Have we uncovered the lost words of the dead?

I am only interested in evaluating Kamisama no Memo-chou in three, different ways. I won’t bother to provide my thoughts on the show’s finale; I’ll just get right to the point: does KamiMemo succeed?

Does the show present any interesting ideas?
Has the show managed to shed some light on the nature of 21st century sleuthing? Have we come any closer to understanding what being a NEET detective entails? Oddly enough, we know next to nothing about Alice nor her underlings… Narumi excluded, of course. In fact, the anime is pretty much 90% Narumi, i.e. 90% Watson. And you know what? Our Watson is not a NEET. Alice gives a mini-speech at the end of the final episode about how NEETs are misunderstood and stereotyped, but the anime never really embraces the subculture. There’s nothing to distinguish NEETs from “normal” people. Even worse, our eyes and ears belong to Narumi, who’s anything but a NEET. Kamisama no Memo-chou thus fails to capture the imagination. It poses an interesting premise but doesn’t deliver the goods.

Last week, I was struck by how you could easily compare Kamisama no Memo-chou to Serial Experiments Lain. I’m not just talking about how the shows’ heroines both happen to be diminutive computer geeks. In Lain, a suicide sets the plot in motion and likewise for KamiMemo‘s latest arc. In both shows, the girls are isolated from the real world, plunging themselves headfirst into an internet subculture to do their sleuthing. But here’s the curious thing: Lain actually shows us what KamiMemo simply tells us.

From Serial Experiments Lain

Instead of the internet, the world of Lain has an analogous concept known as the Wired. In fact, the Wired serves as an alternate reality that the show’s characters can enter. It’s an imaginative but far-fetched and silly idea. Nevertheless, Lain takes the concept and runs with it. Our eyes and ears actually belong to the titular character. In KamiMemo, on the other hand, we rarely, if ever, see how Alice tackles her mysteries. We are simply told that she uses the computers surrounding her to uncover the lost words of the dead… whatever that means. It’s interesting what a simple change in perspective can do to a story.

Imagine if Lain had not actually followed Lain, but an acquaintance she befriends at school. So despite watching a cyberpunk story, we never delve into the cyberpunk world. Instead, we follow a high schooler around as he goes about the city. From his perspective, Lain is just this quirky, shy girl who’s really into computers. Well, KamiMemo isn’t a cyberpunk story, but it does claim to be about NEETs. But instead of “following” Alice around as she fulfills her detective role, we adopt the perspective of a male high school student she befriends. So instead of getting underneath Alice’s skin — instead of really understanding what makes the girl tick — from this high schooler’s perspective, Alice is just this quirky girl who uses the internet to solve mysteries.

KamiMemo is thus the result of a failure of the imagination. It’s just too ordinary and safe — it’s too Narumi. I can get high school urban drama just about anywhere else. As result, I don’t need to see it in KamiMemo as well, but that’s what I got for twelve episodes. Does a lack of imagination, however, doom KamiMemo? I’ve mentioned at the start of the post that I have three ways to evaluate the anime, so at this point, I’ll address the next way I could judge the series.

As a mystery
Even if KamiMemo fails to deliver on its premise, it could deliver as a mystery. Unfortunately, I don’t think the anime succeeds here either. If you’ve seen this episode, I must ask you: isn’t the ending kind of… anti-climactic? Narumi takes Angel Fix and discovers the biochemist’s hideout. The NEET detective group, along with Yondaime’s gang, infiltrate the place to find a bunch of wasted junkies. Alice says some words to freak the head junkie out, and then Narumi beats up Ayaka’s brother… the end. I’m sorry but this ending doesn’t really satisfy my mystery cravings.

In fact, did any of the show’s arcs satisfy my mystery cravings? I have to say no. Maybe I’ve been watching the wrong mysteries, but I’ve gotten used to the good guys uncovering a dastardly plot that has up to the entire city ensnared in a hopeless situation. I don’t expect KamiMemo to live up to, say, Chinatown, but gosh, the final arc should at least go out with a bang. Sitting on the school’s water tower and watching flowers bloom at sunrise, however, is not going out with a bang. I just expect a juicier plot than some junkies spreading a drug on the streets. I just don’t think a spat between former bros over a girl makes for much of a page-turner.

As a mystery, KamiMemo is a bore.

Does the show at least have interesting characters then?
Maybe. We just don’t know if they’re interesting or not because the focus is always on Narumi. As I’ve said above, we don’t know anything about Alice. Where did she come from? What are her dreams? Her fears? What are her short-term goals? What are her long-term goals? What does she do besides sitting at the computer? These same questions apply to the rest of the NEET detective group as well. We just don’t really understand them as characters.

Even Narumi’s personality is foggy at best. Compelling characters have arcs to follow. Heroes usually have something they wish to accomplish. By chance, their journey begins. They will go through trials and suffer hardships, and at one point, they will endure a “fall” of some sort. In a story with a happy ending, however, the heroes will also undergo a process of redemption, which allows them to accomplish their goals or come close. The specifics aren’t important; what’s important is that the heroes change. Does any of KamiMemo‘s characters change?

I can’t really say that Narumi has. He’s gotten a little more… assertive, I guess? Alice, on the other hand, remains completely static from start to finish. These guys lack character arcs. They’re just kind of there. And even slice-of-life stories have arcs. The young boy in “Araby” wants so desperately to get to the market so that he can buy something nice for a girl he likes. Even though we’ve taken a slice of his life, he still has an arc. Even Hanasaku Iroha, a show I’ve been criticizing for months, has an arc for its main character. Ohana, thrown into an unfamiliar situation, learns to buckle down and work hard. What does Narumi learn or accomplish? What does Alice learn or accomplish? Have they uncovered the lost words of the dead?

Shrug. But hey, the animation is nice?

21 thoughts on “Have we uncovered the lost words of the dead?

  1. Marow

    Memochou showed us that JC Staff can do some good animation when they want to. Now, let’s hope they find a good story to adapt.

      1. E Minor Post author

        But if this is the case, dare I ask what them animating Hidan no Aria proved?

        That Rie Kugimiya has blackmail material on JC Staff so they must adapt every source material with a tsundere because she can’t play any other character?

        1. Anonymous

          In Kugimiya’s defense, I have to point out that she plays Kagura in Gintama and does a damn good job of it too. Her other roles do suck for the most part though.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I don’t think bad source material is a legitimate excuse. First, they chose to adapt KamiMemo in the first place. Second, even if the source material sucked, they could have shaken things up. For example, The Godfather was nothing special as a novel..

      1. Marow

        Nichijou is pretty much “love it or hate it”. Its crazy over the top humor is certainly not for everyone and often it even lacks a punchline. But I love it, I love it so hard. It’s so crazy you can’t expect what will come next and I can’t help but laugh. Another thing I like is the “Like Love” segments. So short, so full of love.

        1. Mere

          I loved it too. Favorite anime of this season and spring.

          Being so insane is what sets it apart from the other boring slice of life moe school girl anime out there, and I loved that about it.

      2. Mere

        I’m not sure I entirely got it the first few episodes either, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Once you accept it for what it is it’s pretty funny.

        1. E Minor Post author

          I dunno what I have to accept. I just didn’t laugh. I watched an episode where a girl got hit over the head a billion times in all different angles. I just didn’t see what was so funny about it.

  2. Seinime

    Didn’t feel mysterious at all. Wish they didn’t build on the whole NEET detective premise and such and instead made her and the main character more interesting. That was probably because I had just finished watching Code Geass, though.


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