Teiichi Niiya is a first year middle school student at Seikyou Private Academy, a huge school that has a lot of ghost stories tied to it due to there being a mixture of ‘new’ and ‘old’ buildings on site. When Teiichi gets lost in one of the old buildings, he meets and eventually becomes tied to Yuko Kanoe, arguably the most famous ghost at the school. Unlike most ghosts, however, she’s not out to scare him but instead enjoys his company, as he’s the only one who can interact with her. When Yuko reveals that she has no idea how she died, they decide to form a Paranormal Investigation Club to uncover her past, as well as the secrets behind the various ghost stories in the school.
The anime starts off on a noteworthy foot; the opening scene is repeated twice – the first from Momoe’s point of view, seeing seemingly floating items around her and rightly getting scared of the unknown, then again but from Yuko’s view, showing a bored ghost wanting to interact with others who can and cannot see her. It’s a good opening episode, setting up the characters and club motives nicely, but then it suddenly jumps back in time for the next two episodes to introduce how it was set up and how the characters met. It’s not portrayed like a typical flashback episode; it plays straight, as if we’ve watched the episodes out of order, which is a bit weird, but not too jarring.
Having a ghost as the president of a paranormal investigation club is a humorous concept in itself, and having a member of the club unaware of her presence could have led to some good comedy, but sadly it doesn’t. The problem with Dusk Maiden is that it’s a watery mixture of various genre tropes from harem, to horror, to slapstick comedy and yet each element used is so passé and safe. Each episodic story is filtered to try and appeal to as many audiences as possible, but too often it fails to strike a good balance between them. Admittedly, there are times it becomes interesting when it explores Yuko’s character, especially in the second half when the balance between the different elements nearly come together, with Episode 10 being near-perfect (the script, the tone, the characters, everything). I even admire the effort put into the artistic direction that tries to add depth to the supposed tension-filled horror scenes. But too many times it suddenly deflates in front of you by the other tropes it tries to accommodate, often by monotonous comedy or lacklustre fan service. When ghost stories are more often than not explained away with misunderstandings and or just out-right dropped for the sake of fan service, they stop becoming intriguing and instead develops into boredom, or in the ending’s case; frustration.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia has a very small cast: only four characters including our resident ghost, which is surprising considering that it’s set in a large school. The two living females contribute little outside of their piece of the harem non-puzzle. Momoe is the ditzy easily scared girl who’s the only one of the cast who can’t see Yuko. She’s also high-pitched, annoyingly hyper and has a crush on Teiichi, that’s pretty much it. Then there’s Kirie; she’s the ‘tough on the outside but secretly likes the male lead’ stereotype. She has potential, due to having a family connection with Yuko, but it’s sadly only used at the very end; other than that she’s only around to provide exposition when needed. Teiichi hits all the same notes as a harem lead; easily embarrassed and somehow irresistibly attractive to the ladies. But thankfully he does have a few moments where he actually talks with Yuko about how he feels and tries to be proactive in helping her find out about her past, which is a lot more than can be said about other male-focused romances. Then there’s the ghostly lead Yuko who is a nice change of pace for ghost characters as a whole. As stated in the opening paragraph, she’s not trying to outright scare people, she’s not even that overly concerned in uncovering her past or having her soul pass over to the ‘other side’. In fact she seems to enjoy being a ghost, having the freedom to do as she pleases and hanging out with Teiichi on a daily basis. Their interactions are handled sweetly overall, and seeing her having no problems with pressing her ghostly boobs against him but being downright embarrassed with him seeing her corpse is played entertainingly (although it does raise serious questions as to why he doesn’t call the police to uncover the body as it would help reveal how she died much more easily). But what bothered me most about her character was the ‘rules’ of being a ghost; the first and seventh episodes makes a big deal of her lifting objects and humans getting scared with only seeing them floating in mid-air, but then you have an episode in-between where she’s running down busy school corridors during a festival whilst carrying candy floss, and no one bats an eyelid. Then there’s the whole head scratching thing of her changing clothes to match the weather and complaining she feels cold when she’s stated earlier when Teiichi touched her that she hasn’t felt anything in a while. I’m all up for stretching the imagination, but some consistency would be nice.
The soundtrack, composed by Keigo Hoashi and Rhyuuichi Takada, does a good job of keeping up with the abrupt changes in tone from horror to comedy to melodrama. Although there are no stand-out pieces that will stick with you, it blends nicely in the background when viewing. The opening theme is provided by Konomi Suzuki; she has a very big voice, and the music has a great energetic build-up, although I’m not sure what a ‘Choir Jail’ is suppose to be. The ending theme ‘Karandori’ by Aki Okui is not as memorable but complements the soundtrack nicely.
Animation style in this series is varied; the normal character design is nothing unique but as the series progresses through the ghost mysteries, the art really goes all out to bring the horror and mystery into the story. The traditional art style used when the characters are talking about the old shrine sacrifice days is gorgeous, the vivid colours striking against the dark corridors of the school works nicely, and there’s a scene in Episode 6 when the students become terrifying silhouettes that resemble something out of the video game Limbo. The animation is definitely a highlight that would have been more respected in another series, but here it’s just a lot of effort put into animating a series that isn’t as strong.
DVD extras include an extra thirteenth episode that takes place after the ending, clean opening and closing, plus trailers for various MVM properties such as Bodacious Space Pirates and Mysterious Girlfriend X.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a watered-down milkshake that tries to be a lot of different things at once but just ends up being vanilla. It’s not scary, mysterious, or funny. Despite its good intentions and a few gold moments in the latter half, its weak first half and a very flat ending only adds up to a silly and repetitive series. If you prefer Casper the Friendly Ghost over American Horror Story you may find more in this than I did, otherwise it’s safe to pass.