Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

Mixing very different themes together can sometimes produce surprising results, but there’s a big risk involved with this approach to storytelling, and original concepts that are formed using this process often fall at the first hurdle. There are always exceptions to this guideline, but in anime these are usually adaptations of some other media that are often the result of hopeful popularity forecasts and a severe lack of common sense.

Thankfully, Tasogare Otome x Amnesia (Dusk Maiden of Amnesia), manages to steer its way through the conversion rapids – but not without taking some damage along the way.

Based on the manga by Maybe, the story revolves around the unusual relationship between Niiya Teiichi – a middle school student at Seikyou Private Academy and a senior member of the Paranormal Investigation Club – and the club president Kanoe Yuuko – the spirit of a female student who died in the abandoned school building 60 years before. The story begins with a rather humourous series of events that are initially shown from the perspective of Okonogi Momoe – a girl who is blissfully unaware of Yuuko’s presence – and the beauty of the scene is that it not only forms a surprisingly good introduction to the main characters, but that the impact of this is reinforced when the events are replayed to expose the joke.

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Unfortunately things don’t really proceed so well for the rest of the series as, although there is an actual story behind everything, the plot is broken up into a series of short arcs that only last one or two episodes. It’s an approach that can be surprisingly flexible when used correctly, and given the importance of the ubiquitous “seven mysteries of [insert name here] school” it’s understandable why this method was used. Sadly the move from manga to anime has been far too rushed, and the compression of information causes too great a shift in pace between each arc. In addition to this there are several major plot points that are noticeably absent in the anime – mainly because the shadow of early adaptation reared its ugly head again. Dusk Maiden is yet another show that has suffered the ignominy of being animated before the manga was complete, and this causes a few contextual problems that the writers have tried to gloss over – with varying degrees of success.

As with most adaptations the character designs are taken directly from the source material, and as with the majority of school-based romantic comedies there isn’t really anything special in this department. That said, Dusk Maiden is stylistically and aesthetically pleasing to the eye – mainly because director Oonuma Shin has applied a number of the visual tricks and techniques that he used in the “ef” series. Unfortunately the character animation isn’t as crisp as it could be and some of the movements are a little odd, but aside from that (and several moments of shoddy line work, and the repeated use of low angles and sunsets – which can become a little tiresome after a while), SILVER LINK have produced a good-looking show. The design mentality works particularly well in a number of scenes, serving as a pleasing visual reference to reinforce the show’s genre foundations of horror and romantic comedy.

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Dusk Maiden does contain some fanservice (it’s a school-based romantic comedy with harem elements after all), but the approach is far less aggressive than that of a number of anime out there. These moments are often caused by Yuuko’s carpicious nature and the amusement she derives from making Teiichi uncomfortable – which is a nice change from the usual harem lead falling face-first onto a random girl (or her falling on him).

One interesting aspect of the series that does bear mentioning is the overt symbolism related to Noh and Kabuki theater – Momijigari. The meaning of the repetitive red and yellow maple leaves is something that can be easily passed of as a way to make the scene look good, but it’s actually a subtle reference to stories about a beautiful maiden/princess who was actually a demon in disguise, and who is ultimately killed by the man she is attempting to seduce. It’s a surprisingly telling visual device that, once understood, gives the plot some extra weight and sets a performing precedent that the voice actors and scriptwriters can build on.

Dusk Maiden opens with Suzuki Konomi’s “Choir Jail” – accompanied by a straightforward visual medley to introduce the main characters mixed with the maple leaf metaphor. The closing theme is somewhat noteworthy – showing Yuuko sitting against a window in what is presumably the abandoned school building, singing “Karandorie” by Okui Aki while the sun sets. Both sequences feature some decent audio/visual choreography, and this is largely true for the majority of the series. The score contains a variety of tracks that add some nice background to scenes and jokes, and there’s some surprisingly good effects work on display – although this is offset by a degree of untidiness, and the usual comedy-centric noises can sometimes feel out-of-place.

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Given that the series crosses two very specific genres there’s always the danger of the script going from one extreme to another – especially with an adaptation of an unfinished work – and while this does happen on some occasions the writers have maintained a pretty good balance between the disparate elements for the majority of the story. The Japanese dub fares particularly well because of this, but the translation into English could have been approached in a more intuitive manner as it is a bit too … literal. Tsubasa Yonaga handles the role of the befuddled and slightly put-upon Teiichi very well, and Hara Yumi delivers a good performance as the precocious amnesiac ghost Yuuko. Kitamura Eri (Kanoe Kirie), and Fukuen Misato (Okonogi Momoe),  also work rather well in their supporting roles, and while the all of the voice actors have moments that don’t quite fit, their collective efforts are pretty decent.

On the other hand the English dub is rife with issues that could easily have been resolved during the translation and ADR processes – which is probably why Clint Bickham seems to struggle with the role of Teiichi and Emily Neves (Yuuko), seems unable to pronounce her love interest’s name correctly. Jessica Boone offers some solace as Kirie, but it’s the talented and highly experienced Britney Karbowski who suffers the most as Momoe. The lacklustre scripting issues are underlined by the adherence to literal translation, so the entire English dub is littered with out-of-place terms and the rage-inducing ‘kun’, ‘san’, etc – all of which has a big effect on the viewer’s perception of the characters.

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At first Teiichi appears to be little more than the common-or-garden lead male in a romantic comedy (with some harem elements), but he does have some good points as, unlike other stories of this type, he is determined to stay with Yuuko. In this respect he has more in common with the likes of Morisato Keiichi from “Ah! Megami-sama” than the usual harem leads of the last decade. As for the ghost herself, Yuuko is very clearly an extremely lonely character who, upon finding that someone can see and touch her, displays her affection in much the same way an abandoned puppy would to someone who fed and cared for it. The development of the relationship between these two is one of the central pillars of the storyline, and it’s interesting to see the progression of their relationship clash with Teiichi’s desire to know how Yuuko died and her desire to run away from anything that hurts or upsets her.

It’s unfortunate that time restraints and the need to leave a major chunk of the plot out of the ending (because it hadn’t been written), meant that Kirie’s growing friendship with Teiichi and her relationship with Yuuko are never fully realised – especially as the latter adds a competely different tone to the ending of the series. The sad part is that anyone who has read the manga will understand just how much has been left out, and the meaning behind the sinister shadow becomes much more horrifying than the anime depicts.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is predominantly a story of what could have been. The decision for early adaptation, combined with the limitations of a twelve episode series, has forced a number of edits and alterations that are noticeable – but only if the viewer has read the manga. While it lacks the punch of the source material – particularly at the end – the series offers some interesting concepts, a few laughs, and a rather sweet relationship between a boy and a ghost. The stylish visuals work surprisingly well with the storyline, and although the series plays fast and loose with some of its elements, several themes are dealt with in an astute manner. Aside from the issues with the English dub the narrative holds together quite well – which is an achievement for an adaptation of an unfinished story that has been crammed into a short series while trying to cover the holes in the plot.

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