Dusk Maiden of Amnesia review

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Or as I like to call it, Saturday! I’m spending today with the true loves of my life, a laptop and some anime. Ladies…?

High school! Comedy! Romance! Fanservice! Ghosts? Yes!

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, as well as being one of the most directly translated titles ever, is the story of high schooler Teiichi Niiya… well, no. Actually, that’s not strictly speaking true. He’s the protagonist, but it’s really the story of Yuko Kanoe: beautiful girl, president of the school’s Paranormal Investigation Club and very, very dead.

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You see, Yuko is a ghost, killed 60 years before the start of this series, her body interred in the basement of the old school building. Her ghostly pranks have earned her a reputation as the malevolent Yuko-san, and ghost stories abound. Accordingly, she recruits Teiichi into the PIC to investigate… her own mysteries?

What makes things interesting is that Teiichi is one of the few people able to see Yuko (as a beautiful schoolgirl), which makes things awkward when they recruit another student who can’t see her – Momoe Okinogi, a bubbly scaredy-cat with a major crush on Teichii – and even more awkward when they recruit another who can see her (as a demonic entity) – Kirie Kanoe, Yuko’s grandniece.

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The story follows the quartet as they investigate supernatural occurrances throughout the school, with the overarching goal being to uncover the mystery surrounding Yuko’s untimely demise.The investigations themselves normally go pretty much the same each time – Okinogi eagerly drags the gang t some creepy part of the school, Yuko teases Teichii, and Kirie shoots disapproving glares. It turns out Yuko did it as a joke/mistake/just because. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

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The puppet show episode was particularly weak.

One could surmise, therefore, that this series gets stale fast. Wrong.

Quite the contrary, as the series moves on, it only gets more interesting, as the mystery gradually unfolds and becomes darker and darker. We are, after all, dealing with the enigmatic death of a schoolgirl here, and while Dusk Maiden is, at its heart, a love story (more on that in a moment), it also features surprisingly strong horror elements.

Explaining the core horror of the series would spoil too much, so instead I’ll focus on the self-contained plot of one of the episodes, in which a different Yuko visits the club’s ‘ghost house’, which they have set up for the school’s cultural festival. It eventually becomes clear that she despises Yuko-san due to the years of bullying she has endured simply for sharing the same name, and seeks to destroy the legend of Yuko-san. However, her plan backfires when the other students attempt to sacrifice her to appease an angry spirit (which she invented). The scene in which the students bear down on the girl is an unexpected trip into hellish psychadelic imagery, their faces morphing into a swirling mass of grinning hatred.

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The entire scene is a disturbing reminder of the potential madness of group hysteria and good grief I’m starting to sound like a university lecturer now. Regardless, the scene is extremely effective and off-putting. The absurdity of a student about to be murdered by knife-wielding children might seem a tad overbearing, but you’ll have to trust me on this. I mean, they DO cut open her shirt so you can see her cleavage, but that’s hardly impor… you’re not even reading this any more, are you?

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Well, at least keep reading when you’re done, okay?

Anyway, yes. This story is about a boy who falls in love with a ghost. Again, sounds kind of dumb, but works incredibly well in the context of the series. There’s some incredibly well written dialogue which helps every scene feel legitimate and earned, and by the end of the series there are some definite hints of Angel Beats coming into play – fitting, considering Emily Neves also played Kanade in that series.

The dialogue’s quality is helped in no small part by the excellent English dub cast who fit snugly into their characters like hands in gloves. Emily Neves undisputably steals the show as Yuko – she’s hilarious, warm and propah sad like when the going gets tough. Clint Bickham hits all the right emotional cues as Teiichi, though he’s notably better in the more ‘neutral’ scenes – somehow he is able to get incredible nuance in them, but it’s often lost in scenes that call for more intense emotion. Jessica Boone – while I’m not too familiar with her work, also did an awesome job as Kirie, with just the right amount of sardonic wit and attitude. Personally, I think Kirie was a little underused, so that should tell you all you need to know about her VA. And then there’s Brittney Karbowski as Momoe. Moving on…

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Okay, okay, yeah. It’s not my favourite role she’s ever done. Momoe often comes across as pretty annoying, and Karbowski plays her with a valley girl-esque accent that tends to drive me nuts, like, ohmahgawd. Sorry Britt, but this time it just didn’t click for me.

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I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other chances to shine soon…

Thankfully the series is also visually stunning, and utilises various creative angles and animation, primarily through contrast between colour and darkness,in order to really nail the emotional tone and ethereal quality of the series. The great thing about animation is that you can do anything, as long as you can properly visualise it – but you still have to adhere to cinematic sensibilities or it all falls apart. Here, have some examples:

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Finally, to address a point I haven’t covered yet – the fanservice.

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“Eeeeeeeeeek! Gross!”

Yes, a series about a boy in love with a ghost girl has fanservice. A surprising amount of it, actually. A lot of the humour of Yuko and Teiichi’s interactions comes from her being smokin’ hot and not afraid to show it – she is dead, after all – and uses that to create more funny scenes, like when she’s extremely embarrassed by Teiichi seeing her actual skeleton, but not accidentally touching her breasts.

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Woah, where did this MASSIVE image come from?

Ergo, cue lots of collar pulling awkwardness and some cleavage shots. That said, it never gets too graphic, mostly sticks to cheesecake pinup material, and is almost entirely played for laughs. See mum, I’m not a pervert!

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“So I’m still getting a dakimakura for Christmas, right?”

Some people say the fanservice comedy of Dusk Maiden ruins the overall tone of the series, but personally, I think it’s what makes the series so interesting and quirky. What other series mixes fanservice, comedy and horror so smoothly? Not freaking Highschool of the Dead, that’s for sure.

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Unless you count tragicomedy…

So in conclusion, did I like Dusk Maiden of Amnesia? Yes I did. So much so that I sent a message to my friend who recommended it demanding an explanation for why he didn’t force me to buy and watch it months ago. The verdict is obvious.

NOT GUILTY

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is smart, funny and creative, with likeable leads, surprisingly solid horror elements, and a really nice romance at the heart of the story, making it one of my favourite animes of all time. Do yourself a favour and watch it today.

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BONUS DEAL! Here’s the ending theme too, because it’s lovely.

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