Amnesia may be a rare occurrence in the real world but in fiction it’s a common trope inflicted either on the main character or sometimes the love interest. It’s exploited to achieve several goals at once: to create easy sympathy for the suffering character and to serve as an audience surrogate who, like the character, will be completely new to the world, rules and characters. Having an amnesia-suffering character ask questions about the world they inhabit is natural, and having surrounding characters spout out exposition to said player wouldn’t be as obvious as having, say, a knowledgeable main character inner monologue about the whole premise (normally opening with ‘As you know…’) or having characters just bluntly talking about what’s going on out loud when it’s completely unnecessary in context. The anime series Amnesia is, of course, all over this trope; our heroine has lost all her memories to the point where she can’t even recall her own name. Luckily she has a fairy friend named Orion who tells her that her amnesia started three days ago on August 1st and in order to regain her memories she must interact with her world and hope that they return over time. Things become much more complicated however when every few days, just as the heroine has a near-death experience, the calendar reverts back to August 1st and the world she wakes up in is not the same as it was before.
Amnesia is based upon the romance visual novel of the same name and like most otome games there are multiple ‘love interests’ to pursue, leaving the production company behind the anime adaption to make a decision either to settle for one love interest whilst leaving the others to ‘friendship’ roles (such as Clannad) or try to cater for as many fans of the visual novel as possible by having the lead get with as many of the love interests in one go (like School Days). Amnesia, like School Days, tries to have its cake and eat it too, but it actually uses its main plot device to its advantage. Every few episodes our heroine wakes up in a new reality where she’s in the midst of dating (or at least falling for) different males. Since the lead doesn’t know which reality is the real world and must interact with others to regain her memories, this allows her to spend time and have intimate moments with each love interest without coming across as the village bicycle.
It’s not just who’s she dating in which timeline that’s changed; her social circle fluctuates across timelines, and the personalities of the characters around her change too. For example: at the maid café where she works, her manager in one reality is overly camp and friendly to all, in the next he bites the head off all his employees, in another he barely speaks a word. Then there are events going on around her that affect the series in the most positive way: in one timeline she goes on an employee vacation, in another there’s a festival. With every relationship she’s engaged in, the romance progresses in different ways so thankfully we have no cut-and-paste jobs of the same date with a different guy each time. What’s also refreshing is that the heroine is, in most cases, already in a relationship with each male at the time she wakes up in each reality so there’s no ‘chasing’ or courting to speak of. Each relationship is at different comfort levels as well. Shin is the heroine’s childhood friend, therefore is more forward with his emotions and, since he knows her very well, he picks up on her condition very quickly. Ikki, on the other hand, is older, more sexually active and extremely popular with other women, so his romance involves more sneaking around and teasing the lead by giving her kinky ‘favours’. The jumping between realities is a fascinating idea and something that, if the anime production team wanted to, they could have really done more with. What we see in the reality changes is mostly down to minor personality and history alterations just to summarise what’s happening at the time; there’s no cosmetic changes to speak of such as clothing or hair, and we get vague details at best on how the heroine came to meet these men and how they started becoming a couple. The timelines also don’t stretch very far; she spends anything from one to three episodes with each guy and then suddenly jumps to another; some relationships reach the kissing point, whilst others don’t, so none of the relationships reach a satisfying emotional conclusion.
Despite the anime’s lack of interest in really exploring its most interesting plot mechanism, it would have been easy to forgive if the heroine herself had been a worthwhile companion on the journey. Sadly, she’s as bland and unproductive as they come. Having an amnesiac lead probably works well in the game itself as the player can insert themselves and make decisions to progress how they want to, but in the anime it’s painfully obvious that she’s merely a tool for the plot to push around. She does nothing for herself and barely reacts to anything around her throughout the series, aside from following the suggestions and orders of the various men in her life. Admittedly she has no memories and jumping from one dimension to the next would be disorientating for anyone, but as she has barely no personality to speak of, not thinking for herself can only go so far. It doesn’t help that her Japanese voice (Kaori Nazuka) is on a constant breathy monotone throughout the series. Her English voice actress (Maggie Flecknoe) does try to add some personality and variety into her tone of voice but it doesn’t match up to her actions which are static for majority of the time. Even when her life is being threatened, the most the girl emotes is her eyes widening. Only much later on in the series does she take action but it’s the most silliest of decisions to ramp up the drama and makes her look like a complete idiot. Her fairy companion Orion seems to be the only one who actually thinks for himself and attempts to find out what’s going on, but even then his suggestion to NOT take our heroine to the hospital raises questions of its own. Side note: in one of the realities she jumps in, Ikki makes a remark that she’s not normally quiet and for Kent’s route he says that she’s a lot more argumentative. It’s a shame we didn’t get even just a little of those character attributes in this adaptation.
Like our heroine, the animation quality is mostly motionless and bland. Most of the content consists of talking, and even then every possible shortcut is used to cut corners. This becomes more noticeable during the various love confessions of the lead where the boys are pouring their hearts out for our vanilla heroine and the most the animation can provide is flapping lips to a still body; even the camera doesn’t want to move half the time. At least the art style is eye-catching: a cross between Matsuri Hino (Vampire Knight) and Soumei Hoshino (Alice in the Country of Hearts) mixed in with the leftovers of the Kingdom Hearts costume department.
DVD extras include trailers for Familiar of Zero, Gatchaman Crowds, Majestic Prince and Medaka Box. There’s also ‘Lost Diary Entries’ which is only available in the English dub where the lead reads out various entries taking place before the series, talking about the various boys in the show. It seems to have been done as a humorous extra as it pokes fun at various points in the show, as well as giving the character far more personality here than at any time in the anime.
Amnesia brings up some fascinating ideas and handles the odd situation that crops up when adapting a dating game very well with its main gimmick. But a painfully ineffectual lead and lack of interest from the production team to push above their weight make this series more of a testing viewing, especially in the latter half when the love interests go from questionable to psychotic. If you have the patience to wade through its sluggish pace you may enjoy the potential the series has more than what’s actually on offer.
The anime series does tell a complete story but if it leaves you wanting more, an English version of the original game will be released in August under Amnesia: Memories for PS Vita and Steam.