A spark of consciousness ignites, and as you open your eyes, the darkness fades, revealing a blurry, out of focus face. As your eyes adjust to the light, you can see concern giving way to relief in the expression of… Who? Who is this person standing over you, and why is she wearing such a funny costume? She calls out to another person in the room, stating “She’s awake,” and you take a second to wonder where you are. This isn’t the first time your mind had to catch up with you when you woke up somewhere unusual… Or is it? It certainly feels like you’ve been through this before, but have you? And has it ever taken this long to fully regain consciousness?
You start to think about getting up and going home, only to realize with a sudden shock that you can’t remember where you live. Do you live alone in an apartment? Do you still live with your parents? Who ARE your parents? And for that matter, who are you? Just as you’re noticing that you’re wearing the same funny costume as the girl who woke you up, you hear male voices in the room, and two very attractive guys… One blonde, one brunette… Show up, and begin to fawn over you. One of them acts a little coldly, as though he’s trying to keep his emotions in check. The other starts to worry about you openly, almost as if he’s been in this position many times before. What is your relationship with these strange boys? Why are they dressed like strippers from Wonderland? One thing is certain… You can’t let them know you’ve lost your memories. Because banana.
Amnesia was produced by a company called Brain’s Base. I had not hear of this company until today, and if my Facebook poll results are any kind of evidence, you probably haven’t either. That’s a real shame, because they’re actually kind of amazing. They’ve put out a lot of highly visually impressive shows, such as Baccano, Penguindrum, and Durarara!! One of my favorite ways a company can achieve visual splendor is by carefully and skillfully allocating their budget so that not a single cent is wasted or wanted for. Amnesia is actually a perfect microcosm of their work, insofar as the fact that it has a lot of money to spend on big-budget special effects, intricately detailed and deliberately lit backgrounds, and an attention to detail that carries over to an outstanding sense of quality control.
The human characters don’t move much, but the movements they make are just fluid enough so that no viewer should ever have to complain about them looking cheap. It also helps that the series had a really smart sense of visual direction behind it, and unlike a lot of shows, the 2D and 3D animation complement each other perfectly. One thing people may complain about is something Brain’s Base had no real control over… The character designs. While the art style and the anatomical qualities of the human characters may be pleasing to the eye, this series completely jumps the shark in three areas… Hair, clothes, and eyes. I alluded in the plot synopses that each male character in our heroine’s harem is designed with a different suit from a deck of cards in mind. There’s a hearts boy, a diamonds boy, a clubs boy, a spades boy, and even a Joker boy. Oh and there’s also a boy only she can see, who looks like the Homestuck version of Peter Pan, if you can believe it.
If there’s one good thing I can say about these character designs, it’s that if you cosplayed one of them, you wouldn’t be confused for any other show… unless somebody really thought that Wonderland had a Chip’n’Dales club. Each boy is adorned with the symbol of their respective suit, as well as different styles of leather jackets, including a hooded variety, a turtleneck variety, a too-small variety, and a duster variety. Of course, because reverse harems do occasionally follow the rules a of regular harems, they’re also color-coded, mainly through the artificial coloring in their male scene hair. They also never change clothes unless they’re at work, meaning that they wear these weird get-ups in public, day after day, without fail. Yes, this is common in some anime, but not in slice-of-life anime, damn it!
The music is nice at first, but it can become wearisome really quickly. It’s mostly piano, and as pretty as it might be at a glance, it becomes repetitive, much like your typical visual novel soundtrack… tunes are meant to be played for long periods of time in the background while the player reads through dialogue and occasionally makes a choice, and that style sadly doesn’t translate well to animation. The opening, on the other hand, is outstanding. The song is called Zoetrope, and it’s a ice listen regardless of whether you’re watching the video or not, but combined with the on-pace video does a much better job of making the main character and the main plot of the show interesting than ANYTHING in the actual story does. It goes through the tired cliche of showcasing all of the Harem character profiles, but it does so really quickly, instead spending the majority of it’s time showing the heroine lost and confused in a dark abyss full of phantom playing cards.
The English dub was done by Sentai filmworks, and I really want to try to be nice about this, because the cast was obviously trying their hardest with the material given to them. It’s hard to like any of them, not because they performed badly, but because there wasn’t really any room in the show to perform well. Add to that a cast who’s biggest name is Christopher Ayres, and you have to wonder just how many of their biggest names must have looked at the script and refused outright to have anything to do with it(And if this IS the case, God bless Emily Neves and Jay Hickman for having the decency to at least take bit parts). I’m not sure why they bothered dubbing this anime in the first place, since there’s really nothing any American actor could add to the experience.
Maggie Flecknoe is our main character, presumably because she’s the only actor they had who’s bland and easy enough to overlook that they knew a nameless character with no agency or personality wouldn’t make her look any worse. Not surprisingly, she also played the hapless female lead in Diabolik Lovers(She’s also further proof that Log Horizon could get a good performance out of literally anyone). Her role never demanded any big emotional commitment from her, and like a true paycheck-desiring trooper, she didn’t bother trying to give it one. Houston Hayes and Chris Ayres actually got to put some emotion into their roles, even if that emotion began and ended with “I’m pissed off at you.” Shannon Emmerick didn’t do a bad job with the cutesie Ryuksie character Orion, but then again, playing young male voices is kind of her only viable career option, so let me ask once again; “How many A-list VAs turned this series down?”
Considering Sentai has to be picky with which shows they dub and which ones they don’t, and considering how they’re able to take one look at a piece of shit like Detroit Metal City and say “ehhhh, maybe not this one,” I’m honestly surprised they put forth the money to put this series out in English… On Blu-Ray, no less! I mean, I’m sorry, but this is one of those rare occasions when the type of story being told, and the kind of character tropes being portrayed, there really isn’t any real American equivalent to the material. They probably should have released this one in Japanese only, and yeah, that’s also how you should probably view it. One Luci Christian role… Just one… Could have justified it enough for a recommendation.
I’d like to begin the meaty portion of this review by running down the wonderful cast of characters that are featured in this gem. Let’s start with the main character, named… She actually doesn’t have a name. When she wakes up with amnesia, she never asks anybody for any details about her life, which means that through the entire anime, we never learn her name, her family status, or even how old she is, which would be unforgivably creepy if a quick look at wikipedia didn’t list her as an 18 year old college freshman. She’s listed in the credits as ‘heroine,’which is a laugh, because ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ are titles you’d give to characters who are active, show positive qualities, and have some sort of agency in their lives, whereas Heroine-san seems to be the personification of the term “Just go with the flow.”
Much like Mayuri from Steins;Gate, the world is trying to kill her, but unlike Mayuri, there’s actually an in-universe explanation for it(which I won’t spoil). She dies in each world she’s in, mainly due to the fact that she likes to run out into the street without looking first, although the fact that she can’t swim may also play a factor. Of course there are other possibilities, like Orion’s suggestion that if she doesn’t stay close to people at all times, she may forget how to breathe. A suggestion she takes seriously. Yes, a college student doesn’t know that breathing is an involuntary action that even babies do. Orion also convinces her that it would be a bad idea to tell the people in her life that she has amnesia, because like I said earlier, Banana. The only conscious decision she EVER makes is picking a lock to get out of a cage, and the only reason she does that is so she can get back to her apartment and find proof that she loves someone in order to stop them from raping her. Because that’s how rape works? She has literally no standards for dating other than “must be hot bishie,’ and to prove it, let’s see just how charming her princes are. And trust me, each one is worse than the last.
Her boyfriend in the first timeline is Shin, represented by the Heart suite. That’s actually kind of appropriate, because while none of these guys are ‘best choice’ material, I’d consider him the ‘least awful choice.’ He’s a year younger than the heroine, and he has a chip on his shoulder from society shaming him for the accidental sins of his father. He cares about her, and his main issue is with jealousy… Not a good trait to have, but a believably human one, and one that I actually would have liked to see fully worked through. Unfortunately, Heroine-san falls off a cliff and jumps to a new timeline, where she’s dating Ikki, a much more boring character who’s life has been tortured by what I’m going to call the PG rated version of Dane Cook’s curse from Good Luck Chuck. He wants her because she’s immune to his charm, and the girls who ARE obsessed with him provide a constant source of antagonism for her throughout the course of the series.
Next up, very briefly, is Kent, and if there’s an offensive stereotype for asexuality out there, he’s it. I know lots of women fall for the stoic guy with glasses… Kyoya from Ouran, I feel your pain… But they tend to have actual personality traits, like pride, or condescension, or something. Kent doesn’t have even the most basic of emotions, and every single coupley move he makes on Heroine-san can be drawn back to advice he got online or in a book. I actually AM asexual, and no, we’re not like that. We have human emotions. We understand basic human interactions. Kent is not a realistic person, which makes it extremely hard to not only relate to him, but to figure out what Heroine-san saw in him as a potential lover in the first place.
Then we have Toma, one of the most disturbingly popular reverse harem options ever. Do you remember how in the wake of Chris Brown beating up Rihanna, there were flurries of women online claiming it was okay, he could beat them too if he wanted to? That’s Toma’s fanbase in a nutshell, so let me just run down what this hopeless romantic did. There are going to be minor spoilers here. He realizes Heroine lost all her memories, so he lies to her and says they’re dating. This is already horrible, but we’re not done. He drugs her without telling her, which she has no reaction to, even when Orion warns her about it. He then sticks her in a dog kennel… Yes, it’s a cage, but it’s also a dog kennel… and claims he’s trying to protect her. Her only reaction to this is “This isn’t you… you’re not like this…” Uh, yeah, sure, keep telling yourself that. And then, like I said, she breaks out and finds the diary on her previous self in this timeline, and it coincidentily says she loves him, which prevents him at the last second from raping her.
They make googly eyes at each other, and then in the very next shot, she’s in the hospital with a broken leg, with no explanation offered as to how it happened, and even though I know she has a knack for getting run over, I’m going to assume he broke it to keep her from running away again. Yeah, remember that romantic scene with the sledgehammer in Misery? Something like that. And then we meet the final boy, Ukyo, who’s a literal murderous psychopath with a Jekyl and Hyde style split personality, and… Can we just stop now, and admit that all of these characters are awful? Can we just all agree that this is the most unlikeable cast of main characters since The Devil’s Rejects? Like I said, Shin had potential, but honestly, he wouldn’t look nearly as appealing if he didn’t have the rest of them to compare himself to. Nothing they do registers with Heroine, nothing ever alarms her, nothing ever convinces her to avoid or refute them, and Orion isn’t any better as he just spends the series dumping exposition and giving her terrible advice.
Okay, so if the characters are terrible, how’s the plot? There is no fucking plot. Nothing that happens means anything in the grand scheme of things. As a matter of fact, you could easily skip the first four story arcs and go right to the fifth without losing anything important. The point of this series wasn’t to slowly unravel an intriguing mystery, or gradually learn more about our main character through several shocking plot twists, it was to fit every single story path from the original game comfortably into the series so fans of each one could get their jollies off at some point. It’s like the story structure of Clannad, except in that show, every arc had some sort of central purpose going forward. The only point each arc in this anime has is to make the love interest of the previous arc look more appealing by comparison.
Or maybe the point is to make them more appalling? I don’t know. I don’t understand the appeal of dangerous or possessive lovers. Yeah, Yuno from Future Diary is hot, but I still wouldn’t touch her with a sixty foot pole. Maybe I just don’t understand the whole masochism thing, or maybe I just don’t get the appeal of being controlled, because apparently these characters are considered legitimate sex symbols on Japan. Even the subject of caging, which the Japanese voice actor himself apparently found weird, can still cause half a room full of women to go crazy for him. I guess I can give a pass to this show when it comes to fans who know that what they’re watching is an unhealthy escapist fantasy that would be unsalvageably horrifying in any sort of real world context, but because I don’t like to over-estimate people that I don’t know, I’m going to have to assume there are impressionable young viewers out there… both male and female… who may catch a bad message about abusive relationships, and I can’t forgive that.
Amnesia is available from Sentai Filmworks on both DVD and Blu-ray. It was originally really expensive, but can normally be found for low prices at certain Rightstuf sales. There are about six different entries in it’s visual novel franchise, and while I don’t feel like listing them all down, a few of them are available as imports to Playstation Vita. The series can also be viewed on Crunchyroll.
Amnesia is the perfect example of a show that just gets worse and worse as it continues on. I originally didn’t think too poorly of it, as I’d been pre-warned about some of it’s early flaws, and the way it played to popular dating sim character tropes, so I was at least expecting to enjoy it on a so-bad-it’s-good basis. What I actually got was a series that was so devoid of energy and passion that I found myself dozing off through most of the episodes. And yet, as boring as it was, it’s a surprisingly dangerous series, in the same ballpark as Popotan, albeit with a different message and much more commendable animation. Amnesia could easily teach young girls that toxic behavior is forgivable in a man as long as he truly loves you, especially since the main character is specifically designed to be a lego brick, and thus have no name or personality so that any viewer can imagine themselves in the role. I even found out very recently that fans of the original game hate it, and that’s saying something. I give Amnesia a 1/10.