Brynhildr In The Darkness – Complete Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs Blu-ray/3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 349 minutes approx.
The legend “from the creator of Elfen Lied” will likely elicit polarising responses – some will look forward to seeing if Lynn Okamoto has created another gruesome and traumatic horror classic while others will gladly keep their distance for the same reason.
It seems with Brynhildr In The Darkness that Okamoto has chosen to appease his established audience while widening his appeal to a more mainstream crowd with a series which blends his unique brand of gory psychological horror with an infuriatingly senseless harem comedy subplot.
Ryouta Murakami is a high school boy dedicated to astronomy in memory of his childhood friend and fellow stargazer, a girl named Kuroneko, who tragically died in an accident. One day a transfer student arrives in Ryouta’s class, Neko Kuroha, the spitting image of Kuroneko, although Neko denies knowing Ryouta.
Neko later delivers a cryptic warning to Ryouta not to miss his bus home from the observatory. Ryouta ignores this warning out and ends up caught in a rockslide only to be saved by Neko. She is forced to reveal herself as a witch, one of many girls operated on and controlled by a secret laboratory, infused with special skills called magic, hers being telekinetic destruction.
A quick glance at this synopsis suggests that Okamoto is something of a one trick pony, as Elfen Lied also revolved around dangerous escapees from a laboratory where young girls were scientifically modified for nefarious gain. Along with the graphic violence and frequent nudity, many comparisons between the two shows are valid, giving naysayers plenty of ammunition to slam this show.
But to Okamoto’s credit, while he has tried to reinvent the wheel here, there are enough fresh twists on these old ideas to warrant giving Okamoto the benefit of the doubt. As mentioned earlier the harem comedy elements and overtly inserted fan service sees Brynhildr take a lighter path towards a wider appeal than his previous work.
Unfortunately this leads to the story development being compromised for the sake of cheap titillation something this show really doesn’t need as it is has so much to offer elsewhere. Much like Elfen Lied, Okamoto once again poses the question of what it means to be human, the follies of playing God and the value of friendship and memories.
Witches are controlled by a harnest (per the subtitles), a metal button on the back of the neck which doubles as a beacon. They can be manually shut down to cause a “hang up” and disable their magic while complete removal means death. With their limited life expectancy, witches have to take a death suppressant pill every thirty hours otherwise they start to bleed from every orifice then melt away.
They are the creation of a secret organisation called Vingulf, the face of the group being a scientist named Chisato Ichijiku, their true motives revealed in the penultimate episode. Neko isn’t the only witch to escape – she is accompanied by Kana Tachibana, who was left paralysed after an accident save for her left hand and communicates via a small keyboard/voice box. Kana’s magic is foresight.
Ryuota lets them stay at the observatory and they are soon joined by computer hacker Kazumi Schlierenzauer, her magic allowing her to hack any encryption and manipulate technology. Next is ditzy Kotori Takatori, who can teleport herself and swap places with people nearby and Hatsuna Wakabayashi, with her powers of healing, later joins the harem.
Other witches feature throughout this thirteen-episode run, some perishing quickly at the hands of those still under the control of Vingulf, while others get to play a small part in the plight of the group’s survival. We are treated to some fine battles between the witches, in particular those which see the main group working together to secure a victory.
It is moments like these where Okamoto clearly has this thinking cap on and utilises the superficial magic powers of the harem to their fullest in an inventive manner when opposed by a more powerful user whose intent is pure violence. For those who enjoy gore, the sight of bodies being sliced in half should delight while fan service lovers are catered for with gratuitous parade of exposed breasts.
Again this ruins the psychology of the story which is rich in emotional highs and lows due to the fleeting life span of the witches as their pill supplies runs low. Okamoto is good at creating drama and making every death count, the tragedy palpably felt by the viewer. Then the mood is spoiled when shortly after Kazumi is trying to seduce Ryouta or the girls randomly decide to take a bath.
Key plot points and important characters are therefore introduced either too late or without warning, reducing their presence to contrivance or convenience, undermining their importance to the story. Had the script spent less time with the boob jokes this wouldn’t have been a problem; as a result the balance between light and dark is clumsy and the ending noticeably rushed.
Noted for their fan service heavy catalogue, studio Arms handle the production duties and while the character designs are fairly run-of-the-mill and their movements aren’t particularly dynamic, the artwork is stunning, boasting richly detailed backgrounds and meticulously rendered set pieces.
Arguably the biggest hurdle for many will be trying not to compare this with Elfen Lied, which isn’t so easy when Okamoto has essentially lifted or riffed on many of the best elements of that story and re-used them here. Of course he is not alone in this but it is important to recognise that this show is strong enough stands on its own merits against its predecessor.
Strip away the frippery of the fan service, the cynicism towards the familiar material and the shortcomings of the overburdened script, one will find Brynhildr In The Darkness overall to be an engaging and darkly probing tale of emotionally driven horror with a rare genuine sentiment behind it.
Japanese 2.0 DTS HD: Master Audio
English 2.0 DTS HD: Master Audio
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animations
Clean Ending Animations
Rating – ***
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