Anime Review: AMNESIA, Episodes 1-4

Contributor; Derby, England
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You've all come across something, a TV show, a film, a book, that left you silently mouthing "What the hell", right? Unable to figure out what on earth was going on? Now this is okay as ideas go, as the catalyst to start building a basic framework for your story and get an audience involved, but you need some meat on them bones, son! Much as I eventually grew to hate Lost - indeed, gave up on it some way into the third season - it's not as if I couldn't see its appeal was based around more than the question of what the island was.

Amnesia (the Japanese animated show, not the psychological condition) is what happens when your story offers nothing of any interest beyond the burning question of what the hell any of it means. Four episodes down the line and no character changes in any meaningful way, no secret gets revealed, intentionally or otherwise, there's no sense anything's really at stake. Just this over-riding sense of maddeningly generic mystery, in that Something's Going On and it's terribly important, but the writers refuse to even hint at why that might be.

Which is a shame, because there are things about the show that at least hint at something a good deal better than your average harem comedy, or long-running shonen show that refuses to lay down and die. The anonymous heroine wakes up with no idea of who she is, or where, surrounded by people professing to be friends or co-workers whom she doesn't recognise. Only then she's accosted by Orion, a hovering, Puckish sprite who tells her he's a spirit from a parallel reality, and his trying to bridge the divide is what dislodged her memories.

Amnesia's world is a strange one; recognisably contemporary, but where everyone dresses like escapees from a travelling Ren Fayre who've decided to start a visual kei band on a whim. It's an obvious bit of fanservice for the core audience of dedicated otaku - look how fantastically wacky they all are! Don't you wish you had the balls to dress like that? - but it's genuinely distinctive, with some surprisingly subtle touches, like the soft, rich, almost watercolour palette and the strange half-circle designs you see in everyone's eyes.

It's easy to believe in as a place where magic could happen, or at least weird stuff. Orion's frantic demands the heroine not let on what's happened make for an interesting aura of menace in the opening stretch, along with the shadowy figure who keeps turning up to rattle off enigmatic little bon mots from the background. Someone means our heroine harm, possibly as retribution for something she's done. Her friends may not be all they seem, and when she passes in and out of consciousness yet again for various story-related reasons, they seem to act completely differently, changing personalities or withholding information from her.

The thing is there's nothing to the show so far beyond these bare bones. Absolutely nothing suggests there's a world out there beyond all these mysteries within mysteries. There's no explanation of why anyone conducts themselves in such an esoteric way in what seems to all intents and purposes to be 20th century Japan. Sure, the heroine has a job, but it's working at a maid café - hardly relatable if you're not into nerd culture. People talk about attending school, but you don't see it happen. We don't see a single person speak in anything beyond generic platitudes or cryptic allusions to the various unanswered questions.

Characters act in a certain way because of how it serves the plot: there's nothing to leave the viewer feeling any of them have any kind of inner life. And they refuse to evolve even a fraction - the heroine starts off mousy and terrified and remains resolutely ineffectual, and her harem of Beautiful Men stay as painfully one-dimensional as the moment they walked on screen. Seeing characters who could have stepped straight out of a videogame trying to persuade you they actually exist engenders this bizarre discord, like Star Trek IV and the crew of the Enterprise wandering the streets of San Francisco.

It's not exactly a terrible show: the art and production values are both markedly stronger than most of the current season and unusually consistent. The voice cast do solid work despite the mediocre writing. Devotees of the genre or the original visual novel the show was adapted from will probably find something to like - if you're just after a timid everygirl quaking in her boots around a smartly dressed lineup of male stereotypes, go for it. But taken as serial television, four episodes in there's nothing about Amnesia that's any more substantial than cotton candy. Perhaps it gets better: I don't plan on sticking around to find out.

Amnesia is currently screening - region permitting - on the video streaming website Crunchyroll.
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KarenMarch 13, 2013 10:58 PM

Amnesia is the best anime for girls. You didn't play the 3 games of it, that's all. And this anime means that the point is that there's so many boys that the MC couldn't remember might be her BF. This game reminds me of an alternate version of an Otome GAMe. I rate this anime/game 10/10 don't get it because amnesia takes some of the guy's parts of the game and make it into the anime, you have to play the game to get it.