Amnesia: Insert your own joke here
Director: Ohashi Yoshimitsu (Galaxy Angel, Intrigue in the Bakumatsu, Sacred Seven)
Seiyū: Taniyama Kishō (as Ikki); Ishida Akira (Kent); Hino Satoshi (Touma)
Welcome to the New Year, folks! Last year started off with a bummer, and that didn’t go so well. So how shall we start this one?
I mean, holy. motherfucking. shit. The crazy here sneaks up on you, doesn’t kick in until the second half, but holy motherfucking shit does it bring the hammer down. To borrow from How Did This Get Made—it is upsetting. It is bonkers. It is baffling. It’s What the fuck is happening?? It had been on my list for the premise, which is:
When the heroine regains consciousness in an unfamiliar place, she has suddenly lost all memories of everything that happened before August 1. What is this place, and what was she doing there? Who is she, and what sort of life had she lived?
but lay untouched in my queue for months. But Jean Kirschtein is my bae, so his VA (and the hilariously uncomfortable concept of Ishida Akira in a romantic role) finally pushed me to watch the first episode. It was meh, so I figured I’d give it another chance. And I just kept giving it chances. Five minutes into the tenth episode (of twelve) I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to pay off in any sense. Even the voice acting is 90% lackluster, and that’s usually my jam. Ultimately I decided to stick it out until the end, because it wasn’t aggressively pissing me off and I was already on the couch knitting anyway, so. . . .
There’s not a thing about this anime that makes it worth watching. But I did finish it. And here are some of the reasons I’ve seen few things worse than Amnesia.
The adaptation. This is complete speculation on my part; this anime was adapted from a visual novel (which I have not played) by the same folks that brought us Hakuōki (which I did play before watching). With all of that in mind, I may be unfairly contrasting the two. An historical title has the advantage of built-in tension and ticking clocks. The fact that the men were all members of a militia meant that they could all comfortably interact, and the adaptation could tease moments from each of their routes in the game without coming off as hackneyed. Not to mention that with individuals as infamous as the Shinsengumi, the writers could lean on popular conceptions of their characters as narrative shorthand. Any Japanese person who paid attention to NHK dramas or manga from the ’90s knew pretty much the kind of person they were going to get with any of the historical figures featured in Hakuōki. This sort of shorthand allows a writer a lot of freedom to focus effort on constructing an overarching narrative and building relationships over time.
Amnesia had none of that. Nor did Amnesia seem to want it. The writers started with a completely blank canvas—there is no historical shorthand to work around, and since it begins in medias res after the heroine has lost her memories, even she needs exposition to understand her world.
And yet there is no worldbuilding. Their blank canvas remains blank.
The informed plot is that she was in some kind of accident, so her coworkers say, which seems to explain the amnesia. But almost immediately she is visited by Orion, a boy-sized fairy that only she can see and hear. And he instructs her not to tell her friends that she has amnesia. (Something about the cause being supernatural, so being thrown in hospital wouldn’t help and would somehow actually be harmful, idk.) So instead of asking questions about her life, she blindly fumbles through her days while her friends seem little alarmed that she’s different than she used to be. With no narrative conceit to get to know them, I do not feel close to these characters, do not feel intrigued to know more, and do not care what happens to them.
But they go on. Eventually Childhood Friend number one starts seeming especially shifty, and after a second accident (the events of which are, again, informed), the heroine wakes up to find that apparently, Childhood Friend number one has been her boyfriend all along.
Okay, fine. It’s Japan and he’s in high school (she’s a little older) and everyone is shy, so if he just hadn’t said anything before, fine, I can swallow this information. There’s some unnecessary drama introduced in the form of yet another informed plot point, and yet another accident (okay, here’s the time to mention that this sounds like a shōjo comedy, but there is absolutely 100% NOTHING in this series that is Played For Laughs) not only shoots her back in time, but now she finds that she’s been dating someone different.
Herein lies the structure. Instead of a group of people who are close and working together toward the same goal, you have consecutive arcs and people that have little to do with each other. Accident, time warp, new guy, until you’re out of guys. The end. Sound fun yet?
Real quick—the opening theme is a winner (I’m still humming it a week after I’ve finished the series), and the OST is Yann Tiersen-esque and fits the tone they were going for. But there are lots of scenes that could have been padded out with a little of that lovely soundtrack. Now, I’m all about media that doesn’t rely on non-diegetic music. I think tense moments are far more tense without the score telling you how to feel. But the scene has to be strong already to get away with having no music. So many shots in Amnesia are silent and still for seconds at a time that you can’t help but notice how brain dead everything feels. Kind of like. . . .
The heroine. RPGs and visual novels often allow the player to name their character. But because characters deserve names, games-into-anime series settle on a canon name so that other characters in the show can treat the player-character like a human being. And these games often provide a surname anyway, because that’s useful in dialogue and like I said, characters deserve to have goddamn names. Except, apparently, this girl.
And you know what? I’ll give them that. She is a nameless, helpless, careless blockhead that has zero personality or charm. She waits for phone calls. She speaks when spoken to. She goes where she is told. She has no opinions. At no point does she think about her situation critically, question anyone’s motives, take any active effort to find an explanation for her situation. And she has two emotions: confused, and processing.
The one thing she actually does is record her days in a diary, but of course each time she returns to August 1st, the entries she has made since her amnesia began have disappeared. Halfway into the series she discovers an older diary in her room, but it is locked. Know what she says? “It’s locked, I wonder what’s in here” and then demonstrates no effort to search for the key. (In my head I thought “Man, a box knife could take care of that cover,” but that could just be me having worked in logistics for years.) A couple episodes later the situation is pretty fucking dire; she’s being accused of some things and being treated like a sub-human, so in her single proactive moment she returns home to consult the old diary on what she’d really been up to/what her real feelings had been.
And she casually pulls a hairpin from her head and picks the lock. Like. Where was that initiative before your situation became so so batshit. The diary does clear up the immediate situation and informs her that she is in love with her current dude, a fact that she passively accepts regardless of her current feelings (if she has any) and the outrageously mental shit he has been pulling. This girl. Is such a tool.
The men. That’s right, guys. It’s a reverse harem, and the guys are unappealing, overbearing, codependent, creepy, self-absorbed—you get the idea.
In the first world or two, the heroine works with four of these boys. There’s Childhood Friend number one, who is an inconsiderate prick. There’s the Chick Magnet who—okay he’s halfway decent but comes with a terrifying amount of baggage. Like, terrorism follows him and she’s guaranteed to get bullied by his fan club if she stays with him. It seems that the primary reason he likes her is because he can’t glamour her like every other girl he’s met ever, so whether or not she even likes him is questionable. His whole thing also suggests a fantasy subplot separate from the time traveling, but is unique only to him and seems not to affect her other three extant dude friends. I thought maybe they were all magic boys (most of them inexplicably wear gloves), but no, just the one.
Oddly enough the only Amnesia fellow who shows any promise as relationship material is blondie number green, a Spock type who approaches their relationship armed with readings about how to institute healthy communication. (Which is actually a pretty wise way to go about a real relationship, hey?) He’s busy with graduate studies so he invites her to his office, where she sits drinking coffee as he works, and you know what? It’s a nice fucking date. She’s an airhead so she sits in silence for hours the first time because she doesn’t understand what he’d intended, but after he explains his approach, things are good. There are glimmers of chemistry here.
Their interactions are free of drama, he never pressures her into anything, and he’s quicker than most to realize that something is off about the heroine. As the only one who is ever made aware of Orion’s existence, he even requests an audience with him to try to suss out what’s happening to the heroine. She dictates Orion’s responses and we as the audience finally feel like we’re on the right track to getting some goddamn answers. So how much time is devoted to this guy?
One episode. The other guys get two or three, but not the only one with logic and practical reasoning skills. Yeah, audience. Fuck you and your want of answers, let’s move on to storylines that are absolutely insulting, shall we? Because who’s next but Childhood Friend number two/blondie number stripes, who seems eminently well-adjusted until he is revealed to be a possessive sociopath.
Now normally I try to avoid big spoilers, but this is too fucking important. He. Literally. Drugs her. And locks her. In a cage. In his room.
In case you missed that. HE LITERALLY DRUGS HER LOCKS HER IN A CAGE IN HIS ROOM. He has “reasons”, which are to keep her safe from something, which he refuses to fully explain himself but she manages to piece together somehow. (Turns out she’s still getting bullied by the Chick Magnet’s fan club.) This is the person the old diary says she’s in love with. And hey, what’s a dumbass to do but go with the flow, amirite. Fuck. This series condemns bullying with one side of its mouth, and celebrates emotional abuse with the other, the only apparent difference being the gender of the person performing the abuse.
Think you’re going a get a reprieve with the last guy? Hmph. He’s probably also hopping time but was always a creeper; wasn’t her friend, never really met any of her friends, just sort of appeared sometimes and said/did nonsense. And when it’s his “turn” he tries to murder her. And she finds sympathy for him because it’s just a split personality guys, don’t worry. I don’t think I need to explain what is so belligerently unhealthy about this.
This last guy, voiced by Miyata Kouki, constitutes much of the 10% of the acting that wasn’t a snoozefest. This was the first time I’d heard him in a role unlike the Yamada Hanatarōs and Fujisaki Chihiros I’m used to, and he brang it. The other high points are the heroine’s sometimes-coworker Sawa and boss Waka, who essentially plays multiple characters since his personality changes in every world. (He’s somehow a perfect dupe for Ranka in the English dub of Ouran.) The rest of the acting isn’t actively bad, just bland and dead of character. But hey, that’s how it was written, so I guess they got it right too.
And these are the only three things that are in this series: the fact that it has source material, a girl, and boys. If anything about this sounded interesting—I won’t recommend the anime, and even though I can’t speak to the visual novel I can’t recommend trying that either. So much of this was both boring and emotionally gross. Personally I don’t feel that Amnesia wasted my time, but only because I learned something about how not to write characters. (And by the end, I had a 2,000+ word post and several more inches of a scarf.)