If I had to think of one word to describe Brynhildr in the Darkness it would be: tragic. Brynhildr in the Darkness is based on an ongoing manga of the same name. The anime was produced by the studio Arms Corporation (Elfen Lied, the Ikkitousen series) and directed by Kenichi Imaizumi. The show fits itself into the sci-fi, harem and horror genres; which is quite a combination. Even though it’s only 12 episodes long and based on an unfinished property it still did a really good job of pulling me in.
The story focuses on Ryouta Murakami. Ryouta is an extremely intelligent high school student with an eidetic memory who’s been haunted by the loss of a childhood friend for most of his life. He and his friend, a blue haired girl he called “Kuroneko”, played together all the time when they were little. Kuroneko believed in aliens and wanted to see them and would constantly talk to Ryouta about it. One day, the two were playing on a pipe that was high up in the air (like kids do) and Ryouta slipped and fell. When Kuroneko reached out to catch him, he ended up pulling her down as well. Ryouta awoke in the hospital to find out that his friend did not survive the fall. As time went on Ryouta’s memories involving some of the details about Kuroneko started to fade but he still remembered her love for aliens as well as her blue hair and 3 distinctive moles she had under her arm. In order to pay tribute to her memory, Ryouta has taken up her search for aliens and spends almost every day in the observatory as the lone member of his school’s astronomy club.
One day, a girl named Neko Kuroha transfers into his school. When Ryouta sees her, he immediately believes her to be the childhood friend that he had thought dead for so long. However, Neko doesn’t know him and he just ends up embarrassing himself in front of the class when he asks to see her armpit (he also gets slapped). Later that day things get stranger, when a girl almost dies in the swimming pool only to be saved at the last second. During the evening Neko approaches Ryouta and tells him that she’s there to keep two students from dying, one was the girl at the pool and the other is him. It turns out that Neko is a witch, with magical powers. She works in concert with her paralyzed friend Kana Tachibana and sometimes ally Kazumi Schlierenzauer who are also witches. The 3 of them are given special powers because of devices called “harnest” that are inserted into their bodies in the base of their spines. These devices where implanted in them by scientists at a place they know only as “the lab”.
Witches can only survive if they are given pills that replenish their bodies. If they do not take the pills their bodies will start to split apart and bleed profusely before, ultimately, disintegrating into a pile of mush. On top of that, pushing a single button on their harnest will eject it and cause them to melt. Because of this, the witches are prisoners of the lab and are mostly used for experiments. Neko along with 20+ other low-level witches managed to escape from the lab while they were being transported somewhere. The witches who escaped scrape for survival by getting pills wherever they can (mostly from each other), while the lab hunts them down. Neko and Kana have decided to help as many people as they can while they’re alive. They do so by using Kana’s ability to get glimpses of the future telling her when people will die and using Neko’s abilities (or just her persistence) to stop those events.
When Ryouta finds out what’s going on he decides to help the girls and sets them up at the observatory as a temporary shelter. He does this even though they tell him that getting involved with them will get him killed. Ryouta also helps them find pills in order to prolong their lives, but they are constantly reminded that they are living on a day to day basis. Even things like planning a trip to the beach seem like they’re too far in the future when your body is on a 24 hour clock. As the series progresses, Ryouta and the witches keep encountering new witches. Some are sent after them by the lab and some are other escapees. Ryouta and Neko try their best to help the witches that they meet even the ones that are leaving a trail of bodies behind them. Sometimes they are able to help them and sometimes they are killed by the lab after not being able to take them down.
Since most of these girls aren’t used to human beings being nice to them they all develop an affection for Ryouta. It also helps that he’s genuinely selfless and trying to protect them. However, there’s very little time for romance when death is constantly looming around them. They have to find a way to protect themselves from the lab and the other powerful witches that are sent to hunt them and find a way to prolong their lives without at consistent source of pills. In the process, they discover more about the lab and the origin of the witches powers. As you might suspect, the lab is involved in more than creating super powered girls with short lifespans.
In some ways this show is all over the place, but they manage to pull it off. It’s not often that you see a show with this much blood, death and violence that plays at the harem angle. In this show, I think it’s the balance of the harem that actually adds some pathos to the story. It’s already bad enough that the girls are basically magic cyborgs that have a very short lifespan and a pretty traumatic life but it’s the harem moments where you see the contrast of just how unhappy their existence is. For any of these girls, the idea of falling in love is tragic because they all understand that there’s almost no chance that they can live for more than a week in their current condition. Even so, in the moments when they’re together and happy they really are happy and it even makes you forget about the situation as a viewer because those moments are truly funny. Whether it’s Kazumi’s embarrassing advances on Ryouta, Kana’s sassiness, or Neko’s accidental magical outbursts a lot of these moments really work.
That beings aid, the show does stumble a little with it’s pacing around episode 7. The episodes up to that point had all been relatively high stakes with the witches gathering and Ryouta trying to get his bearings with everything that’s going on. Around episodes 7-10 it’s almost like the show tries to make you forget that any of that stuff is going on and really dives hard into the harem aspect of the show having Ryouta go on a date and the girls getting jealous. It does recover at episode 11 and kick back in to high stakes mode but I’m not completely sure how I feel about that 3 episode span. On one hand it’s nice to have a break and not just be beaten over the head with death for the whole series. On the other, it does feel like the attitude of the show is a little to cavalier considering that everyone’s lives are constantly in danger. Either way it doesn’t make or break the series for me, it’s just something that’s really noticeable when you watch it.
Something else that’s really noticeable is the opening music switch that happens around episode 10. That music by itself is a sign that things are about to get more serious. For episodes 1-9 the opening is “BRYNHILDR IN THE DARKNESS -Ver. EJECTED-” by Nao Tokisawa. From episode 10 onwards, the opening is “Virtue and Vice” by Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas. The show does still use the original opening theme as a motif throughout the actual episodes, which I thought was a much better use of that piece of music. While I’m talking about production stuff, I should mention that the animation is above average for this show. There’s never a point where I thought it was distracting although there weren’t a lot of points where I thought things looked absolutely amazing either. I did notice that the show takes a more PG approach to showing a lot of the more graphic imagery in the series. Whether it’s bright glares over naked body parts, dark shadows over eviscerated bodies or steam obscuring the view of a melting body, the show definitely takes care to not show you anything that’s absolutely horrifying.
It’s also really important to note that this show has an ending. So many 12 episode series come out that don’t have an ending and just expect you to go to the source material to finish the story. So when the lull I mentioned happened from episode 7-10 I started to worry that this was going to be one of those shows, especially because the manga that the show is based on is relatively new and still going. Instead this anime picks a point in the story where the characters are kind of at a point of stasis. It may not be happy stasis but at least it’s a comfortable point to end the series and walk away from the story if you want. Although the story does obviously continue in the manga.
If I look at the show from a technical standpoint (things like animation and music, etc) it’s nothing spectacular. However, I feel the show managed to do a great job constructing characters and a story within such a short amount of time. I usually don’t care about harems or characters who’s deaths are impending. This show made me care about both things and, to me, that’s a sign that it’s doing something right. While I’m happy I watched this show, I don’t know that I would watch it several times. However, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who needs a short stop-gap anime no matter what genre you prefer.