I think it is a mistake to view ef – a tale of melodies as a sequel to ef – a tale of memories. Instead, I think the two series are best seen as a single work (like Omo, I am tempted to explore the games and the graphic novels, to see what they add to the five intertwining stories). That work tells the story of Yuu and Yuuko — how they parted, and how they were reunited, and how Yu finally learned to be able to say goodbye.
In a tale of memories Yu warns Renji away from Chihiro, because every day threatens Renji with the sort of loss Yu that suffered at the death of Yuuko. Kuze flees the sort of attachment and resulting loss that he’s seen his friend go through — and also does not want to impose that loss on someone else (Mizuki, and, I think, Nagi in the past).
Miyako feared being forgotten — Chihiro embodied forgetting — Yuuko thought she had been forgotten.
While I agree, a bit, with some of the complaints aired earlier in this second series — that it’s overwrought and melodramatic, that Kuze isn’t an interesting enough character to support as much of the series as he’s given, that sometimes the staff seems to be relying on “old tricks” (some dating as far back as the first series!) too much — I think those complaints are answered by the last two episodes of the series. Some of what seemed at first like lapses can now be seen as preparation for events in those episodes.
In particular, at first I thought Kuze brow-beating Mizuki with his litany of “Why?” was too similar to the text-message barrage, the telephone-card count-down, and the stunning and shocking revelation by Yuuko an episode before. However in episode 11, when Mizuki answers his barrage with her sweet declarations of love, the circle was completed.
Then Yu and Yuuko’s conversation on the rooftop as they say their final farewells is another example of circles being completed. The spoken layer, the dialogue, was moving in itself. But the dialogue takes on new meaning in the context of what has been said before. As Yu tells Yuuko that he has the strength to say farewell, he’s blinking madly — blinking back tears, perhaps, but also recalling that Yuuko said that Yu blinks when he is lieing.
As Yuuko prepares to say farewell, the sky fills with sunbeams — invoking Yu’s description of sunbeams as “angel staircases”, and hearkening back to Makoto Shinkai’s marvellous trailer for this series.
In folklore, ghosts remain on earth because they have things they wish to do. For Yuuko, it was saving others from having their love derailed by the misunderstandings that had come between her and Yu. A tale of memories was the story of Yuuko’s interventions, and the loves that she nurtured. A tale of melodies was mostly the tale of Yuuko herself.
There’s another link that ties the two series together. A tale of memories had protagonists who were striving to perfect their art. Union with another person helped their art bloom. A tale of melodies had protagonists who were trying to walk away from their art. Union with another person healed the rift between them and their art (at least in Yu’s case, when he begins to draw once more; perhaps even Amamiya’s case is an example of this — for him, the chasm between himself and his loved one was reflected in a chasm between himself and his art).
Taking the two series as a whole, perhaps ef – a tale of m… is a bit less of a work than ef – a tale of memories was on its own; perhaps Yu and Yuuko’s story is not as compelling as Hiro and Miyako’s or Renji and Chihiro’s (especially when interrupted by Kuze). Perhaps more attention should have been paid to Kiyosuke and Kei, and less to Kuze and Mizuki. Perhaps a bit more of the genius that created Miyako’s text messages, the phone-card countdown, or Chihiro’s pages torn from her diary could have made Kuze’s story more compelling.
Nevertheless, I think ef – a tale of tales has been a wonderful watch, and will repay future repeat viewings.