Mari and Arisa are a lesbian couple, but after an accident, Arisa wakes up in hospital with her memories of the past last three years gone. Mari, who’s only been dating Arisa for two years, is worried about having to convince Arisa that they’re a couple. But it turns out she needn’t worry as Arisa falls in love with Mari at first sight and is super happy to learn that they’re dating already! Mari takes Arisa home to their apartment, to help Arisa regain her memories, but Arisa is excited she has the chance to have first dates, kisses, and such all over again.
Amnesia is a storytelling device that appears in many genres; it can be used in dramas, where the high stakes of lost memories can create tension in a plot (TV series Once Upon a Time used it a lot), it can be used in horror to create dread as the protagonist uncovers the truth (for example Rule of Rose) or even in romance as an obstacle to overcome in the name of true love (briefly used in WALL.E). The device is not normally used in comedy however, which is where Cheerful Amnesia sets itself apart from the start; from the title to the main character to the manga’s story, all of it is a light-hearted, joyful comedy through and through. Arisa is a very happy character from the opening pages; she immediately falls for Mari, and every moment she spends with Mari is just a blessing for her. Despite being at home and with someone she loves, her memory doesn’t start returning right away (with some of the gags coming from Arisa wanting to remember how to kiss, their first time, etc) but this semi-new relationship dynamic between Arisa and Mari is sweet to watch unfold. For example, due to her amnesia, Arisa has no idea who knows they’re a couple, or social norms on how they view gay couples, so when she bursts out to Mari’s colleagues that they’re together, they’re in shock. There’s a bit of them pushing back against their relationship (one male colleague telling Arisa that she can’t marry Mari so their relationship is not real) but Arisa is having none of it, and it gives Mari the confidence to push back on their homophobia. This is lovely to see, treating terrible biases as the waste they are by simply refusing to engage or argue with it, just being themselves and happy.
Although Arisa is the most affected by this sudden change (for obvious reasons) Mari is also suffering from the sudden changes too. Mari is a hard-working woman, often serious and shy, but she loves Arisa deeply and will do anything to make her remember ‘them’ again. She refrains from putting Arisa in an uncomfortable position but is also practical (she won’t push for sex, but they live together, so they might as well sleep in same bed). What I liked, however, takes place in the second half of the book; when she realises that Arisa, pre-amnesia, was the one who instigated a lot of their physical intimacy, and despite the change in circumstances, she subconsciously still thinks that way. But with Arisa not being able to remember their relationship, Mari realises that she must change her mindset and accommodate for Arisa’s needs on more than just a practical level. It’s the duality of these characters as well as their relationship that really makes the audience believe they did have a relationship once upon a time, and we want Arisa to remember, so they can get back together and come out stronger on the other side. The fact that they’re both older, working women also makes the relationship more mature; although Arisa acts like a teenager with her first crush due to her amnesia, the manga makes it clear that the pair had an active sex life previously, so Arisa is determined to get her memory back so they can return to it as soon as possible but also not push Mari, despite loving her at first sight.
The manga is told over a collection of typical short manga chapters with a lot of them being in yonkoma style (4-panel comic strip format). In the author’s notes, mangaka Tamamushi Oku said they posted the first chapter online as a one-off, only for the story to grow from there. Most of the stories bleed into each other, so they feel like large chapters of a typical manga, and despite the thin volume (only 130 pages) the book is bursting with content, with not only bonus chapters after the main twelve chapters, but also mini chapters right on the inside of both the front AND back covers themselves so, despite its size, you’re getting a lot of manga for the price.
Translation by Jenny McKeon is an easy read that interprets the comedy from Japanese to English well, but there’s no translator’s notes. The art by the mangaka is also nice; Arisa’s big beaming smile is very infectious in every panel, and Mari is given her own distinct style and mannerisms without coming off as too stoic or plain.
Not even the possibility of the main character having brain damage is going to drag the mood down of this delightful comedy yuri manga! The story takes a (usually) drama-heavy trope and uses it for comedy that explores how it affects an established relationship in an endearing, fun way. The first volume of Cheerful Amnesia will certainly put a smile on your face.
Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.