If you are unfamiliar with the anime ef - A Fairy Tale of the Two, it is basically the Cloud Atlas of romantic animes: Five loosely interconnected love stories spanning decades of time and thousands of miles of distance between each mini-story.
The overall framing arc of the entire story is the tale of Yu and Yuko, the longest tale, spanning both seasons. The other four stories are told as separate reminiscences (Yu never meets the angelic Yuko until the very end of the last episode of season two). Hence the title 'A Fairy Tale of the Two' - two sets of fairy tales each told by the two of them.
Note: The term 'fairy' does not mean fictional or false, but rather it refers to a mysterious supernatural force that is operating within each mini-love story. This force is at the root of a 'fifth kind of love' that goes beyond even agape, which is operating at a very high level in these tales. All the tales are powerful, and this mysterious fifth kind of love is moving very strongly in each one, although it is often subtle. In fact, the whole anime is an exercise in sublime subtlety. (Example: In the last episode, a close-up shot of Yu's eye blink tips off Yuko that he is lying, but you need to recall the fact that he blinks whenever he lies from several episodes earlier. Yow.) You'll need to watch it at least twice to properly connect late reveals back to earlier episodes. I'm a bit of a Sherlock and it still took me multiple viewings to work out what was really going on.
I feel I need to point that that there are no miracles in ef: Dead people stay dead, dying people remain dying, and brain damaged people remain brain damaged. Nothing is fixed. The thesis of ef is actually pretty straightforward: Yes, life is short and it can suck, and yes, you will eventually die, but until then, try to make lemonade from the lemons, and do the best with what you got. And know that there is someone Upstairs who cares, and know that the story doesn't end when you do.
And this is the reason why I think that ef is actually an optimistic story. It is quintessentially Christian in its optimistic outlook, even in the face of the worst tragedies. The story of ef is about pure L5 love in action.
If you want the Cliffs Notes version of the story, I recommend that you watch the following three YouTube AMVs (in proper order): EF - A Tale of Memories - Trailer from Prologue (music part only) by Kokokakukeko, then Ef: a Tale of Melodies - The Story of Yuu and Yuuko (AMV | HD) by Xauto Edits, and finally I'll never forget you... Yuko by luisenrique223377. Total viewing time is about 15 minutes. The order is important, and watch all three immediately in sequence.
The first AMV gives you the overall vibe of the series: This is as Christian as it gets in Japanese anime. The second AMV is totally depressing. Yuko is the most tragic romantic heroine in all anime. (And given CLANNAD, Kanon, and Air, hoo boy, that is really saying something.) The teacher's sexual abuse of Yuko is horrific, and her childhood boyfriend, Yu, is helpless to stop it, not even by running away together. Not recommended for anyone under 16 (a mature 16). The third and final AMV shows basically the same horrible tragedy and yet is uplifting and transcendent, it soars with pure joy, with a soundtrack by Steven Curtis Chapman. What a difference!
This story is based on the third AMV. I basically give Yu and Yuko one miracle. I think they deserve it, don't you?
Oh! My Angel Yuko!
What a rotten day.
Yu Himura staggered into in the mens-only dormitory on the Nekomi Institute of Technology campus and collapsed on his tatami mat in his tiny dorm room.
He mussed up his silver hair with his hands in frustration, then rubbed his yellow-grey eyes. His knew that his eyesight was getting bad. Not good for a future architect. He knew he would need to get eyeglasses soon.
And I'll be remembering you
He had another awful day at the college. He had switched majors from art to architecture - a more promising career his advisor told him - but his true love was still art. That day the other art students in his portraiture class had mocked him mercilessly again. It was because he was always drawing pictures of that girl. That same girl.
It was the girl he was always obsessed with. The love of his life.
I found you in the most unlikely way
She had a crush on him back at the orphanage when they were both six years old, but he had forgotten her shortly thereafter when she was adopted away. He was never adopted and grew up alone. She then re-appeared in his life in high school when he was sixteen years old, and so they fell in love all over again, for she had never forgotten him.
And I'll be remembering you
But upon their unexpected reunion, Yu could sense something had changed in Yuko. She was still in love with him, but she was now strangely distant, and sometimes oddly bitter. At first, he did not know why.
The dark night, the hard fight
Originally she was adopted away from the orphanage at age six by the Amamiya family. Her new parents died a few years later in a tragic accident, leaving her now-adult step-brother as her sole legal guardian. Yu soon discovered that she was being terribly sexually molested by her adoptive brother, Yu's high school art teacher. He confronted the teacher, who simply laughed and then beat him. Yuko refused to report her abuse no matter how hard Yu begged her, for the teacher had successfully hidden the abuse from the authorities. Only Yu knew, and no one believed him. And so he tried to rescue Yuko from her step-brother's clutches, and dragged her away, and hid her to protect her. He hastily rented a hidden apartment that they then shared under a false married name and a false age.
He did this at a terrible cost to himself. His tuition has paid by the government as a hardship case, and it was conditional on his attendance at school and maintaining good grades. And so, for her sake, he had forsaken it all, and he became a high school drop-out at age 16, hiding an underage girl in a rented apartment, with rapidly dwindling funds and no job and no future prospects.
But despite all the huge sacrifices he made, he could not protect her even then. It was because the teacher had searched and discovered them. And so while Yu was out searching for a job, the teacher discovered and invaded their secret apartment and reclaimed his adopted sister, as was his legal right.
Yu panicked, then assumed the worst and rushed to the teacher's large home again, where he strangely lived all alone. The last time Yu went there he was visciously beaten. He didn't care. He had to save her somehow.
He broke into the home and discovered the teacher in the act with Yuko. He was beaten again, while Yuko wavered with a knife behind them, unable to decide whether to use it on herself or on her adopted brother.
During the beatings, Yu's sketchbook fell out and the teacher saw it. The teacher was amazed. The drawings that Yu had made of Yuko were so loving, so beautiful, so infused with compassion, for Yu had captured her beauty, her essence, in ways that the art teacher could not even begin to imagine. His own drawings were pathetic in comparison.
He snapped. He fled to his art gallery and saw all of his worthless drawings, hundreds of them, which were pitiful compared to Yuu's. He tossed his burning cigarette down on the floor in disgust. The oil linen rags caught fire. The room began to burn.
He burned himself alive in his own home, along with all his drawings of her, while Yu and Yuko watched.
They were free. The nightmare was over.
And so they had at last begun their life together in their hidden shared apartment, in peace. Yu found a part time job, and he was able to re-enroll in a different school. He kept her hidden, determined to never allow her to be hurt, never again. This time he would protect her.
You showed me love no words could explain
Their life had together had begun.
Their love grew.
A love with the power to open the door
Soon they befriended a small girl at the same orphanage where they originally grew up together, Miki, and took her under their wing. She was the intended victim of her late mother, who had committed suicide when she drove the family's car off a cliff into the ocean. Against all odds little Miki was the sole survivor, but she was traumatized and became reclusive, and no one would adopt her.
As so a new ersatz family was created. And the three of them lived happily together.
But it was not to last.
The brave death, the last breath
For on Christmas Eve, while Miki and Yu were out shopping together for a flower bouquet to give to Yuko as a shared present (which was all the little ersatz family could afford), Yuko had gone into the street to pick up a ball. And then, after the hit-and-run driver had fled, she had dragged her broken and bleeding body from the street to a tree, and had whispered the beginning of the song A Moon Filled Sky to herself as she bled out and died alone:
With the courage to live
The future I will embrace
The strength that was given to me
I believe in love
And then she died.
Soon after, Yu himself found her dead body propped up against the tree. He picked her up and took her in a bridal carry to the hospital, all on that terrible Christmas Eve afternoon, with little Miki crying by his side.
He did not run, he walked. There was no need.
Being an agnostic, he was without hope. He was lost.
For he already knew that she was dead.
Four years later.
And I'll be remembering you
At the age of 20, Yu Himura was alone, for he could not force himself to move on. He had decided that he would remain that way for the rest of his life.
Instead he would bring Yuko to life again in his art. And so she would live on, inside his mind.
And that would be enough.
I wish you could stay
In his tiny dorm room he continued to lay on his bed and stare up at the ceiling. He didn't want to sleep because then he would dream again, and it would be the same dream that it always was.
Instead he decided to order a pizza. He dialed the number. Someone answered.
A woman's voice answered brightly, "Hello! You have reached the Goddess Technical Help Line, how may I assist you?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I must have the wrong number.."
"One moment please."
And then someone came right out of the small mirror in his dorm room. It was a girl dressed in black, like a Greek Orthodox nun, wearing a pillbox hat and a long flowing heavy skirt with a white nun's frock. She was stunningly beautiful. Indeed, without the heavy black nun attire, she would have looked like a goddess. Her hair was dark blue, long, and flowing, and she had beautiful deep ruby colored eyes. And her face was demure with a gentle smile.
He recognized her. He was stunned.
"Yes. Has it been a long time for you?"
He wiped his tears.. "Yes, it has..."
"It hasn't been for me."
He saw the white binders that she always wore in her hair. He saw that they looked like little angel wings. She always wore those, even at age six. He wondered why he never noticed that before. She always wore them. And she was wearing them now. Angel wings. Of course.
He said, "I'm so sorry."
"Don't be. The fault was mine."
"Why are you here?"
"Because I have just passed the examination to become a new goddess, first class.. uh, oops, I mean angel, first class. So sorry. They keep confusing me, mixing the old and new terminology like that. I'm not supposed to use the old terms. Now where was I? Oh yes. What I meant to say was that I had passed the test to become a new angel, first class, second category, unlimited license."
He just continued to stare at her.
She made a polite little cough and then she cleared her throat. "Ahem. Let me see.. what am I supposed to say now.. oh yes. Yu Himura, because of your pure heart and the bad karma of your life, it has been decided that you may receive one wish. I am here to grant you that wish."
Yu decided this must be a new variation on that dream. "What kind of wish?"
"Anything that your heart desires."
A pause. It didn't feel like a dream this time...
Was it possible?
He said sheepishly, "Would you.. would you please stay with me.. forever?"
She smiled. "I was hoping you would say that."
Not a dream! He grabbed and hugged her tightly. "Yuko! You will!?"
She gently returned her hug. "Of course I will. I hate these first-class angel exams, the classrooms, it's so tediously dull. I'd much rather stay down here, with you."
"I can't believe this."
"Do you think you can rescue me one last time?"
Yu began to tear up. "Of.. of course I will."
"We can smell the flowers again, and hear the birds sing."
And so they held each other, hugged, and laughed, with joyful tears. Then they separated and held their hands together.
Yu looked deep into the dark ruby eyes of the woman he thought he would never see again.
"Yuko... I have a question."
"I'm a rotten cook. You gotten any better yourself?"
She blinked her eyes a moment. "Uh.. let's order a takeout pizza, shall we?"
"Wow, this really is like old times."
"Yes. You have any money? They didn't give me any."
"Definitely old times." He realized he now needed to find an apartment. Yes, old times.
He kissed her. She didn't expect that. She never did. He said, "C'mon, let's go out. Let me check my wallet. Uh, you still like McDonalds?"
"Love it. Let's go."
They left together.
And though you've gone away
You've come back
And we'll smell the flowers and hear the birds sing
It was you who found me
And you remembered me
ef is a deep and complex anime, and it can be unsettling to watch at times. I will tell you right up front that although the story skews towards the dark (and the Yuko arc is the darkest), both seasons have very happy endings. Just stick with it. It is worth the payoff for the two endings. They are as uplifting as it gets. Just remember to keep watching after the credits roll.
And the music soundtrack is simply amazing. The OST is one of the best in romantic anime in my opinion (only CLANNAD beats it). You can find the OST all over YouTube in dozens of quality AMVs.
Please note that the first season is titled ef: A Tale of Memories and that the second season is titled ef: A Tale of Melodies. Many people get it backwards. It is important to keep the order of the two seasons straight if you want to have any hope of understanding this profoundly deep (but difficult to watch and understand) anime about how love actually works.
This is the kind of anime where you need spoilers to have any hope of really understanding it. For instructions on how to watch ef, see my detailed Author Notes at the bottom of Chapters 18, 25, and 26 of The Fifth Kind of Love. See also the wiki website, at ef-a-tale dot wikia dot com. A much shorter version of this story originally appeared as a coda at the end of Fifth Kind (Chapter 28, Epilogue).
This short story was inspired by the third AMV cited at the top, which features the song Remembering You by Steven Curtis Chapman, from the Original Soundtrack for the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.