"Stick to what you know" - it’s a common phrase that can easily apply to anime and manga as much as any other medium. For example you’ll rarely see Ken Akamatsu do a series that doesn’t involve fan service-y harem comedy. Given this, it’s not too surprising that following of from the popular Elfen Lied, a series about girls with psychic powers tearing each other to pieces, creator Lynn Okamoto has returned to the well to bring us Brynhildr in the Darkness – a series about girls with psychic powers tearing each other to pieces. But will fans of Elfen Lied get more of what they loved the first time around, and will it be enough to bring around the many people who really disliked that well-known series?
Astronomy club member Ryouta Murakami is in what you might call a bit of a pickle. First of all, a girl has transferred into his class who bears more than a passing resemblance to the childhood friend he saw fall to her death from the top of a dam. Even worse and more alarming is the revelation that this girl is a witch who keeps following him around predicting his death... Neko, the girl in question, turns out to be an escapee from a lab who’s been either running experiments on or possibly creating witches (it's never really clarified which). Life on the run won’t prove to be easy for Neko however - if her pursuers weren’t enough to deal with, Neko must look after the almost totally paralysed Kana and figure out how to get a hold of a steady supply of the pills that prevent witches from dissolving into a pile of goo. When more escaped witches start turning up to join the gang the situation gets ever more desperate, and to compound matters other witches are being released to hunt down Neko and her friends.
There are some truly interesting concepts at work throughout Brynhildr and its unique take on witches which feels like a really dark version of the Wizard of Oz’s witch ("I’m meltiiiiiiiiiing!!!"), and there’s certainly a lot of ground that could be covered. The animation isn’t spectacular but there are some great action scenes and a tonne of violence and fan service that should please fans of the genre (or at least it will once the "fog of doom" is removed in the eventual Japanese Blu-Ray release). The characters are clichéd, but fun enough apart from Ryouta who’s a new contender for dullest lead ever.
That, sadly, is all I can really say about the series in a positive light, because apart from those brief nuggets and a few good gags the overall series is a colossal lesson in how not to execute on a story. The primary issue is the fact that nothing feels like it’s been planned out in advance – it’s almost improvisational. We need to get hold of more of these pills we don’t have anymore... ping! One of the characters suddenly has a photographic memory, problem solved. We’ve just killed off our lead character... ping! One of them can time travel just enough that she isn’t dead anymore. Still on the pills... ping! One of the characters is magically a friend of a genius scientist who can make some. It’s the worst kind of storytelling. The series desperately wants to recapture all the dark twists and turns of shows like Madoka Magica or even its own predecessor Elfen Lied, but it’s never willing to put in the ground work to make you want to care about the characters as more than just fan service vehicles. It refuses steadfastly to follow its own rules or properly set things up - when I was a kid we used to play a game where one person would start a story and then the next person would make up the next bit with everyone progressively trying to top each other and make things more and more ludicrous, and Brynhildr feels just like that. The best thing you could say is that maybe the still-running manga makes it all clearer in ways that weren’t adapted, but frankly given how much of a mess this is I’m not prepared to give the series the benefit of the doubt.
If you’re willing to put up with the series for a bit of decent action and fan service then you’ll get your fill here (and get it you will as I suspect a western release of this show is practically guaranteed given the fan service + violence + "from the creator of Elfen Lied" maths that will be pinging up the dollar signs in the minds of distributors). Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’ll all click and make sense if you just watch that next episode as I did though - in our review of Elfen Lied we said it was “a horribly exploitative and base work with low production values”, and although the production values might not be as low here you can otherwise apply the same phrase to thise series. Anything you hated about Elfen Lied is a dozen times worse here. Yes, you should stick with what you know, but the idea is that it’s something you’re actually good at....
You can currently watch Bryhildr in the Darkness in streaming form on Crunchyroll.