Yofukashi no Uta

So, this review is pretty late. I’ve been busy with a lot of stuff lately—the most relevant of those distractions being the transfer of my whole review document into a different format and a different program. Since I just recently got a new PC, I’ve had to switch from Microsoft Word to LibreOffice and get comfortable with an ever-so-slightly different workflow (though to be honest it’s not like I’m using anywhere near the full extent of either program’s capabilities). But now that I finally have the chance to sit down for this review and I’ve had a couple of weeks or so to stew on Yofukashi no Uta, I’ve come to realize part of the issue I was having was writer’s block, which is never fun and tells me something important about the show itself I’m trying to review; I’m apathetic towards it, regardless of whether or not it’s good or bad or somewhere inbetween. I think that in general, any time I sit down to write anything, my own deeply ingrained attitude of anal perfectionism is always going to result in some level of difficulty keeping things 100% natural and making the dialogue flow (with “dialogue” referring to my dialogue with the reader or listener in this case), but that’s not really writer’s block in the same sense as sitting down in front of a keyboard and not even knowing where to begin or which keys to pluck. I’ve harped on about feelings of excessive apathy towards other shows like Nekopara for instance, but in that case their incredibly underwhelming nature was my core criticism and the focal point of the argument I was making. I’ll be the first to admit that Yofukashi no Uta is far from being terrible. The artwork and animation is fantastic and unique, the whole thing is incredibly stylistic and flashy with a kickass soundtrack and I think the animation studio responsible for adapting the original source material did a fantastic job. For the most part I enjoyed myself, but I somehow also felt incredibly underwhelmed and overly un-enthusiastic about the whole thing. So, why is that? Well, there are a few reasons, and the first one I want to focus on is the biggest; Yofukashi no Uta (with the English title “Call of the Night”) is a great Slice-of-Life, and a poor romance. I’ll do you the favor this time around of skipping the usually mandatory breakdown of what Call of the Night is and jump straight into the most immediate question most reasonable people were asking themselves either when they started watching the show or when they read its synopsis, “Why is the male protagonist 14?” Now, I could stop right there as a perfectly valid excuse for why I don’t like the romance in Call of the Night, but I want to go deeper and talk about some fundamental bullshit. Yamori Kou, the male protagonist, is a 14 year old kid, yes, but why exactly does that matter here? A few of the most common arguments you might’ve already seen as to why his romantic relationship with female protagonist Nazuna Nanakusa is “justified” probably include things like “she’s a vampire therefore the age difference is irrelevant”, “the age gap isn’t even that big”, or even “Japan has a lower age of consent” (which, if you’re curious, is 13 on a national level but varies depending on local laws, the age of consent in Tokyo is actually 18 for example). And you know what, fine—assuming that the relationship between Kou and Nazuna here was one of mutual respect between equals, maybe I’d accept some of that, within reason. But there’s a core misunderstanding here as to why the relationship between these two characters has negative undertones; it’s not about the physical age difference between the characters or their appearance, it’s about mental maturityand for those listening at home this is something important to apply to real life as well when confronted with situations like this. At its core, Call of the Night is a coming-of-age story centered on 14-year old male protagonist Yamori Kou in which he learns to navigate complex issues and feelings about what really constitutes friendship or love, how people try to handle stress and responsibility, and the consequences that arise from blindly chasing after ambitions you don’t fully understand among numerous other subjects. This is a story about growing up, and that’s why I hated the romantic angle so much. The dynamic between Kou and Nazuna is not that of a relationship between romantic partners or even equals, but instead more like that of a parental figure trying to educate a child about the world (made even more blatantly obvious by the fact Nazuna refers to Kou as a child herself, they don’t even so much as try to hide or de-emphasize it). It’s actually very reminiscent of one of the core problems with the relationship between the male and female protagonist of Rent-a-Girlfriend—and before you say anything, no, this show isn’t anywhere near as bad as that garbage fire but the comparison here is still worthwhile. In that show, the male protagonist is constantly being berated and given shit by his love interest for being an immature manchild, and as a result their relationship is built on a foundation of unearned sympathy and pity. The ultimate end result of a toxic relationship like this one is that neither of the people involved ever grow or learn to understand why their relationship is toxic in the first fucking place, because the girl “sees something” in the guy, pities him and assumes that she can change him to be better, whereas the guy takes her affection as a cue telling him that he doesn’t need to change, or even that he shouldn’t change solely for the sake of appeasing his romantic interest—this is how not to do romance 101 and the best advice I can give anyone interested in having any sort-of romance in their life is to be happy with yourself before looking for a partner, not after. Kou and Nazuna’s dynamic isn’t necessarily as bad as the one I just described, but it suffers from many of the same problems and at the end of the day, Kou is just a young kid trying his best to come to terms with the real world and what adult life really entails—regardless of whether or not it’s Nazuna’s intent to take advantage of Kou’s emotional instability and lack of worldly experience to string him along and toy with him, that’s how it comes off to the viewer. What really irks me is that this whole problem is entirely avoidable just by having Nazuna be a mentor figure exclusively as opposed to a romantic interest as well; if they had done that, I would’ve had nothing to complain about in this area. Really, everything that Kou goes through during the story is extremely relatable for a lot of people. Growing up is hard and I’m not going to sit here and pretend I wasn’t once a kid struggling to grasp a lot of the same general bullshit that Kou struggles to try and learn, and I’m certainly not gonna pretend that I have the answers to all of life’s questions—I’m a very opinionated person and understanding for the viewpoints of other people is a learned skill, not a talent. In general, the writing is actually pretty good and I appreciated a lot of the themes and topics discussed in Yofukashi no Uta; the romance is entirely unnecessary and extra and I felt that it’s not just a distraction, but a major and extremely noticeable flaw here taking away from everything that happens in the show, wasting its potential and ultimately sabotaging it. One of the biggest things I hated is that every takeaway and every potential consequence is just immediately overwritten by the fact that Kou inadvertently comes to fall in love with Nazuna; in essence, everybody’s problems are solved and all moral ambiguity is suddenly erased because Kou loves Nazuna, therefore his decision to become a vampire is now the right one—wrong. This is a very clear showcase that the writer lacks the self-awareness to see what’s written between their own fucking lines, resulting in the wrong message being sent to the viewer. In theory, a lot of the moral ambiguity here should be really interesting; Kou’s ambition throughout the entirety of Yofukashi no Uta is to become a vampire by falling in love with Nazuna and making her fall in love with him, but anybody can see within two seconds of this proclamation that trying to force love between two parties inorganically all for the sake of becoming a vampire specifically so that Kou can avoid facing the responsibilities life demands of him is incredibly childish and unrealistic. Where we should get a deeply affecting coming-of-age story with Nazuna as a mentor figure where Kou eventually learns to understand that becoming a vampire won’t fix anything and he has to grow as a person, we instead get a cheap and unsatisfying story where Kou resolves to become a vampire specifically because of his attachment to Nazuna and this is painted as being a good and wholesome thing. This is such an absolute waste it is painful, especially because the concept behind a theoretical good version of this story as I envisioned it just a moment ago is incredibly on-the-nose and very relatable for me specifically, exploring subjects like being afraid to grow up and being determined to neglect your responsibilities. Now, does all of this mean that the story is bad in its totality? No, I wouldn’t say so—the overall takeaway and the impact of the narrative is lessened as a result of the poorly executed romance here, but that’s only one part which is unfortunately affecting a bigger and more interesting whole. I mentioned before that Call of the Night is a poorly written romance, but actually a rather fantastic Slice-of-Life, which is something I seriously wasn’t expecting. I went into Yofukashi no Uta after reading its synopsis fully ready for it to be a dark, gritty and edgy vampire anime (like the vast majority of other shows within that genre in all fairness), but that isn’t how things go at all. Instead, it’s a full-on and largely episodic Slice-of-Life revolving around the nightlife and the lens through which different people experience it, which is actually a really great and novel idea for a vampire show. Its execution is often surprisingly interesting and multifaceted, especially when delving into brutally real territory—a vampire slowly growing jaded and bored with their lifestyle upon coming to the slow realization that its newness has worn off and the supernatural is their normal has got to be one of the best takes I’ve ever seen on a vampire character and for the most part I fuckin’ loved it, especially when considering Nazuna’s relationship with Kou suddenly makes a lot more sense when you realize it was all for the sake of trying to keep herself sane and break up the monotony of her otherwise uneventful night-to-night. And yet, that leads me into another point of contention—would it have been better to keep the romance and replace the protagonist with an older one, or remove it entirely? Honestly, Kou’s age is only part of the problem here, and the only reason it is a problem is because Yofukashi no Uta is a romance show in the first place. By attempting to make the protagonist more mature solely for the sake of making the romance between these two characters work, integral core components of the show’s identity would be lost, so I think I would’ve much preferred to see the romance done away with since none of what happens in the story requires it. At first I thought the idea behind vampires needing to love a human in order to turn them into a vampire was contrived, but it’s actually rather interesting and it all ultimately fits back into the theme of understanding what love actually is. Humour me here; imagine an alternate reality where Yofukashi no Uta is not a romance between Kou and Nazuna, but instead a really interesting story about Kou learning to understand love through failure as opposed to success, that vampires and humans are two sides of the same coin, and ultimately that the mutual affection shared between the pair doesn’t have to be romantic for it to be meaningful. It’s the very fact that the two main characters here are totally different people that makes their friendship matter, and much in the same way that vampires and humans are two sides of the same coin, so are the day and night, which is something the existing narrative does seem to understand. Initially it seems as though the night and the lifestyle of those who dwell in it often are being glorified, but it eventually gets a lot more nuanced than that, and ultimately the potential here I think was largely wasted is the idea that Kou’s normal is exactly what Nazuna wants, and vice-versa. The life of a vampire is lonely and Nazuna attempts to spice her own up by taking Kou on as a partner, whereas Kou stops attending school for the sake of newfound freedom and solitude, trying to navigate his complex feelings on how to quantify friendship and love; each of these two characters want opposite things, and end up providing eachother with them. It’s frustrating because I really like this idea and dynamic between these characters, but it all keeps looping back around to the writer forcing a romance into a story which didn’t need one. It’s not just Kou trying to learn and grow here, it’s Nazuna too; they’re essentially licking each other’s wounds, which especially when considering the age gap here makes for a poor romance seriously hampering an otherwise great story. Also, I briefly mentioned earlier the concept of vampires needing to love humans in order to turn them, but confusingly it seems that it’s actually the opposite (which isn’t particularly well explained and I kind-of had to pick it up as I went). Why? Wouldn’t it make more sense that a vampire has to love the human, especially considering everything I’ve already talked about up to this point? Kou’s supposed to be trying to win Nazuna over, not the other way around! This one seemingly small oversight alone suddenly changes things significantly upon further inspection, driving the story in a direction that I personally felt was rather different from the one it should’ve gone in (though I’d say they do at least an admirable job trying to course correct in some cases). Despite the show being mostly Slice-of-Life and Romance oriented, there is also something of an overarching plot and some shonen/action elements that creep through which for the most part I actually liked. They’re sparse enough that they don’t get stale, they make you interested and while sometimes the sudden tension is quickly defused, other times there are moments of genuine seriousness and reflection giving the viewer an opportunity to see things from a different perspective from the one they’ve been shown almost exclusively up to that point. Funnily enough, Call of the Night does a significantly better job touching on the sometimes hostile relationship between humans and vampires—with some unwilling participants in vampirism struggling to maintain their sense of humanity and being driven insane by it—than Tokyo Ghoul does at portraying much the same thing, making you question the goodness of vampires obsessed with creating spawn and propagating themselves at the expense of others. Boy howdy, an actual good execution of the idea that both vampires and humans have the same potential within themselves to be good or evil, capable of both coexistence and xenophobic violence? Colour me shocked by this development! All jabs at Tokyo Ghoul aside, though, it’s not like this doesn’t have some of it’s own small pitfalls, with the very concept that humans and vampires are capable of coexisting peacefully noticeably cheapened by how Kou is essentially railroaded into becoming a vampire by his romantic affection for Nazuna as discussed earlier. It’s just… there’s honestly so much here I could talk about and so much that I could sit here all night nit-picking, which at the end of the day all exposes the fact that this show is absolutely full of wasted potential yet still manages to be good enough that I walked away from it feeling kind-of disappointed and underwhelmed, which is a crying shame. The fantastic work done by the animation studio responsible for Call of the Night should leave far more lasting of an impression than it does, but the writing simply can’t live up to it despite showing signs of brilliance—it’s a show capable of keeping your attention but failing on the promise it tries to make of a satisfying payoff or meaningful takeaway, something truly unique but incapable of taking advantage of that uniqueness or its initially masterful subversion of expectation. And it’s not like it’s solely the romance between male and female character that bring the show down or make me feel less enthusiastic about it than I should, nor do I feel that it’s portrayed in a way that feels overtly pedophilic or creepy—it just feels to me like something great was taken and sullied for the sake of being marketable towards a broader audience, trying to insert shonen anime elements where they aren’t welcome and appeal to a younger crowd likely intended to find fulfillment in living vicariously through the protagonist’s own romantic experience, as opposed to the more respectable alternative of that same audience having their own insecurities a little bit more harshly criticized (which is one of the parts of Re:Zero that I absolutely love and one of the primary reasons it succeeds). Kou is swept off his feet and handed the keys to success when he should instead be knocked down and forced to find his footing again, and that sense of borderline wish-fulfillment and unsatisfying conflict resolution all come together and make me feel a little bitter about my overall experience with Yofukashi no Uta. I wouldn’t personally recommend it to the average viewer who just wants to enjoy themselves, but I think it’s an interesting thought experiment for anybody who found anything about the various topics discussed in this review interesting and wanna experience the show for themselves—if nothing else, the visuals and the music are fantastic and make for a great experience for anyone willing not to think terribly too hard about it. I’ve got nothing but praise for the people who adapted the original source material into an animated medium here, but some relatively harsh feedback for the writer, especially since I think there’s great potential and some solid writing here telling me that they are capable of far more. Of course, I haven’t read the original source material so take any criticism of it or the author himself with a grain of salt and remember that I’m taking aim squarely at the anime and the mistakes it made, with yet another extremely conflicted review showcasing why review scores are arbitrary and meaningless. Anyways, I need to drag my nocturnal ass into bed before I end up becoming a vampire.

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