Monday, September 9, 2013

Amnesia (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Amnesia is 12 episodes long and based on a visual novel series. It mixes mystery, romance, and fantasy.

This post contains spoilers. This is one of the most disturbing "romance" stories I've reviewed in recent memory, and I didn't feel I could adequately explain why without spoiling certain parts.

Synopsis:

The female protagonist of this series is never given a name, so I'll refer to her as Heroine, the same way Crunchyroll's episode descriptions do.

Heroine wakes up and discovers that she no longer has any memories of who she is or any of the people around her. Orion, a fairy only she can see, tells her that her amnesia is his fault – he accidentally bumped into her spirit, thereby attaching himself to her and knocking out all her memories. According to him, in order to get her memories back, she must interact with people she used to know. He believes it's best that she not tell anyone she can't remember anything, because she doesn't know, at this point, who she can trust.

In the very first episode, Heroine starts having visions that may be memories. Her situation rapidly becomes more confusing, however, when she suddenly finds herself transported back in time, without Orion to guide her. The first time she's transported back, Shin, who seemed to previously just be a childhood friend of hers, is now her boyfriend.

And so goes the general pattern of the series: Heroine is repeatedly transported to August 1st, where one of the men in her life is revealed to be her boyfriend. Certain details, like her job at the maid cafe, are usually the same. However, other things differ. Sometimes a group of girls bullies her. Her boss's personality changes from one repetition to the next. Through it all, Heroine has to orient herself and try to figure out what's going on, so that her world can stabilize and she can regain her memories.

Some general info about the various guys:
  • Shin – A childhood friend of Heroine's. He's studying hard to get into a university. He may or may not have killed someone.
  • Ikki – One of Heroine's fellow employees. His eyes seem to have the power to cause any girl except the heroine to fall in love with him, and it's not unusual for him to be surrounded by a crowd of his admirers.
  • Kento – Very logical and analytical. Normal human interaction does not come easy to him.
  • Toma – Another childhood friend of Heroine's. He acts like an older brother figure to both Shin and Heroine.
  • Ukyo – A mysterious photographer who is sometimes kind towards heroine and sometimes dangerous.
Review:

I started this one because I'm a sucker for pretty artwork and male harem series, even though they're almost always awful. I can't really say that it defied my expectations, although it had moments where it was more interesting than I originally thought it would be.

One of the big problems with this series was that Heroine was a blank slate in nearly every possible way. She had no name and no memories. She had little personality and tended to act like she was constantly slightly sedated. Her passivity was mind-boggling. She rarely did anything to try to help herself and figure her situation out unless Orion specifically told her to, and her responses to some of the things the guys did to her were fantastically stupid. Like, “OMG, I can't even believe what I'm seeing and hearing” stupid. But more on that later.

I've never played the game and didn't know anything about it prior to watching this anime. I figured that the bulk of the series would involve Heroine interacting with the guys in order to try to get her memory back. The first time she was transported back in time came as a surprise to me. As boring as Heroine was, the mystery, at least, was mildly interesting. Why was August 1st so important? Which world was Heroine's real world? Who could she trust? It's too bad that I often found the mystery of Heroine's predicament more interesting than she herself did. It was frustrating that so much of the series was devoted to watching things happen to Heroine, rather than watching her play an active role in trying to figure her situation out.

Although the mystery elements were mildly interesting, this series failed as a romance. Heroine was a bland placeholder in various romances that seemed destined to happen with or without her active involvement. Every one of her boyfriends loved her intensely, but there didn't seem to be anything about her that was lovable, except maybe her astounding ability to forgive absolutely anything.

Shin was the forceful, impatient boyfriend who was frustrated with the slow pace of his and Heroine's relationship, most of which occurred prior to Heroine's amnesia. Heroine was understandably nervous around him, because of the memory snippet that indicated he'd once killed someone. Once she found out the truth, she seemed to instantly relax around him...and then the series moved right on to the next boyfriend. There wasn't enough depth to it for me to decide whether I liked or disliked Shin's “route.”

Ikki's route had more mystery to it and was therefore more interesting than Shin's. However, the constant feeling that he was only going to stay with Heroine until she fell in love with him made it hard to become invested in their romance. Just like Shin's route felt like it ended prematurely, Ikki's route was over almost as soon as Heroine found out the truth about his serial dating.

Kento's route was by far the shortest, lasting only one episode. Not surprising, since he made for an intensely boring boyfriend, although he turned out to be one of the most perceptive and open-minded of them all. I have to admit, I actually felt a twinge when Heroine was once again shoved into a new relationship and away from Kento. I should note that the twinge was more for Kento than for Heroine – Heroine's attachment to the various guys never seemed to last much longer than her time with them. She moved from boyfriend to boyfriend like butterfly. No, more like a leaf in the wind, since even a butterfly has more agency than Heroine did in this series.

Now we get to the point where this series horrified and upset me: Toma's route. I'd initially thought that Toma would be the blandest of all of Heroine's boyfriends, a nice, protective “big brother” type. If you've ever wondered what could possibly be wrong with this type of character, Toma is a perfect example. Here is where we get into SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER territory.
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All right, I've given those of you who hate spoilers plenty of warning. I won't reveal everything that happens in Toma's route, just enough to get across why this part of the series bothered me so much. So, Heroine is in trouble. She's being bullied by Ikki's fangirls, because they think she's in a relationship with him. Her calendar says she meets him in a back alley on a regular basis. This doesn't quite seem to gel with Toma's story, however. He tells Heroine that the two of them are dating. Heroine doesn't know it, but he's doing all kinds of things to protect her. He comes by every morning to clear out the trash the fangirls left in her mailbox. He lies to Heroine and tells her that her cellphone is broken, so that she won't see the daily hate texts she receives. After some frightening events, he invites Heroine to stay with him but becomes angry with her after she leaves to do stuff on her own a couple times. This is when he begins drugging her.

Yes. He drugs her food and drink, so that she spends all her time sleeping. He lied to her about being her boyfriend because the lie made it easier to convince her to stay with him. He prevents others from coming and taking her away. When she starts refusing to eat or drink in order to avoid being drugged, he locks her in a cage. He says he's determined to protect her, even if she winds up hating him. He fills her cage with stuffed animals in the hope that this will help her feel a little better.

Can we say “disturbing as heck”? I might not have always been comfortable with some aspects of Shin and Ikki's routes, but at least neither one of them drugged her and locked her in a cage. The worst part of it was Heroine's reaction when she finally figured out this route's truth. Heroine had fallen in love with Toma over the years but hadn't been sure how to tell him, since she figured he saw her more as a little sister (they used to play together as children and I'm guessing their families were friends). Ikki was meeting with her to give her advice on how to proceed. Toma didn't know the full story and simply devolved into insane jealousy and protectiveness. He was horrified when he learned the truth and convinced that Heroine could never forgive him. I was sitting there shouting, “You're totally right she won't forgive you, because you're a miserable human being who locked the girl you liked in a freaking cage!” And then she said she forgave him, because he only did what he did because he wanted to protect her. OMG, I have no words.

As usual, that route ended almost as soon as Heroine learned what was really going on. For once, I was happy for it to end, because I hated Toma with every fiber of my being. Then, in the next route, Heroine fell in love with a man with a split personality, one of which was determined to kill her.

To be honest, after Toma's route, Ukyo's wasn't all that shocking. At least his attempts to kill her weren't presented as romantic. This was the point in the series when the truth about everything was revealed: who Ukyo, the mysterious photographer guy, was, why he was the only one who immediately knew that she had amnesia, why Heroine died/got hurt at the end of every route, etc. I enjoyed finally learning more about him, although the details were kind of stupid and overly convenient (a Fairy King was involved). I felt bad for him and wanted things to turn out well for him, but that didn't exactly translate into enjoying his and Heroine's romantic storyline. Heroine was just too boring. Also, it wasn't clear whether Ukyo's personality problem was something that could be fixed. He wasn't exactly safe to be around.

I watched this entire series hoping for some kind of payoff by the end. Silly me for expecting so much. At least in Hiiro no Kakera, the heroine actually fell in love with a specific person. By the end of this series, it's unclear which world is Heroine's true world and who she ends up with (because of course she ends up with someone) – she's given the option of choosing any one of them, a cowardly decision on the writer(s) part.

All in all, I'd have to say this series is “meh” with shades of “I need to scrub my brain with soap now.” The romantic storylines were rarely given enough time to be more than bland, the mystery was mildly interesting but had a lame resolution, Toma was the most horrifying "romantic hero" in existence, Heroine was dull, and the series didn't have a proper ending.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Alice in the Country of Hearts (manga) by QuinRose and Soumei Hoshino - Another series based on a visual novel. In this series, Alice is dragged to Wonderland, which is filled with gorgeous and often dangerous characters. There are many incarnations of the "Alice in the Country of..." series, with each focusing on a particular route. I've only read part of this series, but I believe this one follows the Blood Dupre route. Those who'd like another somewhat disturbing "romance" series may want to give this a try. For those who are now worried about trying this series, I don't recall anything in it freaking me out nearly as much as Toma's route in Amnesia. However, be aware that many of the inhabitants of Wonderland, including the gorgeous guys, are murderers. One big thing in this series' favor is that Alice is no wet washcloth of a heroine.
  • Soulmate (book) by L.J. Smith - Another story with a heroine who doesn't know what's going on and who she can trust. She learns that she's been reincarnated several times. Each time she died, it was at the hands of Thierry, a vampire who says he loves her. She needs to figure out what's going on before she is killed yet again. Those who'd like something else that mixes romance and mystery may want to give this a try. I've written about this book.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry (manga) by Ryukishi07, art by Karin Suzuragi; Higurashi: When They Cry (anime TV series) - This starts off like a disgustingly bland harem series and rapidly becomes something much darker. This is very much a horror/thriller series, not a romance. As far as their structures go, Amnesia and Higurashi have a lot in common - Higurashi "resets" every few episodes (I've watched more of the anime than I've read of the manga), and each time the story changes a bit. Those who enjoyed the darker turn that Amnesia took will probably love how quickly things fall apart in this series. I've written about the first volume of the manga.

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