In a small church, in a young city overflowing with memories, a man clad in black meets with a woman dressed like a nun. With their Christmas reunion, they share the stories of their past, intertwined with tales from the present.

What stories shall be heard inside this small church, this snowy Christmas evening? Perhaps the story of a woman who lives her life without a care, and a man who wishes to capture this freedom in his drawings? Or the story of a heartbroken woman who, despite her feelings, continues to move forward, and the man who wishes to capture this strength with his camera? Or perhaps we shall hear the tale of a woman who could never capture her memories, and a man who wishes to write down those fleeting memories?

Or perhaps we shall hear the story of a violinist who has shut out everyone else from his life, and the young woman who seeks to capture his heart? How are these tales connected to the man and woman meeting in this small, silent church at Christmas evening?

ef – a fairy tale of the two is a love story, a fairy tale. It is the story of many encounters within a certain city, told through the all-seeing eyes of those who spun these fairy tales. But ef is not a simple love story — it is a comedy, a tragedy, spun by the wheels of Fate. It is a romance that is beautiful and ugly, heartbreaking and heartwarming, captivating and cruel, and simply amazing in its execution.

The premise is deceptively simple — a man and a woman meet at a church during Christmas, a reunion long due from their past. But it is not just their story — it is also the story of the lives that they affected along the way. [i]ef[/i] does not waste characters; every single character is important in spinning the story’s fairy tales. Each character is connected by a thread, like the threads of the Fates intertwining over the story’s setting.

Each fairy tale in the story is a simple romance between a young man and a woman. Such is the story’s simplicity — the fairy tales simply tell of the trials and hardships that a couple may encounter when falling in love. Love triangles, rejection, acceptance — the themes of ef do not stray far from the things one would expect from romance. But among these fairy tales, a single overarching theme can be found: time heals all wounds. Each arc deals with the problems that one may encounter in a relationship and shows how these troubles can be healed with the passing of time and the presence of someone you truly love. Indeed, even the story’s setting reflects this theme: a city slowly returning from the ashes of a huge disaster.

In this fairy tale, several characters take the center stage — a young man living a double life as a manga artist, his best friend who only wishes to create a movie, a friendless boy who aspires to write, his neighbor the world-class violin prodigy, and the man who is meeting his lover in a certain church for the first time in years. Along with them are the women who have fallen for them — a girl who lives every day without a care about the world, a hot-blooded idiot who can only move forward, her reserved twin sister who whiles away her days at an empty train station, a girl who shines bright with her smiles and laughter, and the woman dressed like a nun, waiting for her love at the empty church. Each of these characters have a story to tell, and ef follows their stories as they unfold. It is possible to dislike one romance and love the other because of this limited, yet diverse blend of personalities, but it is also equally possible to like all of them, because they all have their strengths and weaknesses that the reader may be able to relate to.

Perhaps the biggest strength of this novel is its gorgeous art, as to be expected when Makoto Shinkai (Five Centimeters per Second) is involved with its production. Almost the entire novel is rendered in CG instead of sprites and backgrounds — animated CGs, even, with blinking characters, moving mouths and the use of motion effects; the amount of detail and care which went to the art is astounding — indeed, even the math problems on the classroom board are completely accurate and solvable. This creates an almost surreal realism to the setting which some might find uncomfortable if they are used to static backgrounds and sprites. Personal tastes aside, it is undeniable that a great amount of effort and care has been spent on making the novel beautiful to look at.

The music and sounds created for this novel are less striking in their simple-sounding melodies, and individually are pretty forgettable, but in this simplicity they create a suitable atmosphere for the reader to enjoy. Each piece captures the mood of the scenes they are played at — the captivating beauty of falling snow, the ocean breeze blowing as the sun sets beneath the horizon, the warm, gentle feeling of the person you love by your side. Even more remarkable is the novel’s use of silence during character monologues or certain important scenes — there is much to be heard from the lack of sound. The pieces are certainly not as amazing as Umineko’s or G-Senjou no Maou’s soundtracks, but they are remarkably powerful in setting the story’s atmosphere.

While ef – a fairy tale of the two might not be the best visual novel ever created, it is certainly one of the most well-crafted. Much care has been put into its production, especially with its stunning visuals. While you may not enjoy it as much, ef – a fairy tale of the two is one of the most stunning visual novels I have ever read. It is a story of the highs and lows of romance, as well as a story talking about the many forms of art while being a work of art on its own. I have developed a great attachment to the characters and its story, and it will probably remain as one of my most favorite visual novels.

Overall verdict: 10/10
Possible turn-offs: Sexual content (can be disabled)