Brynhildr in the Darkness takes place in Japan, following Ryouta – a student who, as we see in the opening scene, lost his dearest friend Kuroneko several years ago. Suddenly, a girl who very strongly resembles his childhood friend, even down to the name Neko Kuroha, transfers into his class and, well, his life is never to be the same.
After a strange accident at school, Neko approaches Ryouta and warns him that he will die if he doesn’t catch the bus home. Being brave, curious, and above all a bit of an idiot, our main character makes the decision to ignore her advice and see what happens. This leads to Neko, who just happens to be a witch who escaped from some lab, coming to his rescue and using her powers to save him… which is where it all begins.
Yep, a witch. Now, in this universe… what that really means is a person who had brutal and horrific scientific experiments performed on them to give them a unique special power, sometimes more than one. There’s more to it, but a large part of the good this show does is in the way it makes itself mysterious so I won’t spoil anything further on this.
Neko isn’t the only witch you see, she brought another with her when she escaped and several others escaped in similar manners. The lab’s typical response is to send other witches to hunt them down and kill them along with anyone who they told about their powers. Among the witches at the lab, it’s widely known that letting people see your powers is a death sentence for them so Neko tries very hard to dissuade him from becoming involved with her. Given what I said before about him being curious and a bit of an idiot, you can imagine how that works…
One of the big driving points of this story is the fact that these witches are reliant upon a certain medication that isn’t publicly available – so reliant that they’ll die very quickly (and painfully) without it. Against all odds, this actually works to create tension and make time feel like it matters within the show.
The show, strange as it sounds, really does view time as both the biggest enemy and the greatest gift to these young women, these witches. Most of them spent most of their life in a lab, few of them can remember anything from their life before the lab… and even getting to do things that are taken for granted like going to school or celebrating a birthday… it’s a huge deal to them. But they also have to constantly weigh every minute against their supply of this life-giving drug. This dichotomy of both loving and fearing time is the best aspect of this show. It does a great job of making every moment feel valuable – precious – for most of the series. It’s something all too rare in television due to the structured format that television tends to follow, anime or otherwise.
Brynhildr also did a very good job of providing context for most of what was happening for the majority of the show. Things made sense, and explanations were provided at a good pace, and in a very good order, to ensure that you were never left questioning the ‘why’ of something that wasn’t one of the show’s key mysteries, but you were also never given that feeling of information overload some shows trend towards. Now, for all that the show did a good job of providing information… it had its limits. It avoided giving any information that would compromise any of the show’s big reveals. It’s hard to say whether that’s good or not, because finding out some of those secrets were some of the show’s best moments but at the same time there’s something to be said for the satisfying experience of being right when you’ve figured something out before the show was ‘ready’ for you to do so.
One aspect of this show I see being quite controversial was the almost harem nature of the group. Ryouta, over the course of the show, becomes the centre of a group of entirely female witches who all develop strong feelings for him. In this case, it makes perfect sense. These are all sheltered girls, they’ve all had horrible experiences and now they’re free and desperate to enjoy what life they might have… and there’s a kind, brave, and somewhat stupid gentleman who is willing to risk his life to save them. It’s only natural that, given their experiences, they’d fall for him. But… it gets a bit awkward, especially when one of the characters seems to have the life goal of ‘have sex’ – she is desperate to not die a virgin. Unlike some other recent shows… Brynhildr in the Darkness doesn’t make very good use of the harem. There are some good moments, but for the most part the show’s best assets are Ryouta and Kuroha.
The two of them, with Ryouta desperately clinging to the hope that Kuroha really is his childhood friend and Kuroha saying it’s impossible because she doesn’t remember anything except the lab, have such an intriguing relationship. What makes it so unique is watching the way it builds, with Ryouta liking her instinctively due to her resemblance to his childhood friend – and the possibility that it really is her – but also coming to respect and like who she is now. The show makes a point of some distinct birthmarks Kuroneko had, and Ryouta is constantly passing up opportunities to look for them due to the extreme circumstances. The best character moments come from their relationship throughout the show.
Where It All Falls Apart…
In the last few episodes of this series, everything I wrote above basically does not apply. They basically abandon everything they’d done right in desperation to wrap up the story. The story would’ve been far better served if they’d left a few mysteries unsolved, a few loose ends. But they don’t, they basically spoonfeed you the answers in rapid succession without any room for the characters to have any real-time to be themselves.
More importantly, the final episode is, well, terrible. Deaths that make no sense, character pieces that don’t seem to go anywhere, and an ending that is spun the wrong way. The ending is quite sad, a lot of horrible things happen, but it is passed off as a happy ending without consequence. It’s just… well, strange and unfortunate. It does not fit with the rest of the show, and it almost undermines a lot of the good that the rest of the series did.
Brynhildr in the Darkness is a show that does a lot of things fairly well. I enjoyed the characters, especially the relationship between the protagonists. I enjoyed the sense of mystery throughout most of the show. I really enjoyed a lot of the concepts the show was built on… but the fact that they just gave up on everything they did well at the end soured the entire series for me, and now when I think about it I just remember how disappointed I was with the ending. On a positive note… the show’s first opening is one of the best non-vocal openings I’ve seen for a show in my life.