Welcome back to Animondo, your inconsistently-scheduled look at whatever anime I happen to feel like talking about. Today, we're having a look at Dusk Maiden of Amnesia.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is the story of Teiichi, a young high school student, and his friend Yuko, who has a severe case of amnesia combined with an extremely severe case of being dead. It's a combination of school comedy, teen romance, psychological conflict, supernatural horror/suspense, and supernatural mystery. Quite a mix of themes!
Here's the setup. Teiichi, wandering through an older, unused section of his school, happens to encounter Yuko, an enigmatic and eccentric girl, who claims she is, in fact, a ghost--specifically, the ghost mentioned in just about every ghost story the school has. Teiichi has his doubts at first, but those are all banished when he accidentally happens upon Yuko's body in a hidden chamber, near a strange altar.
Yuko, it turns out, was somehow killed years ago on the school grounds, and has wandered the halls ever since. Few people can actually see her, and her mysterious death has led to her being the central character of various ghost stories at school. She doesn't remember how she died...so Teiichi makes it his mission to find out the truth behind her death, and the two strike up a friendship in the meantime. Yuko also ropes Teiichi into creating a supernatural investigation club, which they use to gain information about the school's ghost stories in the thought that some of them might contain hints to the truth.
That, and Yuko just wants to have some fun.
A couple other characters join along the way--Kirie, a girl who doubts Yuko's intentions and believes she may be the evil ghost she's rumored to be, and Momoe, a girl Yuko and Teiichi save early on (from something that's admittedly totally Yuko's fault) and who believes strongly in the supernatural (but is the only member of the club who can't see Yuko).
All in all...Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is terrific. I know the above sounds fairly standard, but it's a wonderful setup for some great character interactions. The main characters are quite strong, with interesting personalities, and give us some excellent underlying themes of faith, doubt, and the power of belief in both positive and negative lights. The interplay between Yuko, Teiichi, and Kirie is particularly strong, with Teiichi and Kirie trying to change each other's views of Yuko--views that are both supported by different pieces of evidence in the show.
This is one of the central themes of the show, and it's very strong. Yuko is an extremely questionable character as the show goes on, and it's very uncertain whether she is the innocent ghost just looking for a friend Teiichi believes she is, or the vengeful spirit Kirie thinks she is. Initially she seems fine...then, in Kirie's first appearance, there seems reason to doubt. That's pushed back, even somewhat from Kirie...but then, doubts creep in again. This pattern keeps itself up throughout the series, with doubts growing stronger and stronger, but never without at least a sense of hope. It makes the viewer uncertain just whether Yuko can be trusted or not, and that definitely helps keep one wanting to find out what happens next. The fact that Teiichi and Kirie both alternatingly make inroads on convincing each other definitely helps a lot, too--this isn't an unchanging situation. Some episodes, Teiichi will really start to wonder about Yuko, and others Kirie will really feel like she's just be heaping blame on an innocent.
It ties in wonderfully with the series' reveals about what's going on, too, but I won't spoil that.
The other theme of the show, of course, is the ghost stories that the club investigates. Again, I won't spoil most of what goes on here, but I adore the overall concept that is used for these parts of the plot. The show strongly explores the power of imagination and belief--the idea that one can get so overwhelmed by a story, the right atmosphere, and the like that the story becomes real. Students in the school believe so strongly in the stories at some points in the series that they are actually in danger, so it's up to Teiichi and the gang to save them...which they do, wonderfully, by going along with the ghost stories and using some trickery to bring them to happy endings--for instance, by having Yuko play the evil ghost of the story and Teiichi "banish" her with charms or other supernatural paraphernalia. I love the idea: they don't get rid of the ghost stories by disproving them--they just bring them to an ending where no one gets hurt. That way, even if people believe them, there's no problem.
It's a great, great concept that gets at the power of the mind and how it can make us think things that could hurt us, but can pull us back out of the same harm it might inflict. It leads to some very funny moments in the series, but also to some excellently dramatic ones--especially for some stories that aren't so easily resolved. And, it nicely reinforces the idea that Yuko really is tied to every one of these stories--which further emphasizes the theme of questioning just what she is. After all...she's really good at playing an evil ghost for their tricks.
I won't discuss the later stages of the series much, other than to say that there are some terrific developments that involve a lot of interesting interpretations of psychological effects of trauma. I'm not sure if it's all truly good psychology, but it makes for a neat story and some creative character developments. There ends up being a ton of tension between the club members as the series goes on, and the series' tone starts to darken significantly--though not to the extent of, say, Another. Still, this definitely shares that show's theme of doubting friends as it draws to its conclusion.
Stylistically, the show is quite strong as well. I generally like anime art styles, but I can't let this review go by without singling out this one especially for its use of color. It is absolutely amazing. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia makes some of the strongest use of color to set mood and evoke the difference between the normal and the supernatural that I have ever seen. It's the whole use of the color red thing from The Sixth Sense on steroids. The show uses entirely different palettes depending on the scene, with really vibrant and eerie hues being used when the supernatural begins to make itself known, and makes great use of sharp colors and distorted art when things become particularly suspenseful. It also has some excellent use of quirky little style touches like quick cutaways, odd viewing angles, extreme closeups, and some fun little bits that show drawings in a style much closer to Japanese woodblock art. Most of all, though, I love the skies in this show. They're wonderful, beautiful, multicolored fantasies that look like the best sunsets you've ever seen. The general art style is very strong...but the skies are just striking.
There are a couple points here and there where stylistic touches don't work as well, such as one late-show point where for inexplicable reasons Teiichi is drawn as a chibi or younger child while seeing some pretty critical story elements and it kind of makes for an odd mix that could cheapen the associated scenes...but overall, it really works.
Unfortunately, there is one elephant in the room I have to discuss as well...fan service. I know...it's part of anime, and it shouldn't be. It's sexist, demeaning, and part of far too many shows. And...it is unfortunately quite noticeable in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. Yuko is very much treated as a sex object at times on the show, with some of the other female characters getting that treatment at least occasionally. It kind of fits in with the show's plot--there are reasons that Yuko is, shall we say, less than shy...but it still doesn't need to be near as big a part of things as it is. It is part of things to an extent that it's embarrassing to watch sometimes. I want to be clear that this isn't a show with a sex-crazed plot or anything like that...it just really concentrates far too much on basically putting a giant sign over Yuko's head with flashing lights and sirens highlighting the fact that she is, in fact, female and attractive. This has a plot that my mom would love, actually--she likes supernatural mysteries and psychological stories--but there's no way in heck I would watch it with her. It feels wrong.
Does it ruin the show? That's really for you to decide. I was still able to watch it and like it, but it definitely hurt the show for me. I would like it much better if that was drastically toned down, and it makes it much harder to recommend to people...which, considering how much I want to shout my love for this show from the rooftops, is kind of a big deal.
Overall, though...that caveat aside, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is one of the strongest anime I've watched. It has just the right balance of humor, suspense, and drama, and combines that with some great plot concepts to make a very fun viewing experience--an experience that is heightened by the sheer wonder evoked by the colors and art styles in much of the show. If you're at all interested in ghost stories and mysteries, I have to recommend this one. And if not...seriously, at least look up some of the pics to see those skies.
Dubbed or Subbed? This is another one where it's kind of up to you. I liked both, though I think I kind of prefer the subtitled version on this one. The Japanese performance is just a touch stronger to me, but...not in any way I can put my finger on directly. It may just be that the foreign language enhanced the unfamiliar feel of the supernatural scenes, I guess. Either way, neither version has any major flaws.
One note: For some reason, the first episode of the series, titled "Ghost Maiden," is a kind of in-media-res story where the supernatural club has already been established, and basically shows the same half-episode twice, once with Yuko invisible and the other time showing her. It's...a little cute, but kind of tedious. And it doesn't really reveal anything essential. I recommend skipping it and starting with episode 2, "Maiden of a Chance Meeting." You can always go back and watch it later.