An Almost Operatic Anime

The title logo for Brynhildr in the Darkness.

The title logo for Brynhildr in the Darkness.

I think the late Navajo comedian Vincent Craig said it best about opera. Are we talking about the woman on the TV? No, that’s Oprah.

I was introduced to the phrase “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings” in 1989 or 1990 from The Simpsons. It would be many years later before I understood where the joke originated from and even longer before I knew the exact opera and character people were referring to, which were Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and Brynhildr. While I only have a passing familiarity with the opera and the shield maiden Brynhildr, the imagery is instantly recognizable: a buxom woman in armor wearing a helmet with horns and carrying a spear and shield. But, I feel as though very few people understand the complex character of Brynhildr and I admit I, too, am guilty of this. However, the 2014 anime series Brynhildr in the Darkness (極黒のブリュンヒルデ Gokugoku no Brynhildr) allowed anime fans to become more familiar with the name Brynhildr. Sadly, the series wasn’t an adaptation of the opera. However, in spite of that, this was an interesting anime series to watch. This was because it delicately balanced the tropes of the harem subgenre of the romance genre and the action genre quite well. The writers were also bold in how they dealt with many of the situations the characters were placed in even if at times it seemed as though they created easy outs for the characters. What was upsetting about the series, though, was how it was only thirteen episodes in length, especially considering the characters and plot threads were interesting.

I feel as though I shouldn’t dance around the fact I enjoy romance anime and manga. Honestly, they satiate my need for intimacy with women, but not to an unhealthy level—though some of my friends would disagree. But, because I’ve been exposed to so much of the genre over the years I’ve actually become exhausted by the tropes in it, namely the personality types of the female characters. There’s almost always one respective female character for a given set of personality types, such as being shy, outgoing, a klutz, or having a hot-cold personality, among others. In fact, these character tropes are so common I’ve seen them crop up in anime and manga series targeted at girls and women as well, but in regards to the male characters. One other aspect about the harem subgenre that also bothers me is how the female characters want to peruse a relationship with the protagonist, yet don’t act upon those inclinations. As an adult I understand that being rejected will hurt the characters, but it also allows them to grow and become far more interesting. This was the case in Honna Wakou’s manga series Nozoki Ana and the series benefited from it. Thus, when a series that doesn’t fall into the romance genre begins to use the tropes from it, I begin to lose interest in the narrative.

While Brynhildr in the Darkness used some of the familiar tropes from the romance genre of fiction, particularly the harem subgenre, it never felt out of place in each episode. This was because a large portion of the series was predicated on the relationships and dynamics of the different characters. As such, the series was built in such a way the tropes were suitable to the overarching narrative. Yet, this still required a delicate balancing act between the content of the first and second half of each episode. This was done through the plot development, namely the action and sleuthing, and the characters’ daily lives. At first this may seem like an odd narrative mix, but in actuality it added a great deal to the character relationships and dynamics. That’s not to say it wasn’t cumbersome watching the romantic threads at times, but without them it would have been very difficult to sympathize with the plight of the female characters, Neko Kuroha, Kana Tachibana, Kazumi Schlierenzauer, and Kotori Wakabayashi, and the circumstance of the protagonist, Ryota Murakami.

One of the main ways the series created sympathy towards the characters was through the wonderful plot hook of all the female characters requiring special medication without which they’d pass away. What made this so compelling in terms of the relationships and dynamics was the girls only had a finite supply. As one can guess, this made it so the female characters were always at risk of meeting their maker and the description of their death was disturbing to say the least. This added a great deal of strain to the bonds between the characters, but at the same time made it so we understood what kept them in such a tight-knit circle. The first time one of the female characters went without the medicine was quite shocking and made it patently clear why Ryota was willing to go to great lengths to help the girls, even when he risked his own life at times to do so. Had the series not focused on romance or even the character relationships and dynamics, this scenario would have been meaningless. In fact, Ryota’s friendship with Neko and her friends was what ultimately propelled many of the plot points in the series. Thus, while all the romantic and slice-of-life portions of the series were arduous to watch at first, they served an important role in the story.

Neko Kuroha sacrificing her last tablet of medicine.

Neko Kuroha sacrificing her last tablet of medicine.

Those romantic portions in Brynhildr in the Darkness also served another wonderful purpose: we became familiar with each of the prominent characters. Of course, this is important in any TV series, film, manga, or novel, but here it was doubly so. While I’m not one who often discloses major plot points, it’s certainly warranted for this discussion. To be blunt, and it pains me to mention this, a number of characters met their end throughout the series. Each time this occurred it wasn’t a pleasant experience to watch, however the emotions that ran thorough the scenes were quite intense. Granted, like any good piece of fiction, many of these characters were minor characters who appeared for only one or two episodes. Yet, the scriptwriters did a fantastic job of making the viewers care for them before their passing. It really exemplified the time and effort the writers and even the author of the manga series, Rin Okamoto, put into creating and developing each individual character and I greatly appreciated it. Besides, since operas are noted for ending in tragedy, what else could we expect from a series named after a character from a classic opera?

However, some of the situations the characters were placed in seemed to have outcomes that were a bit too contrived. There’s no doubt many of the action scenes were tense—not just when the characters were physically fighting, but also when they were conversing with their respective opponents as well. Yet, it felt like cheap writing when, for instance, Ryota seemed to have his memory erased only to have it revealed soon after that he had eidetic memory. Remember, this was a series based on character relations and dynamics and this example was a case where the supporting characters needed to understand the gravity of the situation before revealing Ryota’s impeccable memory. Thus, it felt as though we had been robbed of a genuinely heartbreaking scene. As such, while there were many other shocking scenes throughout the series, I felt as though the writing team could have done a better job in letting the suspense settle in. Luckily, these occurrences were few and far between and if they had been removed all together it would have felt as though we were cheated out of some interesting plot twists. But, with only thirteen episodes to explore the characters and plot points, this may have been the best compromise for the writing staff and the production team as a whole.

It was the length of the series that was the most disappointing, though. For the most part, thirteen episode series seem to be far less substantive than a series that has twenty-six or more episodes because they can’t explore the themes or characters in depth. Yes, there are some anime series that manage this, but they’re exceptionally rare. Ultimately, Brynhildr in the Darkness suffered from proper exploration of the plot elements, as there were a number of plot threads that were left by the way side so the story could be brought to a close. This was a shame, too, because the female characters’ special powers, the mechanism that kept those powers in check, the harnesses, the medicine that kept the female characters alive, the shadowy organization that was searching for the female characters, and to a small degree the relationships between Ryota and the girls were captivating. Had the production company, Arms, been given more episodes to expand the series, I’m sure they would have done an excellent job with the material. But, considering the manga began publication in 2012, there probably wasn’t much content to work with at the time. Nonetheless, it would have been nice if at least one of those plot threads was completed, particularly the one revolving around the medicine.

Brynhildr in the Darkness may have little to do with the shield maiden the series is named after. However, it’s a series that’s worth watching. There were minor issues with the outcome of some of the conflicts between the female characters, Ryota, and the shadowy organization, but they could be ignored for the most part. As a minor aside, the final few minutes of the series, including the final credit roll, were upsetting because it felt as though the writers were looking for an easy way to keep some of the characters alive. Yet, after what those characters suffered through in the series, I was more than willing to forgive them. From the character development and the tense action scenes, this was a series that would certainly benefit from more seasons, especially now since the manga source material has come to a close. Though I doubt that will ever come to fruition, this is a series many can enjoy. And if you’re curious about the events that happened after the end of the anime, there’s always the manga series to explore.

Work Info
Title:
Brynhildr in the Darkness (極黒のブリュンヒルデ Gokugoku no Brynhildr)
Under: Arms Corporation
Official Site: http://www.vap.co.jp/gokukoku/
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brynhildr_in_the_Darkness

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