Friday, November 14, 2014

Animondo: Amnesia

Amnesia tells the tale of a girl with, you guessed it, amnesia. As bad as that is, she's actually in a far worse situation. Frequently in extreme danger due to ill luck--and sometimes the ill will of other people--she soon discovers that she's living through the same few days over and over again...but in different variations.

My goodness! Amnesia, parallel worlds, time loops, and psychological suspense? It's like this show was made just for me!

Except not.

You'll wonder the same thing about her frequently over the course of the show.
I very much wanted to love Amnesia. I'm not kidding when I say that premise is exactly the kind of show I'd adore. It's a great mystery concept with some nasty little sci-fi twists, and I was really hoping it would become a favorite of mine, with crazy turns and unexpected events...I was really hoping it would be a great show. I kept waiting for it to become a great show.

And waiting...and waiting...and waiting...

The bulk of Amnesia focuses on the efforts of Heroine (called thus by show summaries because she can't recall her name) and the entity Orion to restore Heroine's memory and figure out a way to stop the looping--and Heroine's seemingly inevitable deaths. They're aided, and sometimes opposed, by five men whose relationships with Heroine vary with each loop--one of whom seems completely and utterly insane. It's actually a pretty dark story. Or it would be, if it ever really got out of the starting gate.

Here's the thing...Amnesia really feels like what happens if you write an intro to a story and then try to stretch that intro over an entire season...and then just suddenly slap an ending on there. It is all setup. It keeps feeling like it's going to become a big, unified, twisting plotline, but it never actually gets there.

It is assembled of a few sets of episodes, each covering another loop and parallel reality. In each world, Heroine is in a relationship with one of the guys. And in each world, events seem to be conspiring to kill her. After events reach their peak in one world, the next set of episodes shuffles her off to the next world, a new relationship, and a new sequence of events leading to her likely death.

You'd be forgiven for thinking--as I did--that the idea of the show would ultimately be to have her revisiting the previous worlds to try to set things right or figure out what was going on with the gathered evidence and helpers of the different worlds. That isn't what it's about. What it is about is Heroine kind of stumbling through events until suddenly, in the last world, things just kind of end up working out in her favor.'ll think the same of her quite often.
I'm not kidding about the "kind of stumbling" thing, either. The single biggest problem with Amnesia is its protagonist. Heroine is one of the worst female protagonists I've ever seen in any show ever, anime or otherwise. She is almost entirely a nonentity. She barely even speaks, much less takes action to try to figure out what is going on or to defend herself. It works all right for the first couple episodes, where you'd expect her to be pretty shell-shocked by losing her memory and all. But for the show to work, she has to begin acting of her own volition and investigating things--taking action to save herself.

That never happens. Instead, she's almost completely passive. The first few episodes, just about every choice is made by her pal Orion, a young extradimensional entity who takes it upon himself to try to help her. He basically even feeds her lines when she needs to question someone. Then, Orion ends up disappearing for a few episodes...I thought for sure that this was where Heroine would learn from his example and start taking an active role in saving her own life. Nope. Instead, the various "boyfriend" characters do all the heavy lifting while Heroine just continues to kind of stand there looking pretty.

Just look at this! This happens all the time!

Apparently, being a heroine is 98.3% obeying other people's commands and advice.
This is actually worse than the "captive princess" trope that people complain about. At least in those stories you tend to have a rational reason why the princess can't act, usually that she's unarmed and there's gigantic monsters or skilled warriors dedicated to keeping her hostage. In this, nothing's stopping Heroine from taking it upon herself to investigate. She just chooses to let others do it for her. The plot is entirely centered on whether she lives or dies, and she's in just about every scene, and yet she's such a non-character that you could seriously forget that she's even on the show. It's worse than poor writing, it's actively offensive!

To make matters worse, she finally does decide to take action in the final episode...she finally makes a choice for herself, against the advice of Orion. And, of course, she's completely wrong. So she's not just ineffectual, she's stupid. Yeah. I mean, by that point, girl, if you haven't done anything so far, just sit there and let the adorable extradimensional entity handle things. He's clearly more interested in your survival than you are.

The point at which the show itself basically acknowledges Heroine is useless--for the rest of the scene, she just serves as a go-between for a conversation between these two. She doesn't even get to speak, mostly--she just writes Orion's answers!
Sadly, the show's problems don't end there. I mentioned that the show follows a sequence, going world-to-world in turn. The problem is that because it never comes back to the previous worlds, and nothing really carries forward from one to the next except Heroine and Orion, it generally feels like nothing that happened in a world matters once Heroine has moved to the next one. Which means each sequence of episodes is pretty much a deliberate waste of your time, except the last one.

Which isn't much better.

The last episode sequence concerns Heroine's relationship with the man who seems to be behind all her troubles. There's a lot of semi-interesting stuff about an experiment gone wrong, a split personality, and fate trying to balance things out--kind of a Final Destination concept, but...still kind of less goofy than those. It's more an extended, slow progression towards demise than sudden happenstance, in general. Anyway, this is all stuff that might have been pretty great if it was slowly revealed over the course of the show through Heroine and Orion's investigations, but instead it's basically just exposition dumped on us by the guy who seems to be responsible, near the close of the show.

I'm not going to spoil things, really, because this is pretty recent and because I've pretty much said my peace about what's wrong anyway. I don't need to go into more detail there. Just...let it be known that the ending is in no way satisfying, major questions seem to be left unresolved (or, to be slightly more charitable, the show may intend to let you come to your own conclusions...but it really feels more like they just didn't realize people would actually want answers), Heroine still seems to be an absolute ineffectual moron, and I spent the entirety of the last episode yelling, "You [censored] moron! Listen to the [censored] fairy kid and stop being a [censored] [censored] idiot, you [censored]!" Or things to that effect. I was seriously angry after the final moments of the show, where the one thing I thought it might manage to resolve in some fashion was basically just left hanging there.

Amnesia does have some strong points. The general idea is pretty cool (which is why I'm so ticked off that it ended up being so bad). There's some interesting dark ideas in there, like questions of how far someone might go to protect someone--is it better to take away their freedom than to let them get hurt?

The art is actually pretty nice, and I particularly love the multi-hued eyes, which give the series a more dreamlike tone. (I'm not in love with the weird way they seem to have done textures, though--it's like they're a background visible through people's clothes, instead of actually drawn on the clothes, if that makes any sense. They don't move correctly.) Orion is pretty endearing, and some of the guys seem like decent characters too if they just had another character to play off of. It's really just...Heroine ruins it. Completely. I could even take the odd way the story was built if she were just an active character, a deeper and more interesting character, instead of just kind of being a lifeless doll that was led around by the people who actually had personalities.

Amnesia is a good idea that's unfortunately been turned into a very poor show. I can't fathom how someone could take a concept as interesting as "let's make a show about amnesia, time loops, and parallel worlds" and make something so outright boring, with a protagonist who does nearly nothing. This is the sort of weird, crazy stuff that anime often thrive on...and instead, Amnesia drains all the life out of the concept and spends it's entire run feeling like it's building up to the real plot of the show...which never arrives. I can't recommend this show at all--it is not worth your time.

Dubbed or Subbed? So far as I am aware, Amnesia has never been released dubbed, so in the unlikely event that you still feel like you'd enjoy it, it is only available with subtitles.

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