Dusk Maiden of Amnesia makes a good first impression. The opening song, “Choir Jail,” is a heavy metal assault beautifully accompanied by 15 year old singer Konomi Suzuki in her debut hit. The anime's visuals are stunning and the color palette can only be described as kaleidoscopic. The first episode is comedic gold. But despite the pretty package Dusk Maiden comes in, there's more wrapping paper in this gift than anything else.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia begins on a comedic note and establishes a rather playful atmosphere for our characters. In typical harem fashion, the female members of a school's Paranormal Investigation Club are inexplicably attracted to Teiichi, a guy who seems to be entirely devoid of a sex drive. The only person who stands a chance at getting with him is Yuuko, the school's resident ghost; Teiichi is the first person who she interacts with in a long time, and she frequently makes sexual advances on him, but to no avail. The club looks into the school's various ghost rumors and stories in an attempt to learn about Yuuko's tragic past, which she has no memories of.
The first half of the series is nothing like the second. The fun school antics come to a screeching halt when episode seven rolls around, and we figure out that Yuuko's sour memories and emotions are constantly fed to a Shadow Yuuko, who has become fed up with being Yuuko's emotional receptacle. Shadow Yuuko decides to possess Yuuko's body and harm Teiichi out of spite, and in doing so, Yuuko's memories of Teiichi are transferred into Shadow Yuuko, hence Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. The disparity between the series' halves is a welcome twist and is a move I've seen work on numerous occasions in other anime.
The most impressive aspect of the show is the animation. Character designs aren't particularly unique, but one cannot claim that the atmosphere of Dusk Maiden isn't often marvelous. The hallways of the school are usually dim and shadows creep in from all sides, which is appropriately scary but also tedious. The colors in Dusk Maiden are very impressive. As stated earlier, the colors are kaleidoscopic and wonderfully bathe scenes in Halloween shades of orange and red during sunsets. The anime at least has all the looks of a great horror show.
The real issue with Dusk Maiden is two-fold. While the story is loaded with possibilities, it gets bogged down by uninspired genre conventions; there are also a great deal of genres that are crammed into the show, none of which are explored to any satisfactory degree. The ecchi elements of Dusk Maiden are initially promising, and the show quickly becomes reminiscent of Rosario + Vampire, another anime dealing with supernatural romance. The difference is that Dusk Maiden sticks to childish ecchi flirtation that is almost non-existent after the first half of the series, while Rosario + Vampire went above and beyond and at least showed some nipples at one point. Dusk Maiden remains paradoxically tame despite the obvious attraction Yuuko and Teiichi feel for each other. Something as benign as a kiss came at the very last episode, when Teiichi thought he was going to lose Yuuko forever. The simplest otaku fantasies are more stimulating than this.
As a harem anime, Dusk also falls flat on its face. The only girl given attention is Yuuko, while Momoe and Kirie, the other members of the Paranormal Investigation Club, are shunned through omission and negligence. We discover that Kirie is the granddaughter of Yuuko's sister, but that doesn't contribute to the narrative and becomes a trivial fact more than anything else. The show morphs into a never-ending soap opera between two semi-romantically involved people. The paranormal anime Bakemonogatari similarly features a small cast and has plenty of episodes that focus on two or three people, but unlike Dusk Maiden's females, Bakemonogatari's females feel important after some time. Kirie's role is to have epiphanies about Yuuko's past, and Momoe is funny, but take either one of those characters out and no one would notice.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia isn't terrible, and the underlying story is quite good. The positives manage to outweigh the negatives, but barely. If only the writers aimed at shaking up the status quo a little bit, this could have been an amazing show.
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