One of the most annoying things about the anime industry is the seemingly ingrained belief that bandwagons, when jumped upon, have the mystical ability to carry studios into money. It’s a sad fact that every season will undoubtedly see the release of one or more shows that clearly attempt to piggyback on the success of something that has gone before. Thankfully following trends isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and every so often a series comes along that can be considered a superior example of its genre.
Unfortunately that also means that the majority of titles that do jump on the bandwagon are mediocre at best.
Originally a light novel series by Sugii Hikaru, Kamisama no Memochou (God’s Memo Pad), tells the story of a socially awkward high school student, Fujishima Narumi, and his exploits with the NEET Investigation Firm (apparently “It’s The Only NEET Thing To Do”). The story begins with a series of text messages that lead to a seemingly unrelated scene in a love hotel involving a school girl, a businessman, a delinquent of some sort, and an attempt at blackmail that ends with an ashtray to the head. Narumi, having recently moved to Tokyo, finds himself geographically challenged to the point where he’s in a perfect position to see that same girl jump out of a window.
After that things get a bit random.
One of the major problems with Kamisama no Memochou is that the plot doesn’t really have any particular goal or objective. The story is told in a series of short arcs that often have very little direct relation to each other, and while this does tie in to the idea of individual cases at an investigation firm, the lack of any real focus causes the narrative to meander before any conclusion can be reached. In addition to this there’s a surprising degree of contrivance apparent in the development of the plot, and while it’s true that certain events are necessary to implement the growth of particular characters, it’s much more preferable to have such things implied, inferred or even insinuated.
That said, there are some interesting threads woven into the plot that lay a good foundation upon which the story can be told, and if one is able to ignore the obvious prefabrication in the narrative then there is a degree of entertainment to be found.
Which brings up the issue of the company that Alice runs.
NEET simply means “Not in Employment, Education or Training”, which is a roundabout way of saying that a person is not just unemployed, but also has no real intention of finding a job. Given this fact, how can a NEET Investigation Firm exist when the simple act of working means that a person is no longer a NEET? To many folks it may seem like nothing more than splitting hairs, but in actuality it’s the most prominent example of the mentality behind the series (more on this in a bit).
Because Kamisama no Memochou is set in the “real” world, there’s a degree of mundanity to the artwork that is surprisingly well suited to the series. There’s also little in the way of flamboyance where the characters are concerned, but while the design principle seems focused on normality, the series suffers from a certain tired old saw involving beauty and people who aren’t very nice. On the plus side, the animation is pretty decent for the majority of the show, and is only really let down by some poorly incorporated CG or the odd repetition of particular sequences (there’s one in the first episode – see if you can spot it).
The series opens with a rather straightforward introduction to the main members of the cast, all to the tune of “Kawaru Mirai” by Choucho. On the other hand the main ending theme, “Asunaro” by Suzumura Kenichi, is set to a montage that focuses on Alice and Narumi, and features lots of tumbling negative words and rapid fire photos. In addition to this the first episode concludes with a a rather dizzying series of photographs and images against the backdrop of “Colorado Bulldog” by Mr. Big (and if you want to know who they are, google it or ask your older siblings or parents). As for the background music, while the tracks on offer are varied and atmospheric that doesn’t mean that they’re always necessary, and in truth several scenes would be better without any sort of accompaniment.
When it comes to storytelling it’s often the case that a relatively weak plot will be masked by philosophical or psychological discussions, and that’s pretty much what happens here. The script has a tendency to get bogged down in semantics and there seems to be an almost desperate need to expound upon the reasons for every action taken. Thankfully the voice actors are a pretty decent bunch, and while there are occasions where the performances are a little too excitable or overbearing, for the most part each role is handled fairly well.
One of the more interesting aspects of Kamisama no Memochou is the manner in which the characters interact with each other, especially the contrast between the established relationships and the manner in which Narumi’s connections to everyone evolve over the course of the series. Now while this suggests some very good character development, sadly that’s not the case as the story follows the old idea that drama leads to growth.
As the main lead much of the focus tends to fall on Narumi, but aside from certain events that force him to take charge he doesn’t actually change very much until the last few episodes. One could argue that his introspective monologues are symptomatic of his evolution, but in truth the conclusions he reaches aren’t reflected by any substantial changes in his personality. Right up to the end of the series he remains a figure who seems ill at ease with his role, and this seems like a wasted opportunity to explore what could have been a very interesting character.
The downside to this is the lack of attention given the rest of the cast, and there are a number of points that remain unanswered come the end of the show. Who is Alice? Why did she start a detective agency? How did the rest of the team gather? Not once does Kamisama no Memochou attempt to address these questions, and worse still, Narumi doesn’t even ask them. Apparently his character is content to remain ignorant of things that anyone in his situation would naturally want to know.
Which neatly brings us back to the mentality behind the series.
Intelligence is a difficult thing to gauge when it comes to stories, and one of the common assumptions is that the reader or audience will be unable to understand the choices, motivations and actions of this or that person. Writers make an effort to counter this, and the usual response is to load the dialogue with lots of big words, philosophy, psychology, psuedo-science, and other highbrow musings. The problem is that they often become so enamoured with their own intelligence that they begin to lose sight of what’s important, and elements begin to creep that really don’t belong or should have been thought out properly.
In the case of Kamisama no Memochou this manifests itself not just in the name of the company. One has to question the basic premise of a girl of indeterminate age (but probably around 12 or13 years old), with a mild Dokupe addiction living alone surrounded by high tech equipment. In addition to that one has to wonder why a show about detectives and mysteries would need an episode dedicated to fanservice or baseball.
This series has the potential to good, if not great, but there are far too many occasions where it takes its cues from titles like Gosick, not the least of which is the inclusion of an eccentric loli detective and her well meaning, yet slightly bumbling “assistant”. As with many other tales of mystery, there’s an element of entertainment that stems mainly from the viewer trying to figure out who, what, why and how, but that’s where the magic stops. Although there are occasions where the show is interesting, and sometimes a little charming, these are always overshadowed by one question – who is Alice?. The lack of any explanations about her places a burden on the narrative that remains throughout the series, and while the show tries to mysticise her character from time to time, this is nothing more than an attempt to stop the viewer asking unwanted questions (“it’s magic so it doesn’t need an explanation”).
Kamisama no Memochou is, at best, an interesting mystery anime, but like so many other shows that are the product of jumping on the bandwagon, it relies too much on the success of titles like Gosick, and too little on what it could have been.