Chasing ghosts and fighting shadows

Common stories are when one plus one is two, a great story (as Ken Burns puts it) is when one plus one equals three. At its heart the quote implies that it's the absurd and the implausible that can change a decent story into a brilliant one. So too is it with Tasogare Otome x Amnesia (Dusk Maiden of Amnesia) which, on paper, could have easily ended up as "My Girlfriend is a Ghost". Instead it's an impassioned love story between a dorky teenager and a ghost over half a century old.

a roller coaster of teen angst and emotions - deftly dealing with love, death and jealously
The series starts oddly enough by bifurcating the first episode: the same events but with a crucial shift in viewpoint between each telling. This is just the first in what becomes a host of extraordinarily brave moves in direction by Oonuma that temper his artisan abstractions of ef - a tale of memories, keeping the series visually arresting but less navel gazing.

That is the aesthetic of what starts as a monster-of-the-week structure but belies the series' heart: a star crossed love story. The centre of which is cheeky and curvacious spirit Yuuko who clings onto protagonist Teichii like an amorous limpett and is unconcerned in stripping off but mortified when her bones are found in a hidden room of the labyrinthine old school building.

Thus the "Paranormal Investigations Club" is born, attracting the firecracker Momoe and tomboy Kirie, the latter of which is also able to see the otherwise invisible Yuuko. Typical harem love-triangle fodder? Certainly. But just as the series' momentum begins to sag towards the mid-point, cresting with the confusing story of a "Red Maiden", it rallies and refocuses on the burgeoning but fractious romance between Teichii and Yuuko.

First though a menacing wraith must be dealt with which leads neatly to the obligatory back-story episode, but with the twist of being shown in first person with both the viewer and Teichii joyriding Yuuko's emotions and perspective. It makes an otherwise sloppy exposition that much more palatable, but anyone who has played the Fatal Frame / Project Zero games will be disappointed with the lacklustre origin story of Yuuko's spirit.

All that's left then is the denouement to this oddball teenage drama. And it couldn't be more perfect. The emotion poured into the final episode is spectacular and so superbly crafted that as the sun sets and tears fall nothing else matters but that lingering memory of a loved one now lost. The realisation that an impossible relationship has ended and though you may love again, it will never be as poignant or affecting. The direction, music and visuals all work sublimely to offer a resolution that is as satisfying as it is tender.

Then it ruins everything.

Quailing at the possibility of a melancholy ending, the most heart-wrenching finale of recent memory is squandered with an stupendously mistimed hit of the reset button. The tears evaporate, the sadness recedes and it's back to the rainbow coloured misadventures of a guy and his gal ghost. All of the emotional investment that culminated with such reward is unceremoniously sucker punched.

Perhaps eyeing a second series or outside pressures buckled the director's resolve, but with a gram more courage and two minutes less runtime this could have been so much greater. Instead a sour taste lingers and all the goodwill the series accrued is cast in doubt. Instead of joining the pantheon of stories like Chrno CrusadeKenshin and Final Fantasy X, it baulks and is destined to be remembered alongside reset-ending clunkers like My-HiME.

Like the first episode then, the series is split in two. The opening stories are quirky and raunchy in equal measure and concern themselves with supernatural shenanigans in a school setting - like a better Occult Academy. The latter episodes are a roller coaster of teen angst and emotions - deftly dealing with love, death and jealously. Both deal with Yuuko's otherworldly presence in different ways and, up to a point, are deceptively sensitive to it.

That tipping point though is the same one that makes some of the standalone ghost stories lack punch and come off as limp or just confounding. It's the same tentativeness that gives weight to the "Red Maiden" but fails to adequately explain her. It's the same ethos that made Yuuko a busty exhibitionist then casually mentions some episodes later that she doesn't have any negative emotions, as if the viewer was supposed to realise this in between all the shots of her cleavage.

In the end then, Tasogare Otome x Amnesia is wonderfully evocative in its subject matter and its story, but with a more judicious hand it could have been stunning rather than "just" great.

Responses to “Chasing ghosts and fighting shadows”

@Martin: It's definitely worth watching although it doesn't feel like a typical Oonuma production (perhaps because it's not with SHAFT but I digress). I think watching it all at once will probably alleviate the issues I had with the flabby mid-section but it's worth pacing the final three episodes so the emotion can soak in.

Many thanks for your compliment and for reading!
I'm in two minds about watching this now. I hesitated because I didn't want Yet Another High School Show on my watchlist, but the stills and promo art looked stunning.

If there's not enough decent stuff to keep my attention in the current season I'll give it a go,'s not often I read such a well-written article and come away feeling just as undecided as I did beforehand. I hasten to add that this says more about the show than it does about your writing!
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