Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (Tasogare Otome x Amnesia)
Number of Episodes: 12
Production Company: Silver Link
Brief Overview: Teiichi Niiya is a normal middle school student who happens to get lost in one of his school's old buildings. While wandering, he meets a girl named Yuuko who turns out to be a ghost who's lost her memories. Teiichi decides to help Yuuko by investigating the mystery surrounding her death.
Episode 1 Summary: Okonogi is a member of the Paranormal Investigation Club. While waiting in the club meeting room for the other members to arrive, she fills out the activity log and manages not to notice the odd things going on around her. Eventually she realizes the presence of something else in the room, though she doesn't have a sense for those types of supernatural occurrences. One person who does is Teiichi Niiya, who seemingly demonstrates the ability to tell what Okonogi is thinking.
The truth is that Niiya is friends with a female ghost named Yuuko who may very well be responsible for several of the school's supernatural legends, and he's one of the only people who can see and interact with her. Unfortunately, Yuuko has forgotten much of who she was in life, but Niiya seems poised to help her rediscover her memories.
Thoughts: I like anime that incorporates some supernatural elements into its narrative, and I don't dislike anime romance stories either. When the two genres are combined, though, the results often seem to exhibit similar problems. Sankarea, this season's other undead romance series, has some strong points but the "humorous" (a term I use loosely) way in which some of the romantic elements are presented seems to throw off the supernatural tone more often than it adds to the show's atmosphere. This series also appears to exhibit some problems with tonal discord; its comedic opening scenes give way to a dramatic frankness between its two main characters... which is quickly destroyed when Niiya grabs Yuuko's breast. Anime is known for its tendency to incorporate humor into otherwise serious situations, and some anime series manage to do so while not also undermining the dramatic tension of their more grave moments. This series, like many others, tries to combine drama and comedy but meets with little success, the result being that the humor seems stale and the drama very false. Whoever says stuff like "some jokes just never get old" have not seen the quantity of "accidental breast grope" gags that I have in my lifetime.
On the other hand, I do appreciate Yuuko as a character to some extent. While I refuse to delude myself into thinking that she, as a beautiful spectral being, is meant to embody anything other than the idea of a "special" girlfriend who exists only for the hapless male protagonist, I do think that her loneliness is portrayed especially well considering the type of series this is. Yuuko's playfulness towards Niiya and her willingness to let him touch her seem to be fairly convincing reactions to having been without substantial human contact for a long time. Her willingness to undress in front of Niiya, though included for obvious reasons of audience titillation, is also a testament to her bodily disconnect. It should go without saying at this point that there are better, less lurid ways of going about this type of character development and I don't condone the way in which Yuuko gets turned into a series of body parts on occasion, but all things considered this could have turned into a much more exploitive display of flesh than it actually is.
While this episode makes it seem as if we're jumping into a story already in progress, the way in which Yuuko is introduced as a ghost is clever. The first few minutes or so of the episode are played through twice, though the second time is different in that we're able to witness the manner in which Yuuko has been influencing the scene invisibly. Though the episode has plenty of problems otherwise, the way that the dialog during this scene can be perceived multiple ways depending on whether Yuuko is present or not speaks well of the effort its construction required.
Whenever Shin Oonuma directs another anime, I can't help but try to pinpoint just how much he wishes he were Akiyuki Shinbo. With Baka and Test, a lush, colorful, vapid comedy of which I'm not a big fan, it was quite clear that he was borrowing wholesale from the visual bag of tricks his former Studio Shaft co-worker often employs. In this case, he's kept the visual influence to a minimum and the episode isn't bogged down by goofy camera angles or eyeball-melting, pop-art-influenced graphics. The downside is that, without all those extra elements to draw one's attention, the mediocre quality of the animation is very obvious. I was actually surprised that I was watching an opening episode because this episode not only lacked the story exposition I would have expected from a straightforward series like this, but also had a very low-quality, muddy look to it. It's always disappointing when you can discern the moment when a once-promising studio's money begins to peter-out; I get the impression that this series was cobbled together on the cheap, at least judging from how the pilot episode looks.
Follow-up Episodes: As if sensing my confusion the second episode actually begins from the beginning of the story, depicting the circumstances under which Teiichi and Yuuko met, while the third episode introduces us to Kirie, a distant relative of Yuuko. I'm generally the last person to criticize a non-standard method of presenting a narrative, but the trend of opening an anime series in a non-linear manner and choosing to present information in a way that could potentially turn off viewers who aren't already members of the fandom seems foolhardy to me.
An interesting facet of the story that's come up a number of times throughout the first few episodes is the idea that Yuuko is the product of other people's expectations and perceptions. Niiya sees Yuuko as a beautiful girl because his interactions with her aren't influenced by fear of the supernatural. On the other hand, she appears monstrous to those who are fearful of ghosts and who buy into the upsetting ghost stories that make their way into the shared consciousness of the student body. In a better series I think that the way in which other's perception of us can help form the type of person we are could be studied in a more substantial way. In this case, though, I feel like it's all just window-dressing or that the storyteller isn't skillful enough to go all the way with the idea.
The fanservice component continues at a low burn throughout these episodes. While I'm not quite as irritated as I might be if Yuuko weren't portrayed as being as sexually-aggressive as she is (though this comes with its own set of problems, including the fact that it seems more like she's picking on Teiichi rather than interacting with him on equal footing), there's still a heavy focus on her breasts and the poutiness of her lips that proves to be very off-putting and distracting. What's interesting is that Yuuko seems unconcerned by how much of her flesh may be showing at any given time, but becomes embarrassed when Teiichi sees her remains, which are still located within the school. On one hand this could be representative of Yuuko's fear of facing the truth about her death... or it could be a cute affectation meant to make her appear more moe. I assume the latter, but it's difficult to tell at this point.
All said this series hasn't been all that terrible so far, but it has several problematic components that make it difficult to recommend. There are several potentially interesting story concepts that, if addressed, could really help to raise the show out of mediocrity, but my assumption based on what has happened so far is that its goals are more modest and its penchant for showing breasts is unflappable. I would love to see a supernatural romance series that doesn't seem so focused on presenting a "normal guy �" with a free girlfriend; unfortunately, this isn't the series that aims to buck trends.
- The show introduces some interesting thoughts about how parts of us are formed based around others' perceptions of us.
- The director doesn't seem to be drawing wholesale from Akiyuki Shinbo's bag of tricks this time around.
- The camera seems fascinated by Yuuko's breasts, to the point that it becomes distracting.
- The production values seem to be very lacking.
- The first episode seems aimed primarily at established fans rather than new viewers.
Recommended? Regardless of its obvious issues, the show just didn't grab me. I actually found myself nodding off during the third episode. Unfortunately, too many of its traits seem drawn from a grab-bag of anime's most annoying tropes, and its good points aren't enough to make up for that.