daisuki..

Black Bullet


Why I Watched It: I really liked the promo art. The premise is that ten years ago humanity came under attack of the Gastrea Virus, which mutates humans into giant insect monsters. Though humans were eventually able to find a sense of stability again, outbreaks can still happen and are held in check by teams of Promoters and Initiators. Initiators are Cursed Children who were born from infected mothers and Promoters are their handlers.

What I Thought: Rentaro, the Promoter main character doesn’t break any new ground, but he’s just belligerent enough, just competent enough, and just likeable enough to keep me engaged. Unfortunately due to the timeline of the show his Initiator sidekick Enju has to be an elementary school girl, but she’s not written like one and her constant attempts to be Rentaro’s intimate girlfriend might eventually turn me off the show. It’s only “funny” because she’s ten. If she was older it would be sexual harassment. (Rentaro is clearly not interested.) I’m not sure what the greater plot is from the first episode, which features the duo taking out a final stage infected before it can cause an outbreak, but I like Rentaro and his friend Kisara (who I think has a nice chemistry with him) enough that I’ll give Black Bullet another go.

Verdict: Black Bullet actually ended up better than I thought it would be (if I ignore Enju), and I think in another season this would have been a contender for my viewing time, but this spring there are just too many shows.


Brynhildr in the Darkness


Why I Watched It: I liked the premise, that a boy meets a girl that looks like his childhood friend who died years ago. That this was a science fiction show and the girl escaped a research lab was known to me before I watched it, but it could have been a slice-of-life series and I still would have given it a shot.

What I Thought: The opening credits make this look like a more pulse-pounding and sinister show than I expected. I’m a little put off by what looks to be a predominantly female cast with a single male lead. In anime intended for a primarily male audience, this frequently means there will be a certain amount of fanservice and all the girls will end up falling in love with the main character. And in the first episode there are definitely some fanservice shots, though they are not nearly as egregious as other shows. Fortunately Ryota is a sympathetic protagonist and the story between him and his childhood friend Kuroneko is engaging enough that I want to see what happens between him and her look-alike Kuroha Neko, who appears to be a scientifically created witch and part of a network of people who can predict when others will die.

Verdict: I will be watching it. There are enough tantalizing bits regarding Kuroha’s past and her special abilities that I want to see more (and she has to be Ryota’s childhood friend somehow even though she’s missing the moles on her body that his friend had).


Chaika – The Coffin Princess


Why I Watched It: I wasn’t going to. I didn’t like the character designs and I didn’t like what I had heard of the main character, being a young teenage girl who only speaks in words and sentence fragments (presumably because it makes her adorably quirky). But I kept hearing about the carnivorous unicorn in the first episode so I figured it must be something awesome.

What I Thought: The unicorn wasn’t too shabby (actually a bit creepy right up until they fought it), but the setup where main character Chaika happens to meet super-powered siblings Toru and Akari and that they are willing to take a job from such a nutcase of a wizard as Chaika, is just a little too pat. I have trouble buying the fact the siblings are so broke as to be scrounging for food when they both possess a transformation ability that makes them superhumanly strong and immune to fear. Fortunately there are hints of a more complicated plot involving something that went down five years ago in a civil war, and mysterious faction that may or may not be on Chaika’s side.

Verdict: I might go back to this one if I have time or one of the series I intend to watch bombs out.


JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

jojosWhy I Watched It: When I was very new to anime, the original JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure OAV series was one of the few that really stuck in my mind due to the crazy combination of the extremely manly art style, the level of violence, and the Stands, which I can’t really describe as anything other than mystic inner selves named after tarot cards. They’re a lot like the Personas in the Persona series, but predate them by several years.

What I Thought: I mostly watched this out of curiousity, since the original OAV series did not cover the first half of the Stardust Crusaders story arc so I started in the middle. It’s funny watching it because the story takes place in 1989, which was current day when the manga ran, but makes this a historical piece now. It’s exactly what I expected, even with stylized sound effects just like you would see in a manga panel, except animated. JoJo’s is completely unapologetic about its age and makes no effort to update itself. The manga has been running for over twenty-five years and knows what it is to the tune of 110 volumes and counting.

Verdict: It’s JoJo’s, which means a lot of muscly guys screaming at each other while fighting and I already know where the story’s going. It’s worth a look for someone who wants an introduction to one of Japan’s longest continually running manga series and the story arc is self-contained, but doesn’t offer much more than updated animation for someone who saw the earlier version.


M3: the dark metal

m3Why I Watched It: I like shows with a bit of mystery around them. Near future Tokyo is slowly being swallowed by a blackness called the Lightless Realm that consumes anyone who tries to explore it, and there is a strange song that comes from its guardians where if someone hears it they will die in nine days.

What I Thought: This show feels like it should always be taking place at night, because that’s when its most effective scenes are. The scenes in full daylight lose the feeling of menace that should be coming from the Lightless Realm and the mysterious Admonitions and Corpses that emerge from it. The show has a gender-balanced ensemble cast consisting of a special class of students who are being trained to eventually explore the zone and emerge alive thanks to new technology. However most of the first episode focuses around Akashi, who so far looks be talented, but relatively unsympathetic. By the end of the first episode we get a little bit of insight into what the Admonitions are, which is appropriately disturbing, and most of the cast hears a Corpse’s song.

Verdict: I will be watching it. No one in the cast has particularly won me over, but the atmosphere certainly did. I’d like to see what happens when they finally start exploration and what it is that they’ll find inside.


One Week Friends

oneweekfriendsWhy I Watched It: I liked the premise. It sounded very sweet. Kaori Fujimiya is a high school girl who loses memories of people who she wants to spend time with, who are important to her (barring family members), with the start of every Monday. This makes it impossible for her to make friends, but one boy, Yuuki Hase, picks up on her loneliness and resolves to become her friend every week.

What I Thought: OMG the feels. Kaori and Yuuki are absolutely adorable together. The first episode covers the course of a week as they gradually and believably begin to become friends, and the animation easily picks up every bit of their awkward conversations as she tries to dance around her peculiar condition and Yuuki tries not to feel rejected. It’s an easy tug on the heartstrings, but the end of that first episode when Yuuki resolves to tell her “I want to be your friend” at the start of every week was so sweet. I’m not sure how the show will progress if Kaori is constantly resetting, but it’s definitely earned a place on my list.

Verdict: Must watch! End of story.


The World is Still Beautiful

worldisstillbeautifulWhy I Watched It: Shoujo (girls) comics are infrequently adapted into anime, and even though the character designs don’t quite do anything for me, I wanted to give this one a shot. The premise is that the Sun King conquered most of the world, but agreed to leave the Duchy of Rain alone in exchange for one of the duke’s daughters in marriage. Princess Nike loses a game of rock-paper-scissors against her sisters and is prompted shipped off to marry a king she has never met, but the king turns out to be a boy younger than she is and she’s no shrinking violet.

What I Thought: It turned out to be a sillier show than I thought it would be, even breaking the fourth wall at one point. Nike gets into what I would consider horrible situations if it had been anyone else, but they get played for laughs and she never takes anything too badly. It helps that she can command the weather and she’s not afraid to use it. I like that she has a lot of confidence and isn’t overly girly, which is atypical of shoujo heroines. The boy king is only introduced at the very end of the episode, so it’s not possible to see what their relationship is going to be like, but he looks just young enough for it to feel a little squicky. According to Wikipedia he’s supposed to be 15 but he looks like he’s 12.

Verdict: I’m going to keep watching this one to see if it gets better. It’s hard to judge a romantic comedy when half the couple has barely been on screen by the end of the first episode.

Conspicuously missing

Knights of Sidonia – The most serious science fiction offering of the season, featuring massive colony ships, genetically engineered humans to better survive in a harsh environment, and giant robots (okay, maybe that part isn’t so serious) is a Netflix exclusive and will not be appearing in the US until Summer 2014. In an era of simulcasting that seems a terrible business decision. By the time it makes its way over here fans will be talking about the next season of shows.



laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.