Some girls have school spirit, but Yuuko is the school spirit…but is she the only one or is there someone less friendly haunting the grounds who may have a connection to Yuuko’s long forgotten past?
What They Say:
Sixty years ago, a young woman was left to die in the abandoned school building behind the exclusive Seikyou Academy. No one knows why, no one knows how; but the horrifying tale and the legends of the ghostly haunting that followed live on to this day. Perhaps it’s not so surprising then, that among Seikyou’s many school clubs is one for students interested in “paranormal investigations.” What might raise more than a few hairs, however, is that the founder of the club is the ghost herself.
Unable to remember how she died and trapped in the grey land between life and death, Yuko latches onto Teiichi Niiya, a freshman who can inexplicably see her. Together they and the other unsuspecting members of the club begin to unravel the many dark mysteries that surround Seikyou. Will unlocking the secret of Yuko’s gruesome death finally free her? Or will her sudden close association with a mortal have even stranger repercussions on both of their existences?
The release of this television series contains two language options for the presentation of the series material- English and Japanese- though both tracks are present in only a 2.0 stereo mix. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was selected and it is presented on the disc with no dropouts or distortions noted while the dialogue comes through clearly. Given the rather normal setting (even with the supernatural twists) there isn’t a ton of directionality to much of the material as it tends to come off most balanced between the speakers though on the occasions where directionality is required it is provided, though the end result isn’t overly memorable which leaves a feeling of a competent audio track.
Originally airing in the spring of Japan’s 2012 television season, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is presented here in its original 16:9 aspect ratio complete with an anamorphic encode. The series is largely one that uses an animation style that often conveys a sense of realism without being overly detailed which then is juxtaposed by the moments where a character will take on very manga distorted features in order to help really sell the emotion of the scene. For this release Sentai Filmworks went beyond what is a long standard of putting 13 episodes and extras on two discs as Sentai spreads the material out over three discs which probably helps the visuals.
Present on the disc is a level of fine noise that is usually moderate, a touch of banding, jaggies, some ghosting (no pun intended), minor aliasing at times, some bleed through of background material through foreground characters and some blocking that doesn’t spoil most of the scenes and only appears on occasion- a major plus considering on how much the series uses dark colors and blacks to help set a mood- though strong reds can be overpowering as well. Overall though the visuals come across well for an anime DVD as the presentation is distracted from in most instances and the disc is rather solid in this aspect.
The packaging for the houses a total of 5 discs (3 DVD, 2 CD) housed in a regular DVD sized case that includes two hinge inserts that have space for a disc on either side with the final disc being stored in the back of the inside of the case. The cover for the release features Yuuko in her school uniform laying down across a flight of stairs with her legs on the landing while the rest of her body is positioned down the stairs with her hand keeping her long skirt down as the background colors paint the image in the orange-yellow hues of dusk.
The back cover uses primarily black, purple and a deep red mixed at various points with a large image of Yuuko reaching out in the upper right corner and six stills from the feature also being present as the copy, technical information and copyright information stand out in white. The DVDs themselves use images of the characters with Momoe being present against a bright yellow background looking up in an overhead shot for the first disc while Kirie gets an image with her arms on her knees as she sits on the ground with an expression of longing set against a deep blue background while Teiichi is pictured asleep sitting up with Yuuko just visible with her back against him with an olive greenish background adding mood to the image. The CDs on the other hand use very close ups of Yuuko and one disc uses a deep red for coloring while the second uses a deep midnight blue color. The release also includes a slightly larger than CD sized insert that contains a track listing for the CDs and includes text in both Romanji and English translation for the vocal tracks.
The menus use are fairly basic in mechanics in that they use static images of character with the main menus featuring artwork that doesn’t appear in the series proper yet which fits well leading to an impression it might have been created for the original Japanese release of the series. The Main Menu also lists the options selectable vertically with episodes being listed on top while the disc’s Language Option and Special Features (where applicable) are listed under while a portion of the themes play for background music on all the menu screens. The menus themselves are on the simplistic yet effective side as they are quick to respond to changes in selection and also respond promptly to whatever option was chosen and they have large indicators to signify which option is highlighted.
The extras on this release are pretty full for a modern anime release with the industry standard clean open and close being present and in addition to that the release also includes the extended version of episode 12 (about a minute longer) and a commentary track for the series done by Yuuko’s voice actress Yumi Hara. These alone would elevate the release considerable in the current market but Sentai goes a step further by including a 2 CD set of music from the series which does include a version of the closing theme as sung by Yumi Hara though the normal ending theme and opening are not present on the set, something which isn’t uncommon (at all) in Japan where singles can still sell and themes are often marketed that route.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based off the manga by Maybe, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is set in modern Japan at the rather prestigious Seikyou Academy which has stood on the same spot for over 60 years and has become a rather eclectic collection of buildings over time with modern additions buttressed against older structures leading to odd places where corridors can suddenly end, stairs can go nowhere and students who get lost can find themselves stumbling into rooms that haven’t been used in decades. Such an odd setting practically begs to have all sorts of supernatural stories spring up in it and even by Japanese schools standards the school has a number, many of which center around a girl who vanished 60 years ago named Yuuko. In order to explore these stories and find out the true origin of the ghost known as Yuuko a Paranormal Investigation Club is founded composed of three students and a chairman who never seems to be around and is thus labeled a “ghost chairman”…except in truth the chairman is always around and is in fact the ghost Yuuko that so many rumors are based around making the title an ironic one, though few can see her to recognize that fact.
Events started when one of the members who would found the club, Teiichi Niiya, had forgotten the old rumors about how to avoid the school’s ghost and now finds himself haunted after a fashion by Yuuko- but given that Yuuko is such an attractive and nice entity it is hard to see this as much of a down side for him most of the time. The pair may find that things are much darker than they imagine though as the pursuit of Yuuko’s past starts to lead to some dark corners and there appears to be a far more malevolent spirit on the grounds and as the club gets closer to the truth of Yuuko’s past the darker spirit also weaves nearer- and worse, Yuuko seems to move farther away. Will the truth really set Yuuko free or will it simply bring a past tragedy to life and serve to pull these friends apart?
Romantic comedies are one of the staples of entertainment in many different places and Japan’s anime industry has embraced them at least as much as any other place it seems given the number of series that come out focused on (or using them as a significant theme) the genre in most of its anime seasons. Like everything else though the quality of some of these series can vary greatly and simply slapping a label on a series may give someone a vague idea of what they may be in store for while at the same time completely failing to give an idea of just how the series will progress as many series travel the same general ground but some manage to carve out a path for themselves that set them apart as memorable. Dusk Maiden largely manages to find its own voice and break from the pack by blending in a supernatural theme to events to provide both some explanations for some of the unusual events as well as laying an undercurrent of danger and horror that grows as the series moves toward its goal and the cast starts to face some of the dark truths that underlie events while also giving the work a chance to explore some deeper aspects of human psychology.
It is largely a tribute to the writing that the series can manage to navigate some of the staples of the romance-comedy genera and come out with stories that don’t feel overly derivative or ones which (most of the time anyway) depend on its cast suddenly becoming dumb as posts in order to advance the story and as such it largely appears to treat them with respect as if they are real people fully capable of having moments of weakness but ones which are more a product of who they are s individuals then simply used as narrative necessities. While that isn’t to say these type of shortcomings never happen the series, the writing largely seems to decide that the series success will depend on just how true to a model the characters will be in order to allow its audience to connect with the story. In addition the series is rather on the intimate side of things with few characters outside of the core four individuals ever really standing out-or even showing up much as background faces -which can at times make it seem like the main cast is somehow all alone in a school that, while not set in an area that will lead to it being overcrowded, still needs to be big enough to justify the size of and scope of its buildings.
Which kind of leads to the series biggest problem as while Yuuko and Teiichi get to share a lot of screen time the other two main members of the series, Momoe and Kirie, can feel almost like they exist to be plot devices rather than as full characters that the audience can really begin to have a solid emotional bond with. In Momoe’s case her role seems to exist primarily for the facial shots she gives to strange events (she is unable to see Yuuko or what Yuuko does for the most part) and to accelerate the course of certain events in regards to the relationship and its wavering between Yuuko and Teiichi which provides clues and perils to the paranormal club’s mission. Kirie on the other hand often seems stuck in the role of the unrequited lover who has some insight into events due to her attempts to objectively watch them but she often feels more like a less-than-embraced third wheel by the story than a true part of the club (until the OVA at least) as they rarely seem to give her anything really meaty to accomplish.
On top of this, while the series often deftly maneuvers around common themes and tropes that often serve as obstacles in the genre like a professional driver on a closed track at times it barrels head long like a charging rhino into some to a degree that causes the story to lose some of its unique appeal and appear far more pedestrian at moments than a good deal of the rest of the series brings across. While the series largely manages to overcome these faults and still shine there are enough points that provide hiccups to have it come across as “merely” incredible rather than as almost a masterpiece that it looks to boarder on a very good number of occasions which makes for an easy recommendation but also oddly leaves one feeling these misses a bit more than they would have when present in a lesser series.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia manages to combine a number of different themes with its romantic comedy setup combined with a supernatural twist to create an entertaining tale that can be packed with many moments of emotion and even a look at the psychology of humans in a way that many other series don’t even begin to tackle let alone manage to do anywhere near as well. With its focus on a pair of would be lover separated by nearly as great a divide as can exist and the drive that exists to try to find out more about Yuuko’s past the series is capable of playing on an enormous field examining all sorts of aspects of humanity from its best to its fear soaked worst while using some likeable- if sometimes almost criminally underused- characters to guide the audience along the way. While the series doesn’t quite reach the highest of heights it still manages to get to some rarified air in terms of overall delivery and this alone makes for an easy title to praise but when paired with the 2 disc CD extra it creates and entertainment value that is going to be almost impossible to beat. Recommended
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Commentaries, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A+
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.