So begins the torment of Yuka Minase, doomed to be strung along by your average fantasy-anime drippy lead Kakeru Satsuki, when they’re first pulled into the Red Night. This twisted alternate reality is inhabited only by the Black Knights, a bondage demon sect brought straight out of Hellraiser to kill Kakeru and friends, and a young girl imprisoned in a rose pink crystal. Meanwhile, in Kakeru’s reality, a black moon hangs in the sky, invisible to all except himself, Yuka, and a few of their schoolmates. Driven to agony each time they’re ripped from their world, then spat out into the blood-red realm, they, the “fragments” as named by the Knights, must learn to protect themselves and each other with their dormant occult abilities.
We’re introduced to this world in a very gamefied way, the siege of the Black Knights given a JRPG-esque structure that flips between dialogue and combat as devices to develop lore, characters and their connections. This makes sense given 11eyes’ origins as an adult visual novel, but it’s still a tedious game at that. Even the breadcrumb trail of hints leading to the identities of the Black Knights and the girl in the crystal doesn’t stop the conflict being monotonous. The combat scenes are all too flat and stiff to spark even a sputter of adrenaline, and the drama too petty to redeem them.
Side-tracked by panty flashes and teen ego and jealousy, it’s a wonder the anime manages to get the characters to communicate beyond that. In the second episode, Yuka, who eventually ends up gutted of all but desperation for a happy end with Kakeru, gets a slit up the back of her school dress so bad that anyone could see right underneath it from behind. And yet, oddly, they don’t. Same goes for any instance where either of the girls’ skirts get caught by a breeze mid-leap to attack. You’re left wanting to hug Yuka and give her a pair of leggings, while even she is unaware that she’s being exposed for an audience. But that could be because she’s distracted by resident genki girl Yukiko Hirohara squeezing her boobs every episode or so. Even though Yukiko’s immortal sorrow and childhood in a land scorched by war should break hearts every time she kills, each death is a hollow one. Even her struggle to be accepted and put her trust in mortals is uprooted by placing it in the context of yet another condemned romance.
These courageous young women, Yuka, Yukiko and demon-blooded swordswoman Misuzu Kusakabe, are always overlooked in the weirdest ways. The first thing we learn about Kakeru is that he’s still mourning his sister Kukuri, who committed suicide seven years before. Then, after weeks preparing to meet her fellow fragments, a girl who looks just like Kukuri, even going by the same name, turns up chaperoned by Yukiko to little fanfare. As she’s unable to speak she communicates by writing notes, and even with such a sweet quirk to play on, it’s a surprise when she turns up in a scene. When not just acting as a pretty part of the background, all four are devalued by the show’s horrible habit of giving the most intriguing characters little enough impact that Kakeru can still stand ahead of them in the story. The girls are far too bright for this show, its shallow script a mystery coming from Kenichi Kanemaki of Natsume’s Book of Friends, and silencing their unique, loveable intellects.
If 11eyes was self-aware in working in the grey shades of morality, it could have scrapped its weak shocker hooks and let these characters’ identities, friendships and faith in one another play out as the central developments. Instead, towards the end there are so many undone deaths in deaths across realities that it all gets tangled up in its own timeline. Their only anguish is in the disruption of the story’s climax, which should otherwise have been an homage to Yuka’s fairytale ending, with the bonds of friendship and love equally honoured.
Extras: OVA episode; clean opening/closing animation; disc credits; also available from Sentai Filmworks