When I came across this title on my list of anime I want to review I was kind of stunned. I thought for sure that I must have reviewed this. Then I realised that I’d just placed Yuuko on my Top 5 list of Characters with Convenient Missing Memories and that the show made my top 5 list of supernatural anime.
Teiichi Niiya has just enrolled in a new school and after getting lost in the old school building comes across a room that is rumoured to be haunted. There he meets Yuuko, the ghost of the school and somehow he can see and touch her. The two form the Paranormal Investigation Club to figure out the mystery of Yuuko’s forgotten past. They are joined by Kirie Konoe who can also see Yuuko but is convinced she’s an evil spirit and Momoe Okonogi who would love to see spirits but remains blissfully ignorant of most of the goings on.
Just so you know, there are spoilers in the review below.
As much as I genuinely love the experience of watching Dusk Maiden of Amnesia it is a hard anime to recommend to someone else. The biggest issue being that this story wants to be three separate anime and keeps changing its mind and shifting directions. That isn’t to say that each part isn’t entertaining in its own way, however the abrupt tonal shift and change in direction for the characters is a little bit jarring. Also, the first episode, while amusing if you watch it through after watching the rest of the anime, is a pretty terrible introduction to the series. So, to look at what is good and not so great about this anime, I’m going to take a plus/minus format approach to this review.
Teiichi Niiya as the lead in this story had the potential to be just another middle-school anime protagonist. And at first he does seem like that.
Oh, you’re dead. That’s too bad. You don’t remember what killed you? Let’s find out.
But that quickly gives way. After his initial acceptance of what Yuuko tells him and the situation he starts to realise that things are off and becomes quite active in his pursuit of the truth hidden in the school. He persists in this even after Yuuko actively seeks to stop him. So does that make him just a go getter who won’t give up on his goal? Not really. There are several instances where things look dicey for the pair. After Niiya breaks his leg (or his leg is broken after shadow Yuuko pushes him down a flight of stairs), and after Yuuko purposefully sheds all memory of Niiya it really does look like things are done and it takes awhile and some prompting after some events for things to get back on track.
Teiichi, while accepting enough of the premise so as to not be the annoying ‘in-denial’ protagonist (of the kind William became in Devils and Realist) is also not over-powered, super-smart, the centre of a harem (though it almost goes there) or anything really other than the descendant of someone who had been close to Yuuko and an actual nice guy (but not a complete push-over for the whole series).
I mentioned this before but the show does not know what it wants to be other than supernatural (which doesn’t tell you much other than that there’s a supernatural element in this case a ghost). It starts off almost pure comedy with the ghost playing with Okonogi who can’t see Yuuko, and this is almost immediately followed by the ghost trapping herself and Niiya in a food elevator which leads to the standard accidental breast grabs that show up in anime all the time.
However, after a few episodes the comedy elements seem to give out to actual supernatural investigations and several cases are taken and solved (though it turns out Yuuko’s boredom accounts for a lot of the mysteries around the school). Anyway, this is very much the kids in a club phase of the story.
Then things take a turn for the dark and it seems like they are looking for some genuine psychological horror at this phase of the story but it is hard to take it seriously due to everything that came before.
Lastly, we seem to hit upon a supernatural-romance ending. Which is sweet and dramatic and really touching but was I watching a supernatural romance?
None of these parts are bad in and of themselves and they actually do all work to form a cohesive story but it’s hard to know just who the intended audience was given very few people are likely to sit through all of those different phases happily even if it is only 12 episodes.
This one is a major spoiler though technically I already spoiled it in my top 5 list.
The reason for Yuuko’s fairly selective memory loss is not only a plot device that is explained, but it is actually kind of clever and almost believable in a supernatural story. That the trauma of her death was too much of a burden to carry that she threw it off, creating a shadow version of herself, and then she continued to throw off any negative emotions or memories, feeding the shadow version and remaining up beat regardless of the situation, feels like something that could happen (when dealing with a ghost at least). I really liked how this part of the story played out and I loved how Yuuko utterly resisted being reconciled with her memories. And when we see how she was killed it is pretty horrible.
Girls have breasts. We get it. Amazingly enough this is a known fact. Do our two female students and one ghost need to compare sizes and take any opportunity to glare at each other’s busts. Does our male lead need to actually grab Yuuko’s breast to prove he can touch a ghost?
While this isn’t over the top groping or fan-service it just doesn’t feel like it fits into this story (at least not after the first couple of episodes where it kind of feeds into the comedy elements). Normally these sorts of anime antics are ignorable, but as i said, they just don’t fit with anything else on the screen so it almost makes you wonder if they were contractually obligated to include it.
The music and atmosphere of this show is pretty amazing. It’s part of the reason I wish they’d played this story straight as a supernatural investigation with a hint of romance instead of trying to squeeze in the school club, slice of life, comedy elements. The old school building is dripping with atmosphere and the sunsets, lighting, use of wind, everything just creates this glorious supernatural atmosphere and it is all preceded by an opening song that while it isn’t great to listen to on its own (it’s not bad) just perfectly fits what this show could have been.
Let’s look at episode 1. First we see a scene with a girl writing in a journal about how she’s going to investigate supernatural occurences, meanwhile supernatural occurances are occurring all around her. Things are moving on the table and she doesn’t notice. Then we see the scene again only this time we see Yuuko (the ghost) being bored and deliberately trying to bait the girl and failing to get her attention. Maybe it was supposed to be funny but mostly you’re just left waiting for the punch line as to why you are watching this show. Then we get the painful scene with Niiya pretending to phone the ‘ghost’ president of the club so that he can talk with Yuuko without looking like a crazy person (a ploy they use many times throughout the show and could have been interesting but at this stage it just looks gimmicky). By the time we get to the groping in the food elevator I’m thinking the vast majority of viewers have chucked it in and said enough.
While I know this gets said a lot, I will say it anyway. This show does get better. The first episode is really not a good example of what this show does well nor is it particularly interesting when you don’t know or care about any of the characters. This episode fares better after you’ve watched the whole series and then when you do a rewatch you actually don’t think the first episode is so bad. I just remember it took me three goes to initially watch the anime in the first place because I kept rage quitting episode 1.
As I said, this is a hard anime to recommend but if you like supernatural stories then you will probably find lots to enjoy in this even if one or two parts of it annoy. On the bright side, none of the elements really stick around long enough to be too painful because this show just keep pushing forward.
If you’ve watched Dusk Maiden of Amnesia I’d love to know what you thought of it.
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