Jan 14, 2013

Anime Review: Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia logoMany decades ago, a young girl died tragically down in a now forgotten room of the old wing of the school. No one remembers exactly why or what really happened, but rumors persist to this day of her death and how she haunts the school. That is, until a young boy chances upon said room and her still wandering ghost…

You see, as a premise, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is genuinely pretty good. The ghost, Yuuko, is actually a normal school-aged girl, but she doesn’t remember anything of her death or past. The amnesia element provides a really solid plot destination and the show even doles out clues and twists every so often in just the right frequency. It’s an intriguing and well told story of tragedy and love. And the ending, while tarnished a bit with an unfortunate but unsurprising cop-out at the last minute, is fairly convincing and impassioned.

The setting autumn sun over a small cityscape overlooked on a the edge of a forested hill by our two protagonists

But, apparently unsatisfied with simply being merely that, the creators decided to throw in a lot of other elements to mix things up, perhaps to increase its appeal, but in so doing undermine its very core strength. Rom-com elements, occasional school hijinks, and cutesy moe moments, not to mention the always aggravating and unnecessary boobie/cleavage fanservice, all get peppered throughout the more serious plot parts and generally these tend to be below average. This is due both to their awkward juxtaposition with the primary mystery/horror genre but also for technical problems, which I’ll get to later.

Our protagonist boy sets up a Paranormal Investigation Club to gather rumors and research them in the hopes of figuring out whether they have some nugget of truth to them which will get them closer to uncovering the real history behind Yuuko’s death. Meanwhile, Yuuko herself acts like a typical type B personality, glomping on poor Teiichi at every opportunity, acting selfish and overly forward, and generally way too affectionate. This is also compounded with the fact that only he and one other girl can actually see Yuuko, everyone else just sees Teiichi acting weirdly embarrassed and agitated all the time. This might be funnier if the show didn’t generally ignore every other background character (even giving them mostly black, detail-less bodies) so never does anyone really question his odd behavior.

Teiichi, sighing, and Momoe, embarrased, sit opposite each other at a table in the club room as Yuuko stubbornly huffs behind him

Eventually we get a mild harem of sorts. The other two members, both girls (a semi-tsundere and an effervescent type, respectively), find themselves attracted to him, admittedly for different and believable reasons. This ends up being not as important as it could have been, especially given the really good lingering question: can a human and ghost really have a lasting, meaningful relationship? Unfortunately, the show seems determined to pair the two anyway and ignore that more interesting problem. Too bad, especially for the other two and their never-resolved unrequited loves.

But I mentioned the mystery and horror are really good. And they are. The series does a fantastic job with setting up surreal scenes of twisted emotions, supernatural events, and other darker psychological phenomenon. When it deals with serious, spooky, or surreal, it tends to shine. When it tries to back up and try other things like cute embarrassment or summer break swimsuits, it tends to fall flat on its face.

An aerial shot of two characters standing at perpandicular ends of a balcony, casting sharp shadows forming a cross shape, while brilliantly pink-purple light shines through ornate windows on the left and a golden wood wall frames the right

A lot of the trouble, outside of the jarring genre mixing, is technical, as I previously mentioned. Fortunately, music and voice work all tend to be quite decent, even with the somewhat harsh hard rock intro and the all-too-cliché organ-heavy gothic ending song. Silver Link does a really good job with contrast, color, and backgrounds, weaving a vivid and striking tapestry most of the time. Their creative command of camera angles and scene composition are also frequently fantastic and phenomenal. If only their ability to draw faces and animate bodies were as good… Characters aren’t terribly drawn or anything but there is a definite and bothersome “off” feeling a lot of the time and it really hurts the immersion and emotion, particularly in the more dramatic sequences. It also doesn’t help that the general style of their females is to have a very haunting and fantastic look to them, which really does not work at all when trying to make them coy, cute, or coquettish.

Yuuko looking hauntingly into the viewer with flowing indigo-black hair and red sapphire eyes, against a seeringly orange evening sky

Despite the glaring problems, the show manages to still be pretty good. It drags a bit here and there, especially near the beginning half, but by the last third it really picks up and manages to ditch a lot of the more problematic elements in favor of focusing primarily on plot. It might be a tad rushed as a result, but their creative and inventive methods of story-telling, especially visually, tend to make up for it. It never quite has the skillful execution I’d hope but it certainly tries and it still mostly succeeds. It has its cliché bits but overall it is a refreshingly different and bold enough take that, while never truly excellent, manages to be enjoyable and memorable.

As of this writing, you can watch Dusk Maiden of Amnesia for free on Crunchyroll.

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