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.
Kamisama no Memo-Chou
Originally a light novel series written by author Sugii Hikaru, Kamisama no Memo-Chou tells the story of a high school student, Fujishima Narumi, and his interactions with the NEETs investigation group. This anime is a rare spectacle amongst the plethora of 2011 animes. In the aesthetics department, it was one of those more flawless candidates. With the increasing quality of animation in the anime business, it has become an issue of whether the audience can relate or adhere to the original art style. This itself is subjective, however I personally beamed at the consistent beauty prominent within Kami Memo. The storyline in itself is much similar to Gosick, where every few episodes, with the exception of the initial episode, includes the introduction of a new scenario where the NEET team attempts to solve.
The story itself was fairly decent, however the plot is somewhat weak and uncohesive. This arises from the notably disconnected episodes which places a risky limit on the development of characters and background information. Despite this, each episode was thoroughly enjoyable - from the gradual discovery of character relations to the sporadic jokes related to Alice's underdevelopment. Each installment of the anime offered something to look forward to, although ephemeral, the makers of Kami Memo have created a deept bond, generally casual, between the client and one of the protagonists; normally Narumi. Throughout the anime, the story remained very consistent, in some cases, the outcome of a case is completely arbitrary and unpredictable. Despite this Kami Memo follows true to its detective genre fitting everything into a logical sequence with each case, thus making Kami Memo an anime to be desired.
In terms of animation, there is little to say. Kami Memo's art and animation is something worth mentioning. Unlike the animation in many good animes, Kami Memo's stays consistent ensuring the efficient, smooth quality of every episode, every scene and each and every frame! The smoothness and appropriateness of the animation for each context present generates a feeling of fullness, it makes the 23-24 minute episodes seem much shorter than it is. The occasional, unorthodox movements of Alice, such as the anime faces, are slightly different in the sense that it is rather difficult to express emotions of an usually phlegmatic girl. The awkwardness of this, however, is negligible when compared to the expressions of the remaining characters. The animation during the opening theme is something rare, very few animes have such quality and extravangance in their openings, from the keyboard presses to the fading Alice, it was truly something amazing to behold. Overall, the animation in Kami Memo is smooth and an enjoyable piece to watch.
The sounds of Kami Memo were suitable in most aspects, fitting appropriately in all the right places. The quality is ensured with each and every decibel, although there are occasional parts where you can't help but feel that something better could've been used. The voice actor Kayano Ai did a marvellous job in breathing life into Alice, she captured the monotonous voice of Alice during lengthy explanations as well as the cute squeals from Alice when she's in a bathing predicament. Finally another notable aspect is the opening song "Kawaru Mirai" by Chouchou, it was a great piece of work, most-suitable for such an anime as Kami Memo. The great voice acting and sound effects in Kami Memo enhance and enforces the overall viewing experience.
As previously mentioned, the discrete nature of the episodes resulted in the underdevelopment of many main characters. Little is known about the various backstories and origins of the NEETs group. Occasionally some bits and pieces are mentioned in particular plots, however all in all, the characters were a big unresolved mystery. However the character design compensates for the lackings in the development. From the cheerful, highschool nature of Ayaka to the victimised aura generated by Narumi; each an every character left something of an impression. However, it is indubitably Alice whom shone the most, her nature and personality is incongruous with her chibi appearance making her corrections and complaints towards the NEETs group somewhat humorous.
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I marathoned this anime for the October (Catch up with Summer) Monthly Marathon. It was a rather fast paced anime with enough of a plot to keep it interesting, and enough character development to make it enjoyable.
Plot: The anime consisted of several smaller plotlines that all tied into the fact that Alice (the NEET detective) is a computer genius. One thing that carried the anime plotlines, but left a small plot hole, was how quickly Fujishima was accepted into the lives of everyone he met. (Also, how he stays as long as he does after saying how often he moves in the first 5 minutes of the anime...)Still, the anime has a flow to it, allowing for character development and rich background stories.
Animation: Released in Summer 2011, the anime is par with others released during the same time frame. The lines are crisp, the backgrounds are eye catching, and the ramen looks edible. A lot of the plot points were detailed designs or small objects, and the animation detail on these items was incredibly well done.
Sound: The score on this anime was decent, mainly due to the sound director Jin Aketagawa (noted for animes such as Nodame Cantabile and Honey and Clover). The sound allowed for some intense scenes, but also more mellow interractions between the main characters.
Characters: Unless a backstory or detail was important to the current plotline, it wasn't given. Some characters are introduced and made central in plotline, only to disappear off the face of the earth in the next plotline. Apart from a few important figures, the characters remain static. For the few who star in a plotline, the character development is engaging and has good depth.
It didn’t take more that a few days for Gosick to end and VOILA yet another loli detective rose to take its place. This one is a NEET shut-in too… who likes to spy on people through cameras… and films teen prostitution movies for extortion purposes… and what’s with the pedo-bait main picture here?
… Only in Japan.
Anyways, this is a detective show that has to do with mysteries and murders and extortions and… Oh whom am I kidding; it’s a JC Staff production. Nobody watches their loli shows for the story or the substance; it’s all about the lolis. And this one is a NEET shut-in stalker so I bet thousands of males will understand her problem and have their parents go buy a huge pillow with her on it… Hey wait a second; how can she be a NEET if she is a detective? Or how is she a hikikomori if she keeps talking to numerous people that come in her room? This show is contradicting its own premise! Doesn’t take a genius to figure out how intelligent it’s going to be. And don’t wait for it to actually build on the concept and show some development and excitement over extortions and murders. It’s an aimless, dull, stupid moeblob with some people talking as dead time.
So what else did I get from this thing?
- The production values are good for such a show; I didn’t expect cinematics and attention to lighting for THIS type of show. They did a very good job no only in making the girls moe but also in making the computer room feel natural, as well as the night-time scenes to feel like night.
- The main duo is very generic; the usual bossy loli cooldere that has as her personal slave a fail of a male specimen boy who for some impossible to understand reason all the girls have the hots for him. Add some moe cardboards and delinquents and you have a fully boring cast of people you will forget the second the episode is over. And yes, many are supposed to receive character development during the show but two episodes later they are rendered unimportant and are forgotten.
- The cases are simple to crack, as if they were a joke. We just need to accept Alice knows everything and has super technology that helps her analyze everything without ever leaving her teddy bear filled bed (I am not thinking of detective solving when imagining that).
- The plot is mostly moe comedy and human drama; there is very little actual detective work going on and even less interesting action scenes. It all plays out as calm as possible to the point you don’t even feel there ever was danger somewhere in all this.
- The ending goes for a last moment tragic event that is nullified with no effort thus again leaving you in complete apathy. The ending is just like the rest of the show without any actual conclusion (or purpose).
- And there is fan service. We can’t have a JC Staff anime without it; it would be an insult to their standards!
Overall? It had potential to be good but then JC Staff did its usual and created yet another poorly written show for 2D pedophiles with elements such as “detectives and mysteries” being nothing but useless wrappers for moe-moe crap. Total phail.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (good looking)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (good cinematics)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 3/10
Premise 1/2 (generic)
Pacing 0/2 (loose)
Complexity 0/2 (none; it’s slice of life instead of detective)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 0/2 (dull)
CHARACTER SECTION: 3/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 0/2 (insignificant)
Catharsis 0/2 (there is nothing important to resolve)
VALUE SECTION: 2/10
Historical Value 0/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 0/3 (no reason to rewatch it)
Memorability 2/4 (no reason to remember it other than the visuals)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 1/10
Art 1/1 (looks nice)
Sound 0/2 (sounds meh)
Story 0/3 (what story?)
Characters 0/4 (stereotypes)